Blackjack is filled with strategy traps for the unwary. There are plans of attack that seem to make common sense but are exposed as faulty on close examination.

The best plan for new players is to learn basic strategy, regardless of whether they play blackjack online at 888casino or in live casinos. Once that's mastered, advanced players can thing about augmenting basic with composition dependent strategies or advantage play such as counting cards.

Still the temptation is there to try solutions that seem easy, but actually are easy ways to lose your money.

Avoid these common strategy pitfalls.


It's more common for the dealer to have a 10-value card face down than any other denomination. In a standard 52-card deck, there are 16 ten values – the four 10s, four Jacks, four Queens and four Kings.

For each other denomination, there are only four cards. The four 2s are the only way to make 2 in one card, just as the four 9s are all there are.

No matter how many decks are in use, there are four times as many 10 values as any other denomination.

Some players take that information a step too far and base their strategy on an assumption the dealer has a 10 down.

That can lead to some bad strategy mistakes. 

Many plays remain obvious. If you have hard 16 and the dealer has a 6 face up, you're going to stand and let the dealer chance busting regardless of whether you assume the dealer has 16 or you make no assumption beyond the face up card.

But what if you have hard 17 and the dealer has 8 face up? If you assume the dealer has a 10 down for 18, do you grit your teeth, risk busting and take a card to try to beat 18? After all, your 17 can never beat 18 without help.

Not if you're playing smart. Even though there are more 10 values than anything else, they still make up only 30.8% of all cards. If the face down card is any of seven card denominations – 2 through 8 – the dealer's two-card total would range from 10 to 16. That would require the dealer to hit and risk busting. 

Those seven card values represent 53.8% of the deck. It's much more likely a dealer with an 8 up would have to hit than have a 10 down that would beat your 17.

Basic strategy takes into account all possible dealer down cards. It tells us that in a common six-deck game, you'll lose about 50 cents per dollar wagered if you hit hard 17 against a dealer's 8, but only 38 cents if you stand. 

That's an extreme example, but the principle applies throughout the basic strategy grid. Don't be tempted to stray from basic strategy by assuming the dealer has a 10 down. Ten down is the case less than a third of the time. Stick with the strategy that takes all possible dealer down cards into account.

Blackjack strategies


Inexperienced blackjack players sometimes are tempted to sit back and let the dealer take all the risks. If they have a hard total of 12 or higher, they won't hit, no matter what the dealer shows face up.

I've occasionally seen dealers agree as players stand on hands they should hit. A fellow once stood on hard 16 consisting of 9-7 when the dealer showed an Ace, saying, "I hate to hit those hands." The dealer replied, "At least if you stand, you're still n the game."

But the point isn't to stick around as long as possible before letting the dealer take your money. It's to give yourself the best shot to win.

Even with weak cards face up, the dealer makes a standing hand of 17 or better too often for "never bust" to give you the best shot to win.'

In a six-deck game in which the dealer hits soft 17, the dealer busts only 20.1% of hands with an Ace up, 35.7 %with 2, 37.7% with 3, 39.8% with 4, 42% with 5, 43.9% with 6, 26.2% with 7, 24.4% with 8, 23% with 9 and 23% with 10.

The dealer bust percentage never reaches 50%. Even the up cards most likely to lead to a bust – 5 and 6 – bust only 42% and 43.9% of the time.

That means if you stand on hard 17 or lower, you are destined to lose about 56.1% of the time if you stand against the dealer card most likely to bust. 

When you have 17 it's possible to push a dealer 17, and with 18 or higher you can win against some dealer standing hands. But with 16 or lower, you can't push and can't win unless the dealer busts. So we stand on all hard 17s and higher, but hit most hard 16s and lower if the dealer up card is 6 or lower. Exceptions: hit hard 12 vs. 2 or 3.

As with the warning against assuming the dealer has 10 down, it's far better to follow basic strategy than to play never bust. In the specific case spotted above with a player 9-7 against a dealer Ace in a six-deck game in which the dealer hits soft 17, average results are a loss of 59.5 cents per dollar wagered if you follow the player's lead and stand, or 53.9 cents if you play basic strategy and hit.


When players get used to the mechanics of playing blackjack and move on to thinking about strategy, they sometimes take a leap in logic.

It seems only natural that if the dealer must hit a 16s or lower and either stand on all 17s or hit soft 17 and stand on the hard hands, that must be the best way to play. The house wouldn't require its dealers to play a sub-optimal strategy, would it?

The problem is that players face different conditions than the dealer. Players finish their hands first, and if they bust, they lose. Their money taken before dealers even play their hands.

If you bust and the dealer busts on the same hand, you lose. 

That's the entire source of the house edge in blackjack.

If you played dealer strategy, you'd bust a fraction more than 28% of the time, with that fraction varying with number of decks and whether the dealer hits soft 17. The dealer busts the same percentage.

On about 8% of hands, you and the dealer both bust. On the other 92% of hands, you win as often as the dealer, but those hands where you both bust give the house an 8 percent edge.

If there were no compensating rules and if you made no strategy adjustments, blackjack's house edge would send most players scurrying to other games, including at 888casino. But blackjack gives about 2.3 percent back to players by paying 3-2 on blackjacks, or 0.9 percent if you fall into the trap of playing a game with 6-5 blackjack payoffs.

There's the opportunity to cut the edge much more. You don't have to hit 16 when the dealer shows a 6 or lower. You can ignore dealer strategy and stand. 

Not only that. You're permitted to double down or split pairs if you wish. The dealer can't.

Following basic strategy for hitting, standing, splitting and doubling dramatically reduces the house edge and makes blackjack a playable game. In a six-deck game in which the dealer hits soft 17 and in which you can double on any first two cards, split pairs up to three times and may double after splitting, the house edge against a basic strategy player is 0.62 percent.

Following dealer strategy may sound tempting on the surface, but don't do it. For players, there's a better way.

For nearly 25 years, John Grochowski has been one of the most prolific gaming writers in the United States. He’s been ranked ninth by GamblingSites among the top 11 gambling experts at Gambling Sites and his Video Poker Answer Book was ranked eighth among the best gambling books of all time.