Most casino games require only luck which is the thing that makes gambling such a risky activity. What sets blackjack apart from the rest of the casino games, is the fact that it requires both skills and luck. If players implement a reliable plan, they can significantly improve their chances of winning. Following a strategy is a must, if they want to become consistent winners in the long term and retain their profits.
Throughout the years, a number of efficient strategies have been created thanks to which it is possible to decrease the house edge greatly. Most of them suggest the best move in a certain situation, depending on the cards in the players’ hands. Nowadays, many proficient players apply the basic strategy in an attempt to change the odds in their favor.
Basic Strategy Overview
One of the most popular strategies in blackjack is the basic strategy. It is used by a number of players as it has proven to be highly effective. It serves as a guide that suggests the most efficient move in a particular situation, taking into account the up card of the dealer and the player’s hand. To apply the basic strategy correctly, it is essential to be familiar with the fundamental rules of the game. Many players lack important knowledge about basic terms such as soft and hard hands which deprives them of the chance to understand the game properly.
The history of the basic strategy can be traced back to 1952 when a group of soldiers decided to play blackjack during their duty in the U.S. Army Barracks in Aberdeen Maryland. Roger Baldwin, one of the soldiers, came up with the idea that if the dealer plays according to cut-and-clear rules, it is possible to calculate the probabilities of winning and losing in every situation.
His idea was realized with the help of three other men – Army Sergeant Wilbert Cantey, Herbert Maisel, and James McDermott. In 1957, the four men who became popular as the Four Horsemen of Aberdeen published a book called Playing Blackjack To Win. Interestingly, the four men never used the basic strategy to play blackjack. Later on, it was Ed Thorp who tested the strategy and approved its accuracy. He further developed it and laid the foundations of the first card counting system – the Ten Count System. He published his work in a book called Beat the Dealer.
Thanks to the basic strategy, it is possible to significantly decrease the house edge.
It relies on the probabilities of different combinations of cards to appear on the table by taking into account the number of decks included in the game, as well as the player’s cards and the dealer’s upcard. The basic strategy compares how your actions will affect your chances of winning and suggests the best action according to the current situation. Millions of computer simulations were made to test the basic strategy and determine whether it actually works.
Reading Basic Strategy Charts
Blackjack is a card game that is usually played with 6 or 8 decks and thus, tons of combinations can be formed. On the Internet, blackjack enthusiasts can find several strategy charts adjusted according to the specific rules of a given blackjack variation and the number of decks it uses.
At first glance, basic strategy charts might look overwhelming. However, reading them is not rocket science. Information about the dealer’s up card is located at the top of the chart, while the player’s hand is shown vertically on the left side of the chart. You will see that the different moves are indicated by different colors and letters.
Usually, “S” indicates that the player should stand, “H” stands for hitting, “D” means that the player has to double, “DH” stands for doubling down or hit if not allowed, “SP” or only “P” is used for split, while “DS” is a hint to double or stand if not allowed. However, you do not need to learn this by heart as blackjack basic strategy charts feature a legend on the bottom.
Rule Variations Affecting Basic Strategy Moves
If you often find yourself puzzled whether you should hit, stand, split, or double down, then it is time to have a look at the basic strategy chart.
Even though the objective of the game remains the same, there are some rule variations that determine to some extent your actions in the game and affect the size of the house edge.
Some of the most common deviations of the rules include the number of decks, dealer hits/stands on soft 17, doubling, resplitting, surrendering, dealer peek, and payout for a blackjack. Surf the net to find strategy engines that will help you to adapt the basic strategy according to the specific rules of the game.
If you play a single-deck blackjack where the dealer hits on Soft 17, your hand is Soft 13, and the dealer’s up card is 4, then you have to double if allowed, otherwise hit. Provided that you play 4 to 8-deck blackjack variation in which the dealer stands on Soft 17, your hand is Soft 13, and the dealer’s exposed card is 4, you have to hit.
Let us take another example. You play single-deck blackjack and the dealer is allowed to hit on Soft 17. You are dealt Soft 18 and the dealer’s up card is 2, then you have to stand. But in multi-deck blackjack variations, you have to double if allowed, otherwise split.
When to Split Pairs
Getting two matching cards is a situation that will inevitably occur at some point during the game. In such cases, many players often act impulsively as they adhere to the popular belief that pairs should always be split, regardless of the cards composing them. However, this is not always the case as there are some situations in which it is better to avoid this move and keep the pair whole instead.
Moreover, if players don’t follow a reliable strategy, they are bound to lose money in the long term no matter what they do. Let’s have a look at all of the possible pairs that can be dealt and determine the best move for them, taking into account the players’ hand and the dealer’s up card.
Let’s start with the situation when players have a pair of 8s or Aces. In such cases, players have to split regardless of the up card of the dealer. Splitting these two pairs provide blackjack devotees with the opportunity to start two strong separate hands.
When players have a pair of 5’s, it is recommended to never split it, no matter what the dealer shows as an up card. Instead, it is best to double down as the chance to improve your hand is high. The same goes for a pair of 10s – players should avoid splitting as it is best to stand instead, regardless of the up card of the dealer. If you are wondering why, here is the answer – any other move would most likely place them in a more unfavourable situation.
In case you have a pair of 2s or 3s, it is advisable to split when the dealer’s up card is 2 through 7. When it comes to a pair of 4s, players should split only if the dealer’s upcard is 4, 5, or 6. If they have a pair of 6s or 7s, they should split if the dealer’s up card is 2 through 7.
If the dealer’s up card is any different than the above-mentioned examples, players should hit. If they have a pair of 9s, it is best to always split, unless the dealer has a 7. Splitting 9s when the dealer’s upcard is 9 is the best you can do in the given situation.
|Strategy for Splitting Pairs in 4 to 8-Deck Blackjack When the Dealer Stands on 17|
|Pairs in Player’s Hand||The up card of the dealer|
When to Double Down
In general, it is recommended to always double down if the dealer is in an unfavorable position as this is the time when players have the highest chances of winning. This way, they will increase their initial bet twice as much and compensate for their previous losses. Doubling down can be very beneficial, only on the condition that this move is used properly.
It is worth mentioning that in some casinos, it is possible to bet less than the original wager when doubling down. However, such a move is considered to be unfavorable for the players and therefore, it is best to avoid it. Let’s have a look at some of the situations in which it is best to double down:
- If the player holds hard 9 (not including an Ace) and the dealer’s up card is 2 through 6
- If the player’s hand is soft 16, 17, or 18 and the dealer’s up card is between 2 to 6
- If the player is dealt hard 10 or 11 and the value of the dealer’s up card is lower
The reason why it’s best to double down in the above-mentioned cases, is that the dealer is in a weak position and thus, players should make the most of these situations. When it comes to the rest of the available combinations, players can either hit or stand..
|Strategy for doubling down in Blackjack|
|Player’s Total||The up card of the dealer|
When to Surrender
This move can be extremely beneficial only on the condition that players know when to use it. In general, it is best to surrender if they are certain that they will lose. This way, they will retain half of their bet which they were bound to lose otherwise. Whether you will surrender or not depends on the number of decks included in the game and the special rules.
Provided that you play a multi-deck blackjack where the dealer stands on soft 17, you are advised to surrender when the value of the dealer’s up card is 10 and your hand is hard 15. The same is valid in single-deck blackjack variations. Assuming that you are dealt hard 16 and the dealer’s up card is 9, 10, or Ace, surrender is the most optimal decision you can make in multi-deck blackjack variations. You have to surrender if the dealer’s up card is Ace and your hand is hard 17.
It is worth noting that many casinos don’t offer this move as it has proven to be very beneficial to players and this is the reason why it is best to double-check in advance whether it is available or not.
While on the subject, we have to mention that there are two types of surrender – early and late surrender. The former allows players to give up their hand before the dealer peeks for a blackjack. Early surrender is the more advantageous option. Thus, not many casinos offer it. Late surrender, on the other hand, allows players to surrender their hands after the dealer has checked for blackjack. This move will cost you half of your original stake.
Perhaps, you noticed that most basic strategy charts are based on the total hand of the player and the dealer’s up card. In other words, the basic strategy does not consider what cards your hand is composed of. However, this is of great importance as sometimes it can affect the way you should act in a given situation.
For example, if your hand totals hard 12, you have to stand if the dealer’s up card is 4 to 6 according to the basic strategy. This is so due to the high chance of getting another ten and bust. The composition strategy takes into account the cards that make up your hand. According to it, you have to stand if your hard 12 is composed of 9 and 3, 8 and 4, or 7 and 5. But if your hand consists of 10 and 2, then the composition-based strategy advises players to hit or double down if allowed. The reason for this is that the chances of getting another ten are lower as you already hold one of them.
Other Popular Blackjack Tips
Another extremely widespread strategy is the card counting one. This strategy is considered to be more advanced and this is the reason why it is used predominantly by seasoned players who already know the basic strategy backwards and forwards. Card counting gives blackjack fans the opportunity to keep track of the cards on the table and determine the ratio between the high and low-value ones. If applied along with the basic strategy, card counting can be extremely accurate and beneficial as it is possible to predict to a huge extent the upcoming cards.
Thanks to the card counting systems, players can make better betting choices and moves as they will have a general idea about the remaining cards in the deck. Throughout the years, many card counting systems have been developed in an attempt to help players increase their chance of winning. All of them operate on the same principle – they assign particular point values to the cards which makes the card counting process efficient. Some of the most famous card counting systems are Hi-Lo System, Wong Halves System, Zen Count System, Omega II System, and others.
In order to become consistent winners and manage to fully enjoy blackjack, players need to learn a reliable strategy. The basic strategy, combined with a card counting system can really work wonders and reduce the house edge significantly. The average winning hand in blackjack is 18.5 which means that players have real chances of winning even if they don’t reach 21.
Blackjack fans compete against the dealer and therefore, they should always take into account the dealer’s up card. All of their decisions should be based on the total value of their hand as well as the dealer’s up card. If players take their time to learn the basic strategy, they will be able to make better betting choices and win more.
Blackjack is a game of skills and luck which gives players the chance to improve their game by implementing an efficient plan. Such a valuable opportunity is not to be wasted as not many other casino games offer it. The basic strategy doesn’t guarantee that players will win every single hand, however it gives them much better chances of doing so. Thanks to it, they can make wiser choices for their hand and improve their game greatly. This strategy is used by hundreds of players worldwide which is a clear indicator that it is worthwhile.