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How To Save $80,000 Playing Blackjack

Over the long run, a small time investment can make a huge difference in your finances

by Henry Tamburin


If I paid you $80,000 to learn basic strategy, would you do it? Of course you would. And that’s exactly my point. Memorizing basic strategy has real value over your lifetime of playing blackjack.

I’m going to show you how to save $80,000 over your lifetime as a blackjack player. Don’t believe it’s possible? Keep reading and I’ll show you how easy it is.

Let’s assume that two twin brothers, Jack and Joe, in their long lifetime of gambling, will each play 10,000 hands of blackjack per year, for 50 years (assuming 100 hands per hour, and 100 hours of blackjack per year). Their average bet will be a modest $10 per hand, playing a typical six-deck blackjack game where the dealer stands on soft 17, and double down after pair splitting is allowed. In total, they will each wager $5 million over those 50 years.

Jack never bothers to learn basic playing strategy, so he plays by intuition. Therefore, over his lifetime, we can expect Jack to lose about $100,000 at the blackjack tables, assuming a disadvantage of about 2%.

Jack’s twin brother, Joe, takes a different course of action. He spends a little time to learn the basic playing strategy, and makes the decision to stick with it. He even brings along a basic strategy card when he plays, so if he’s not sure how to play a hand, he can glance at his card for guidance. By playing basic strategy perfectly, we can expect Joe to lose about $20,000 over his lifetime, assuming a disadvantage of 0.4%.

This means compared to his twin brother, Joe saved $80,000.

If I paid you $80,000 to learn basic strategy, would you do it? Of course you would. And that’s exactly my point. Memorizing basic strategy has real value over your lifetime of playing blackjack.

Many of you reading this article think you already know basic strategy. OK, so tell me how you would play these hands. (Assume a six-deck game, dealer stands on soft 17, and doubling after pair splitting is allowed.)

Next question: suppose the rules specify that the dealer must hit soft 17. Would you play any of the above hands differently? If so, which ones?

Here’s the correct way to play the above hands.


1. Hit

2. Hit

3. Hit

4. Hit

5. Split

6. Split

If the dealer hits soft 17, you should change your strategy on hand #2 (double down on 6-5 against Ace), and on hand #4 (double down on A-7 against 2). (See my Tip of the Month below for more information about how to play a soft 18.)

So how did you do? If you missed a few hands, read the next section for some tips that will help you become a better blackjack player.

Plugging The Leaks In Your Blackjack Game


The first step in shoring up your game is to make the commitment to never play blackjack again until you learn the correct basic strategy for the game you are playing. Next, here are some helpful tips to help you master basic strategy:

  1. Go to You’ll find a free online blackjack game and trainer that will teach you basic strategy while you play. The game will keep track of your playing accuracy and alert you when you make a mistake. There are two playing modes: normal and difficult. I would suggest you begin with normal mode, and once your playing accuracy is at 100%, switch to the “difficult” mode. This is a fun and easy way to master basic strategy.
  2. Go to and click on the “Blackjack School” link. Here you will find an entire free curriculum on blackjack (on the right side of the page), comprising a series of 24 lessons. Read Lesson 1 (Basic Strategy) and Lesson 2 (Learning Basic Strategy). The latter lesson contains useful tips on how to prepare flash cards to learn basic strategy (this is how I mastered it some 40 years ago), and several blank basic strategy forms that you can print and use to help you learn.
  3. It makes no sense to master basic strategy and then play a game with bad rules. Therefore, you need to know which rules are good for a player, and which aren’t, and then avoid playing bad games. Go to the blackjack page on and click on the “Blackjack Rule Variation” link. You’ll find a table that lists the effects that different rules have on the house edge. It’s important that you avoid games with rules that negatively affect the house edge. For example, playing a game where a blackjack pays 6-5 increases the house edge by 1.39% (ouch); therefore, you should avoid playing any 6-5 game.
  4. If you’re heading to Las Vegas to play blackjack, check out the Las Vegas Blackjack Survey on You’ll find a list of the playing rules for all the casinos in Las Vegas and their corresponding house edge. Scan the list so you know beforehand which casinos offer the best blackjack games (i.e., the games with the lowest house edge).
  5. You can print out an accurate basic strategy table for any set of rules using the Basic Strategy Engine on (you input the number of decks of cards and the rules, and the software prepares the basic strategy table). You’ll also find another very good Blackjack Strategy Trainer on this site.
  6. Also consider purchasing a set of basic strategy cards that you can bring with you when you play blackjack. The two that I recommend are the Ultimate Basic Strategy cards (by Don Schlesinger) and the cards (by Ken Smith). You can read more about these cards by going to the web store on my site

Of course, if you bet more that $10 per hand, or you don’t heed my advice and play really bad games, your lifetime losses may very well exceed $100,000. This just means you can save even more money by mastering basic strategy.

(Note: The concept of looking out over 50 years to determine the value of basic strategy was first proposed by Eliot Jacobson in his book The Blackjack Zone. He called it “being in the blackjack zone,” because every decision you make has a long-term expectation.)

Tamburin’s Tip of the Month


Let’s say the dealer gives you an Ace-3 and she has a 9 upcard. You know not to double down your soft 14 against a 9, so you take a hit. She gives you a 2 for a soft 16. You hit again and draw another 2 for a soft 18. Would you hit again, or would you stand?

The correct basic strategy for a soft 18, regardless of how many cards make up the soft 18, is to always hit when the dealer shows a 9 (or a 10 or Ace).

The complete basic strategy for soft 18 is as follows (multi-deck game with s17):

  • If your initial hand is a soft 18, double down if the dealer’s upcard is 3 through 6, stand if it’s a 2, 7, or 8, and hit if it’s 9, 10, or Ace.
  • If your soft 18 consists of three or more cards, stand if the dealer’s upcard is 2 though 8, and hit if it’s a 9, 10, or Ace.

If the rules specify the dealer must hit soft 17 (i.e., h17), then the only strategy change occurs when your initial hand is a soft 18 and the dealer’s upcard is a 2. You should double down on this hand (rather than hit).


Henry Tamburin is the editor of Blackjack Insider Newsletter (, Lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack Course (, and host of For a free three-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter, go to To receive his free Casino Gambling Catalog, call 1-888-353-3234 or visit

How To Save $80,000 Playing Blackjack.

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