Blackjack is one of the lowest house-edge games you can find in a casino, but if you want to win at it, you need to master perfect basic strategy. This helps you cut the casino’s advantage to about half of 1%. Basic blackjack strategy was pioneered by Roger Baldwin and his colleagues in the early 1950s, during their service in the US Army. They used nothing but their brains and desk calculators!
In 1957, authors Edward O. Thorp and Julian Braun published their book Playing Blackjack to Win . They explained their strategy to the public but the book did not gain traction. In the 1960s, Thorp and Braun used early computers to test their strategy. Today we call this strategy “basic strategy” and it works because of basic mathematics.
What Is Blackjack Basic Strategy and Why Does It Work?
The “basic strategy” for playing blackjack is a set of rules that tell you how to play each hand in order to maximize your chances of winning. The strategy is based on simulations that show what decision gives you the greatest chance of winning against the dealer, regardless of his or her exposed card.
The basic strategy, on the other hand, tells the player exactly what to do in every situation. For example, if you have two cards of different suits and one card of a third suit, it tells you whether to hit, stand or surrender. It also outlines how to split pairs and when to double down. The accuracy of this strategy cannot be disputed because the playing decisions it recommends are based on mathematical probabilities and millions of computer-simulated trials.
Blackjack is one of the most popular casino games of all time. It is also one of the most profitable because it has a house edge of less than 1%, making it a smart choice for anyone looking to gamble. However, it is important to note that there are discrepancies in how the game is played at different casinos and even different tables, so taking this into account can greatly improve your chances of winning.
After you have memorized basic strategy, you will have to learn some additional deviations from the rules of the game that pertain to your specific variant of blackjack.
If you are interested in finding the correct basic strategy for a blackjack variation, using an online strategy engine is one of the easiest ways to accomplish this task. All you have to do is adjust the rules and the software will update the correct strategy for you.
When playing blackjack, it is important to follow basic strategy exactly as it is written. Do not deviate from the rules of basic strategy simply because you have a hunch or because you feel like you always lose when splitting pairs of Aces, for example. You may be left with the impression that certain plays will always lead to losses but this is not the case over the long term once you have gone through tens of thousands of hands. Blackjack players should use advanced techniques such as card counting only in conjunction with proper basic strategy play.
Blackjack Basic Strategy Guide
Reading the Basic Strategy Chart
There are two main formats of basic strategy representation: color-coded charts and tables. Most players prefer the charts because each playing decision is represented by a specific color, simplifying the memorization process.
The first column lists all possible two-card totals, from 2 through Ace. The first row shows the dealer’s exposed cards, which are normally grouped into several categories: hard hands, soft hands and pairs.
Abbreviations can be used to represent different playing decisions. H stands for “hit,” S stands for “stand,” D denotes “double down,” P represents “split,” and R stands for “surrender.” Sometimes, rules variations prevent you from executing the optimal play; this chart shows you your second-best option.
To help you remember the meaning of these abbreviations, imagine that DS means “double-strike” (when doubling is not allowed), RH stands for “return hit” (when hitting is not permitted), and RS means “return strike” (when surrendering is impossible). These abbreviations are usually listed at the bottom of the chart so they are easy to find if you are a first-time player.
When you are dealt a soft 16 and the dealer’s exposed card is a 9, go to the row of the chart pertaining to soft totals and find soft 16. The box where soft 16 and the dealer’s 9 intersect contains the letter H, which means that hitting is the optimal play for this situation.
Here’s an example. With a pair of 7s against a dealer’s 10, you should hit your hand because the intersection of the “7, 7” box with the dealer’s 10 indicates that this is correct strategy.
If you are dealt 8 and 5 for a total of 13 against the dealer’s 7, you should hit your hand in accordance with the basic strategy and draw a 4 for a total of 17. The strategy tells you to stand on hard 17 against a dealer’s 7.
Playing Decisions Order in Basic Strategy
When playing blackjack, you can forfeit your hand only when it consists of the first two cards you have received from the dealer. You can surrender only if you haven’t hit your starting total yet. If you have hit your starting total, surrendering won’t be possible for you.
Splitting comes second in terms of importance because it is possible only when you are dealt paired cards. If basic strategy tells you to split, it means there is a good chance you may win this hand. At some blackjack tables, there are restrictions on doubling so this decision may not be possible in some instances.
If doubling is not allowed or basic strategy dictates that this is not the best decision for your hand, you proceed to either hit or stand. These two playing decisions come last in terms of importance from a basic-strategy perspective. If none of the other options are valid for your starting total, you need to decide whether to draw more cards or not.
Important Hitting and Standing Decisions with Basic Strategy
Hitting totals of 5 through 8 against a dealer’s upcard is a basic strategy decision. The probability of these cards exceeding 21 is greater than other cards.
According to basic strategy, players should stand on totals of 12 through 16 if the dealer has a weak hand and starts with a 4, 5 or 6. They should hit soft totals of 17 or less and always stand on hard totals of 17 or higher.
If you hold a hard 16 and the dealer exposes a ten-value card, surrendering is the most cost-effective decision. This is true even though you forfeit half of your bet because hitting comes with a slightly higher probability of losing. However, if surrender is not an option, standing is still better than hitting in this scenario because it will result in fewer losses for you. The exception is made for a 16 that consists of paired 8s.
Important Decisions in Basic Strategy
If you are dealt a pair of Aces and the dealer shows a ten-value card, split your Aces. This allows you to start two separate hands with a total of 11, giving you an advantage over the dealer’s upcard.
One of the worst hands you can get in blackjack is a hard 16–that is, 16 with no face cards attached. But if you have an 8-8 split, then it’s not so bad. Splitting a pair of 8s relieves you of your terrible 16.
If you have a pair of 5s, 10s or face cards, don’t split them. The 5s make a very decent starting total of 10 which is perfect for doubling down. If you pair your 10s or face cards, your hand totals 20–almost always a sure winner!
A few important doubling decisions in basic strategy.
When you are dealt a total of 9, 10, or 11 at the beginning of a round with a dealer who exposes small cards 3 through 6, you should always double down because ten-value cards outnumber any other card denomination in the deck or shoe.
When the dealer has a face-up card 3 through 6, basic strategy recommends doubling down with a total of 10. With a total of 11, always double down unless the dealer shows an Ace or a ten-value card.
Blackjack is a very dynamic game when it comes to advantage. The edge constantly changes between player and dealer as cards are removed from the deck or shoe. Our strategy so far has shown you the correct plays based solely on the total of your starting two cards and the dealer’s up card. However, we will now treat blackjack like a dynamic game by showing you how to adjust your strategy based on various factors such as how many cards are left in play and whether or not doubling down is allowed.
One of the most advanced blackjack strategies, composition-dependent strategy takes into account the exact make-up of your hand, i.e. the number and type of cards you have. However, you must master total-dependent basic strategy first before proceeding to learn its more complex cousin.
When playing a 16 against the dealer’s 10, total-dependent strategy requires you to either surrender or hit. Composition-dependent strategy recommends that you stand on your 16 if it consists of three or more small cards like 7, 5, and 4.
If you have a hard 15 against the dealer’s 10-value card, use total-based strategy and surrender. If you’re more concerned with accuracy, use composition-dependent strategy and hit if your 15 consists of an 8 and 7 because two cards that can bust you have already been removed from play.
When the dealer’s exposed card is a 4 and you have a total of 12, there are several possible hands that can be played: 7-5, 9-3, 8-4, and a ten-value card with a 2. Pairs of 6s are excluded because they are normally split against a dealer 4.
If you have a 12 that is composed of a ten-value card and a 2, then it is recommended that you hit it because one of the ten-value cards has already been removed, decreasing your chances of busting.
When playing against the dealer’s 4, stand on a hard 12 in single and double deck games, but hit it if you have an 8-4 or 9-3. Composition-dependent strategy recommends standing against a dealer’s 4 if you have one of these other hard 12 combinations.
Tips on Memorizing the Basic Strategy Chart
For those who are new to blackjack and have not memorized the correct playing decisions, there is a color-coded basic strategy chart. The first thing you need to do is memorize the correct order of the playing decisions: surrender, split, double, and hit/stand.
You can learn a simplified version of the strategy below. It’s much easier to remember the rules this way because you can see them all at once, and if you’re not good at visual learning, this will be helpful.
- If the dealer has a ten-value card, you should surrender a two-card 16. Otherwise, hit.
- Try to hit totals 5 through 8 when the dealer’s upcard is anything except a ten or face card.
- When the dealer’s up card is 7 or higher, always hit totals 12 through 16.
- When the dealer exposes a three through six, double down on your nine.
- Unless the dealer shows an Ace or a ten-value card, always double on your 10.
- Unless the dealer’s upcard is an Ace, double on your 11.
- Always split Aces and eights.
- Avoid splitting a pair of fives or tens.
- When the dealer has a 5 or 6, you should always hit soft 13 through soft 18.
- Never gamble on insurance. It’s a bad bet, with only a slight chance of winning.
Getting the rules of basic strategy down is the first step, but you must practice to get good at it. You can take a deck of cards and deal some hands to yourself, consulting your basic strategy chart when you are not certain about a given decision.
Strategy trainers are available on the web. You can use these programs to learn how to play different games, such as chess and checkers. The software will correct you each time you make a wrong decision, so be sure to take notes as you play.
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Is the basic blackjack strategy suitable for both land-based and online blackjack?
The basic blackjack strategy is a great way to succeed at both land-based and online casinos. It’s easier to use online because you have more time to make decisions and can use all of the information in a basic strategy chart. No matter which type of game you play, you can use basic strategy training software that lets you enter rules for your specific variation of blackjack. This way, you always know what move to make next and increase your chances of winning with a basic blackjack strategy.
- Blackjack Basic Strategy
- Basic Strategy Chart
- Playing Decisions Order
- Hitting and Standing Decisions
- Splitting Decisions
- Doubling Decisions
- Composition-Dependent Strategy
- Tips on Memorizing
- Blackjack Rules
- Blackjack Etiquette
- Single Deck Blackjack
- Double Deck Blackjack
- Blackjack Odds and Probability
- Casino Advantage in Blackjack
- Double Down Option
- Blackjack Insurance
- Blackjack Side Bets
- Blackjack Tricks and Tips
- Blackjack Mistakes Players Make
- Blackjack Money Management
- Blackjack Strategies
- Blackjack Surrender Strategy
- Blackjack Basic Strategy
- Analyzing the Dealer’s Upcard
- Blackjack Shuffle Tracking
- Soft and Hard Hands
- Blackjack Soft Hands 13 through 17 are designed to give you a comfortable feel of the cards and help you avoid unwanted wrinkles.
- Blackjack Soft Hand 18
- Blackjack Soft Hands 19 and 20 are ideal for protecting your cards during a game of blackjack.
- Blackjack Hand 8 or 9
- Playing hand 10 or 11 in blackjack
- What to Do When You Have a Hand of 12 or 13
- How to Play Blackjack Hands 14, 15 and 16: Strategies for Playing Three Cards with a Total of 21
- Blackjack Pair Splitting
- Splitting a Pair of Aces
- Splitting a Pair of 2s or 3s
- Splitting Pairs of 4s
- Splitting a Pair of 5s
- Splitting a Pair of 6s
- Splitting a Pair of 7s
- Splitting a Pair of 8s
- Splitting a Pair of 9s
- Splitting Pairs of 10s
- How to Use Blackjack Card Counting to Your Advantage
- Single-Deck Card Counting
- Multi-Deck Card Counting
- Blackjack Card Counting Strategies
- The Hi-Lo System
- Red Seven System
- Blackjack Edge Sorting
- How to Play Like a Pro at Blackjack
- How to Exploit Dealer Tells in Blackjack
- How to Win at Online Blackjack.
- Choosing the Best Blackjack Variations to Play
- Blackjack Variations
- Progressive Blackjack
- Blackjack Pontoon
- Blackjack Switch
- Double Exposure
- Atlantic City Blackjack
- Multi-Hand Blackjack
- Spanish Blackjack
- Vegas Strip Blackjack
- Ante Up 21 Blackjack
- Real Money Blackjack
- Live Dealer Blackjack offers some advantages and disadvantages.
- Blackjack Casino Sites
- Mobile Blackjack Casinos
- What You Need to Know About Blackjack Tournaments
- Microgaming Blackjack
- Felt Gaming Blackjack
- Playtech Blackjack
- Blackjack Apps
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