Blackjack, or twenty-one, is one of the most popular casino games. While there is luck involved in blackjack, the game also rewards skill insofar as knowledge of blackjack odds can improve your chances of winning. Indeed, just having a basic understanding of when it makes mathematical sense to hit, stand, double down, or split can increase your edge considerably.
Some players like to consult a blackjack odds sheet covering basic strategy for all situations when they play. These sheets advise players how to play their hands according to the two cards they have been dealt and the one card showing in the dealer’s hand. The advice is based on the odds or probability of subsequent cards being dealt as calculated with the knowledge of cards already seen.
A typical sheet will be divided into three categories of blackjack hands — “hard” hands (not including pairs), “soft” hands, and pairs.
“Hard” hands refer to hands that do not contain an ace. An ace can be played as either 1 or 11, so if you’re dealt a hand that doesn’t contain an ace, it can only count for a single value. For instance, if you’re dealt a 10 and a 7, you have a “hard 17.” However, if you’re dealt an ace and a six, that’s a “soft 17” because you have an option to consider the ace as 1 or 11, and thus play your hand as a 7 or as a 17.
Since “soft” hands give you an extra option to consider, the blackjack odds sheet separates those hands from the “hard” hands because the strategy is different.
If you’re dealt “hard” blackjack hands adding up to 17 through 20, these sheets will always advise you to stand. If you’re dealt a “hard” hand totaling 13-16, you’ll want to stand sometimes and hit other times, the decision hinging on what card the dealer has showing. If the dealer has a low card showing (2 through 6), you’ll want to stand with your 13-16 hand; if the dealer shows a higher card (7 through A), you’ll want to hit.
All of the other combinations are covered on these sheets as well, including instances when you want to consider “doubling down” (that is, double your bet) because you’ve been dealt a particularly good hand, such those adding up to 10 or 11.
As mentioned, “soft” hands containing an ace are often played differently. You’ll be advised to hit a lot more often on these hands, usually only standing with A-9 (adding up to 20) or A-8 (19), and sometimes A-7 (18). The sheet will advise you to hit initially with a lot of these hands, but once your total is more than 11 your hand essentially becomes a “hard” hand because you’ll no longer have the flexibility to play your ace as 1 or 11. That’s when you consult the “hard” hands section of the sheet.
For instance, say you’ve been dealt an ace and a 6. That’s either 7 or 17. You hit and receive a 7. Now you have A+6+7 = 14. That is to say, you must play your ace as a 1 now, because if it were worth 11 you’d be over 21 and bust. Now you look up on the “hard” section of the blackjack odds sheet to see the advice for how to play a 14 versus whatever card the dealer is showing.
Finally, advice about playing pairs is usually considered separately because with pairs you always have an option to split your hand into two hands and have new cards dealt to go with each of your two original cards.
If you’re dealt two aces, for instance, you’re always advised to split those. The same goes for two 8s — always split. Meanwhile, if you get two 10s (equaling 20) you should always stand. Most of the other pairs should either be split or you should take a hit, but the advice varies according to the dealer’s up card.
Learning basic strategy for blackjack might seem complicated at first, but even just a little study of a blackjack odds sheet can go a long way at the tables.