Blackjack Basic Strategies
Four Situations: Hit, Stand, Split, & Double
There are four different situations or possibilities in an original
or two-card blackjack hand. The strategies for dealing with each comes
from more than 40 years of research done by mathematicians, probability
experts, and professional gamblers. Julian Braun, Dr. Edward Thorp, Lawrence
Revere, Stanford Wong, Arnold Snyder, Peter Griffin, and Don Schlesinger,
represent some of the most important theorists and innovators of blackjack
over the last half-century, and their legacy provides the foundation
and framework for current blackjack philosophy and practice.
On the ground floor of the blackjack high rise, are those who play the
game, but don't put any effort into learning much about it, so they guess
or go by hunches or "feelings." This player can only rely on the luck
of the draw hoping for a chance to win.
The next level of player cares about learning the game enough so that he or she
is willing to absorb what is termed a "basic strategy." By learning basic strategy,
the player elevates his or her level of play and greatly enhances the possibility
The third level of player assigns numerical values to each card in an attempt
to separate the cards that have been played in an attempt to determine the remaining
cards along with the mathematical odds of winning all remaining hands. This procedure
is called card counting and there are numerous methods to consider.
All of the strategies listed begin with two separate factors: your two
cards compared to the dealer's single exposed card. Those three cards
represent the known values in the equation to figure the possibilities.
How you react is directly related to those two dynamics.. One note: the
basic strategies discussed and noted here are for multiple decks, rather
that single or double as there are many more of the former than the latter
It is quite frustrating to sit at a blackjack table knowing you are
playing Basic Strategy to the letter and are losing while other players
are making foolish decisions and winning. The math of the game states
you are playing at a .05 disadvantage given a reasonable set of rules.
That is one-half of one percent, as close to 50-50 as you'll find, and
about the best set of odds in the modern casino. Yet there are no guarantees
you'll get "good" cards. Probability theory views events from a long-term
basis, rather than isolated cases. That is why the game favors disciplined
players who have patience. If you play long enough, you will encounter
sessions where you know you did the right thing but lost hand after hand.
The only satisfaction you can take home is the knowledge that things
will turn the other way, sooner or later. Those who are winning by playing
foolishly may smile, but it will be a temporary situation and one which
can get them into deep trouble.
Basic Hitting and Standing Strategies for "Hard" Totals or Hands.
"Hard" and "soft" hands in blackjack terminology refers to the presence
or lack of an ace in astarting hand, A hard hand or total is one that
does not involve an ace, while a soft one hand means that one of the
two starting cards is an ace. This requires special consideration.
The key number to remember is 17. It is the cutoff point for deciding whether
to hit or not. Each denomination is counted as its printed value, ex. the two
of clubs is counted as a 2; the seven of hearts is counted as a 7. Suits are
not considered of any importance or ranked order --it is the numerical value
that counts. All face cards count as 10s The problem child here is the ace, which
can be counted as either a 1 or 11. This card can lead to a great deal of confusion
(see "soft hands").
When the dealer has a 7-10 showing
Requesting a card or a hit on 17 or above will do two things: it will
mark you as a rank amateur and will make other players abandon your table.
There are only four cards to improve your hand with a 17, three with
an 18, 2 with a 19 and one with a 20. The odds are stacked against you
in every case.
With 17 as the player's key point, 6 is the corresponding cutoff card for the
dealer's exposed card in determining how you play it, with the deuce or 2 being
the exception to the rule (refer to "The Terror of the Twos"). It is important
to remember: everything is relative to the one card the dealer is showing. If
the dealer's exposed card is 3-6, the player has a better chance of winning than
if the dealer is showing a 2, 9, 10 (or face card) or ace. Seven and eight fall
in the middle.
Generally accepted blackjack theory notes that 18.3 represents the calculated
average hand needed to win. In other words, a hand with less than a 19 total
(you can't get fractions in blackjack), is potentially a losing hand. If the
dealer is showing a 7, 8, 9, or 10-value card, you will need to hit if you have
less than a 17.
With a total of 17, you are stuck-you can't take a hit, but your chances aren't
good. The math of the game says you can't take a card to improve your hand, but
the best you can do is hope the dealer has a 5-10 if he/she is showing a seven.
With a 10, you tie, or "push." You don't win, but you don't lose. 5-9 makes the
dealer hit once more. If the dealer has an 8, 9, or 10-value card exposed, you
have to hope that there is a 4, 5,6, or 7 in the hole. That will make the dealer
need to take a third card as well and this might put his/her hand over the total
of 21, with a busted hand. As there are more 10-value cards than any other, the
chances here are not as bad.
When you receive a hard 17, 18, 19, or 20, there is nothing to do except sit
back and hope that the dealer's hand isn't as good as yours. You merely indicate
to the dealer that you don't want a card and want to stand. Obviously, with a
21 or blackjack, there's no need to try to improve your position.
Dealer has a 3-6 showing
This situation is the most favorable to the player as the dealer has
a better chance of going over the total of 21, or busting. If you have
a hard hand of 12-20 that is not a pair, you stand. If you have a pair
please refer to the section on pairs. With a hand of 3-11, you have options.
Most of these involve choices between hitting and doubling. Please keep
in mind that these strategies come from decades of computer analysis
The Terror of the Twos
You were dealt a Jack and a 10. You're feeling secure because the dealer
is only showing a meager deuce. Confidently, you refuse another card.
The dealer quietly takes an 8 out from the hole, then draws an ace Your
bright smile is quickly transformed into a dejected stare. You've been
robbed! Not really. You've just come up against the toughest card: the
terrible two. You might think the ace is difficult because the dealer
could have one half of the cards toward a blackjack. It might shock you
to know the dealer will beat you more times with that efficient 2 than
you might realize.
If you think of it this way, a two is like a chameleon: it will blend with almost
anything. With a dealer's 2 up, a 6, 7, 8, or 9 in the hole becomes a real problem
for the player, because if a 10 follows, the dealer is sitting on a probable
winning hand. If an ace, 2, 3, 4, or 5 appears and there's a run of small cards,
you've probably lost as well. The best of all worlds is if the dealer pulls a
10-value card from the hole and draws another 10. A dealer's 12 is as problematical
as yours: they seem to be magnets for 10s.
The polar opposite end of this situation is when it is your own. Basic strategy
dictates that when you have a 12 versus a dealer's 2 you are supposed to take
a card. For some reason, your player's12 seems to attract every face card within
a five-casino range. But due to the power of the dealer's 12, you are probably
sitting with a losing hand anyway-- you might as well try to improve your position.
With a 13 through 20 against the dealer's 2, you stand pat.
When you have a 3, 4, 5, 6, 7,or 8 versus the dealer's 2, you take another card
until you get past 12.
When you have a 9,10 or 11, you double down.
These are the hands which cause the greatest amount of confusion, the
most consternation and bewilderment. It is vital to remember that you
can count the ace as either a 1 or 11 at any point you chose. Soft hands
provide a great deal of trouble partly because how you treat them varies
with the dealer's up card. Think of these situations as an opportunity,
rather than a problem. Sure we'd all love to be gifted with two 10s every
time, but that is just a tad unrealistic.
With an ace paired with an 8,9,10, you always stand. An ace-seven against a dealer's
two you stand; against a 3-6, you double, seven or eight you stand; 9, 10, 11,
you hit. Ace-six against a dealer's 2 you hit; 3-6 you double; against a dealer's
7-ace you hit. Same goes for ace-five except you hit against a dealer's 3. You
treat the ace-4 the same as an ace-5 .With an ace-3, you take a card versus a
dealer's 2 -10, but double a 5-6. Finally, you hit an ace-2 when a dealer is
showing 2-10 except on 5 when you double.
In the game of blackjack, there are opportunities presented and the
recognition of these is one of the major distinctions between leaving
the table a winner or loser. This thought carries a great deal of validity:
Doubling your original bet in an advantageous situation carries no guarantee
you will automatically win. But basic theory dictates you must try to
maximize these situations as much as you can. These are the bets that
count. It is important to remember that in most casinos you will only
receive only one card when you double and you are not permitted to double
after you've already received a third or fourth card.
There are certain doubles that are automatic: The theory is you'll receive a
ten-value card and win. Even if you don't get a 10, it is possible to draw a
card that will improve your hand, allowing it to beat the dealer or the dealer
will bust. There are specific rules which apply to doubling and you want to use
these opportunities in the best fashion. If after you double, with the dealer
showing a ten-value card, and an ace is overturned giving the dealer a blackjack,
most casinos will give you the second part of your bet back rather than taking
all of it.
As a rule, you always double 11 except when the dealer is showing an ace. You
double 10 at all times except when the dealer is showing wither ace or ten. Double
9 when the dealer shows 3-6. Please refer to the soft hands to see those double.
Closely related in theory and practice to doubling splits represent
another group which will help you leave the blackjack table a winner
or loser. The first step is to recognize which pairs represent the real
opportunities. The second step is to act and the third is to win those
hands. The first two parts are educational in nature. The third brings
There are two hard and fast rules: never split 5s, and don't split 10s for opposite
reasons. With 5s you are turning a hand that should be counted as a 10 and either
doubled or hit into two hands of five. Each one turns into potential problems
when 7,8,9,or 10 appear. Always remember there are more ten value cards than
any other. When you dissemble a ten, you are missing an opportunity for a twenty.
With the two 10-value cards, you are replacing a 20, doubling your original bet
size, and getting stuck with a two potentially worse hands. You may get cards
2-7 twice over.
What you want to do is maximize your opportunities. Aces and eights are the cards
that you always want to split. With the ace, in most casinos, you are allowed
only one card after you split them. Obviously, you are hoping for a ten on each
one. The thought here is that if you don't split your aces, you have a cumulative
value of 2 or 12. The danger here is that if you draw 2 10-value cards in a row,
not at all unusual, you will bust. You are also trying to maximize your opportunities
by turning a single bet into twice that amount.
Eights are always split as the total of 16 is the single worst hand for a player.
At best, you hope to maximize this hand by first getting a 2 or three on one
of the split pairs. This turns your dangerous 8 into a more favorable 10 or 11.
At this point you can double the hand (where allowed) or at least hope for a
coveted 10-value card. If you get a ten for your 8 right away, you have succeeded
in turning the two 8s into at least one 18. Failing to get two or three winning
hands, you hope to escape with at least one winner and get a push from the deal.
Naturally, there is always the chance you'll lose both, but you'll go down fighting.
Split 9s unless the dealer is showing 7, 10 or ace. Split 7s when the dealer
shows 2-7, hit 8-ace. Split 6s, 3-6, hit the others. Never split 4s. Split 2s
and 3s, 3-6, hit the other situations.
The dealer will ask if you would like to take "insurance" if he or she
is showing an ace exposed. Because the odds of the dealer having a blackjack
are approximately 1 in 3, the correct answer is "No.". What the dealer
is asking is if you would like to wager up to one-half of your original
bet that there is a blackjack or a ten-value card in the hole. You lose
this insurance bet if the dealer does not have blackjack, but get paid
what you bet for insurance if there is one.
I would suggest that there is some degree of flexibility here. In a situation
where about a quarter of a shoe has been played and you have noticed the absence
of many 10-value cards (note: it is always a good habit to keep track of the
cards that have been played, if you can.), you might elect to take insurance
based on your observation and the fact that the deck is "rich" in 10s, thus elevating
the chance of the dealer's blackjack.
But generally speaking, it is wise to decline insurance. Just wave it off.
An old casino adage is: "I'd rather be lucky than good." Anyone can
get lucky, but it takes some knowledge to be able to play and win on
a regular basis. This is why you need to make your decisions based on
a factual foundation of mathematical probability rather than guesswork,
hunches, or hoed for luck.
With that said, just as in life there are people who just seem to have luck welded
to their beings, while others trip over that satchel in the middle of the street
containing a million dollars only to get hit by a car.the same holds true in
a casino. Some people seem to be born lucky, while others appear to have a black
cloud over their heads. Most of us fall somewhere in between. We have our lucky
streaks and then other times we trip over our own shoelaces.
Some advice: if you are losing at a table leaving you in a negative mindset,
don't stay. Take a break. Clear your head. Change tables or do something to alter
the situation. Mathematical probability proclaims things will even out in the
long run. But by then, you might be broke. One of the surest aspects to gambling
is short-term streaks. These come in two forms-favorable winning streaks and
awful losing streaks. Probability experts call these streaks deviations. But
a prolonged one can hit your bankroll where it hurts. Most longtime players try
to minimize these negative swings by protecting their bankrolls (see money management).
The point here: if you're on a losing steak, don't try to force your play. Take
a break and play another time or place.
Playing optimal or perfect basic strategy still leaves the player at
a 0.05 disadvantage to the House. By using a card counting system, he/she
can swing the advantage to the players side by as much as 1-2 percent,
a major alteration. It is for this reason that casinos do all they can
to discourage card counters from playing. Card counters in blackjack
remain the one group who can legally beat the casino on a regular basis.
There are numerous card counting systems ranging from relatively simple to highly
complex. They all share the basic premise that assigns a numerical value to each
card. The player adds and subtracts these values as cards appear arriving at
what is called the "running count". This fluctuating count represents cards which
are known or have already been played.
This number is figured against the remaining cards to determine the more valuable "true
count" representing the cards not yet played. When the count is plus, rich, or
positive, there are usually a greater number of aces and ten-value cards remaining
to be played. This situation favors the player. In the opposite case, when there
is a negative or minus count, there are a higher number of lowered value cards
remaining to be played. This situation favors the casino as there is a greater
chance for the dealer to arrive at a winning hand.
Perfecting card counting skills takes a dedication to practice, memorization
and technique. It is certainly not for everyone but those who master it can rest
assured they can achieve a higher success rate than almost any other casino player.
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