You probably had a look at our Blackjack Strategy Charts here, at casino-strategy.com. Maybe you even have them printed, but it's slow and painful to look up every hand, and trying to make decisions by intuition can result in costly mistakes. But don't worry, we'll show you a couple of mental shortcuts you can take to get around these issues easily.
The following tips are applicable to multi-deck games where the dealer stands on soft 17. Online and live, these games are the most popular, and in several casinos this is the only ruleset provided. You can also find our blackjack strategy chart and downloadable blackjack strategy cards here.
There are only 4 cases in which you want to surrender: hard 16 versus a dealer 9, T or A and hard 15 versus a dealer T. When you're at 16 points, drawing a card is very risky, and even if you get an Ace or a 2, you probably won't have the dealer beat. You can easily recall this by remembering the 'triangle-shape' on the blackjack strategy chart.
2) Doubling hard hands
Double tens and elevens only if by hitting a T you will get a better hand than the dealer, if he has a T face down. (E.g. double a ten-point hand versus a dealer 9, but not a T, since the dealer will likely have 19 and 20 respectively.)
Nines are a bit more tricky, and the logic behind it is much more complicated. Just remember that you want to double nines if the dealer's card is equal or between the two divisors of 9 (3 and 6).
3) Doubling soft hands
This is a little bit tricky as well, since there are several different thresholds here. The mental shortcut is kind of complex as well, but after a few hands you'll be able to do it by heart. Let's take 19 as our starting point (easy to remember that you should always stand with 19). Take away your hand's value from 19 and divide the result by 2. Round it up, and and add 2 to it. If the dealer has a card between your number and 6, you should double.
This sounds really complicated, but an example will make it clear.
Let's say we have soft 14.
- Step 1: 19-14=5
- Step 2: 5/2=2.5
- Step 3: 2.5 rounded up is 3.
- Step 4: 3+2=5
- Step 5: If the dealer has 5 or 6 face up, you should double.
Ok, here's a chance to test yourself: what dealer cards should we double on having soft 17?
- Step 1: 19-17=2
- Step 2: 2/2=1
- Step 3: 1 rounded up is 1
- Step 4: 1+2=3
- Step 5: We should double if the dealer has 3, 4, 5 or 6.
A less mathematical, but more memory-intensive method is to remember that you should double soft 13 versus a dealer 5, but not a 4. Adding two to your hand takes away one from the dealer card requirement, so doubling soft 15 versus a dealer 4 is correct, but not against a 3. It's kind of like a staircase that goes 1 to the side while going up 2.
4) Doubling pairs
Phew, that was hard. Fortunately, pairs are not. Only double pairs of 5s if the dealer does not have a T or an Ace.
5) Splitting low pairs
There is no good shortcut for us here, but we can still make it easier to remember by using the simple line of numbers: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Because with a pair of 2s and 3s you want to split up until a dealer 7 (2-3:7), but with a pair of 4s you only want to split versus dealer 5 and 6(4:5-6). So if we wrap the second rule in the first one, we get 2-3, 4:5-6, 7. It's not intuitive really, but it's an easier way to remember the rules maybe.
6) Splitting middle cards
Since you never want to split 5s, middle cards are only 6s and 7s. The rule is easy: you split if the dealer has an equal or lower card than your cards. Split 6s versus a dealer 6, but not a 7.
7) Splitting high cards
You always split 8s and As, this is pretty obvious.
Now with 9s it's a little tricky. You want to split them against cards below 7, because the chance to make 17-19 with them, or the dealer busting is so good, you happily risk double to win double.
Against a dealer 8 or 9 you want to split again, because the dealer will likely have a T face down, and against a probable 18 you're better off splitting than pushing, and against a probable 19 you're better off splitting and pushing than losing.
Against a dealer 7 you're fine, because your 19 will beat their probable 17 most of the time. Against a T or and A you really don't want to split, because you're a big underdog either way, so risking double does not sound all that good, does it?
8) Hit or stand?
If you remember all the previous rules, you know ALL the scenarios you want to double, surrender or split. The only question remains: should I hit or split with the rest of the hands?
There are three things to consider: do you have a made hand? Does the dealer have a made hand? And there are, of course, exceptions.
If you don't have a made hand at all (hands below 11), you should always look to hit.
If you have an 'almost made hand' (hands between 12 and 16), and the dealer won't have a made hand if their face-down card is a T, you should stand, but if they do, hit.
If you have a made hand (17 or above), always stand.
And here come the exceptions:
You want to hit 12 against a dealer 2 or 3.
If you have a soft hand, you should look to always hit non made hands and soft 17 regardless of the dealer card. You should even hit soft 18 if the dealer is likely to have you beat with a face-down T.
Well, this might be quite overwhelming at first sight, but believe me, after a couple of hours, it'll be second nature. Just follow this thought process, and you should be golden:
- Is it in the surrender-triangle?
- If no, should I double?
- With hard hands, it only comes up with 9s (3-6 or divisor rule), 10s and 11s (what if you hit a T).
- With soft hands, imagine the staircase, or use the formula we gave you above.
- If you have a pair, is it a pair of 5s and if so, does the dealer have a non-T and non-A card.
- If you shouldn't double, how does your hand relate to the dealer's hand? Who has made hands, almost made hands, etc.
- Is it not an exception by any chance?
If you follow this thought process and remember the rules, you'll never need the blackjack strategy chart again. When you're not sure, peek at the blackjack strategy card to not make any mistake and to solidify the rules in your head, but after a couple of hours all this will be second nature, we promise. If you want to practice a bit before hitting the tables, try the casino-strategy.com blackjack tutor, the Blackjack Guru and see how you do. And you can also learn some other blackjack strategies as well.