Before delving into basic strategy, you should have an understanding of the game itself: you should be thoroughly familiar with the rules, and at least acquainted with the basic odds and the way they are calculated to understand the advantages that basic strategy offers. This information can be found in the“Fundamentals” section of this site.
The strategy itself is fairly straightforward: it consists of three charts (often shown in combined fashion) that indicate how to play “hard” hands, “soft” hands, and pairs, based on the likely outcome of the dealer’s hand, taking into account the card that is showing. Simply by following these diagrams faithfully, a player can reduce the house advantage from 8.9% to a mere fraction of a percentage. The results have been proven mathematically in practice throughout many years, by many players, and countless millions of hands.
Introduction to Blackjack Basic Strategy
A look at basic strategy master charts (those that apply to the most common situations) and an explanation of how to learn basic blackjack strategy.
The basic strategy provides the user with a matrix that indicates which option—hit or stay, double, split, or surrender—is the most advantageous to the player in any situation, based on the most likely outcome as determined by mathematical probability.
In more understandable terms, the strategy provides charts that indicate which decisions the odds favour, removing the superstition and “gut instinct” that double players’ losses. It tells the player to hit when the dealer is likely to beat his hand, to stay when he’s likely to bust—and does so with an accuracy that trims the house advantage to virtually nothing, making the game almost fair. Its freeing you from the blackjack house rules and letting you play by your own rules.
Basic Blackjack Strategy
To reap the benefits of a blackjack basic strategy, it must be used consistently and correctly. The decisions that the strategy indicates are mathematically proven to be the best among all possible alternatives, and any deviation will, over time, decrease your winnings—even if, in isolated instances, a decision contrary to basic strategy works out for the better.
Consistency is important. The strategy is based on odds and probabilities—it does not guarantee the player will win every hand. There will be times that following strategy seems to produce consistent losses: if you stand on 14 against a dealer’s 6 and beats three times in a row, it may be tempting to dismiss basic strategy as hokum. Instances like this will, in practice, occur. Over time, the likelihood will bear itself out: if you stand on that 14 against a dealer’s six a thousand times, you will win more hands than you lose. Too many players abandon basic strategy, in whole or in part, because of an unlikely sequence of events in the short run, and up losing more in the long run.
Correct usage is also significant. For this, there are only two things to remember:
Blackjack Basic Strategy Chart
This explains the reasons behind the blackjack basic strategy chart regarding their effects on odds. Though the statistics can be pretty dry, it’s important to understand the reasoning behind the instructions to avoid the urge to ignore them in difficult situations.
Use the correct chart. This introductory section uses a master chart from a six-deck game in which the dealer stands on a soft 17. If you apply a single deck blackjack strategy in which the dealer hits a soft 17, it will not be as effective—and since the margin is so thin (less than 1%), even a few incorrect plays can add to the house advantage. Granted, you’re still better off than the “gut instinct” player—but you are not maximising the effectiveness of the strategy.
Use the chart throughout the entire hand. A common misconception is that the basic strategy tells you what to do for your first hit, and you’re on your own afterwards. Every decision should be evaluated according to the chart. If you’re dealt a soft 13 against a dealer’s eight, the chart indicates to hit. If you get a nine, you have a hard twelve against the same eight. Check the chart again—you’re supposed to hit twelve against an eight. You draw a five. Recheck the chart. Stand on hard 17 against an eight. Follow the chart until the play is over—when you stand, double, or surrender the hand.
Of course, not every casino will allow a player to carry a chart to the table—you’ll need to commit the strategy to memory, including the variations (unless you always seek a table with the same number of decks and the same rules). This will happen naturally over time—though, with a bit of training, you’ll memorise the charts sooner, and stop losing sooner.
The master charts apply to most games—six or more decks, dealer stands on soft 17. There are slight variations against fewer decks or when the dealer hits soft 17. Charts and explanations are provided.
Basic Blackjack Strategy Trainers
These interactive applications will help you to apply basic strategy to real-game situations by providing exercises that indicate when your decisions deviate from the master chart.
Once you have learned basic strategy, it would be worthwhile to practice it a while before moving forward—not just using the drilling application, but by placing real wagers in a casino. Once you’re completely comfortable with playing basic strategy and can score 95% or better throughout at least 200 hands on the simulator, continue to the Intermediate Strategy section.
Blackjack Basic Strategy Mistakes
There is only one mistake players make in applying basic strategy to their game: failure to do so correctly and consistently. This precipitates all other errors I’m aware of.
Most errors that occur from failure to use strategy correctly come from lack of knowledge, especially of the soft hands and pair splitting segments of the matrix. Of all 169 possible initial hands, the vast majority (140, or 82.84%) are hard hands, so it’s not long before the correct moves become ingrained, through repetition, in the player’s memory. There are only sixteen soft hands (9.47%) and thirteen pairs (7.69%), and they typically revert to a hard hand (or a “stand” situation) after a single decision, so it’s only natural players will not have the accurate recall of the correct choices.
The black jack trainer on this site can help to overcome these errors. You can set the controls to quiz you solely on soft hands or pairs and, with repetition, improve your memory of the proper strategic decisions. Until you have, most casinos will allow players to refer to a strategy matrix or crib notes at the table.
Failure to use strategy consistently is a more insidious problem. Even players who have the entire matrix down pat will still make mistakes due to squeamishness. It’s not uncommon for a player to baulk at hitting a hard fifteen, hard sixteen, or soft seventeen, and decide to stand rather than risk busting or decreasing the value of the hand. Even though the matrix shows and mathematics prove, that you’ll lose more often in the long run if you stand, gut instinct takes over in the face of a difficult decision, and the tendency is to wimp our rather than leather up. Check out our post on the follies of no bust blackjack strategy.
There is no cure for the player who knows what the right move is, and has seen objective proof of it but still chooses the wrong course for reasons other than the likelihood of winning. The fear of success, or the willingness to accept failure rather than making a difficult choice, is more along the lines of a character flaw—and if you find yourself in this position, perhaps you should reconsider if blackjack is “your game” after all?