Single Deck Blackjack Strategy Guide
Blackjack with just one deck has a much deeper level of strategy than the more typical multi-deck version because some of the decisions come down to the specific cards that you hold instead of just the total. Solid single-deck blackjack strategy also comes down to adjusting to the specific rules of the software you’re playing with, which adds another layer to the strategic thought required.
Introduction to Single Deck Blackjack
Blackjack strategy for games with several decks comes down to what the average play will do to your bottom line based on the average cards that are dealt. However, because there are so many cards left in the shoe, you can’t really get too specific with the details of your decisions in terms of playing based on having certain cards.
However, in single-deck blackjack, you absolutely can play with these composition-based strategies instead of basing everything 100 percent off of the totals that you hold instead.
Games with a single deck have been the target of all kinds of attempts to get a strategic edge, and these composition strategies are a great example of an approach that can work in online games (unlike something like card counting that cannot).
In what follows, we’re going to break down all of the strategic aspects of this game that you need to know to maximize your payout rates and get the house advantage down as low as possible (and potentially lower than the game developers ever intended).
House Advantage and Payout Rates
There can be some slight rule differences between different styles of single-deck blackjack online, and those rule differences can move the potential payout rate around a little bit.
For example, GTECH’s single-deck game can give players a house edge as low as 0.11 percent (payout rate of 99.89 percent), but in Microgaming’s single-deck blackjack game, you’ll see the house advantage only get down to 0.13 percent (payout rate of 99.87 percent) instead. That might not seem like such a big difference, but it’s actually fairly significant, so game selection matters here.
Generally speaking, the average prepared player who puts some time to study and practice but who still makes occasional small mistakes can expect a payout rate in the range of 99.6 to 99.8 percent.
Important Rules for Single Deck Blackjack
A big part of getting good at this game is learning how to adjust to some of the rules that are variable and that can be different from casino to casino or software to software. The rules that you can expect to usually stay the same no matter where you play are as follows:
- One deck of cards is used, and it is shuffled after every hand.
- Players can only split a single time during a hand.
- Players can double after splitting.
And the rules that are variable include:
- The dealer stands on a soft 17.
- The dealer peeks for blackjack.
- Early surrendering is allowed.
- Players can double with any total.
As you can see, there are more notable rules that can change than rules that stay the same. However, we’re going to assume that the above is the default and work from there to show you how to deviate from a good basic strategy when needed for these types of rule changes.
Strategies for Single Deck Blackjack
In the following, we’re going to start off assuming that all of the above four variable rules are true as they are written. From there, we’ll point out how to adjust to other rule variations as needed.
Low Hard Hands (totals of 5-11)
You’ll always be hitting these totals except for doubling in certain situations. If you do not have the option to double (eg: in some games you can’t double a total of 8), then just hit instead.
- Total of 8 – Double vs. 5-6
- Total of 9 – Double vs. 2-6
- Total of 10 – Double vs. 2-9
- Total of 11 – Always double
An important exception is if you’re playing in a game like Microgaming’s single-deck blackjack tables where the dealer does not peek for blackjack. If this is the case, then do not double when facing a ten or ace.
Playing a Hard 12
A hard total of 12 gets its own section because it completely depends on which cards you use to create your 12. This is called a composition strategy instead of a normal total-based strategy.
You should hit as a default with a hard 12 and stand only in the following circumstances:
- Holding 10/2 – Stand vs. 5 only
- Holding 9/3 – Stand vs. 4-6
- All Other 12 Totals – Stand vs. 3-6
Note that if you have three or more cards, then you should also stand against a 3-6 only. This composition-based strategy is one of the most difficult parts of this overall approach to learn because it only applies to this one particular point total.
Other Hard Hands
Playing other hard hands is actually really easy. If you hold 13-16, then you stand against 2-6 and hit against 7-A as you would in most normal blackjack games. You also stand with a total of 17 or higher.
However, there are some exceptions to this based on if the dealer hits on 17 and if surrendering is allowed. You should surrender in the following situations:
- Dealer Stands on Soft 17 – Surrender against 10 or A with a hard 16.
- Dealer Hits on Soft 17 – In addition to the above, also surrender against an A with a hard 15 or 17.
These are some of the only situations that you’ll need to surrender, so they’re fairly easy to remember because of that.
Soft Hands and Doubling
Playing a soft hand in this game is mostly about knowing when to double. However, there are some things about a soft 18 or 19 that can be tricky to learn because they’re so specific, so we’ll look at those individually. Thankfully, there is only one exception based on different rule combinations to the following, and it’s not a big deal if you forget because it’s such a small mistake.
With that said, here’s the general rule that will have you playing correctly with most of these hands almost always:
Double with a soft 13-16 when facing 4-6, and double with a soft 17 against 2-6. Otherwise hit.
That’s pretty easy to remember. However, playing with a soft 18 or 19 can be more tricky.
- With a soft 18, double against 3-6 and hit against 9-10. Otherwise stand.
- With a soft 19, double against a 6 and otherwise stand.
There is a small exception here if you’re playing in a game where dealers hit on a soft 17. Instead of standing with a soft 18 against an A, you should hit.
As you would expect, you’ll always stand with a soft 20 no matter what you’re up against or what the rule set happens to be.
Paired Hands and Splitting
Generally speaking, if you’re dealt a paired hand, you should play it as a usual hard hand if you aren’t splitting. That means that your decision to split or not comes first, and if you aren’t, then you play it according to the sections above for playing hard hands.
That only leaves knowing when to split. We’ll break things down here based on the cards that you hold:
- 22, 66 – Split against 2-7
- 33, 77 – Split against 2-8*
- 44 – Split against 4-6
- 55, TT – Never split
- 88, AA – Always split
- 99 – Split against 2-6, 8-9
* Note: You should surrender 77 against a 10-point card or A if you have the option instead of playing it as a hard 14 in the only viable composition-based surrender play.
There’s an adjustment that has to be made here if you are playing in a game where there is no peeking for blackjack. If that’s the case, then you should never split when up against a ten or ace.
Players who want to know how to win at single-deck blackjack will need to come to terms with the fact that it’s one of the most nuanced form of the game that you can find online. While it’s not the most complicated to learn overall, the strategies are very detailed, and there are a lot of places where you can make small mistakes because the right plays can be anti-intuitive.
With that said, the payout rate is extremely high with a very, very low house edge, so it can be worth learning how to play if you’re a strategically minded player.