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 of winning, 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 group.

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 and development.

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.

Soft Hands

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.

Doubling

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.

Splitting

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 no guarantees. 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.

Insurance

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.

Luck

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.

Card Counting

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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