Blackjack Strategy: When to Split, Double or Stick

lady winning blackjackPerhaps the casino game with one of the simplest outcomes; total 21 or get as near to that number as you can and make sure your hand is at least higher than the dealer to stand a chance of winning some of the pot each time.

Easy right? Well, until you bring strategy into it. A minefield of options, analysis and general game of cat and mouse between player and dealer.

Originating from the practically identical game of ‘Vingt-et-un”, adapted and tweaked, Blackjack has as much tactical psychology associated to it than a Napoleonic battleplan.

For those who aren’t aware of the amount of permutations associated, blackjack throws up interesting questions; if you thought the most complicated was whether you should stick or twist, then you’re in the right place to find that you were most probably wrong.

Split decision?

Arguably one of the biggest decisions is when to split your deck. For those who don’t know, you can only split your deck in blackjack, when you are dealt two of a kind, or essentially one pair, for example, a seven of hearts and a seven of clubs.

This tactic is potentially the most potent in a player’s weaponry; it improves your chances of beating the dealer as well as doubling your win, though making the best use of this is key because it could backfire.

As a rule, when you draw two Ace cards, you are being presented with an opportunity to increase your chances of a very good outcome.

playing cards in suitsBecause an Ace represents both a one or 11 the odds of you getting a total between 16 and 21 on each hand are very good - it is just smart gameplay to do this.

Drawing two eights also presents a good opportunity to split as well, because in total, they make 16 - the lowest figure on which you can ‘stand’ and which the dealer can force a tie on, if they total that as well.

Certainly a time not to split is when you draw a pair of nines or 10s because anything higher than an 18 puts you in a strong position on which to stand. If you do split them, then you are essentially counting on drawing at least one Ace card which really isn’t worth it.

Any pairs lower than fives really isn’t worth splitting because it sets you up nicely to potentially rack up a good total as you twist maybe a couple of times, especially if an Ace is thrown in, which can obviously double as a one or 11.

If you do, for example, split fours and then you draw a 10 it puts you in a bit of a dilemma, because 14 is a tricky figure to work with - you are basically counting on drawing a seven or lower which is basically a 50/50 chance.

Outwitting the Dealer

Your decision to split hands, could also be influenced by the dealer’s upcard and there are situations where this could be sensibly exploited.

If the dealer has any upcard that is seven or below and you have either a pair of twos, fours, or sevens (which essentially give uninspiring, potentially problematic totals), you can likely get away with splitting.

This is because, at the end of the day, you both have low totals, so are basically in the same boat - it is much better for you to take advantage first and start building two more better hands - especially if you end up drawing an Ace card.

The same could be said if you draw sixes and nines and the dealer’s face card totals up to either of the two values respectively. When you split either a six or a nine and the dealer has up to either of these cards, it puts you in a good position to set up for a strong stand, against the dealer who may just go bust or play cautiously.

Double Down to Double Up

double down hand blackjackWith blackjack offering one of the lowest house edges in a casino, if you use the double down strategy wisely, you can gain an even better advantage over the house.

While at the beginning of a blackjack game a principal wager is made before players get their cards in most instances, you won’t be able to place any further bets.

However, if you decide to double down, you can place another wager, equal to the ante and receive an additional card. Following this though, you cannot draw another and, as such must wait to see what the dealer gets. This can be an interesting hedging strategy, especially if you want to try and put the dealer on the back foot, though, can wildly backfire - it certainly is a high risk move.

Knowing when to double down though, is the key and bearing in mind that at the start of the game, the dealer has one card and you are dealt two; should the dealer’s be a low-value card of a five or six and you show a nine; this may be the ideal opportunity to make that extra bet.

In blackjack, there are suggestions that doubling down can be connected to what is called the Martingale strategy, which relates to the fact that you begin your game by wagering a small amount and if you win, then you are still in profit, however, if you lose, you double your next stake to essentially make up for your previous loss.

The below table indicates the best moves to take if your hand doesn’t contain an ace, applying the Martingale system:

Round#StakeWinLoseNet Result
1 £1 X   2
2 £1   X 1
3 £2   X -1
4 £4   X -5
5 £8   X -13
6 £16   X -29
7 £32 X   3
8 £1 X   5
9 £1   X 4
10 £2   X 2

The below table, meanwhile, relates to soft totals - hands that contain an Ace; essentially you are presented with more options when it comes to doubling down.

Players Hand                    
8       D D          
9 D D D D D          
10 D D D D D D D D    
11 D D D D D D D D D D
A2       D D          
A3       D D          
A4       D D          
A5     D D D          
A6   D D D D          
A7   D D D D          

Insurance policy to ensure your win?

ace playing cardsThis popular side bet in blackjack, which pays 2/1 can make all the difference, to protect you against the dealer if they draw a strong up card.

With online games, it is the player who is given the initial move and as a result, this means that you have to make an educated prediction as to whether your hand betters the dealer’s.

As such, you can hedge your bet which means that you can wager half of your initial bet against the dealer drawing blackjack in the least possible moves - an Ace and a Jack, Queen or King; online, you can only take an insurance bet though if the dealer draws an Ace card on the first deal.

In a game which has multiple decks, insurance can be a savvy bet to take, because the dealers chances of drawing an Ace first are dramatically increased, therefore naturally you can see the sense in it. Also, maybe do it if an Ace hasn’t been drawn for a while because the chances are that it will happen soon!

On the whole though, applying this as a long term strategy could drain your purse considerably’ because the 2/1 odds are nowhere near big enough to be doing this every time.