Blackjack Strategy

One of the most often asked questions from players about blackjack strategy, is “how should I bet?” You’ve got several options…

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One of the most often asked questions from players about blackjack strategy, is “how should I bet?”

You’ve got several options and I’ll discuss them all in this article and offer my recommendation.

Strategic Blackjack Betting Types

Flat Bet Blackjack Strategy

This means betting the same amount all the time. Most players don’t like to bet this way because they figure if the dealer wins more hands than them they’ll never win any money.

Also, players feel it’s boring betting this way. They prefer the thrill of sometimes betting more in the hopes that when they do so, they will win the hand and make a nice profit.

Here are the facts on the flat betting blackjack strategy. If you bet say $5 on every hand in a standard multiple deck game the house will have an edge of 0.5% against the skilled basic strategy player.

That means you will lose on average 0.5% of every wager you make.

So if you bet $10 on every hand and average 80 hands per hour you will have made a total of $800 worth of bets. The casino expects to earn 0.5% of the $800 or $4.00.

Of course, the more likely result is that you’ll win or lose much more than $4 after an hour of play. But on average you can expect over time to lose at the rate of $4 per hour.

Let’s take an example of a player flat betting $10 on every hand. It’s is a conservative betting strategy that leads to a relatively low theoretical loss rate. The fluctuation in this player’s bankroll will also be low which means the likelihood he’ll have a big winning or losing session is not great.

Progressive Betting Blackjack Strategy

This is where things get interesting. The Progressive betting blackjack strategy is when players vary their bets in some way from one hand to the next rather than always betting the same amount on every hand. There are all different types of betting progressions but they all have one common denominator. You either decrease or increase your next bet depending upon whether the hand you just played won or lose.

Win progressions encourage you to increase your bet size after a winning hand. For example, you make a minimum bet of $10 and if you win, you raise your next stakes on the hand to $20.

There are all different kinds of win progressions. The most common is a 1-2-3-5 progression. This means you increase your bet by the above multiples after each winning hand but as soon as you experience a loss, you start the progression over with a 1 unit bet.

Proponents of win progressions will tell you that you’ll win more money if you win 5 consecutive hands compared to the amount you lose if you lose 5 consecutive hands. Of course, what they don’t tell you is that you never know when that 5 consecutive winning hand streak will occur.

There are also betting progressions in which you increase your bet following a loss. These Martingale type betting progressions are dangerous and you should never consider using them.

There are also hybrid betting progressions, which have you increase your bets following a win, but after two or three success wins you lock up some profit and gradually regress your bets. The creativity of progressive bettors is never-ending.

First of all, the blackjack strategy for betting progressions does not change the 0.5% house edge one iota. There has never been a correlation between the hand just won (or lost) and your chance of winning the next hand. In other words, using the criteria of the result of one hand (W/L) to base how you bet on the next hand has no scientific validity. So betting progressions, in the long run, don’t work in the sense that they won’t improve your long-term chances of winning.

But here’s what betting progressions will do. First off they increase the fluctuation in your session bankroll compared to flat betting.

This means you can win more using a betting progression compared to flat betting but you can also lose more. Secondly, betting progressions will increase the amount of money you wager per hour compared to flat betting. If a $10 bettor uses a 1-2-3-5 betting progression, his average bet will $20. Over an hour he will average $20 times 80 hands or $1600 worth of bets. The casino’s expected win is 0.5% of $1600 or $8. In other words, a $10 progressive bettor stands to lose twice as much per hour as a $10 flat bettor.

Here’s a tip to save you some money in the long run if you insist on using a betting progression. Instead of starting your progression at $10, start at a lower amount (ie. $5). This will reduce your average bet to $10 per hour and cut your hourly theoretical loss rate in half.

But in the long run flat betting and betting progressions don’t work in the sense they won’t change the house edge against you and you will lose in the long run. So what betting system works? That, my friends, is card counting.

Betting When You Have The Edge (Card Counting)

With card counting, you know when you have the edge based on the change in the composition of the decks and therefore you’ll know when it’s the right time to bet more.

So unlike betting progressions that are based on whether you win or lose the previous hands, card counting is based on the mix of cards that were played on previous hands. If more small value cards were played in previous rounds, there are more big value cards left in the unplayed cards, and the edge shifts from dealer to the player. This would be the best time to bet more.

But I’m a realist. Not a whole lot of average blackjack players have the time or mental concentration during play that is required to master one of the popular point count card counting systems.

These are readily available in blackjack books. But even though millions of blackjack books have been sold since Ed Thorp’s classic book, Beat The Dealer (circa 1962) first revealed card counting to the masses, the number of players who can successfully win money in the long run at blackjack number in the hundreds and thousands.

So what’s the answer to betting at blackjack for the average player? I asked Don Pronovost that same question about four years ago. Don is a software developer that markets blackjack training software. He spent the better part of two years and a trillion computer simulated hands looking for the solution to this dilemma. What he developed is Speed Count.

Speed Count is unlike any conventional card counting system. It’s much simpler to master and requires much less concentration when you play. And unlike progressive betting systems, Speed Count will give you a verifiable advantage over the casino You can read about Speed Count in Frank Scoblete’s book, Golden Touch Blackjack Revolution.

Never Make this Bet at the Blackjack Table!

Watch “Why You Should Never Make the Blackjack Insurance Bet with Blackjack Expert Henry Tamburin” (March 2016).

In this video blackjack expert Henry Tamburin explains why a basic strategy player should never make an insurance bet.

He gives details on three different situations that a player may encounter and why he considers blackjack insurance to always be a sucker bet.

Tips for at the Blackjack Table

12 Against a Dealer’s 2 in Blackjack – Why Hit It?

One of the more frustrating hands in blackjack is being dealt a 12 when the dealer shows a 2 upcard. You hate to hit your 12 because you are afraid the dealer is going to give you a picture card and you’ll bust. There’s a lot of misconception on what’s the correct way to play this hand and I aim to sort it all out so it will no longer be a “dilemma” for you.

First off, let’s look at some facts about this hand.

  • Many players don’t hit 12 because they believe the dealer has a ten in the hole and, therefore, they won’t risk busting when the dealer has a weak upcard. However, when you hold a 12, only four cards will bust you … any 10, Jack, Queen, and King, meaning you have a 65% chance of surviving a hit. Five cards  … any 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9 … will give you a 17 through 21 hand.
  • With a 2 upcard, the dealer has a 35% chance of busting and a 65% chance of making a 17 though 21.
  • If you stand, you’ll win 35% of the time and lose 65% of the time.
  • If you hit, you’ll win 37% of the time and lose 63% of the time.

So what does all of the above mean?

First, when the dealer has a 2 upcard, she’s not as venerable to busting as she would with, say, a 4, 5, or 6 upcard. Secondly, your chance of busting isn’t as great as you think. Therefore, it appears that hitting the 12 would be the better play than standing and this is corroborated by facts # 3 and #4. Let’s look at this in a little more detail.

Fact # 3 says you will win 35% of the time standing on 12 against a dealer 2 and lose 65% of the time. This means if you bet a dollar a hand, you would be down $30 after 100 hands on average. That certainly isn’t a good outcome but that’s a fact. Standing on 12 when the dealer shows a 2 is not a profitable play and you will lose more money than you win in the long run. However, let’s look at the second option, namely hitting 12. 

Fact #4 says you will win 2% more times compared to standing. In dollars and cents, this means you will lose $26 after 100 hands on average. That’s also a loser but here’s the question you must ask yourself: is it better to lose $26 or $30? I hope that I’ve convinced you that even though hitting 12 against a 2 is a loser, you will lose less money in the long run compared to standing.  In other words, this is a classic hand where the best playing option allows you to minimize your losses.

What if your 12 consists of a pair of 6s? Now you’ve got another option and that’s to split the 6s and play two hands against the dealer’s 2 upcard. It turns out that when you split and play a 6 against a dealer 2, you will win roughly 43% of the time. In other words, you’ve increased your chances of winning when you split the 6’s against a dealer 2 compared to hitting.

To say it differently, starting with a 6 is a whole lot better than starting with a 12 when you are facing a dealer’s 2 upcard. Therefore, the correct strategy is to always split a pair of 6s against a dealer 2 upcard (with one exception: if you’re playing a four-, six-, or eight-deck game where you can’t double down after pair splitting, you should hit 6’s against a 2).

You could also be dealt a soft 12, which happens to be Ace-Ace. This hand should be a no brainer. You should always split a pair of aces regardless of what the dealer’s upcard is.

Is there ever a situation when you wouldn’t hit a non-pair 12 hand against a dealer’s 2? Actually two cases come to mind. The first is when the remaining cards contain an abundance of high-value vs. small-value cards (thus increasing your chance of busting if you hit 12). In fact, card counters will sometimes stand on 12 whenever their count gets moderately positive (indicating more high cards than small cards remain in the unplayed deck of cards).

So, the next time you see a fellow player standing on 12 against a dealer 2, think twice about calling him a nerd because he might just be a skilled card counter making the correct play.

The second situation which justifies deviating from hitting 12 against a dealer 2 comes about in tournament play. If the tournament rules specify that the double-down card is dealt face down, instead of hitting your 12 you could double down for just one chip (i.e., doubling for less). This move, although it involves some risk of busting, allows you to disguise the outcome of your hand from your opponents who must play their hands after you. This is a powerful strategy especially when it’s used on the last few hands of a closely contested tournament.

So now you know how to play a 12 against a dealer’s 2 under all types of situations; therefore, this hand should no longer be a dilemma for you, right?

Why You Should Avoid 6-To-5 Blackjack Games!

There’s an awful blackjack game that is spreading like wildfire in casinos throughout the US. The game is played with a single deck of cards (that’s the come-on) and when a player gets a blackjack, he is paid at 6-to-5 instead of the traditional 3-to-2.

That change in blackjack payoff increases the house edge by about 700% (Yikes!). Let me show you in dollars and cents what a 6-to-5 blackjack payoff costs you.

If you bet $10 and get a blackjack in a traditional game (3-to-2 payoff on blackjack) you will win $15. In a 6-to-5 game that same $10 bet will net you only $12. So you’re out $3 for every blackjack hand that you get. On average you’ll get four blackjacks per hour so for every hour you play a 6-to-5 single deck game, it costs you $12. Do you want to hand over to the casino $12 per hour for the privilege of playing blackjack? Of course you wouldn’t but that is exactly what you do when you play the 6-to-5 single deck game at a $10 minimum bet.

When this game was first introduced at the Flamingo Hilton in Las Vegas several years ago I thought it didn’t have a chance because I mistakenly believed that players weren’t going to stand for the reduced payoff. But unfortunately I was dead wrong as uneducated players are flocking to play these 6-to-5 single deck games to the delight of casino operators. The game has since spread to casinos in the south, mid-west, and east coast so be wary.

Why is the public enamored with this terrible game? I believe it’s because the majority of players have heard for years that “single deck blackjack games offer better odds.”  That’s a fact and the smart basic strategy player can virtually eliminate the house edge in a traditional single deck game where blackjacks pay 3-to-2. The problem is that the traditional single deck blackjack game is hard to find these days so marketing the “new” 6-to-5 single deck games to the gullible public has been very easy.

The 6-to-5 game has these additional pitfalls:

  1. The 6-to-5 payout rule hurts all players. That means the tourists will be adversely affected by this rule as well as the more skilled basic strategy players and card counters.
  1. If you wager an amount that is not divisible by 5, your payoff for a blackjack gets worse. Suppose you wagered $8 and get a blackjack. In a 6-to-5 game you’ll get paid $6 for the first $5 of your wager and even money for the remaining $3. In other words you get paid a net of $9 which is $3 less than what you would have gotten paid in a traditional 3-to-2 game. The reason for this is that a 6-to-5 payoff can only be paid out at the correct odds if the player wagers in multiples of $5.
  1. Dealers are also impacted by the 6-to-5 payout. If you make a $1 tip bet for the dealer in a traditional 3-2 payout game and get blackjack, the $1 tip bet would earn the dealer $1.50. But in a 6-to-5 game, they only get even money because of the difficulty in paying off in small change (a $1 bet in a 6-to-5 game would pay $1.20).
  1. Because the math doesn’t work out with the 6-to-5 payoff, the even-money option when a player is dealt a blackjack and the dealer shows an ace is prohibited. Most novice players and low rollers like to take the sure even money when they get a blackjack and in a 6-to-5 game, they can’t.
  1. For the most part card counting is not profitable on a 6-to-5 game unless you can get away with a very big bet spread.
  1. You’ll not find a 6-to-5 single deck game on high limit tables. The reason is that high rollers wouldn’t stand for a 6-to-5 payout (the per hourly added cost for a black chip player playing heads up against the dealer in a 6-to-5 game is about $180).

It’s painfully obvious that this game is being marketed to tourists and amateur players that know very little about blackjack. So be forewarned and do not play any blackjack game where player blackjacks pay 6-to-5 (or worse: even money).

You can find out even more details about 6-to-5 blackjack games in the video below with Blackjack expert, Henry Tamburin.

The Worst Hand in Blackjack

No other hand makes blackjack players feel queasy than the dreaded 16. Players hate to hit the hand because they are afraid to bust.

So many chicken out and stand no matter what the dealer shows. Others opt for the surrender option if it’s available figuring losing half a bet is better then losing it all. If your 16 comes as a pair of 8’s most players are reluctant to split if the dealer shows a 9, 10, or ace because they are afraid of losing two bets instead of one. Then there is the 16 made up with an Ace counted as 11 (i.e., soft 16). So what’s a player to do when he gets a 16?

First, let’s focus on a hard 16. That’s a hand that does not contain an Ace or if it does the Ace counts as one. Some examples of a hard 16 would be 10-6 or 5-7-4 or 7-8-Ace.

The correct basic playing strategy for hard 16 is to stand when the dealer shows a small card (2 through 6) and hit when the dealer shows a high card (7, 8, 9, 10, or Ace). Following this playing strategy will not guarantee that you will win every time but that you are more likely to lose less in the long run.. Let me explain.

Suppose you are dealt a 10-6 and the dealer shows a 7 upcard.

If you hit you win on average 30% of the time and lose 70%.

If you stand you will on average win 26% and lose 74%.

Note that you improve your chances of winning the hand by 4% if you hit rather than stand. But the dealer is still an overwhelming favorite to beat you because he will win 70% of the hands to your 30%. But is it better to win 26% of the time by standing or 30% of the time by hitting? You should hit because it will increase your chance of winning by 4%, not much, but every percentage will help you in the long run when you play blackjack.

So the bottom line with a hard 16 is this. Even by following the basic strategy, you will lose more hands than you win but in the long run, you will lose less than following a seat-of-the-pants strategy. Losing less on hands where you are the underdog is just as important as winning more when you are the favorite.

What if your 16 consists of three or more cards like 5-7-4? Normally the basic strategy ignores the composition of the hand. However, if you have a hard 16 hand consisting of three or more cards, then you should stand when the dealer has a 10 showing. The reason is that you have consumed a few of the small cards that you need if you were to draw. This tips the odds in favor of standing.

Some casinos allow players to surrender. This means you give up the opportunity to play out your hand and automatically lose half your bet. Even when surrender is offered, most players don’t like “giving up” without a fight. So they rarely surrender.

That’s unfortunate because surrendering a hard 16 when the dealer shows a 9, 10, or Ace will save you more money in the long run than hitting. In fact, surrender is always the best option when your chance of winning a hand is less than 25%.

Take the hand of hard 16 against a 10. If we hit our chance of winning is 23.4%. This means the dealer’s chance of beating us is 76.6%. If we played a hundred hard 16’s against the dealer 10 with those probabilities, we would end up winning about $23 and losing $77 for a net loss of $54 on average. By surrendering on every hand our net loss would be $50.

Get the point? You are better off losing $50 then $54 which is why surrendering a hard 16 against a 10 is the better play because you will save $4.

If you happen to be dealt a soft 16 (like Ace-5), you should never surrender and you should never stand. Your first option is to double but only if the dealer shows a weak 4, 5, or 6 upcard. If not, then hit.

Finally, we have a pair of 8’s. The correct basic strategy play is to always split the 8’s no matter what the dealer shows. Even though you will lose money on both 8’s when you split, the combined loss, in the long run, will be less than the amount you will lose by playing the one hand as a 16. Splitting 8’s against a dealer 10, by the way, is also a slightly better play then surrendering.

No question that 16 is a lousy blackjack hand. Unfortunately, it’s one of the most frequent hands you are going to be dealt in blackjack.

But, by following the above playing strategy you will be optimizing your chances of winning more, and losing less, in the long run. It’s the smart way to play blackjack.

Now that you know the scoop on betting at blackjack, I wish you many aces and faces the next time you play.

Henry Tamburin has been a respected casino gambling writer for the past 50 years. He is the author of the Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide and was editor of the Blackjack Insider newsletter. You can read his latest articles on blackjack, video poker, and his personal playing experiences at

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