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Blackjack basic strategy won't make you rich but will save you money

This Blackjack basic strategy chart includes all the possible combinations of your hand against the dealer’s hole card and recommends your optimal action.
Blackjack basic strategy won't make you rich but will save you money
Photo by Dusan Kipic

Blackjack basic strategy is a blackjack chart that includes all the possible combinations of your hand against the dealer’s hole card. While you won’t make money by following the rules of that strategy, it’s the first step you should take if you want to turn into a winning blackjack player. And that step will minimize the casino’s edge against you. That is you will lose less money by applying the blackjack basic strategy!

Casino players have heard it before: The house always wins. They do accept the fact that they are going to lose money but at least they are going to have fun. In the process they tend to forget that and begin devising new methods and strategies, in order to beat the dealer and come out winners. Eventually they are doomed to fail, since the science behind casino games is nothing more than mathematics. And mathematics never lie. Playing blackjack online isn’t any different.

Blackjack Basic Strategy and Rules

Blackjack basic strategy is tailored towards specific blackjack rules. Depending on 6 rules of the game, there can be basic strategy variations, so that the dealer’s edge is minimized in each occasion.

  1. Number of card decks: There are a definite number of decks in each shoe. Most casinos use 6 decks of cards, although you may find games with as low as 2 decks or as high as 8! Many decks favor the casino, less decks reduce the house’s edge.
  2. Soft 17 (S17): you may have noticed on the blackjack tables: Dealer stands on soft 17 (S17). In other words, they have to stop drawing cards when their cards are A6. The opposite is H17 and favors the casino.
  3. Double any two cards: Blackjack players usually have the option to double any two first cards they get dealt. Even when the sum of the cards is as low as 5! You may also double A9 according to that rule (I still remember when I did that back in my card counting days!). Alternatively you may be allowed to double only when the cards’ sum is between 9 and 11 (D9) and even worse when the cards’ value is either 10 or 11 (D10).
  4. Double after split (DAS): Assuming my hand is 88 I decide to split my hand. In case a 2 or a 3 is dealt at either card (for a sum of 10 or 11), I may want to double. As long as the casino offers me that option and I double, the house’s edge is decreased.
  5. Surrender: Quitting before we hit or stand and losing half of the wager at the start of the hand is called surrender. There are two types of “surrender” depending on the choice given before or after the dealer checks their hole card for a likely blackjack; the very rare “early surrender” and the “late surrender” (ES and LS respectively). You should sit at blackjack tables that offer any type of surrender, as that rule favors your odds.
  6. US/European style: In US blackjack tables, dealers are dealt two cards, one facing down. In Europe the dealer is dealt just one card facing up obviously.

Blackjack basic strategy: 6 decks, S17, DAS, No surrender, European

These are the rules of the blackjack game I used to play almost on a daily basis before the introduction of the automatic shuffling machines. Every new player, who wanted to play “correctly”, had to memorize the following Blackjack chart. They wouldn’t make money in the long run, but their hobby would cost them the minimum.

Blackjack basic strategy chart (www.blackjackinfo.com)

Blackjack basic strategy examples

  • Me (35), dealer (9): My cards’ value is 8. Reading the 4th line of the blackjack chart I am instructed to hit my hand, given the “H” under the dealer’s “9” column. Besides, whatever the dealer’s card, I must take a card. The real issue here isn’t whether I hit my hand or not. It’s about a “double” being a better option.
  • Me (64), dealer (10): Holding a combined 10 and according with the 6th line of the blackjack Basic Strategy, I have to just hit and avoid doubling up. That course of action (double) should be taken if the dealer’s card was anything but a 10, J, Q, K or an Ace.
  • Me (J2), dealer (5): The blackjack basic strategy’s 8th line prompts me to stand on 12! This applies when dealer shows a 4, a 5 or a 6; otherwise I need to draw a card.
  • Me (97), dealer (K): Basic strategy (12th line) says I have to hit. No matter my position at the table I have to follow that rule. Even if I am sitting at the last seat of the blackjack table, I MUST hit. Although other players sitting at the same table will negatively comment on my action and recommend me to stand on 16, it’s a mistake mathematically to stand.
  • Me (A4), dealer (4): Blackjack basic strategy recommends doubling if the dealer’s card is a 4 to 6. In any other case, I should just hit. In that instance we should consider our hand as a “5” and not a “15”. If a ten comes along, our cards’ value is “15” and basic strategy’s 11th line advises to stand.
  • Me (44), dealer (5): I need to split my 4’s. If the dealer’s card was any other card than a five or a six, my hand would have been a plain eight.
  • Me (55), dealer (9): Double. In case dealer was showing a ten or an Ace, I should hit. Of course you should never split fives. Don’t lose focus when the dealer asks you “Split sir?” when you double your bet. They are trying to win more money from you!
  • Me (99), dealer (7): Blackjack basic strategy’s recommended action is to stand. If I split my nines, I would lose more money in the long run.

Advantages of blackjack basic strategy

By applying blackjack basic strategy when playing blackjack you effectively decrease the casino’s edge. If you follow the rules shown above without making any mistake, the house has a 0.55% edge against you. This means that for every 10 dollars you bet, you lose 5.5 cents long term. If you play 50 hands per hour, your entertainment will cost you about 3 dollars!

The more I deviate from blackjack basic strategy’s rules, the more the casino’s edge increases. If I begin standing on 16 against dealer’s ten, not doubling my nine or not splitting my threes against dealer’s two to seven, the house’s edge might increase more than 1%! I would then lose money twice as much per hour! Making even bigger mistakes, such as never splitting Aces, hitting 15 versus dealer’s six or doubling my 11 against dealer’s low card, my disadvantage could easily skyrocket more than 3%, donating more money to the casino!

Memorizing the Blackjack chart of the basic strategy is necessary if you want to play blackjack correctly. Learning blackjack basic strategy is also required if you also want to become a card counter later. Finally, by adopting basic strategy when playing blackjack, you’ll earn the respect and trust of other good blackjack players, who might bet on your hand, when the odds are in their favor!