Strategy in blackjack is basically comprised of knowing the correct decision to make depending on the hand you are holding in light of the dealer’s hand. This is different than poker, where you need to base your decisions for each individual hand on a variety of different factors. Professional blackjack players and many hobbyists are able to mechanically respond to every situation that can occur at the blackjack table, reducing the house’s edge to less than 1% (making incorrect decisions increases the house’s edge from this baseline). What should please you is that this basic strategy is quite easy to learn and even a first-time player can sit down and make the optimal decision on close to every hand. Many casinos even offer blackjack strategy cards for sale in their gift shops!
Before delving into the basic strategy of blackjack, a quick distinction must be made between “hard” and “soft” hands. A soft hand is any hand in which an ace is counted as 11 points; it is impossible to bust a soft hand because the ace can revert into a one point card. This turns the hand into a hard hand. Hand decisions can change depending on whether you are holding a hard or a soft hand. Here, we will mainly be talking about hitting and standing; splitting and doubling down are covered in their respective articles.
The decisions on all hands are based on a balance between the likelihood of busting, the likelihood of the dealer busting, and the likelihood of the dealer having a better hand than you when the hand is finished. When playing blackjack, there is always the underlying assumption that the dealer’s face down card is a ten; though this will not always be the case, it is what optimal strategy is based on. Remember, the dealer must hit on a hand total of 16 or less and stand on 17 or higher. If you are holding a hard total of 17-20, you always stand regardless of what the dealer is showing (a 21 results in a blackjack). If you have a 12-16 and the dealer is showing a card between two and six, you stand because you are trying to allow the dealer to bust. However, if the dealer has a seven through ten or an ace, you need to hit because you are assuming that he can beat you without even adding another card to his total. With hands totaling five, six, seven, or eight, you should always hit, and you almost always hit on a nine as well. Whenever you hold a total of 10 or 11, you should double down unless the dealer is showing an ace or a 10 (with eleven always double down unless the dealer has an ace). Doubling down is covered further in another article.
Soft hands are a little trickier and the fine details will be covered elsewhere. However, if you keep these few rules in mind, you should be fine the next time you sit down to play blackjack. If you have a soft 19 or 20, you always stand regardless of what the dealer is showing. With a soft 17 or 18 (so if you have an ace and a six or seven), you hit against the dealer if he has a nine, ten, or ace, stand against a two, seven, or eight, and double against a three, four, five, or six. With the lower soft hands, you will be hitting on anything because you cannot bust and the risk of lowering your hand is outweighed by the risk of making a stronger hand. When the dealer shows a five or six, you should double down on your bet with any soft hand besides 19 or 20 because the dealer has the greatest chance of busting with a five or six showing.