Blackjack Basic Strategies
Four Situations: Hit, Stand, Split, &
Double
There are four different situations or possibilities
in an original or twocard blackjack hand. The strategies for dealing
with each comes from more than 40 years of research done by mathematicians,
probability experts, and professional gamblers. Julian Braun, Dr.
Edward Thorp, Lawrence Revere, Stanford Wong, Arnold Snyder, Peter
Griffin, and Don Schlesinger, represent some of the most important
theorists and innovators of blackjack over the last halfcentury,
and their legacy provides the foundation and framework for current
blackjack philosophy and practice.
On the ground floor of the blackjack high
rise, are those who play the game, but don’t put any effort
into learning much about it, so they guess or go by hunches or “feelings.”
This player can only rely on the luck of the draw hoping for a chance
to win.
The next level of player cares about learning the game enough so
that he or she is willing to absorb what is termed a “basic
strategy.” By learning basic strategy, the player elevates
his or her level of play and greatly enhances the possibility of
winning,
The third level of player assigns numerical values to each card
in an attempt to separate the cards that have been played in an
attempt to determine the remaining cards along with the mathematical
odds of winning all remaining hands. This procedure is called card
counting and there are numerous methods to consider.
All of the strategies listed begin with two
separate factors: your two cards compared to the dealer’s single
exposed card. Those three cards represent the known values in the
equation to figure the possibilities. How you react is directly
related to those two dynamics.. One note: the basic strategies discussed
and noted here are for multiple decks, rather that single or double
as there are many more of the former than the latter group.
It is quite frustrating to sit at a blackjack
table knowing you are playing Basic Strategy to the letter and are
losing while other players are making foolish decisions and winning.
The math of the game states you are playing at a .05 disadvantage
given a reasonable set of rules. That is onehalf of one percent,
as close to 5050 as you’ll find, and about the best set of
odds in the modern casino. Yet there are no guarantees you’ll
get “good” cards. Probability theory views events from
a longterm basis, rather than isolated cases. That is why the game
favors disciplined players who have patience. If you play long enough,
you will encounter sessions where you know you did the right thing
but lost hand after hand. The only satisfaction you can take home
is the knowledge that things will turn the other way, sooner or
later. Those who are winning by playing foolishly may smile, but
it will be a temporary situation and one which can get them into
deep trouble.
Basic Hitting and Standing Strategies for
“Hard” Totals or Hands.
“Hard” and “soft” hands
in blackjack terminology refers to the presence or lack of an ace
in astarting hand, A hard hand or total is one that does not involve
an ace, while a soft one hand means that one of the two starting
cards is an ace. This requires special consideration.
The key number to remember is 17. It is the cutoff point for deciding
whether to hit or not. Each denomination is counted as its printed
value, ex. the two of clubs is counted as a 2; the seven of hearts
is counted as a 7. Suits are not considered of any importance or
ranked order it is the numerical value that counts. All face cards
count as 10s The problem child here is the ace, which can be counted
as either a 1 or 11. This card can lead to a great deal of confusion
(see “soft hands”).
When the dealer has a 710 showing
Requesting a card or a hit on 17 or above
will do two things: it will mark you as a rank amateur and will
make other players abandon your table. There are only four cards
to improve your hand with a 17, three with an 18, 2 with a 19 and
one with a 20. The odds are stacked against you in every case.
With 17 as the player’s key point, 6 is the corresponding cutoff
card for the dealer’s exposed card in determining how you play
it, with the deuce or 2 being the exception to the rule (refer to
“The Terror of the Twos”). It is important to remember:
everything is relative to the one card the dealer is showing. If
the dealer’s exposed card is 36, the player has a better chance
of winning than if the dealer is showing a 2, 9, 10 (or face card)
or ace. Seven and eight fall in the middle.
Generally accepted blackjack theory notes that 18.3 represents the
calculated average hand needed to win. In other words, a hand with
less than a 19 total (you can’t get fractions in blackjack),
is potentially a losing hand. If the dealer is showing a 7, 8, 9,
or 10value card, you will need to hit if you have less than a 17.
With a total of 17, you are stuckyou can’t take a hit, but
your chances aren’t good. The math of the game says you can’t
take a card to improve your hand, but the best you can do is hope
the dealer has a 510 if he/she is showing a seven. With a 10, you
tie, or “push.” You don’t win, but you don’t
lose. 59 makes the dealer hit once more. If the dealer has an 8,
9, or 10value card exposed, you have to hope that there is a 4,
5,6, or 7 in the hole. That will make the dealer need to take a
third card as well and this might put his/her hand over the total
of 21, with a busted hand. As there are more 10value cards than
any other, the chances here are not as bad.
When you receive a hard 17, 18, 19, or 20, there is nothing to do
except sit back and hope that the dealer’s hand isn’t
as good as yours. You merely indicate to the dealer that you don’t
want a card and want to stand. Obviously, with a 21 or blackjack,
there’s no need to try to improve your position.
Dealer has a 36 showing
This situation is the most favorable to the
player as the dealer has a better chance of going over the total
of 21, or busting. If you have a hard hand of 1220 that is not
a pair, you stand. If you have a pair please refer to the section
on pairs. With a hand of 311, you have options. Most of these involve
choices between hitting and doubling. Please keep in mind that these
strategies come from decades of computer analysis and development.
The Terror of the Twos
You were dealt a Jack and a 10. You’re
feeling secure because the dealer is only showing a meager deuce.
Confidently, you refuse another card. The dealer quietly takes an
8 out from the hole, then draws an ace Your bright smile is quickly
transformed into a dejected stare. You’ve been robbed! Not
really. You’ve just come up against the toughest card: the
terrible two. You might think the ace is difficult because the dealer
could have one half of the cards toward a blackjack. It might shock
you to know the dealer will beat you more times with that efficient
2 than you might realize.
If you think of it this way, a two is like a chameleon: it will
blend with almost anything. With a dealer’s 2 up, a 6, 7, 8,
or 9 in the hole becomes a real problem for the player, because
if a 10 follows, the dealer is sitting on a probable winning hand.
If an ace, 2, 3, 4, or 5 appears and there’s a run of small
cards, you’ve probably lost as well. The best of all worlds
is if the dealer pulls a 10value card from the hole and draws another
10. A dealer’s 12 is as problematical as yours: they seem to
be magnets for 10s.
The polar opposite end of this situation is when it is your own.
Basic strategy dictates that when you have a 12 versus a dealer’s
2 you are supposed to take a card. For some reason, your player’s12
seems to attract every face card within a fivecasino range. But
due to the power of the dealer’s 12, you are probably sitting
with a losing hand anyway you might as well try to improve your
position.
With a 13 through 20 against the dealer’s 2, you stand pat.
When you have a 3, 4, 5, 6, 7,or 8 versus the dealer’s 2, you
take another card until you get past 12.
When you have a 9,10 or 11, you double down.
Soft Hands
These are the hands which cause the greatest
amount of confusion, the most consternation and bewilderment. It
is vital to remember that you can count the ace as either a 1 or
11 at any point you chose. Soft hands provide a great deal of trouble
partly because how you treat them varies with the dealer’s
up card. Think of these situations as an opportunity, rather than
a problem. Sure we’d all love to be gifted with two 10s every
time, but that is just a tad unrealistic.
With an ace paired with an 8,9,10, you always stand. An aceseven
against a dealer’s two you stand; against a 36, you double,
seven or eight you stand; 9, 10, 11, you hit. Acesix against a
dealer’s 2 you hit; 36 you double; against a dealer’s
7ace you hit. Same goes for acefive except you hit against a dealer’s
3. You treat the ace4 the same as an ace5 .With an ace3, you
take a card versus a dealer’s 2 10, but double a 56. Finally,
you hit an ace2 when a dealer is showing 210 except on 5 when
you double.
Doubling
In the game of blackjack, there are opportunities
presented and the recognition of these is one of the major distinctions
between leaving the table a winner or loser. This thought carries
a great deal of validity: Doubling your original bet in an advantageous
situation carries no guarantee you will automatically win. But basic
theory dictates you must try to maximize these situations as much
as you can. These are the bets that count. It is important to remember
that in most casinos you will only receive only one card when you
double and you are not permitted to double after you’ve already
received a third or fourth card.
There are certain doubles that are automatic: The theory is you’ll
receive a tenvalue card and win. Even if you don’t get a 10,
it is possible to draw a card that will improve your hand, allowing
it to beat the dealer or the dealer will bust. There are specific
rules which apply to doubling and you want to use these opportunities
in the best fashion. If after you double, with the dealer showing
a tenvalue card, and an ace is overturned giving the dealer a blackjack,
most casinos will give you the second part of your bet back rather
than taking all of it.
As a rule, you always double 11 except when the dealer is showing
an ace. You double 10 at all times except when the dealer is showing
wither ace or ten. Double 9 when the dealer shows 36. Please refer
to the soft hands to see those double.
Splitting
Closely related in theory and practice to
doubling splits represent another group which will help you leave
the blackjack table a winner or loser. The first step is to recognize
which pairs represent the real opportunities. The second step is
to act and the third is to win those hands. The first two parts
are educational in nature. The third brings no guarantees.
There are two hard and fast rules: never split 5s, and don’t
split 10s for opposite reasons. With 5s you are turning a hand that
should be counted as a 10 and either doubled or hit into two hands
of five. Each one turns into potential problems when 7,8,9,or 10
appear. Always remember there are more ten value cards than any
other. When you dissemble a ten, you are missing an opportunity
for a twenty.
With the two 10value cards, you are replacing a 20, doubling your
original bet size, and getting stuck with a two potentially worse
hands. You may get cards 27 twice over.
What you want to do is maximize your opportunities. Aces and eights
are the cards that you always want to split. With the ace, in most
casinos, you are allowed only one card after you split them. Obviously,
you are hoping for a ten on each one. The thought here is that if
you don’t split your aces, you have a cumulative value of 2
or 12. The danger here is that if you draw 2 10value cards in a
row, not at all unusual, you will bust. You are also trying to maximize
your opportunities by turning a single bet into twice that amount.
Eights are always split as the total of 16 is the single worst hand
for a player. At best, you hope to maximize this hand by first getting
a 2 or three on one of the split pairs. This turns your dangerous
8 into a more favorable 10 or 11. At this point you can double the
hand (where allowed) or at least hope for a coveted 10value card.
If you get a ten for your 8 right away, you have succeeded in turning
the two 8s into at least one 18. Failing to get two or three winning
hands, you hope to escape with at least one winner and get a push
from the deal. Naturally, there is always the chance you’ll
lose both, but you’ll go down fighting.
Split 9s unless the dealer is showing 7, 10 or ace. Split 7s when
the dealer shows 27, hit 8ace. Split 6s, 36, hit the others.
Never split 4s. Split 2s and 3s, 36, hit the other situations.
Insurance
The dealer will ask if you would like to
take “insurance” if he or she is showing an ace exposed.
Because the odds of the dealer having a blackjack are approximately
1 in 3, the correct answer is “No.”. What the dealer is
asking is if you would like to wager up to onehalf of your original
bet that there is a blackjack or a tenvalue card in the hole. You
lose this insurance bet if the dealer does not have blackjack, but
get paid what you bet for insurance if there is one.
I would suggest that there is some degree of flexibility here. In
a situation where about a quarter of a shoe has been played and
you have noticed the absence of many 10value cards (note: it is
always a good habit to keep track of the cards that have been played,
if you can.), you might elect to take insurance based on your observation
and the fact that the deck is “rich” in 10s, thus elevating
the chance of the dealer’s blackjack.
But generally speaking, it is wise to decline insurance. Just wave
it off.
Luck
An old casino adage is: “I’d rather
be lucky than good.” Anyone can get lucky, but it takes some
knowledge to be able to play and win on a regular basis. This is
why you need to make your decisions based on a factual foundation
of mathematical probability rather than guesswork, hunches, or hoed
for luck.
With that said, just as in life there are people who just seem to
have luck welded to their beings, while others trip over that satchel
in the middle of the street containing a million dollars only to
get hit by a car…the same holds true in a casino. Some people
seem to be born lucky, while others appear to have a black cloud
over their heads. Most of us fall somewhere in between. We have
our lucky streaks and then other times we trip over our own shoelaces.
Some advice: if you are losing at a table leaving you in a negative
mindset, don’t stay. Take a break. Clear your head. Change
tables or do something to alter the situation. Mathematical probability
proclaims things will even out in the long run. But by then, you
might be broke. One of the surest aspects to gambling is shortterm
streaks. These come in two formsfavorable winning streaks and awful
losing streaks. Probability experts call these streaks deviations.
But a prolonged one can hit your bankroll where it hurts. Most longtime
players try to minimize these negative swings by protecting their
bankrolls (see money management).
The point here: if you’re on a losing steak, don’t try
to force your play. Take a break and play another time or place.
Card Counting
Playing optimal or perfect basic strategy
still leaves the player at a 0.05 disadvantage to the House. By
using a card counting system, he/she can swing the advantage to
the players side by as much as 12 percent, a major alteration.
It is for this reason that casinos do all they can to discourage
card counters from playing. Card counters in blackjack remain the
one group who can legally beat the casino on a regular basis.
There are numerous card counting systems ranging from relatively
simple to highly complex. They all share the basic premise that
assigns a numerical value to each card. The player adds and subtracts
these values as cards appear arriving at what is called the “running
count.” This fluctuating count represents cards which are known
or have already been played.
This number is figured against the remaining cards to determine
the more valuable “true count” representing the cards
not yet played. When the count is plus, rich, or positive, there
are usually a greater number of aces and tenvalue cards remaining
to be played. This situation favors the player. In the opposite
case, when there is a negative or minus count, there are a higher
number of lowered value cards remaining to be played. This situation
favors the casino as there is a greater chance for the dealer to
arrive at a winning hand.
Perfecting card counting skills takes a dedication to practice,
memorization and technique. It is certainly not for everyone but
those who master it can rest assured they can achieve a higher success
rate than almost any other casino player.
