Learning when to hit or stand are the two most important tools in your blackjack toolbox. If you get these right, you can narrow the house edge down to hardly anything. So let’s take a moment to look at the basic idea behind hitting and standing. Of course, you can go online and download all the charts you want, but you should also understand the reasoning behind the actions in order to make decisions quickly and effortlessly.

Focus on the Dealer

It’s important to remember that the aim in blackjack isn’t to get as close to 21 as possible. You only need to beat the dealer’s hand to win, so your decision to hit or stand will be based primarily on the cards you’re holding and the dealer’s up-card. Your chances of hitting and going bust change depending on what cards you’ve been dealt; same for the dealer. Making the right play is all about choosing which option gives you the higher probability of coming out ahead.

Here’s an example to illustrate: You get dealt a King and a Deuce, and the dealer’s up-card is a Six. All you’ve got is a lousy 12, but for most variants of blackjack, the right play here is to stand. There are a lot of cards worth 10 points that will cause you to bust if you choose to hit. At the same time, the dealer is almost certainly going to have to draw two cards (unless he draws an Ace and is allowed to stand on soft 17), so you should let him do the drawing instead.

At the other end of the spectrum, you could have 18 in your hand and still want to hit. If you’ve got Ace-Seven and the dealer’s up-card is a Nine or better, your chances of winning improve if you draw at least one more card. You won’t bust on the next card, since your Ace can be worth 1 or 11 points. Remember this dynamic between you and the dealer when you’re learning when to hit and when to stand; it’s what blackjack is all about.