Blackjack basic strategy is the foundation of any and all efforts to beat the game for both novice and professional players. It is based on literally billions of computer – simulated hands to arrive at the mathematically proper hand play decisions regarding standing, hitting, doubling, surrender, and / or splitting pairs against a given dealer up card. Complete knowledge and application of accurate basic strategy is the primary key to simply making the best player decisions / hand plays at the table. These plays will allow players to have the best mathematical opportunity to win the most or lose the least under a given set of circumstances at the table ( with no consideration of advantage play methods).
The initial historical groundwork for basic strategy was published in the September 1956 issue of the Journal of the American Statistical Association. Scientists Roger Baldwin, Wilbert Cantey, Herbert Meisel, and James McDermott co-authored this initial work. Since that time, basic strategy systems have been calculated, simulated, refined, and re-refined with the aid of computers which eventually provided players with a highly accurate system.
Along with several other important elements of what we’ll call value – conscious blackjack play, memorizing the correct strategy plays for a given game and set of rules is mandatory for a proper start in learning and playing this game. Indeed, over time it will have a positive effect on monetary outcomes at the tables. Further, players interested in becoming serious students or have aspirations of becoming a pro will learn that further advancement in learning advantage play ( eg card counting ) is pointless without a solidly grasped knowledge of these systems.
There are variations in a given basic strategy system chart depending on the actual number of decks in play (1 – 8 decks) and the specific rules in force at a given table. The included slideshow depicts strategy charts for single, double, and multi – deck (4 – 8 decks; in Vegas most will be either 6 or 8 decks ) games. The multi – deck and double deck charts include strategy variations for different table rule sets. Important rule differences include… 1) whether the dealer is required to hit (H17) or stand (S17) on soft seventeens and 2) whether doubling is allowed after pair splits (DAS).
Below are some basic strategy standard plays ( many of these are commonly misplayed ; all of these are in the slideshow strategy charts and are right according to the math ; no waffling on these ) :
Stand on hard 17 or more
Hit all soft 17’s ( also, double soft 17 against dealer 3 – 6 )
Always split aces and 8’s
Stand with player stiffs ( 12 – 16 ) vs dealer bust cards (4, 5, 6)
Hit player 12 vs dealer 2 and 3
Never split 5’s or 10’s ( people will throw things at and curse you if you do )
Never take insurance, even with a blackjack
Double player 11 vs dealer 10
Hit player A/7 (soft 18) vs dealer 9,10, or A ( in multideck games)
Split player 9,9 vs dealer 9
Learning strategies :
There are about 340 possible hands that a player can be dealt at a blackjack game. New players hearing that and then perusing a basic strategy chart that they’re encouraged to memorize can become intimidated. Initially, novice players have to accept and believe that use of accurate basic strategy play is THE right way to play when value is important. New players can rest assured that with practice at home AND at live games, basic strategy is not that difficult to learn.
Learning the right play for every hand situation at a given game requires some study and practice. There are numerous online blackjack training sites that include printable blackjack strategy charts for specific games and number of decks. There are also online sources that include actual practice / simulation games where players can input varying rule options, make bets, play their hands , and generally simulate all the aspects of a live game except alcohol consumption and smoke inhalation.
Blackjack Info and the Wizard of Odds are two excellent sources to print color coded (makes visual reference and learning easier) strategy charts and then use them at the computer while playing simulated games. Both games will alert players when they make errors in strategy for the specific game being played. This is an excellent learning method, partially because the only cost is time ( both are free game / trainer sites). These are our recommendations for the most efficient and least costly methods / sources to learn strategy. Additionally, these two sites offer complete treatises on the game of blackjack.
For most new players, the most difficult plays to learn often include soft hand plays, pair splits, double downs, and surrender. Learn the correct hit and stand plays initially and then concentrate on these more difficult play groupings. The use of the color coded charts provide a good visual reference to efficiently locate individual plays and groupings of plays.
After players have practiced correct strategy plays and have gained an understanding as to why certain plays are made, they may be ready to play a live game. Novice players should make plans to begin live play at a casino with a strategy chart in hand; the casinos in Vegas permit chart use . We recommend that all new players bring a color coded strategy chart ( print pocket – sized charts for free and laminate them) even if they feel like they have all the plays down pat from practice sessions. Playing in a live Vegas casino is a world away from playing in front of a home computer ; after a few rounds of live play, the use of these charts will enhance imprinting and memorization after players enter some semblance of a comfort zone during live play.
Don’t feel overly self -conscious and just ignore any idiots who might scoff at strategy chart use at live tables…just remind them if they persist that it is indeed your money that’s being wagered. Upon seeing a player use these charts at the table, seasoned / reasonable players will often think to themselves ” well, they’re rookies but they’re trying to play the game correctly “. Just try and make your decisions and play as quickly as possible so as not to hold up play any more than necessary. With time, most players will find that they will need to refer to these charts less and less frequently to make confident and correct plays.
As players gain more play experience in Vegas casinos, they will encounter the entire spectrum of humanity at blackjack tables. Players should be prepared to receive the entire spectrum of advice regarding blackjack play including the right play for a specific hand. After some seasoning at the tables, players might be shocked to learn how many Vegas blackjack dealers and other players do not know basic strategy of any depth. Some do, but many don’t. It’s fine to ask dealers or other players for assistance about any blackjack situation, but the key person to rely on is yourself.
Learn the correct plays because errant advice and attitudes are rampant in Vegas casinos. There will be a lot of players and dealers that will advise you to take the insurance bet when you have a blackjack against a dealer ace by saying ” it’s a sure thing”. It’s always a bad play for the basic strategy player. Other times you’ll make the correct play but someone will think it’s wrong and blame you for ” disrupting the flow of cards” or ” you took the dealer’s bust card “. You have to ignore these people, even if it involves finding another table to play. A good rule of thumb after some seasoning at the tables is to neither accept nor offer advice to other players in a reasonable and calm manner.
Be aware that even if players employ perfect basic strategy play for a specific game and set of rules, the casino will still hold an advantage over all players in all blackjack games. Rather than viewing that as a source for discouragement, it highlights the fact that players failing to learn and use basic strategy really are SOL . Basic strategy provides players with their best fighting weapon and chance to beat the casino ( along with playing good games and acquiring comps ) besides advantage play techniques. Further, basic strategy is again a prerequisite info base for learning more advanced play of any kind.
Throughout this article series, we’ve emphasized expectation ( EV ) and have outlined these math elements in a previous LVE article. The amount of money a player can expect to win or lose in the long run, assuming repeated wagers, is referred to as the player’s expected value (EV) or player expectation. Generally, Vegas gamblers including basic strategy blackjack players play with a negative expectation.
Math theory includes methods to predict outcome volatility ( variation and fluctuation from expected wins / losses) and the base measurement for these is called the standard deviation. That term can be defined as the average deviation of all possible outcomes from the expected ones. This volatility and deviation stuff collectively explain why gamblers occasionally experience both wins and losses that are NOT expected based on standard house edge figures. Some will refer to these unexpected outcomes as “hot / cold streaks” or “lady luck”. Basic strategy players should remember these wild swings in outcomes which actually fall under the laws of probability but appear and feel like good / terrible luck.
Sometimes, it appears that no matter what you do you lose , even when making proper plays. Under those circumstances, remember that there are other blackjack tables and other things to do In Vegas… walk away. On the other end of the bell curve, occasionally you have good runs and can do no wrong. Those are the sessions that must be recognized as opportunities to increase wagers to a level still within your defined bankroll management comfort zone. Further, be aware that outcome fluctuations can change either gradually or rapidly over the course of a few hands within a round or session.