When to Hit or Stand in Blackjack
Casino blackjack is a simple game: Get closer to 21 than the dealer without going over. But there is a significant amount of basic strategy used to maximize your winning potential, including when to hit or stand with the cards in front of you, considering the dealer upcard.
This page breaks down best practices on blackjack when to hit and when to stand, in addition to the best use of splitting your hand or doubling down, and what that means. All of this basic strategy applies no matter where the blackjack game is taking place – at a blackjack table or virtually at any one of the recommended New Jersey casino sites you’ll find at TopNJCasinos.com
When a player uses basic blackjack strategy, the popular card game has the lowest house edge of just about any casino game, and that can add up to real money in your wallet.
MORE BLACKJACK STRATEGY: When To Double Down, Including a Blackjack Strategy Chart
What Does Hit or Stand Mean in Blackjack?
“Hit or Stand” is the key question you’ll be asking on nearly every blackjack hand you play against a dealer. What these terms mean is pretty straightforward.
“Hit” means you want an additional card. The first opportunity is with the two you were dealt. If you have a 9 and a 3 showing, you tell the dealer to hit or use the hand signal of tapping the table, and you get another card. You can hit multiple times per hand – just don’t go over 21.
When you don’t want any more cards, you stand. “Stand” means you are finished with your hand. The hand signal is waving your hand over your cards, or you just tell the dealer. Once you stand, you cannot hit. Your round is done, and you’re ready to see what the dealer is showing.
When Should You Hit?
When to hit is critical in blackjack to secure the best-possible chance of success. Hitting on a low total can greatly increase your chances of winning. It can also end your chances – over 21 and you’re busted.
Here are examples of times you should always consider hitting:
Your total is 11 or under, non-pairs: Say you’re dealt a 4 and a 5. You have no chance of busting out by taking an additional card. The only exception to hitting in this case is situations where splitting and doubling down makes sense. Those are special variations to hitting that we’ll get to later.
You have a 12-16, the dealer is showing a 7 or higher: One general guideline is to assume the dealer’s hole card – worth 10 points. The dealer stops when at 17 or higher, so if you aren’t at 17, you need to get there.
Chances of getting a card you need are considerably better when you have a 12 compared to a 16. But statistically speaking, hitting on either is the right place against a dealer upcard of 7 or higher.
You have an Ace with a 2-6: Aces are special; they can count as 1 or 11 depending on what’s best for your hand. If you have a lower card paired with an Ace, it benefits you to count it as 1 and add another card.
If your Ace is paired with a 7 or above, you’re already at 18 or better, you’re highly unlikely to improve your hand with another card. There is no need to hit. It’s usually best to take your chances with the dealer’s hand.
You have 17 or under, dealer is showing a face card: If you’re under 17 and the dealer is showing a Queen, you need to hit. You will occasionally get lucky, and the dealer will show a small card under the face as his hole card. But holding strong at 14 isn’t going to result in many wins for a player against a dealer’s hand like that.
When Should You Stand?
When to Stand knowledge in blackjack is just as critical as when to hit. Adding a card when you shouldn’t can greatly decrease your chance of winning.
Here are a few key tips when to hold your ground:
You have a 17 or higher: If a dealer gets to 17 on their hand, they stop and the round is ended. The exception is the “Soft 17,” in which the dealer has a 17 that includes an Ace in their opening two cards. In that case, the dealer continues to hit until reaching a hard 17 or busts.
Because of that, a strong rule of thumb – the strongest rule of thumb in blackjack strategy, really – is to never hit when you have a hard 17. The only cards at that point that can help you are an Ace, 2, 3 or 4. The risk far outweighs the reward. This is the case even when the dealer’s card is a face card or an ace. Your odds may not be great in that instance, you’re far more likely to bust than to improve your chances.
Hitting on a 17 gives a blackjack player a 69% chance of busting out. It’s not worth it. Remember, a dealer stops at hard 17.
You have a 13 or higher, dealer is showing a 2-6: When the dealer is showing a low number card, they are in a position to eventually bust. Stick to your hand and let the dealer do just that.
You have a 12, dealer is showing 4-6: If you’re at 12 and the dealer is showing a 2 or 3, you’re basically in the same boat. It’s OK to hit, knowing only a card worth 10 will bust you out.
You have a soft 18-20: Hitting on hands with a low card paired with an Ace (which count as 1 or 11) can improve your chances at a strong finish. But if it’s paired with a 7, 8 or 9, stay. You’re already in a position to win and the chances of improving upon it are slim. In fact, you’re likely to decrease your hand if you hit. If it’s paired with a face card, sit back and collect your winnings. It’s blackjack!
Pair of 10s: If you have a pair of the same card, splitting them to create two hands is an option. But you don’t want to split a hand that already adds up to 20. You stand a better chance of losing twice. A pair of 9’s should be split if the dealer is showing a 2-6, but generally held otherwise.
Soft Hands vs Hard Hands
The difference in soft hands vs. hard hands is the Ace. An ace is worth 1 or 11, depending on what makes your hand better.
Dealers stay on any hand totaling 17 – hard 17, that is. If a dealer is showing a 6 and pulls up an Ace behind it, that’s a soft hand – a soft 17. The dealer must hit.
If you have an Ace and 8, that is worth nine, or it’s worth 19. You’ll always want it to be worth 19, that’s a good hand.
If you have an Ace and a 4, however, that’s worth five or 15. In that case, you’ll want to hit. A 15 isn’t going to win you many hands, and adding a card greatly improves your odds of winning. Plus you can’t bust out. A face card simply pushes your total back to 15.
Other Blackjack Options to Consider
Hitting and staying are the two most-common moves to make in blackjack, but they aren’t the only ones.
Here are other strategies that can dramatically boost your payouts or lessen the blow of a losing hand:
Splitting Hands: If you’re dealt two of the same card, you have the option of doubling down – splitting the cards into two, separate hands. When you slot your hand, you match your initial bet on the second hand you have created. So, it doubles the size of your original bet, but also doubles the size of your potential win.
Not all same-card hands are the same, however. A few splitting rules of thumb:
Always double Aces and 8’s: In all instances, the statistics favor splitting those pairs. A pair of Aces is worth 2 or 12 – splitting them makes all the sense in the world. Two 8’s are worth 16, arguably the worst hand in the game. You have a chance of two 18’s or even better.
Split 2-7 when against a 2-6: If the dealer is showing 2-6, it means the dealer is in position to bust out. Split your cards – even if you end up with mediocre hands, you’re doubling your chances of winning against the dealer’s poor hand.
The exception to that rule is if you have a pair of 5’s. That brings us to our next special circumstance.
Doubling Down: In doubling down, a blackjack player is doubling the size of his initial bet, but he gets just one additional card. There is no more hitting after doubling down.
If the dealer is showing a 3-6 and you can’t bust out with an additional card, doubling down is a great strategy to increase your original bet against a bad dealer hand.
If you have a total of 9-11 and the dealer is showing a 3-6, it’s a great spot to double down. Doubling down on an 11 is always the top play, unless the dealer is showing an Ace. It makes sense on 10 if the dealer is showing 9 or lower. That includes a pair of fives – doubling down is far better than splitting in this case.
It also works great on soft hands against a 4-6 of the dealer. If you have an Ace pair with a 2-7 and the dealer’s card is small, double your bet.
Surrender: If the dealer is showing an Ace you’re sitting there with a hand that’s going to require work, you might want to surrender your hand. If you surrender, you lose half your bet, but get back the other half.
Statistically, if the dealer is showing Ace, surrender is worth considering if you have a hard 5-7, hard 12-17 or a pair of 3’s, 6’s, 7’s or 8’s. Surrendering on a hard 14-16 against a 10 is also solid basic strategy.
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