Basic Strategy Flaws

What are the flaws in basic strategy?

Basic strategy is considered by most players to be a universal truth. Its effectiveness has been proven by mathematics, by computer simulations running billions of hands, and by countless players in practice. Still, it has its critics who claim that it’s flawed.

The most popular criticism is that basic strategy is “too hard” to learn. That’s an opinion rather than a fact. Here’s another opinion: people who think basic strategy is too hard are too lazy, and probably not too bright. Granted, it requires memorizing some 270 possible situations, but these can be shortened into 26 bullet-points. What’s more, while it requires a fair amount of math to fully understand and explain the basis of the strategy, putting it into practice is a matter of rote memorization and stimulus-response—which is something Pavlov could probably teach a reasonably intelligent dog.

However, there is one flaw in basic strategy: it is designed based on a freshly shuffled deck from which no cards have been removed. Therefore, it begins to lose accuracy after the first hand, and slowly becomes less and less accurate as more hands are dealt from the same deck. Even if all the eights have been removed in previous hands, it still based on the assumption that an eight is as likely to show as any other card.

While this is an objective and undeniable flaw, it remains the best possible system, because no usable strategy can precisely account for the value of discards. To do so, it would be necessary to generate 1,378 tables for a single-deck game and memorize 232,882 possible situations. With that, you’ll know the odds-on move when holding sixteen against a seven in a game where a 2, three 3s, two 5s, a 6, a 7, an 8, a 9, three 10s, and an ace have already been dealt.

If you want to turn my own argument against me—say that I’m just too lazy to memorize 232,882 possible situations—I won’t deny it. A person who can memorize that volume of information and be able to apply it in making split-second decisions really ought to be working out a cure for cancer rather than spending his time in casinos.

For the rest of us, however, the solution to this flaw in basic strategy is card counting—which won’t tell you precisely the right move to make, but will account for the cards that have been removed from the deck to indicate whether the odds are in your favor.