For those of us just learning how to play blackjack, it is a good idea to first become acquainted with basic playing strategy. Basic playing strategy refers to the optimum way of playing your hand if you are not card counting. It is derived from a computer simulation where millions of hands are dealt and played in all possible ways. The results are then recorded and analyzed by the computer. Basic strategy involves no hunches, nor guesswork.
It is the mathematically correct way to play your hand against every dealer’s up card. By playing basic strategy correctly, it is possible to reduce the house edge considerably. The initial casino edge in the game of blackjack is approximately 5.75% (this includes the three to two payoff on player blackjack). With the basic strategy it is possible to bring this edge down to about 0.5%.
|Initial casino’s edge||
|Correct hitting and standing||
|Correct pair splitting||
|Casino’s edge with basic strategy||
Another way to lower the casino’s edge is by playing in games that have rules more favorable to the player. Slots-A-Fun Casino in Las Vegas, for example, offers such favorable blackjack games. At this casino, they deal a single deck game and the dealer stands on a soft 17. Also, doubling after pair splitting is allowed. In this game, someone employing the basic strategy can actually gain a slight edge over the casino of 0.1%.
Not all casinos play with a single deck and the number of decks used will affect how you should play using basic strategy. In other words, the basic strategy used in a single deck game would be different from the basic strategy used in a six-deck game.
The table below summarizes the basic strategy rules you can use. For purposes of simplification, the rules can be followed for games with any number of decks.
To use this table, begin by going across the top of the table to locate the dealer’s up card. Next, go down the first column of the table to locate your own hand. The intersection of the row and column you located will show the correct basic strategy play. The strategy in this chart assumes that doubling after pair splitting is allowed. (If doubling after pair splitting is not allowed, check the bottom of the chart for deviations).
Generic Basic Strategy
|H=hit||S=stand||D=double down||P=pair split||Su=surrender|
|X/Y=Do X if allowed, otherwise do Y|
Player hand Dealer Upcard
Never take insurance.
For games where doubling after pair splitting is not allowed use the rules below for pair splitting.
When the dealer hits soft 17, then you should double down on 11 against the dealer’s ace, double down on a soft 19 against the dealer’s six, double down on a soft 18 against the dealer’s 2, and surrender hard 15, hard 17, and a pair of 8s against a dealer’s ace.
European blackjack is played slightly differently whereby the dealer does not take a down card until players complete their hands and all player double down and split bets are lost to a dealer blackjack. In these games, don’t split or double down against a dealer’s ace, don’t double down against a dealer’s 10, and don’t split a pair of 8s against a dealer’s 10.
To make sure you understand the tables correctly, let’s look at some possible blackjack scenarios.
Scenario 1: You are holding 2,2 and the dealer’s up card is a 6. How would you play this hand? First, go across the top of the table and find the dealer’s 6 up card. Next, go down the first column under Player’s Hand and find 2,2. Go to the intersection of the row and column that you just located. Here you will find a P which means that you should split.
Scenario 2 : What would basic strategy be if you held an Ace and a 7 (a soft 18) and the dealer’s up card was 3? In this case the intersection of the properly located column and row shows D/S. This means that you should double if game rules permit doubling down on soft hands. If game rules do not permit doubling down, you should stand.
Scenario 3: Finally, if you are holding a 2,3 and an Ace (soft 16) against a dealer’s 5, how should you play? If you look up the correct intersection you will see that the basic strategy play is D/H. Since most casinos do not allow doubling down on three or more cards, your best option would be to hit.
You should try to memorize the basic strategy in the table before you sit down at a table. It is not as daunting a task as it may look, since you most likely know a good part of the strategy already. Practice the basic strategy enough so that you can play each and every hand perfectly. If you don’t, you will make mistakes and mistakes will cost you money.