Blackjack Strategy – Advanced Guide to Become a Pro

Blackjack Strategy – Advanced Guide to Become a Pro

21/01/2021

Blackjack is one of the few games in a casino where the way you play affects the edge the game has. If you play perfectly each time, blackjack then has the lowest house edge of any casino game.

To become a professional blackjack player takes years of work. There are tons of elements to the game that you need to learn and also adapt to the countless blackjack variations that you can now access online, including Live Dealer Blackjack.

In this article, we wanted to give you an insight as to the knowledge that you will need to become a professional player. We take a look at the timing of hands, splitting, double down, insurance, shuffling tricks and bankroll management.

Composition Sensitive Hands in Blackjack

When most people think of blackjack strategies they think of hand charts. These charts have been designed so they are easy to understand, follow and implement. They literally tell you what to do in every scenario for your game.

These charts are often referred to as total dependant. This means that the number that is one show is representative of the total for the cars you have. For example, if you have a 6 and 5, you have a total of 11. If you have a 7 and a 4, then you also have an 11. For these hand charts how the number comes about is irrelevant.

Compositions dependent or compositions sensitive takes this to the next level. Instead of looking at hands as total numbers, it also looks at how the numbers are made up. Like the example above, several cards can create the same total in blackjack.

One of the reasons why players do this is to then have a better idea of what cards are left and how the odds would then reflect this.

Compositions sensitive hands are easiest to utilise in games that have fewer decks of cards in play. Ideally, they would have a single deck game. This makes tracking easier and it also makes factoring in a composition that bit more relevant.

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Two main rules apply to this, which are the “Rule of 45” and the “Doctor Pepper Rule”.

The Rule of 45 is linked to having a hand that is worth 16, usually made up of a 10 and a 6. If the player is up against a dealer 10 then the chances are that they are going to lose the hand. They need a 4 or a 5 to have any chance here.

For this, the player needs to see if they have any 4’s or 5’s in their hand. They can also look at other hands at the table if this possible. If there are lots already out, then the chances of them grabbing the card they need are reduced.

So, this would mean that, in this example, it would be better to stand given that there are fewer cards that you need to win available. This is something that a traditional hand chart does not include.

The Doctor Pepper Rule has a similar layout, but instead of targeting value 16 hands, it targets value 12 when the dealer has a 4 facing up. In this situation, the odds for stand and hitting are almost identical, with stand being a marginally better play.

How the hand is made up is another key factor here. It can include 10/2, 9/3, 8/4 and 7/5. A 10 is the only bust card, so when you’ve got one in hand, with 10/2, it’s one less in the pack that can bust you.

It’s for this reason why, when you’ve got a 10/2 in the hole against a 4, you should hit. All other combinations, you should stand.

Blackjack – When to Double Down

Double down is one of the key plays in blackjack is one of the only times you can get extra money in the pot when you’re in a favourable position. You need to be aware of table rules about doubling down, but most will allow you to use this as and when you need.

One of the most common times that you will double down is when your cards total 11. This is the best combination hand in the game as there are so many cards that can either get you to 21 or get you somewhere near that will pressure the dealer regardless of their hand.

Next, you want to be targeting soft 16, 17 and 18. These hands are generally based on the dealers up card and if they are low, then you can double down here.

Lots of people look at 16, 17 and 18 as strong hands, therefore they are inclined to stand. However, when dealers have low cards in the hole, they are vulnerable. They will need to take at least one more card, which makes them susceptible to going bust.

Given that our hands here are soft, there aren’t too many hands that really hurt us. Even a soft 18 could turn a 4, which would be the worst outcome and you’d have 12 against a hand a dealer hand could well go broke.

The final time that we want to double down is with a hard 9 or 10 against a low dealer card. This has the same merits as the soft hands above, but with this, there are lots of mid-high cards which make ours very strong. Again, the dealer has a good chance of going broke as well, so we are always in the game here.


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When to Split in Blackjack

There are two scenarios where you want to be splitting every time.

The first one is when you get dealt two Aces. This is quite rare in blackjack, but when you do, you want to split and then try to create two big hands.

An ace is the only way that we can earn blackjack. By splitting, we get not one, but two chances to do this. If we leave them together then we have 12 or 2. Very few hands help all that often here, so splitting is the best route.

The second is when we are dealt with two 8’s. For this, we need to take note of the table rules and to see what the dealer stands on. If they stand on 16, then the best outcome you have is hoping they bust. If their hand plays, then at best you can split.

By splitting you can still make two strong hands. Any 10 or 9 card has the player as a big favourite, with A, 2 and 3 still more than alive to take another card.

When to Hit or Stand in Blackjack

The two most common decisions you will have at a blackjack table is whether to hit or stand. Timing is key, but one of the biggest bits of advice we can give is to make sure that you take into account the dealers up card.

One of the biggest mistakes is that players get too transfixed on what their cards are and how close to 21 they can get. When in reality, the skill of knowing when to hit or stand is all about what the dealer is holding.

There are dozens of charts that you can use to know when to hit and stand. They will allow you to not only see your cards, but also that of the dealers up card. By following these charts you will be playing the game about as optimally as you can.

We do want to add that it’s important to take into account composition sensitive hands as we spoke about earlier the article. This will allow you to take your game to the next level and work on a much more professional basis.

When Should You Surrender in Blackjack?

Surrendering is one of the blackjack moves that many people really hate to use. However, it’s worth noting that if it’s not used at the appropriate times, the casino's house edge will increase.

All of these tips and tricks require timing, and you need to be able to work out when and where is the best time to surrender. Just in case you didn’t know to surrender is forfeit half of your stake in your hand if you’ve little chance of winning.

There are generally two types of surrender: early and late. Early is less common as you get to decide before the dealer checks for blackjack. If you get access to the option, take advantage of it.

You want to be on the lookout for an Ace or a Ten from the dealer. Early surrender should be made with hands that include hard 5 to 7, hard 12 to 17, 3s, 6s, 7s and 8s if the dealer holds an Ace and hard 14 to 16, 7s and 8s if they have a 10.

This may seem like a relatively wide range of hands, but the house edge can be reduced by 0.24% to 0.39% by implementing this properly. Given blackjack only has an overall edge of around 1%, this is huge.

Late surrender is a lot more common and this is when the dealer has checked for blackjack. Surrenders for this are generally only made with hands made up of 14, 15 and 16. The number of decks matters here as well.

Here are several rules to note:

  • 14 – single deck surrender to a 10
  • 15 – single or double deck surrender to an Ace.
  • 16 – single or double deck surrender to dealer Ace and 10.

When to Take Insurance in Blackjack

Insurance is one of few side bets that you can place with blackjack. But, the short answer to the question is never. You should never take insurance.

Why?

Well, the numbers are massively in the casino's favour here. You see, insurance will pay out at 2:1 for a successful bet. But the odds of the dealer making blackjack is actually 9:4. This makes it more than 10% more likely than the payout that they offer.


Want to learn about more casino games? We’ve got you covered. Click below for our guides on the most popular tables games you will find at online casinos.


Best Online Blackjack Odds – How to Beat the House

We’ve mentioned a few times already that blackjack is a game that has a small house edge. It’s an incredibly entertaining game and is one of few casino games where your actions can influence if you win or not.

It’s important to note that the house edge only remains small if you play a perfect game. This means using things like a hand chart and the information in this article to make sure your game is spot on.

If you fail to make these correct decisions, then the house edge will rocket up. For those of you who have no consideration to this at all and play by “feel” then blackjack can actually be a game that has the biggest house edge in an online casino, which is why so many casinos run the game.

You can certainly beat the house over short periods and one of the key rules to this is to quit whilst your ahead and lock in those winning sessions. Margins will be razor fine, so the longer you play, the closer they will be.

Another great tip is to search out games and variants that have the lowest house edge. Tiny rule changes can have big implications for the house edge and you always want to find the lowest possible in this case.

Blackjack Side Bets

There are a lot of side bets to choose from with blackjack, but the majority are quite rare. As a general rule of thumb, these should almost always be avoided. Some of them carry a huge house edge with them, offsetting any low edge from the main game.

One of the most popular bets is that of 21+. In this game, you are looking at hands that create a flush, straight, pair and combinations of each from the players two and the dealers one card.

House edge for this bet is a massive 8% in games that are played on four decks. This edge does decrease with the more decks that are in play. This is a common theme with side bets.

If you’re looking to go pro, then these are the bets that you really should be avoiding. You would be far better off nailing a strategy from within the main game then messing around with side bets that are going to offer you little value in the long run.

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Blackjack Shuffle Tracking

Shuffle tracking is a form of card counting that allows players to work out where certain clumps of cards are in the deck. If done successfully, the player will be able to determine where a series of cards are in the deck and then how likely they will appear at a certain time.

This is a highly difficult skill to master and one that only seasoned card counters can pull off. This is not a technique that can be used online given that most online games are shuffled electronically after each hand.

The player will need to be aware of what cards have fallen and which cards are left. The idea is then that the dealer will either poorly shuffle or simply not spend enough time to get them totally random that it can be linked with a cluster of cards.

Shuffle tracking works on the same points scoring that card counting does. Low scores indicate a low number of cards are out and high scores a high-value number of cards are out.

Blackjack Dealer Tells

Whilst tells are usually associated with games like poker, there are times when playing live that you can get the dealer tells which will help you. The majority of these times are when the dealer is required to check for blackjack.

Most players will be looking at the amount of time it takes for them to read their card. It’s often thought that if they are holding a face card or high value then the look will be pretty quick as it’s easy to see what card it is.

When it comes to smaller ranked cards, looks can take a little longer. This is especially true for cards like a 4 which can easily look like an Ace at a glance. A 6 and 9 are two cards that need to be checked reasonably well.

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The reality is that most dealers are taught to not give off tells of any kind. They will try to time each looks the same and they will even take into account any body language signs that they might give off. It takes a really keen eye to spot a professional who is giving off a tell in blackjack.

Blackjack Mistakes to Avoid

The reality is that, with blackjack, it’s easier to make mistakes than avoid them. New players are going to make lots of mistakes. But it’s important to understand that mistakes are part of the learning curve, so don’t worry too much about them as long as you don’t continue to make them.

    👍Use a hand chart – Too many players fail to do this from an early start and as a result, turn a low house edge game into a massive one. If you are playing online then there is no excuse.

    👍Get as close to 21 as possible – The aim of the game may be to do just this, but in fact, it’s actually more beneficial to play your hand against the dealer. It doesn’t matter if you win with 5 or 21, the payout is the same (aside from blackjack).

    👍Other players can affect your hand – Studies have shown that other players decisions at the table do not affect how your hand plays out. The cards are random so there is no way to anticipate what is coming next.

    👍Playing games with high house edge – There is no excuse for choosing the wrong blackjack game and the house edge is about as sinister as this comes.

    👍Applying betting systems – Things like the Martingale betting strategy is a fast way to lose a lot of money. These strategies do not work and will make you go broke very quickly.

Read our full guide on the best blackjack betting systems for more info on how to best build your betting strategy.

Blackjack Bankroll for Advanced Players

Bankroll management is one of the most important factors with any form of gambling. It’s one of the most overlooked areas as well.

It’s tough to say that you need X amount or to wager Y at the table. The reality is that only you know how much you can afford to lose.

The idea of a bankroll is to allow the inevitably losing sessions that will occur with blackjack. Regardless of if you’re a profitable player or not, you will have losing sessions. But that’s OK because this is exactly why you have a bankroll.

Bankrolls are going to change from person to person. Wealthier people are likely just going to be able to replenish their bankroll as an when they need. Those on tighter budgets might have an amount they can lose then they need to stop.

Once you’ve decided how much you want to use, we recommend that you take no more than 5% of their bankroll at the table at any one time. So, if you’ve got a £1,000, then you can sit down with £50. This may seem incredibly small, but the loses can start to add up, so you need a decent cushion.

You do need to be flexible with your bankroll though. If you get a favourable shoe and you’ve been card counting, then this will be a good time to invest more and go for a bigger win.

The flip side is that if you’re struggling and the shoe is bad, then it might be time to leave for another day. The best professional players know when to walk away and gamble sums of money that make next to no indentation into their bankroll in the immediate future.

FAQ

♠️ Can I use basic strategy when playing blackjack variants?

Basic blackjack strategy charts are based on the classic blackjack and the mathematically calculated optimal actions for each potential hand, based on classic rules. When you play variants that have significant rule or deck changes, the statistical outcomes of each hand will change, so basic blackjack strategy will be less effective.

♥️ What factors should I consider when choosing a game of blackjack?

When choosing a blackjack game, any factor that can reduce the house edge is important. These factors could be the number of decks in play or variations in rules, like the soft 17 rule. If the dealer must stand on soft 17, it’s better for the player. Payouts for Blackjack are also important. Choose a 3:2 option rather than 6:5, so you can maximize your payouts when you do get a Blackjack.

♣️ How do you play soft 17 in blackjack?

How you play soft 17 depends on the cards the dealer is showing. For multi-deck blackjack, if the dealer’s up-card is 3 to 6, then double down. For all other dealer up-cards, hitting is the best option according to basic blackjack strategy charts.

♦️ What are composition-sensitive hands in blackjack?

If you use a basic blackjack strategy chart, you are already familiar with total-dependent strategy. This is where you make decisions based on the total values in your hand, while a composition-dependent strategy factors in the values of the cards that make up those totals.
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Jonathan Askew

Jonathan Askew

Jonathan's Story

Jonathan has been writing within the gambling sector since 2008. Upon completing his degree in Marketing at Northumbria University in 2007, he has invested his time in creating a brand that helps online gambling sites with content writing and consultancy work. He has produced thousands of articles in that time covering topics in sports, casino, poker and bingo.