What is Blackjack Basic Strategy?

This morning I started in on how it is time to go back to the basics of blackjack. Basics are important. Think of them as the foundation for your blackjack strategy. And basic strategy should be the basis of all of your blackjack strategy.

Also this morning I talked about basic strategy. I said that it was only effective in lowering the house edge to 0.5% if you played it perfectly. But I never said why.

Basic strategy is usually shown in a chart. All of the dealer’s up card run across the top, each one assigned to a column. And all of the player’s possible starting hands run down the left hand side, one hand assigned to each row.

At the beginning of a round, you would find the row with your starting hand and the column with the dealer’s up card. Where the row and column meet the best statistical play will be shown.

Note that I said ‘best statistical play.’ This does not mean that you will win the round from using that play. What it means is that play has the best chance of causing you to win the round. But it is not a guarantee.

That, by the way, is why casinos are just fine with players using basic strategy. There is a belief that basic strategy will allow the player to win every round. Casinos do not discourage this belief, and players will often toss away their basic strategy charts and go back to playing blackjack based on whims.

But if you make the best statistical play for each round, over time you can drop the house’s edge to that wonderful 0.5%. And a decrease in the house’s edge is an increase to your own blackjack odds. And making the best statistical play is playing exactly how the basic strategy chart tells you to.

Basic strategy is not going to win every single round for you, but it will cause you to win more rounds. And winning more rounds in blackjack is exactly what a player wants. So winning more rounds with the best mathematically calculated plays is exactly why you want to play basic strategy perfectly.

Basics for Blackjack Strategy

Between the news, the blackjack apps and my thoughts on blackjack misconceptions, I have been rather neglectful of blackjack strategy. And we cannot have that now can we?

I figured the best way to jump back into blackjack strategy was to look at the basics again. Even experienced blackjack players should go back and look at the basics. For one thing it never hurts to see where you came from. Who knows, maybe you forgot something. And keeping firm on the basics helps to keep your more advanced strategies solid.

In other life, as I like to put it, I worked in retail and a lot of our training was “Back to Basics.” So either they could not think of any new sales strategies or there really is something to looking back to basic skills. I am putting my money on the latter—it just sounds smarter.

When it comes to the basics for blackjack strategy, the place to start is always with basic strategy. I know, I know, I can hear you saying, “Basic strategy? Again? Really?”

Yes, really.

No blackjack player worth their chips can afford to turn their noses up at such an easy to use strategy that also happens to be one of the most effective in the game. In fact, basic strategy is the single most effective strategy out of all the strategies available to casino games.

Playing perfect basic strategy can lower the house edge to 0.5%, making blackjack the casino game with the lowest house edge. And this strategy is legal to use in casinos and online casinos. You can sit at the table with your little basic strategy chart out playing according to it and not get slapped on the wrist—or worse—by the pit boss.

But that is the beauty about looking back at basics—they can remind us of what the basics of blackjack strategy can do for you and what it continues to do for you.

Oh, and by perfect basic strategy I mean that you have to play every single round according to what the basic strategy chart says. So if it says to double down, you had better double down.

Hard Hands in Blackjack

In the game of blackjack there are three types of hands: hard hands, soft hands and pairs. Each of these types of blackjack hands has a different type of strategy. This is because each type of hand has something about it that makes it different.

Hence, different types.

Moving on, we are going to look at hard hands and blackjack strategy for hard hands today.

In blackjack, hard hands are the most basic of hands. The two cards that make them up are not worth the same value each and neither card has a flexible value. Because of those simple little facts, hard hands are the easiest hands to play…most of the time.

They are easy to play and are often the first hands novice players learn strategy for because there are no special tricks available for them. You can hit, stand of double down on them. All you need to do as the player is decide if your hand total is low enough to hit or high enough to stand.

As a rule of thumb, a hard hand of 17 or higher and players will stand. It is too high to hit safely, and other than the hard 17, stand a fair chance of beating the dealer.

Some of hard 9s, hard 10s and hard 11s can be doubled down on. This allows players to make twice the amount in winnings off of one hand than they would without doubling down.

While many new blackjack players who are just starting out will not bother overly much with strategy, these hands thankfully are not too hard to play. The majority of them can be played with common sense.

However for the player who wants to get the most out of his hard hands and to begin building his blackjack strategy and skills, the best recourse is to check out basic strategy. This is a chart that gives the best statistical play to make for each hand against each dealer’s up card. Playing each hand according to basic strategy can lower the house edge to 0.5%. This takes the guess work out of deciding how to play your hard hands in blackjack.

Oh, and one more benefit—it is legal to use in casinos. Now take it to the blackjack table and use it for your hard hands.

Surrendering to Blackjack

Okay, this is more about a play used in blackjack rather than some romantical notion of giving in to desires hidden beneath the surface.

Players in blackjack have one of the most awesome ways to exit a round of blackjack in which the odds are just too high against them to win: surrender. Sometimes the underdog stays under. And if it looks like a round is just not in your favor, you need to get out.

With this blackjack rule, players can give up half of their original wager, keep the other half and exit the round. There is no other cost for exiting a round other than that half of your original wager.

Not too bad considering blackjack and poker are the only casino games that give players a way out of an unfavorable round—and poker players have to give up all of their wager. So, blackjack players, we have it pretty nice.

Surrender comes in two varieties: late and early.

Late surrender allows the player to surrender after the dealer has checked for blackjack. Only after he has checked can surrender be chosen. So if the dealer does have a natural blackjack you are just out of luck. But if you are able to make the play, it can increase your edge by 0.08%.

And while that 0.08% is not too bad, early surrender fives you an even bigger boost: 0.24%. The reason for the larger boost is because players can surrender before the dealer checks for blackjack. Once you surrender, even if the dealer does have a natural blackjack, you still have only lost half of your wager.

But there are only a few times in which surrender is meant to be used. This is not a play to be used like a petulant child does a temper tantrum. A basic strategy chart can tell you when the best times to surrender are.

In fact, that is your homework—find out when the best times to surrender are. The answers will be posted tomorrow morning.

Beating the Edge Using Blackjack Strategy

Blackjack players, you are in luck. You are the players of the one casino game in which players have the best shot at meeting, it not over-coming, the house edge.

Congratulations to you and your blackjack strategy.

The reason for this is because this is the one casino game whose strategy can truly fight the house edge. In fact, there are two main pieces of strategy that players can use to bring that house edge down: basic strategy and card counting.

Basic strategy can be used in casino blackjack and online blackjack. This piece of strategy comes to players in the form of a chart with the all of the dealer’s up card possibilities across the top, and all possible player hands running down the left side. All a player needs to do is find his hand and then follow that line across the chart until it intersects with the line of the up card the dealer is showing. Where those lines intersect players will find the most advantageous play for that situation, including for stiff hands.

Basic strategy took four men a couple of years of calculating to figure out what the best statistical play to make for each hand against each dealer up card. While players will not win every single round, basic strategy gives them the best possible play.

For the player who plays every hand according to basic strategy, he can lower the house edge to 0.5%.

Unfortunately basic strategy is the best that online blackjack players can do in terms of strategy. But those who are playing in casinos there is another skill that can break even with the house edge and sometimes even get a 0.5% to 1.5% gain over the house edge. That skill is card counting.

Card counting is a system that players use to track the cards that have been played. The counting system tells them if a majority of low cards have already been played, meaning that the remaining unplayed cards are richer in high cards that favor the player. When a count reveals that the remaining cards are in the players’ favor, they will begin to raise their wagers to take advantage of the opportunity to win more.

Both basic strategy and card counting are skills, and both require practice. But with practice players can use those to make up their blackjack strategy and work towards beating the house edge.

Congratulations indeed.

Dealer Hitting Soft 17 is Not Good

Some players think that working in games that allow the dealer to hit a soft 17 is good for their blackjack strategy.

They would be mistaken.

Sure, on the surface a dealer hitting a soft 17 sounds like a good thing. Players might think that the dealer has a better shot of busting because he is so close to 21. But what these players are forgetting is that Ace. The Ace that makes that soft 17 soft can be reduced to a 1 if the dealer hits and receives a card that would cause him to bust.

Because of that Ace, dealers can actually reduce that 17 to an 8 and hit to rebuild a stronger hand. He might then wind up with a hard 17 or higher that stands a shot of beating the player. Just like how an Ace can benefit a player, so too can it benefit the dealer. A soft 17 can be rebuilt whereas a hard 17 has a better shot of being beat by the player.

With that ability to rebuild his soft 17, the house’s edge goes up by 0.2%.

That is quite an increase. Think about it. Basic strategy can lower the house edge to around 0.5%. But if one of the house rules allows the dealer to hit a soft 17 and the house gains 0.2% on their edge, that puts the house’s edge at 0.7%.

In short, playing in a game of blackjack that allows a dealer to hit a soft 17 undoes just under half of what basic strategy works to accomplish. That is a big impact to a player’s blackjack odds and to a player’s opportunities to make a profit from blackjack.

Hence trying to play in games that allow the dealer to hit a soft 17 are not just bad for blackjack strategy—they are very bad and should be avoided.

Blackjack Strategy for Hard 12 vs. a 2

Sure a 2 does not seem like that big of a threat. It is a tiny card, the tiniest card in a game of blackjack. But when facing down a dealer’s 2 with a hard 12 that little tiny 2 suddenly seems like a much bigger problem than its value begets.

When a player finds himself in such a situation he is, according to basic strategy, supposed to hit his 12 against the dealer’s 2. But many players do not do this out of fear that they will be dealt a 10 or a face card and bust.

But here is the truth—those four cards are the only four cards that can bust a hard 12. Otherwise, the other nine cards will not bust a hard 12, not even an Ace since it would be reduced immediately to a 1.

It comes down to the fact that there are only two choices for a player here: stand or hit

Of the two standing is the worst choice to make in terms of blackjack odds. I know that players’ inclinations in when holding a 12 and faced with a 2 is to play it safe and stand. But standing only gives you a 35% chance of winning and a 65% chance of losing.

On the other hand a player can—and should—hit. Hitting, while going against a player’s instincts to preserve their wager and hand, offers better odds: 37% odds of winning and 63% odds of losing.

Okay, I know, that is only a 2% decrease in the odds of losing, but lowering the losing odds does increase the winning odds. And while it may not be a huge difference it still is a difference.

In terms of money, which is perhaps more easily understood, standing will on average cause a player to lose $30 in an hour when making $1 wager; but hitting reduces that loss to $26 per hour. Me? I would rather have odds of losing $26 per hour than $30. That is how to preserve your bankroll.

Now it is true that with a two showing the dealer only has a 35% chance of busting. Sad to say it, but this is an underdog hand. The best that a player can do is make the best possible—also known as the most advantageous play—possible.

Double Down and Pair Splitting All in One

This morning I talked about a house rule to work into your blackjack strategy in which the house rule actually favors the player. Well, there is another one. This particular house rules allows players to double down after they have they have split a pair.

The step by step breakdown of how this house rule works goes like this:

First you have to be dealt a pair. You then choose to split that pair and up your wager accordingly. Let’s say that you split a pair of 8s—which you are supposed to be splitting no matter what. Once those two 8s have been broken into new hands they then receive new second cards. We are going to say that one of those 8s receives a 2, making it a hard 10 against a dealer’s 6.

According to basic strategy you would double down on a hard 10 against a dealer’s 6. Normally you would not be allowed to double down after splitting a pair. But if you are playing in a blackjack game that does allow for doubling after splitting this would be the time to do so.

Doubling after splitting at advantageous times can lower the house edge by 0.14%, which is a nice hit to their edge. This is because doubling after splitting allows you to win more money from the house than you would if you were not allowed to double after splitting. But you have to do so only when it is advantageous.

How do you know if it is advantageous to double after splitting?

It is surprisingly easy. After splitting and receiving your new second cards for each of your new hands, check those new hands against a basic strategy chart as if each hand were the first two cards you had been dealt at the beginning of the round.

Using the above example, when I wound up with a hard 10 after splitting, I would check how to play a hard 10 against a dealer’s up card of 6 just as if I had been dealt that hard 10 from the beginning of the round.

Because of the 0.14% hit to the house’s edge, doubling after splitting is a good play to add to your blackjack strategy.

Blackjack Strategy: More Pair Splitting!

This is the last of the pair splitting post, I swear. But what would a mutli-part discussion on pair splitting blackjack strategy be without a post devoted to pairs of 8s? It would be incomplete, that is what. So here it is blackjack strategy meets a pair of 8s.

Unlike pairs of 5s and 10s, and like a pair of Aces, a pair of 8s should always be split.

Why do you not split a pair of 8s?

Let me ask you what is 8 + 8? The answer is 16. So a pair of 8s is the same thing as a hard 16. And we all know how much we hate that hand. Nothing worse than a stiff hand, and a hard 16 is the worst. It is not high enough to win with, and it is also too high to hit.

In my opinion a hard 16 is the worst hand to have in blackjack. The only way you can win with it is if the dealer busts because there are five totals that are higher than your 16, all of which the dealer can stand on.

If that alone is not enough to convince you not to split your pair of 8s, ask yourself which you would rather have: one 16 that does not have a decent shot at winning. Or would you rather have two hands that each start with 8?

You should have said two hands that start with 8. This is because, while the chances are not stellar, you do have a better chance of building a stronger hand by starting each hand with an 8 than you do of winning with a hard 16.

Splitting a pair of 8s is on a basic strategy chart, which is legal to use in brick and mortar casinos and in online blackjack. But you have to use it, to make it a part of your blackjack strategy, in order for it to be effective. That includes splitting a pair of 8s when it tells you to. And besides it is just good blackjack strategy to split 8s.

Blackjack Strategy: More on Pair Splitting…or Not Splitting

I was thinking some more about commonly made blackjack mistakes, and I got to thinking more about pair splitting and blackjack strategy. I know I mentioned how some pairs should be split and some should not, that is just how blackjack strategy is supposed to be.

Blackjack players just do not seem to apply any blackjack strategy to their game when it comes to pairs. They can usually be divided into two ways of dealing with pairs: they either split everything just for the sake of splitting a pair, or they play their pairs like hard hands. And both ways are wrong and not good blackjack strategy. Not to mention it hurts a player’s blackjack odds.

Some pairs are meant to be split and other are meant to not be split. Two pairs that are not meant to be split is a pair of 5s and a pair of 10s.

Do not get hung up on the fact that you have a pair. Look instead at what the hand total is. A pair of 5s totals in at 10, and a pair of 10s total in at 20. With either pair you are holding a hard 10 or a hard 20.

Both of those hands are good hands to have in blackjack.

A hard 10 is one of the hands that offers the most opportunities to double down. And we all know that doubling down will hit the house edge for 1.6% when done at advantageous times. The chance to win more and to hit the house edge should not be thrown away just to split a pair for the sake of splitting.

And a hard 20 is one of the strongest hands in blackjack! The only way the dealer can beat that hand is to have a natural blackjack or to hit to 21. So your chances of winning are a lot stronger with a pair of 10s than if you were to split them.

The point is that pair should not be played like hard hands or split just for the sake of splitting. The best thing for a player to do is grab a basic strategy chart and use that for their blackjack strategy. It will tell players what pairs to split when.