Blackjack strategy isn’t hard to learn. It’s worth the effort, too, as the house edge for a basic strategy player is at least 2% lower than it is for someone who’s just playing by the seat of his pants.
That’s the difference between a house edge of 0.5% and 2.5%, which doesn’t sound like much at first. After all, 2.5% is a really low number, and so is 0.5%.
But don’t think of it that way.
Think of it, instead, as the difference between losing an average of $10 per hour at blackjack versus losing an average of $50 per hour at blackjack.
That’s what you’re looking at — a five-fold increase in the mathematical edge that the house has over you.
Luckily, many of the decisions in basic blackjack strategy are easy to remember. They’re also easy decisions to make.
But the hard decisions are the costly ones.
In this post, I explain the strategy mistakes that most blackjack players make too often along with what you should do instead.
1- Splitting Tens
Most basic strategy players know that splitting tens is a mistake. After all, you have a total of twenty, which is an excellent total. Even though having two starting hands with a ten as your first card, you’re going to wind up with two hands that are significantly less powerful than twenty most of the time.
Sometimes you’ll find a blackjack casino player who will decide to split tens when he faces a dealer 6. After all, that’s a bust card for the dealer, so he figures that the combined likelihood that the dealer will bust with the great idea of having two hands that start with a ten make up for it.
This is one of the worst, most costly blackjack strategy mistakes you can make.
Remembering the right play with a pair of tens in blackjack is easy:
It doesn’t matter what card the dealer is showing. Your correct decision is to stand.
2- Standing on 16
A hard total of sixteen is one of the worst hands you can get in blackjack. It’s a hand where you don’t have any aces, or if you have aces, it’s a hand where you must count the ace as one to avoid busting.
You only have three possible decisions with a hard sixteen:
If the dealer has an ace or ten showing, the correct decision with a hard sixteen is to surrender. If surrender isn’t allowed, the correct decision is to hit.
If the dealer has a seven, eight, or nine, you should also hit. You always need to account for the possibility that the dealer’s hole card is a ten. Even if the dealer doesn’t have a ten, he has a big likelihood of having a seventeen or higher – which is a hand he’ll stand on and beat your sixteen with.
If the dealer has a six or lower, you should stand. In this situation, the dealer has a good probability (35% or higher) of busting.
None of these decisions are profitable. Your goal with a hard total of sixteen is to make the decision that will lose you the least amount of money in the long run.
The big trouble hand for most players is when the dealer has an ace showing. Many players like to stand in this situation, but that’s always a mistake.
3- Standing with a Soft 18
A soft total of eighteen is a hand with an ace in it that can count as eleven or one without busting.
As with a hard sixteen, you only have three possible ways to play a soft 18:
- Double down
Playing a soft total of eighteen correctly involves multiple game factors. These include whether the dealer has to hit a soft seventeen or has to stand on a soft seventeen. It also depends on how many decks are in play.
Generally, you’ll double down with a soft eighteen if the dealer has a face-up card that might indicate a likely stiff hand – any card of six, five, four, or three means that the dealer has a better than usual probability of busting. Getting more money into action when it’s impossible for you to bust and the dealer has a high probability of busting is a good move.
If the dealer hits a soft seventeen, you should also double down if he has a two showing.
You should only stand with a soft eighteen if the dealer shows a two, seven, or eight. In single deck games, you’ll also stand with a soft eighteen if the dealer has an ace showing.
If you don’t meet any of those criteria, you should hit.
Some players will stand with a soft total of eighteen if the dealer has a six showing. This is the wrong move and costs a lot of money in the long run. The correct decision here is to double down if you’re allowed to or to hit if you’re not.
4- Not Splitting Twos
People underestimate how good a two is as a starting hand. You’ll often split twos when you think you should only hit.
This is especially true when the dealer has a seven showing.
Don’t fall for it.
You should split twos any time the dealer has a seven or lower showing. You’ll only hit if the dealer has an eight or higher showing.
Those are the only two decisions to choose from, and the criteria are simple.
The reason people make this mistake is because six is the usual card where you think of the dealer as having a good chance of busting. Seven isn’t usually the cut-off.
5- Taking Insurance
You’ve probably read countless blog posts and blackjack strategy articles telling you to never take insurance.
If you haven’t embraced basic strategy fully yet, you’re probably taking insurance some of the time.
But insurance has always been and still is a sucker bet.
Never take insurance unless you’re counting cards. (And if you’re an accomplished card counter, you’re not making any of the mistakes on this list.)
The mistake most blackjack players make when thinking about insurance is realizing that it’s a separate bet, and you should evaluate it by itself as to whether it’s a good or bad bet.
And the expectation for that separate bet is hugely negative.
It’s better to just ignore the option of insurance altogether.
Avoid these common blackjack mistakes, and you’ll always do better at the blackjack tables.
Last but not least, here you can find my top 3 casino brands to play blackjack (if you don’t want to visit another section just to find out where to play safely).