7 Blackjack Strategies that Don’t Work
Blackjack is a popular gambling game offered in almost every land based casino in the world and online.
If you start looking for ways to improve your results at the blackjack table you can find many suggested strategies. Only one strategy actually works, and that’s to use the best play mathematically based on each hand comparing your cards to the dealer’s up card.
This is called basic strategy, and you can find cards covering it in casino gift shops and online. These cards list each possible hand you can have and each of the 13 dealer up cards. You find your hand and the dealer’s card and make the play where the column and row meet.
Any other system performs worse than basic strategy. The only possible exception to this is if you learn how to count cards. And even card counters use basic strategy. (Well, I guess hole carding works, too, but good luck with that.)
I’ve put together this list of 7 blackjack strategies that don’t work so you don’t find one of these and think it can help you win. For each of the seven strategies I’ve included how it works and why it isn’t a good idea.
As you learn more about blackjack always remember that the only strategies you should ever consider using are basic strategy and card counting. Nothing else reduces the house edge as much as possible and this has been mathematically proven by computer simulations.
1. Mimic the Dealer
When you mimic the dealer you draw another card on any total of 16 or below and stand on any total of 18 or more. You also stand on a hard 17. The only hand in question is a soft 17. Some dealers hit on a soft 17 and some stand, depending on the house rules.
It might seem like mimicking the dealer is smart because the casino has an edge, so the dealer must be playing in a way to help the casino keep the edge.
The house edge in blackjack is mostly created by the players being forced to act before the dealer, so when the players bust they lose no matter what happens with the dealer’s hand. The way the dealer pays her hand is actually not the best possible way in every situation.
But the dealer’s way of playing is simple and maintains an edge for the casino. When the dealer stands on a soft 17 it’s better for the players, so if you do mimic the dealer you should always hit on a soft 17.
But the truth is that mimicking the dealer isn’t the best way to play. Find and use a basic strategy card when you play blackjack to keep the house edge as low as possible.
Depending on the house rules, if you mimic the dealer you give the house and edge between 5 and 6%. This is around 10 times the house edge when you use the proper basic strategy. With good rules you can play with a half percent house edge, and most blackjack games are under 1% house edge when you use the best strategy.
2. Never Bust
The never bust strategy means you always hit with a total of 11 or less and never hit with a total of 12 or more. This way you never bust.
When you play a never bust strategy the house edge is around 4%, depending on the table rules. As you learned in the last section, you can play with a house edge of around a half percent using the proper strategy so this never bust tactic is about eight times worse than basis strategy.
It’s always irritating or frustrating to bust just to watch the dealer bust later in the hand, but the mathematical computations show that this never bust strategy is terrible.
Here’s a simple example to show why never busting costs you so much money.
If the dealer has an ace showing and you have 12, any down card for the dealer of six or more form 17 to 21. This means that only five cards, an ace, two, three, four, or five, force the dealer to hit again and risk busting. And if they have an ace down, they usually won’t bust either.
Like all of the blackjack strategies that don’t work listed on this page, use the basic strategy instead to give yourself the best chance to win.
The Martingale system is one of the most popular gambling systems used. Though many systems are called by a different name, the majority of systems use the Martingale at least in part.
When you use the Martingale system you double your bets after every loss and when you win you win enough to cover all of your previous losses and have a win equaling your first bet in the sequence.
You can use the Martingale for any game offering even money bets like roulette, blackjack, baccarat, and craps.
The system is named after John Henry Martingale who owned a gambling parlor in Europe in the 1700’s. No one knows when the system was actually invented because it was being used before this time, but Martingale encouraged his customers to use the system and his name has been attached to the system since then.
Here’s an example of how the Martingale works:
You bet $20 on your first blackjack hand. If you win you bet $20 again. When you lose you double your bet. So if you lose the first bet you bet $40 on the second hand.
Any time you win a hand you bet you original amount, $20 on the next hand. Any time you lose you bet twice the previous bet on the next hand.
So if you lose the first two bets you bet $80 on the third hand. If you lose it you bet $160 on the next hand. This continues until you win a hand or run out of money or the casino won’t take your next bet.
Here’s the string of bets for 10 straight losses to show you how quickly the bet size gets out of hand:
$20 – $40 – $80 – $160 – $320 – $640 – $1,280 – $2,560 – $5,120 -$10,240 – $20,480
Even if you have a large enough bankroll to handle 10 losses in a row, you won’t find a casino that offers anywhere near this large of a betting spread.
The Martingale system is designed to give you a profit of your original bet amount after any win. So you end up risking $2,560 or $5,120 or more to win $20. This is simply a bad idea.
The truth is that you can use the Martingale system to win small amounts many times. You might even be able to use it dozens of times in a row to make small profits. But eventually you’re going to hit a long losing streak and lose all of your money.
If you just can’t keep yourself from trying it set a hard loss limit and stop playing when you hit it. The Martingale system is a classic chasing your losses system and this is something you should never do.
The other thing you must realize is that your bankroll has to be two times the amount of the maximum bet you place. You ‘re betting enough to cover all of your previous losses so when you use the sequence in the example and are betting $1,280 you’ve already lost $1,260 on the previous hands.
If your total bankroll is $1,000 you should set your loss limit and stop playing if you lose a bet of $320. This is a total loss of $620 on five losses in a row.
You might not think that losing five hands in a row is likely, but start keeping track of how often it happens. You’ll be surprised at just how many times you lose five or more hands in a row.
The problem with gambling games, including blackjack, is that each hand is mostly independent of the others. When you play roulette each spin is truly independent of the others, so you stand the same chance to win and odds on each spin.
In blackjack each hand is slightly affected by the previous hand because cards have been removed from the deck. This is the reason card counting can work in blackjack. But for the purposes of the Martingale system the effects of previous card removal is so small that it can’t create a situation where using the system works.
You basically have the same chance to win every hand while playing blackjack and using the Martingale or any other system can’t help you win. It may seem like it works for a short period of time, but in the end it’s no different than betting the same amount on every hand.
The house edge is always the same and a system like this just increase the average amount of each bet you make.
Avoid using any betting system while playing blackjack and use basic strategy instead.
4. Negative Progression
When you use a negative progression betting system you change your bets after a loss. The Martingale system you just learned about s the most famous negative progression system and has been used by many gamblers.
But many other variations of negative progression systems exist. All of them have the same traits of chasing losses trying to eventually secure a small win and the chance of a catastrophic loss that wipes out your entire bankroll.
You can find negative progression betting systems that increase your bets by half of your last bet or one and a half time, or even more of your previous bet.
I’ve even seen systems that used a Fibonacci sequence to increase your bets. The Fibonacci sequence starts with 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, and 21. You add the previous two numbers to get the next number in the sequence. This means the sequence continues into infinity.
Hopefully you see the problem with using the Fibonacci sequence. You quickly reach a point where the casino won’ take the larger sized bets and you run out of money. If you start with a small bet of only $10 you often reach a point where you’re betting 13 or 21 times your original stake or more.
The next problem is because you aren’t fully doubling your bets like in the Martingale system you’re chasing losses and not winning enough for a profit when you win a hand. This is one of the worst ideas for a gambling system I’ve ever seen.
A twist to using a straight Fibonacci sequence with a negate progression system was developed to attempt to overcome this problem. You increase your bets after losses like described above but after a win you drop back two numbers on the progression instead of all the way back to your base bet.
Then you start back over at your base bet as soon as you make a profit for the series.
This may seem complicated but it’s actually fairly easy once you practice. But it still isn’t better in the long run than flat betting.
You still have the chance of losing a large wager and can’t beat blackjack with it, just like any other negative progression system.
5. Positive Progression
In a positive progression betting system you change your bets after a win. The idea is to profit from a winning streak while reducing your risk of taking a big loss.
Here’s an example of a simple positive progression blackjack system.
You start with a base bet of $20. After any loss you always go back to your base bet of $20.
When you win you double your bet, or let it ride, for the next hand. So when you win a hand with your base bet of $20 you bet $40 on the next hand. If you win the second hand in a row you drop back to your base bet of $20.
When you win two hands in a row you win $60.
Instead of stopping after two wins in a row you can shoot for three wins in a row. If you use a three wins in a row system you win $100 on a winning streak.
You decide on the system and number of wins before stopping before you start playing.
You can find many different positive progression systems, with some designed to lock in a part of any wins as you continue on a winning streak.
Here’s an example:
You start with a base bet of $20 and increase your next bet by half your win after each win and drop back to your base bet after any loss.
So if you win your first hand you bet $30 on the next hand. If you win the second hand you bet $45 on the next hand. If you win the third hand in a row your next bet would be $67.50, but most players bet either $65 or $70 at this point.
You continue doing this until you lose a hand and start over at your $20 base bet.
This gives the illusion of locking in profit on a winning streak, but in the long run it’s no better than flat betting.
Just like the Martingale system and other negative progression systems, a positive progression system can be used in any game with close to even money pay outs. Roulette bets on black, red, odd, or even, craps, and baccarat are common bets where players use these systems.
The bottom line is you can’t overcome the house edge in any casino game by changing the size of your bets. Each bet is independent of any others and has the same house edge in the long run.
I’ll admit that using progression systems can be fun and they offer a different way to play. But they won’t help you win.
The main advantage of using a positive progression system is that you eliminate the chance at a huge loss on one hand that eventually wipes out your bankroll using a negative progression system.
If you feel you must use a progression system a simple positive progression system where you bet half your win is the one I’d use. But I’d recommend setting a stopping point of three or four hands in any winning streak.
Here’s the system I’d use if I had to use a progressive system.
The base bet would be $20 and I’d bet around half of any win on the next hand. I’d stop and go back to my original bet of $20 after any loss and after three consecutive wins.
When I won the first hand I’d bet $30 on the next hand. When I won the first two hands I’d bet $40 on the third hand. Then I’d make the base $20 bet on the following hand and start over.
But any progressive betting system should be avoided because they won’t help you win.
The other positive progression system that I’ve seen used is based on the Fibonacci that I covered in the last section. It increases your bets after each win from the second win on and doesn’t wager the entire amount of your win.
You always start with your base bet and make the following multiples of it on winning streaks following the Fibonacci number. So the first and second bets are always the same, the third bet is two times your base bet, the fourth is three times, the fifth is five times, etc.
6. Always Take Insurance
This strategy is the opposite of the correct strategy. You should never take insurance, even when you have a good hand.
Most players don’t take insurance every time the dealer has an ace, but many take it when they have a strong hand. But there’s a good reason, backed by simple math, why you should never take insurance with any hand.
The casino has done an excellent job of making the insurance bet look like a good deal and making it look like it’s tied to your original bet. But neither of these things is true.
An insurance bet is simply a bet on whether or not the dealer’s down card is a 10 or face card or not. When you buy insurance you place a second bet equal to half your original wager and win two to 1, or 2 to 1, on the second bet when the dealer’s down card is worth 10. You lose your second bet and play out your original hand normally if the dealer’s down card isn’t worth 10.
This means when the dealer’s down card is worth 10 it seems like you break even. You lose your original bet and win the insurance bet.
Here’s an example:
You bet $20 and receive a 10 and an eight and the dealer has an ace showing. You accept the insurance offer and place another $10 on the table for it. The dealer has a jack as her down card so you lose the original $20 bet and win $20 on the insurance bet. You break even on the hand.
The problem with this is that the insurance bet pays two to one but the odds of winning it are worse than two to one.
Any down card that’s a 10, jack, queen, or king wins the bet. But a down card of ace, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, or nine loses. So nine cards lose and only four win. This is a ration or odds or nine to four.
In order for the insurance bet to break even the odds of winning would need to be two to one. The equivalent odds would be eight to four, not nine to four.
When you take insurance when it’s offered you increase the house edge. This is why you should never take it.
7. Always Double Down on 9, 10, and 11
One of the ways you reduce the house edge when playing blackjack is by betting more when you have a better chance to win than the dealer. This doesn’t happen on many hands, but on certain hands when you can double down or split a pair you have the opportunity to bet more.
When you hold a total of nine, 10, or 11 it’s often more profitable to double down than just take another card. When you double down you double your bet and receive just one additional card.
Many players take this too far and double down on any nine, 10, or 11. While you want to double down on most of these hands, it’s actually more profitable to hit instead of double on a few of them.
Computer simulations have been run on millions of hands to determine the most profitable play based on what you hold and the dealer’s up card.
Here are the specific hands where you should and shouldn’t double down.
When you have a hard total of nine you should double down against a dealer two, three, four, five, and six. You should hit on a dealer seven, eight, nine, 10, or ace.
When you have a hard total of 10 you should double down against a dealer two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and nine. You hit against a dealer 10 or ace.
When you have a hard total of 11 you should always double down.
This is the least damaging blackjack strategy on this page but it still increases the house edge when you use it. Doubling down on all 10’s and 11’s won’t cost you much, but when you double on a total of nine against a dealer up card of seven or higher it starts hurting you quite a bit more.
I’m sure you’re tiring of reading this because I’ve mentioned it several times, but the best and easiest way to keep the house edge s low as possible is by using basic strategy. Get a card and use it and / or memorize the best strategy.
This is the only strategy you can use to keep the edge as low as possible.
Learn the best basic blackjack strategy and always use it. This is the only strategy or system that can help you reduce the house edge as much as possible. If you want to have a chance to beat blackjack over the long run you can start to learn about counting cards.
The seven blackjack strategies included on this page don’t work as well as basic strategy and some of them are simply terrible. When you use some of these strategies you can increase the house edge by 10 times or more over using basic strategy.