Basic Blackjack Strategy


Blackjack is a game in which the players compete against the dealer for the highest total value hand. It is a card game, played with a standard 52-card deck in which suits do not matter. Cards 2 through 10 count at face value; jacks, queens and kings are worth 10 points; and an ace can be counted as either 1 or 11. Basic strategy identifies the optimum play for any hand situation, based on millions of hands played in the long run. The game is a team sport in some casinos, but for the most part it’s just you against the dealer.

The game is usually played on a semicircular table that can accommodate varying numbers of players, or “spots.” Some casinos have only five spots while others have as many as 12 spots. Whether the table is big or small, the dealer will be stationed behind the chip rack on one side, while the players will sit on the other. Some casinos have a special viewing window in the table that allows players to see the dealer’s hole card.

Before the dealer begins to deal, players may buy insurance or surrender. Insurance is equal to the player’s initial bet and pays out two-to-one if the dealer has a blackjack. The dealer will also pay off any player who has a blackjack before they check for their own. Generally, only players who have a Blackjack will purchase insurance, as it is less costly than losing their original bets.

When a player has an ace and a 10-card or face card, it is called a blackjack or natural and cannot be beat. A blackjack is an automatic winner and is paid out at 3:2. Some casinos now offer only 6:5 for blackjacks, a move decried by professional players because it increases the house edge.

A player’s hand must be closer to 21 than the dealer’s in order to win. If the player’s hand is over 21, it is busted and the player loses their bet. If the dealer’s hand is closer to 21 than the player’s, it is a push and the player keeps their original bet.

Before the dealer starts to deal the first card, players can place an insurance bet of up to half their original wager on the “insurance bar” above the dealers’ cards. The dealer will then reveal her hole card; if she has a ten underneath, she has a blackjack and the players’ insurance bets are paid out at 2 to 1. If the dealer does not have a blackjack, she will take the players’ original bets. Some casinos now offer 6 to 5 payouts on blackjacks, which increases the house edge and makes card counting useless. However, the practice is not universal and many casinos still pay 3 to 2.