Correct blackjack strategy changes according to the rules of the variant you’re playing. For example, when you have the option to surrender, correct play for certain hands changes. If the game you're playing allows you to double after splitting, this changes how you play the game. This is true with each variation in the game, but it also changes when you start playing variations of blackjack like blackjack switch, pontoon, and double exposure. This page discusses the best way to study blackjack strategy, why basic strategy charts are so useful, and which keys you should be looking for when you play variants.
Blackjack Strategy Tables
Look online under "blackjack strategy" or "basic strategy" and you'll find endless charts and tables you can study. To become a better blackjack gambler, find a printable basic strategy chart of the game you play and memorize that card. If you can find a basic strategy chart which is color-coded, this is even better. A good basic strategy chart should show you when to hit, stand, split, and surrender in all scenarios. This chart should show you when to double if it’s allowed.
You might think memorization is too difficult, but the rote work isn't that hard if you're studying for only one set of game rules. The charts discuss a couple of specific types of strategy situations. Understanding how to play your hand correctly is based on two things—what your cards are, and what the dealer’s upcard is.
Correct strategy also changes when more decks are added to the shoe. For instance, you'll find a basic strategy chart for a single deck, a double deck, and for four or more decks at a time. The more cards are in the deck, the less useful your ability to keep track of the cards already dealt or keeping a card count of some kind. Playing with a single deck provides a positive variation instead of playing with 4, 6, or 8 decks. Even playing a single deck instead of a double deck increases your chances--but only if you know what you're doing.
The hand you're dealt is the first pivotal piece of information you have. Blackjack hands can be categorized into strong hands, weak hands, and marginal hands. Learning to recognize the differences in these is important. Knowing the strength of your hand lets you know when to be aggressive or when to play it safe. Knowing how to play marginal hands is especially important, because this is where most beginning and intermediate players make their mistakes. It's easy to know what to do with ace-ace or 10-10, but knowing what to do when you have an 8-7 or an 8-6 is what separates the top players from the chumps.
The next major piece of information you have for decision making is the card the dealer is showing. With this information, you can make educated guesses on how strong the dealer's hand is eventually going to be. If the card showing is an ace or a card with a rank of 10, then the dealer is showing the possibility of a natural blackjack. Unless you're holding a natural at the same time, the dealer could beat you straight up and there's nothing you can do about it. If the dealer has such a hand, the peek rules become important, and knowing the surrender rules (if any) is also important.
When to Double
Being able to double your bet is an important rule too. When the doubled bet is allowed, knowing when to double a hand lowers the house edge significantly. This is because you can pick your spots for when you put more money on the line. If you double when the odds are heavily in your favor, this means you have the ability to press your advantage when you have a higher than 100% expectation on a hand.
When to Split
Knowing when to split is also important, both for the sake of offense and defense. If you receive 5s or 10s, these are bad hands to split, because a "20" is going to win a lot of the time, while a 5-5 hand of "10" is a lot better prospect than two hands of 5. At the same time, 8-8 is a perfectly awful hand, so it's better that you split these cards and hope you get a low card like a 2 or 3 or a high card like a 10. Either is better than having to decide whether to hit a hard 16, which is what you would do otherwise.
When to Surrender
Knowing the appropriate time to surrender is a skill many newer players have trouble mastering. In fact, knowing when to surrender tends to be relatively straightforward, though players make it a whole lot more complicated than it should be. For instance, if you have a 16 (but not two 8s), it's a good idea to surrender against 9, 10, or ace. Any of these cards have a 30% chance (on an average hand) of hitting a 10 and dominating your cards, so it's better to surrender and avoid the big loss. If you have a hard 15, it's a good idea to surrender against a ten, for the same reasons.
How to Play Blackjack
These are just the basics, of course. Every time you begin learning a new game, remember to print off a new strategy card. Every rule, every side bet, and every game variant presents a different challenge. If you're playing in a land-based casino, remember that most casinos have their own print-off strategy guides. These can be taken with you to the table in most cases. It might seem embarrassing to you to be looking a blackjack strategy chart, but this becomes a lot less embarrassing when your diligence pays off with winning blackjack.