The fast, easy way to master blackjack basic strategy
By Michael Shackleford
I play a lot of blackjack, and I seldom see other players who have basic strategy down cold. Most dealers and supervisors don’t know it, either. Even many card counters don’t know the nuances.
As a gaming writer, it’s my job to help players win as much (or lose as little) money as possible when they play. For years, I’ve preached that step one to mastering blackjack is learning basic strategy. However, after 13 years of writing about the game, I concede that I may have set the bar a little too high for most recreational players.
I play a lot of blackjack, and I seldom see other players who have basic strategy down cold. Most dealers and supervisors don’t know it, either. Even many card counters don’t know the nuances. While I still believe that people who play or deal blackjack for significant amounts of time should take the time to master basic strategy, I’ll cut recreational players some slack. For them, I present the following simplified version of basic strategy, which is almost as powerful as the complete version.
Compared to full basic strategy, the number of categories of player hands has been reduced from about 36 to 11, and the categories of dealer up card from 10 to 2. That’s a 94% reduction in the amount of memorization required.
Now I’ll boil the above chart down to 11 simple rules. The dealer’s up card will be known as “small” if it’s between 2 and 6, and “big” if it’s between 7 and an Ace.
1. With a hard 8 or less, hit.
2. With a hard 9, double against a small up card, otherwise hit.
3. With a hard 10 or 11, double if your total is greater than the dealer’s up card, treating a dealer ace as 11 points. Otherwise, hit.
4. With hard 12 to 16, stand against a small up card. Otherwise, hit. However, surrender a 2-card 16 against a 10.
5. With hard 17 or more, stand.
6. With soft 15 or less, hit.
7. With soft 16 to 18, double against a small up card, otherwise hit. If you are supposed to double, but can’t due to the rules, then hit with soft 16 or 17, and stand with soft 18, against a small up card.
8. With soft 19 or more, stand.
9. Always split eights and aces.
10. Split 2’s, 3’s, 6’s, 7’s and 9’s against a small up card, otherwise hit or stand according to the rules above.
11. Never split 4’s, 5’s or 10’s.
That’s it. Memorize this much, and you’ll be playing basic strategy correctly the vast majority of the time. The few times you won’t be, the cost of the error will be very small—the house edge rises only 0.14% as compared to playing full basic strategy. That’s about the cost of one bet for every 10 hours of play.
By comparison, if the rules of the table require the dealer to hit on soft 17, that costs the player 0.22%. All other things being equal, you’re better off playing this strategy at a table where the dealer stands on soft 17 rather than playing perfect basic strategy at a table where the dealer hits a soft 17.
According to Bill Zender, gaming consultant and author of the outstanding book Casino-ology, the average cost of player mistakes in blackjack is 0.83% . Memorizing this simple strategy will cut that down 83% to the 0.14% error rate quoted above. For the average player, the savings will amount to about half an average bet per hour. It may not sound like much, but it adds up quickly over time. Consider a $25 average bet player who plays 16 hours over the course of a casino vacation. His total trip savings would be $200.
So, there you have an easy way to improve your blackjack game. I might also add this is the first time this strategy has appeared in print form. Use it or ignore it, the choice is yours. I can only lead a horse to water.
For more information on basic strategy on all casino games, visit www.wizardofodds.com
The fast, easy way to master blackjack basic strategy.