USING BLACKJACK BASIC STRATEGY

So far we’ve discussed the basic rules of blackjack along with ‘procedural information’ that a novice needs to know the first time he sits down at a table. Now we’ll continue with the rules of blackjack and focus on concepts that you’ll want to know as you become familiar with the game. In this guide we’ll talk about the ‘intermediate rules’ of blackjack including insurance and surrender.

LAND BASED CASINOS VS. ONLINE CASINOS

While many of the concepts we discuss on this site are different for online and land based casino players it’s essential to understand basic strategy no matter where you’re playing. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing at a live table in Las Vegas or at home online it’s important to know the proper strategy for the rules of your specific game.

BASIC STRATEGY

In blackjack, when we speak of ‘basic strategy’ we’re not only talking about an abstract concept (strategic tips for beginners) but also of a specific course of action. ‘Basic strategy’ in blackjack will more often refer to a guideline of how to play each possible hand based on extensive mathematical analysis. This is usually expressed in the form of a chart where every possible beginning hand for the player is matrixed against every dealer up-card. For example, the basic strategy for:

PLAYER: 13 DEALER: 3 = STAND
PLAYER: 9 DEALER: 8 = HIT
PLAYER: 10 DEALER: 6 = DOUBLE

In other words, to implement basic strategy you just have to memorize what to do in each individual situation. This is easier than it sounds—for example, the player should stand on hard 17 or higher regardless of what upcard the dealer is showing. Likewise, a player should always hit on 5, 6, 7 or 8.

There is a different basic strategy for every variation in blackjack rules. The most important of these to get right in order to guarantee that you’re using the right basic strategy is deck number and the dealer hitting on hard/soft 17. You can find full basic strategy cards online, in blackjack books or on laminated cards sold in casino gift shops.

At one point in blackjack history, there was just one ‘basic strategy’. These strategies are based on a computer analysis of millions of hands which until the past couple of decades wasn’t especially easy to do. Julian Braun of IBM is credited with one of the earliest ‘basic strategy’ simulations though there are others. Today, there are many different ‘basic strategies’ though most have only slight variations from one another. It’s now simple to run a blackjack hand simulation to determine or verify any set of basic strategy rules. With the right blackjack simulation software you can do it with ease on your home computer.

BAD STRATEGIES FOR BEGINNERS

The best approach for a beginning to intermediate blackjack player is to learn the basic strategy for his preferred set of rules front and back. This won’t give you the ‘edge’ over the house but it’ll go a long way to minimize it. Most importantly, you won’t be giving the casino a bigger advantage based on boneheaded mistakes.

Unfortunately, there are clueless newbies that try to implement ‘strategies’ that are destined to fail. Here are a few:

Playing Hunches: First of all, it’s important to make a clear distinction between making an ‘educated guess’ based on your observation of the table, card counting, etc. from ‘playing a hunch’. A ‘hunch’ is just that– an arbitrary decision with no evidentiary basis. In the short term, you may win a few hands this way. In the long term, you’ll get eviscerated by the cold, hard math that circumscribes the game.

Copy The Dealer: Some players think they’ll do what the dealer does—hit to 16, stand on 17 or above. At least this makes a modicum of sense theoretically. The clueless player figures that since the casino has the ‘edge’ that if he plays the same way he’ll accrue a similar advantage. It doesn’t work that way. For one thing, it eliminates basic strategy decisions since you’re completely ignoring the dealer’s hand (not a wise thing to do). It also eliminates doubling and splitting which are two of the most important weapons for a successful blackjack player. Bottom line—playing like the dealer gives the house an edge of precisely 5.5%.

Don’t Bust At All Costs: If you watch sports at all you’ve seen teams that are so terrified of making a mistake that they don’t ‘play to win’–they ‘play not to lose’. This is the blackjack equivalent. Players who implement this ‘strategy’ avoid busting at all costs to the point that they don’t hit any hand valued 12 or higher. Depending on the specifics of a player’s ‘never bust’ strategy it gives the house an edge of just under 4%.

The Dealer Probably Has a Ten: There’s an old saying that ‘a little knowledge incorrectly applied is a dangerous thing.’ It could have been talking about this strategy. As we’ve discussed earlier, there are more ten value cards in the deck than any other (16). As a result the probability of drawing a ten value card from a freshly shuffled deck is greater than drawing any other value card. The operative phrase here is ‘freshly shuffled deck’. Once the dealer starts to deal the ‘true odds’ of dealing a ten change with each dealt card. And that’s why you can’t simply ‘assume’ that the dealer has a ten under his hole card. If he’s got an ace showing you know he doesn’t have a ten or he would have flipped over a blackjack at the start of the hand (at least under most casino’s rules).

Once again, we need to make a clear distinction between assuming the dealer has a ten and making an educated guess based on card counting or other methods. If you’ve watched the table and noticed that there have been few 10’s dealt (making the remaining cards in the deck theoretically ‘ten rich’) it’s no longer an assumption, it’s a calculation. So is making this calculation based on a ‘ten rich’ card count. That’s a world of difference from merely assuming that the dealer has a ten which gives the house an advantage of more than 10%.