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BLACKJACK BASIC STRATEGY: A COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE WITH STRATEGY CARDS |
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BLACKJACK BASIC STRATEGY: A COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE WITH STRATEGY CARDS (The First Step in Learning How to Play Winning Blackjack) By Arnold Snyder © 1983, 2005 Arnold Snyder Go straight to All-Purpose Chart Go straight to Comprehensive Chart for Any Game, Any Rules Go to Blackjack Basic Strategy Lite Card (a quick-learn version) Go to Correct Blackjack Basic Strategy with an Internet Casino Bonus The first step in learning how to play winning blackjack is to learn blackjack basic strategy. If you make your decisions by playing your hunches, you will lose in the long run. There is only one correct play decision in blackjack for any given hand, and that decision is based strictly on mathematics. Whether or not you should hit or stand, double down or split a pair, depends on what the laws of probability show to be your long-term overall win and loss results for each of these possibilities. Mathematicians, using high speed computers, have analyzed every possible blackjack hand you might hold vs. every possible dealer up card. Definition: Blackjack basic strategy is the mathematically optimum way to play your blackjack hands if you are not counting cards. Depending on the rules and the number of decks in use, blackjack basic strategy will usually cut the house edge to no more than about ½ percent over the player. This makes blackjack the least disadvantageous game in the casino, even if you are not a card counter. To explain why the various blackjack basic strategy decisions are best would require extensive mathematical proof. Unless you understand the math, and have a computer to work it out, you’ll have to accept basic strategy on faith. There is an underlying logic to basic strategy, however, which can be understood by anyone who understands the rules of blackjack. Why Blackjack Basic Strategy Works In a 52-card deck there are 16 ten-valued cards: four tens, four jacks, four queens, and four kings. (For purposes of simplification, when I refer to a card as a "ten" or "X," it is understood to mean any 10, Jack, Queen or King.) Every other denomination has only four cards, one of each suit. You are four times more likely to pull a ten out of the deck than, say, a deuce. Because of this, when the blackjack dealer’s upcard is "high" —7,8,9,X, or A—he has a greater likelihood of finishing with a strong total than when his upcard is "low" - 2,3,4,5, or 6. Thus, if the dealer’s upcard is a 7, 8, 9, X, or A, and you are holding a "stiff" - any blackjack hand totaling 12 through 16 - you want to hit. When the dealer’s hand indicates strength, you do not want to stand with a weak hand. Even though, when you hit a stiff, you are more likely to bust than to make a pat hand, you must give your hand a better chance of beating the dealer’s by taking a hit. You will lose more money in the long run if you stand on these weak hands when the dealer shows strength. On the other hand, if the dealer’s up card is 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6, and you are holding a stiff hand, you should stand. Since the dealer must hit his stiff hands, and since stiffs bust more often, hitting your weak hand is not advantageous. Similarly, if the dealer’s up card indicates he may be stiff, it is more advantageous to double down or to split pairs, thereby getting more money onto the table when the dealer has a higher chance of busting. You double down and split pairs less often when the dealer shows a strong upcard. This is the basic logic of blackjack basic strategy. There are exceptions to these oversimplified guidelines, as the actual basic strategy decision for any given hand is determined by working out all of the mathematical probabilities. The Generic Blackjack Basic Strategy provided below will get you almost all of the value available to players from Basic Strategy in most games. If you only want to learn one chart, this is the one you should learn. At the end of this article you will find a Comprehensive Blackjack Basic Strategy, which shows every basic strategy variation for all traditional blackjack games—single deck, multi-deck, games with special rules, etc. Most of the differences in these charts have very little dollar value to players, and a number of high stakes pros simply ignore them. But if you enjoy memorizing charts, or if you play single deck exclusively, for example, you may want to learn the specific basic strategy for that game and gain those few extra hundredths of a percent. The main value of the Comprehensive Blackjack Basic Strategy card comes from any unusual rule, such as Early Surrender, with a high value to the player in and of itself. If you’re leaving on a trip to Las Vegas tomorrow and just need some easy-to-learn advice on how to play your blackjack hands during your vacation, see our simplified basic strategy, also at the end of this article.
ALL PURPOSE, GENERIC BLACKJACK BASIC STRATEGY
STAND
DOUBLE DOWN
DOUBLE DOWN, SOFT TOTALS
SURRENDER (LATE)
PAIR SPLITS
PAIR SPLITS
INSURANCE: NO S = Stand, H = Hit, D = Double Down (if doubling not available, then hit), Ds = Double Down (if doubling not available, then stand), This generic basic strategy may be used for any game. See the end of this article for comprehensive basic strategy variations according to all rule variations and specific number of decks in play.
Using the Basic Strategy Chart Do not attempt to learn all aspects of basic strategy at once. Regardless of the number of decks in play or the rule variations, basic strategy for any game is essentially the same. Since few casinos offer the late surrender option, you need not learn this unless you intend to play in those casinos. Since the early surrender option is so rare in the U.S., the basic strategy for this rule variation is primarily of interest to those who frequent casinos in other countries. It is not included in the chart above. Should you encounter a casino that offers this option, you will find the basic strategy for it in the Comprehensive Basic Strategy Chart at the end of this article. Two pair-splitting tables are presented here. Note that I use the symbol "$" to denote a basic strategy pair split decision. The first pair-split table assumes that you are not allowed to double down after splitting a pair. In many casinos, this is the rule, though in some casinos, including many Las Vegas Strip casinos and all Atlantic City casinos, players are allowed to double down after pair splits. If you plan to play primarily in these casinos, study the second table. Note that there are only a few differences between these tables. If you’ll be playing in games with both rules, just learn the first table, then brush up on the differences prior to playing in the double-after-split (DAS) casinos. Note that I use the symbol "¢" to denote a basic strategy surrender decision. The charts are straightforward. The player’s hands are listed vertically down the left side. The dealer’s upcards are listed horizontally along the top. Thus, if you hold a hand totaling 14 vs. a dealer 6, you can see the basic strategy decision is "S", or Stand. With a total of 14 vs. a dealer 7, since "S" is not indicated, you would hit. Note: If your total of 14 is comprised of a pair of 7s, you must consult the pair splitting chart first. You can see that with a pair of 7s vs. either a dealer 6 or 7, you would split your 7s. Order of Decisions Use the basic strategy chart in this order: 1. If surrender is allowed, this takes priority over any other decision. If basic strategy calls for surrender, throw in the hand. 2. If you have a pair, determine whether or not basic strategy calls for a split. 3. If you have a possible double down hand, this play takes priority over hitting or standing. For instance, in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, you may double down on any two cards. Thus, with a holding of A,7 (soft 18) vs. a dealer 5, your basic strategy play, as per the chart, is to double down. In Northern Nevada, where you may usually double down on 10 or 11 only, your correct play would be to stand. 4. After determining that you do not want to surrender, split a pair, or double down, consult the "Stand" chart. Always hit a hard total of 11 or below. Always stand on a hard total of 17 or higher. For all "stiff" hands, hard 12 through 16, consult the basic strategy chart. Always hit soft 17 (A,6) or below. Always stand on soft 19 (A,8) or higher. With a soft 18 (A,7), consult the chart. How to Practice Blackjack Basic Strategy 1. Study the Charts Any professional card counter could easily and quickly reproduce from memory a basic strategy chart. Study the charts one section at a time. Start with the hard Stand decisions. Look at the chart. Observe the pattern of the decisions as they appear in the chart, close your eyes and visualize this pattern. Study the chart once more, then get out your pencil and paper. Reproduce the hard Stand chart. Do this for each section of the chart separately - hard Stand, soft Stand, hard Double Down, soft Double Down, Pair Splits, and Surrender. Do this until you have mastered the charts. 2. Practice with Cards Place an ace face up on a table to represent the dealer’s up card. Shuffle the rest of the cards, then deal two cards face up to yourself. Do not deal the dealer a down card. Look at your two cards and the dealer’s ace and make your basic strategy decision. Check the chart to see if you are correct. Do not complete your hand. If the decision is "hit," don’t bother to take the hit card. After you’ve made and double-checked your decision, deal another two cards to yourself. Don’t bother to pick up your first hand. Just drop your next, and all subsequent, cards face up on top of the last cards dealt. Go through the entire deck (25 hands), then change the dealer’s up card to a deuce, then to a 3, 4, 5, etc. You should be able to run through a full deck of player hands for all ten dealer up cards in less than half an hour once you are able to make your decisions without consulting the charts. Every decision should be instantaneous when you are proficient. Strive for perfection. If you have the slightest doubt about any decision, consult the chart. To practice your pair split decisions, which occur less frequently than other decisions, reverse the above exercise. Deal yourself a pair of aces, then run through the deck changing only the dealer’s up card. Then give yourself a pair of deuces, etc. Don’t waste time with any exercise you don’t need. Your basic strategy for splitting aces, for instance, is always to split them. You don’t need to run through a whole deck of dealer up cards every day to practice this decision. Likewise, basic strategy tells you to always split 8s, and never to split 4s, 5s or 10s. You will learn these decisions quickly. Most of your study and practice for pair-splitting decisions should go toward learning when to split 2s, 3s, 6s, 7s and 9s. If you learn to play basic strategy without counting cards, most casinos will have only a ½ percent edge over you. This means that in the long run, they will win about 50¢ for every $100 you bet. In some games, the house advantage over basic strategy players is slightly more or less than this. If you play blackjack for high stakes, it is wise to learn basic strategy, even if you are not inclined to count cards. Playing basic strategy accurately will greatly cut your losses. Simplified Blackjack Basic Strategy If you do not intend to learn accurate basic strategy, you can cut the house edge to about 1 percent by playing an approximate basic strategy. Follow these rules for Blackjack Basic Strategy Lite: 1. Never take insurance. 2. If the dealer’s upcard is 7, 8, 9, X or A, hit until you get to hard 17 or more. 3. If the dealer’s upcard is 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6, stand on all your stiffs; hard 12 through 16. 4. Hit all soft hands of soft 17 (A,6) and below. 5. Stand on soft 18 (A,7) or higher. 6. Double down on 10 and 11 vs. any dealer up card from 2 through 9. 7. Always split aces and 8s. 8. Never split 4s, 5s or 10s. 9. Split all other pairs - 2s, 3s, 6s, 7s and 9s - vs. any dealer up card of 4, 5 or 6. 10. Surrender 16 vs. 9, X or A. Note: In Multi-Action games, your basic strategy does not change. Always play every hand exactly as if it were the only hand on the table. Do not be afraid to hit your stiffs—a common Multi-Action error. The Multi-Action format does not alter the house percentage, or basic strategy, in any way. If you intend to learn to count cards, first learn to play accurate blackjack basic strategy. Once you know blackjack basic strategy, your decisions will become automatic. Assuming you brush up on your charts occasionally, you will not have to continue practicing basic strategy. Even when you are counting cards, you will play basic strategy on 80% or more of your hands. Basic strategy is your single most powerful weapon. ♠ COMPREHENSIVE BASIC STRATEGY
STAND
DOUBLE DOWN
DOUBLE DOWN, SOFT TOTALS
SURRENDER (LATE)
S = Stand, H = Hit, D = Double Down (if doubling not available, then hit), Ds = Double Down (if doubling not available, then stand), 1 = Stand with 3 or More Cards
PAIR SPLITS
PAIR SPLITS
INSURANCE: NO
SURRENDER (EARLY)
Y = Split, ¢ = Surrender 1 = European No-Hole Hit
Back to Arnold Snyder's Professional Gambling Library Back to Arnold Snyder's Blackjack Forum Online Home [Note: Although hundreds of independent researchers and mathematicians have proven that basic strategy loses the least over the long run, gambling is always risky. Anything can happen in the short run. Every professional gambler can tell many stories of seemingly impossible streaks of bad luck at blackjack, and no one can ever guarantee that you will win over the short run even when you are playing with an advantage. Never gamble with money you can’t afford to lose.] |
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