If you’re new to blackjack, you might not understand that to get the best odds, you must play with the appropriate strategy. You should probably memorize a basic strategy chart, and if you can’t do that, buy one at the casino gift shop and refer to it at the table.

Even that might be too much work for some people, so I’m happy to offer some blackjack rules of thumb to help you do well even if you haven’t mastered basic strategy.

## 1- Never Take Insurance – It’s a Sucker Bet

It’s safe to assume that you’re not a card counter. If you were, you wouldn’t have any use for these rules of thumb. Card counters know when to take insurance and when not to – based on the count.

If you’re not counting cards, you should never take insurance. The odds offered on that bet are terrible.

What’s Insurance?

It’s a side bet you can make when the dealer has an ace for her up-card. The size of the bet must be half of your original bet, and it pays off at 2 to 1 if the dealer has a blackjack.

Doing this hedges your original bet, which you lose when the dealer has a blackjack. You break even when the dealer has a blackjack.

If the dealer doesn’t have a blackjack, you lose your insurance bet, but the rest of the hand plays out normally.

If you had 2 to 1 or better odds of winning the insurance bet, it would make sense to take this bet.

But you don’t.

A standard deck of playing cards has 16 cards valued at 10, so the odds of getting a 10 for your next card are 35 to 16.

They’d need to be 32 to 16 (or 2 to 1) for this bet to not have an edge for the house.

## 2- Always Stand If You Have a Hard 17 or More and Always Hit If You Have a Hard 11 or Less

What’s a Hard 17?

When you have a blackjack hand that includes an ace, that ace can count as 1 or 11. This is, by definition, a soft hand. You play soft hands more aggressively – hitting more often – than hard hands.

If you have a hand that would bust if the ace were counted as 11, you must count it as 1, and you now have a hard hand.

Any hand lacking aces is also a hard hand.

With a hard total of 17 or higher, your probability of busting is so high that you should never take a hit.

You’ll also always hit a hard 11 or less, because it’s impossible to bust with that total. The highest value card in the deck is the ace, which would give you a total of 22 if you had a hard 11, but you can also count that ace as 1 – giving you a total of 12.

The next highest card is 10, which gives you a 21.

Every possible card improves your hand with a hard total of 11.

## 3- Always Stand With a Soft 19 or Higher, and Always Hit a Soft 17 or Lower

A soft total of 19 is so good that even though it’s a soft total, you probably won’t improve the hand by getting another card. An ace or a 2 will give you a 20 or 21, but any other card you get only gets you the same total or lower.

On the other hand, a soft 17 isn’t that impressive a total, so you might as well hit it and try to improve it. The worst-case scenario is that you wind up with a slightly lower total, but that’s not as likely as improving your total or having the same total.

With a soft total of 18, you have a decision to make, but it’s an easy one:

If the dealer has a 9, 10, or ace showing, you’ll hit. Otherwise, stand.

That’s your entire basic strategy for soft totals in less than 200 words.

Show me another blackjack strategy guide that keeps it that simple.

## 4- If the Dealer Has a 6 or Lower as Her Up-Card, She’s Liable to Bust

When the dealer has a 6, 5, 4, 3, or 2 showing as her up-card, she’s more likely to bust her hand than usual. This means you’re more likely to stand, because if she busts, you only need to stay in the game.

If you have a hard 13, 14, 15, or 16, you’ll stand when the dealer has a 6 or lower showing.

And, of course, you always stand on a hard 17 or higher, so you’ll stand on almost every total when the dealer has a 6 or lower showing.

Your goal is to still be in the hand when the dealer busts.

Keep in mind that the dealer busting isn’t inevitable; it’s just likely.

Don’t get made when you lose real money playing blackjack. It’s a random game, and that’s going to happen sometimes.

## 5- Always Split Aces and 8s but Never Split 4s, 5s, or 10s

Splitting means using the 2 cards you’ve been dealt to start 2 hands. You need to place an extra bet to get the extra hand into action. Also, the 2 cards you have must be the same.

Splitting aces should make obvious sense – who wouldn’t want to have a blackjack hand where the first card is an ace?

Splitting 8s might not be as obvious, but think about it this way:

What’s the Most Common Card in the Deck? It’s a card worth 10, which means that the most common result you’ll see after splitting 8s is a total of 18, which is a solid hand anyone at the blackjack table is happy to see.

Why Would You Never Split 4s, 5s, or 10s? If you have a couple of 4s, you have a hard total of 8. If you hit and get a 10, you have a total of 18, which is great.

But if you split the 4s, you’re likely to get a 10 and wind up with a hard total of 14, which isn’t nearly as exciting.

The same logic applies to 5s. Would you rather start with a total of 10, where you’re liable to wind up with a total of 20? Or would you rather have a hand starting with a 5 that’s liable to turn into a 15?

And if you have a pair of 10s, you have the 2nd best total in the game – 20.

Why would you want to screw that up?

## 6- For Other Pairs, Split If the Cards Are the Same as the Dealer or Lower

For Example:

If you have a pair of 7s, you would split if the dealer has a 7 or lower showing for her up-card.

If you have a pair of 6s, you would split if the dealer has a 6 or lower showing.

This goes back to the logic that if the dealer has a low card showing, she’s more likely to bust. If she’s likely to bust, you want to get more money into action.

With a pair of 9s, you’d split against a 9 or less for a slightly different reason:

You have a total of 18, but the dealer is likely to have a 19, which means your 18 will lose.

And since the 10 comes out more often, when you split those 9s, you’ll often wind up with a total of 19 on the 2 subsequent hands – which will at least push.

If the dealer has something much lower than that, she’s likely to bust, so again, you just want to get more money into action.

## 7- Always Double Down on a 10 or 11, Unless the Dealer Has a 10 or an Ace

Doubling down is taking one more card and doubling the size of your bet at the same time. You cannot take additional cards after doubling down.

If you have a 10, you double down unless the dealer has a 10 or an ace.

If you have an 11, you double down unless the dealer has an ace.

You’ll also double down with a 9 if the dealer has a 6 or lower.

You’ll sometimes double down with soft totals, but these are meant to be rules of thumb, not a complete guide to basic strategy, so I won’t get into that.

## Conclusion

These 7 blackjack rules of thumb cover most hands and situations you’ll see at the blackjack table. This isn’t meant to replace basic strategy at all – I still think you should memorize basic blackjack strategy and make the right play on every hand.

The average blackjack player in Vegas makes so many mistakes that the house edge might as well be 4% or 5%. If you stick to playing by the rules of thumbs above, you’ll only be dealing with a house edge of 1.5% or so.

That’s far better than 5%.

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