Back to Top

Single-deck Blackjack

Single-deck blackjack is special because of the impact that each individual card dealt has on the overall strategies available to players. While the rules are the same as most major variations, the level of detail that goes into strategies for this game make it stand out.

Blackjack games in general attract a lot of players who like focusing on strategy. They love the fact that their chances of winning or losing can be influenced by how well they play, and this type of player often enjoys putting in a lot of time and effort into studying and learning how to play the games properly outside of actually enjoying time at the tables.

Single-deck blackjack is, in a lot of ways, the epitome of this in the sense that the strategies involved get down to a level of detail that you don’t normally see in multi-deck styles of the game. We want to present to you why that is, what players can do about it and what types of changes players can make to their strategies to adjust to this type of game.

Understanding Composition Strategies

The standard way to talk about blackjack strategy for just about any game is to tell players what they should do with certain totals. For example, with a hard total of 10 in this game, players will need to double when facing a nine or lower and hit when facing a 10 or ace. The reason that we talk about totals in this way is that it doesn’t really matter how you arrive at that total, so something like an eight and a two (written as 8+2 for short) will really be the same as having something like a six and a four (ie: 6+4).

In games with several decks in the shoe, this is the case for every total that can come up, no matter if it’s a soft hand or a hard hand. However, when it comes to single-deck blackjack games, that’s not necessarily how things go. There are plenty of situations where the exact cards you use to make up your total will change how you should actually play your cards. This usually revolves around the 10s and aces because whether or not those cards are in the deck will affect things the most.

Two-card Hands and Strategies

With two cards in your hand, there are only two situations that you need to pay attention to as far as how the composition of your hand will change your overall strategy. These are mostly for hard 12s, but there’s a minor change for hard 13s as well.

With hard 12s, having 10+2 changes the composition of the deck enough that you should only stand against a dealer 5. In all other cases, you should hit. This simple example can give you a really good idea of just how much of a change having a 10 in your hand can make.

With 9+3, you should stand against a four, five or six. Likewise, with 8+4 or 7+5, you should stand against a three, four, five or six, which is the typical advice given for all 12 totals.

The changes for playing a hard 13 are more easier to learn. You should always stand against a weak dealer card (2-6) with a hard 13 in this game with one exception: If you have 10+3, then you should hit against a dealer showing a 2. That’s the only change you need to make to playing hard 13s along these lines.

Three-card Hands and Strategies

If you’re the kind of players who wants to really dive into the depths of what this game has to offer, then you can get the house advantage down to a fraction of a percentage point. Doing so will require you to learn the composition strategies for three cards as well, however. That might seem a bit intimidating, but you really only need to learn a few combinations for hard totals of 15 or 16 to make a dent in the house edge.

Here’s an important point: We’re going to make these as easy to remember as possible with general rules, but some of them are difficult to make into an easy-to-recall statement. As such, you may want to practice with notecards or something similar until you get the hang of it.

With a hard total of 15, standard strategies would have you always hit against a dealer who is showing a 10. However, there are a few cases where it’s actually best to stand. Those cases are are you have two 6s, a 6 and a 5 or two 5s in your hand. This leads to the combinations 6+6+3, 6+5+4 and 5+5+5, but it’s easier to remember it as a rule as we stated in the previous sentence.

A hard 16 is the other important case for how your hand is composed with three cards. Generally speaking, you’ll always be hitting against a strong dealer hand. However, there are three cases where it’s better to stand against both a 9 and a 10:

This is probably the hardest set of cases to learn because there’s no pattern to use to remember them. Instead, you’ll just have to memorize them in your study.

A Note on Doubling

Aside from the composition strategy changes to single-deck blackjack, you can actually double quite a bit more than you normally would as well. For example, you’ll always double a hard nine against a weak dealer card. You’ll even double a hard eight at times, particularly if you’re against a five or six, which are the weakest two cards that the dealer can have.

In Summary

Players who want to really get into a lot of depth as far as learning how to play single-deck blackjack particularly well will need to learn the above composition-based strategies. That will take quite a bit of practice, but it can shave a significant portion of a percentage point off of the house advantage over time, and that can make it worth it if you don’t mind the study and effort that goes into learning these situations. With that having been said, single-deck games are incredibly interesting because of this composition factor.