The GameMaster’s Blackjack School
Lesson 2: Learning Basic Strategy
This is a very simple lesson — I’m going to show you how to memorize your chosen basic strategy perfectly. So perfect, in fact, that you won’t have to think about which play is proper; you’ll just do it automatically. That skill is developed through a lot of practice; many hours of repetitious exercises which will leave you knowing basic strategy as well as your own name. (I didn’t say this was easy, just simple ).
MICHAEL DALTON COMMENTS
A great classic text that was very useful in learning basic strategy was Lawrence Revere’s Playing Blackjack as a Business. Revere’s book was the first book I read on blackjack and I still recommend it today.
But we can make those hours of practice a little more fun and somewhat interesting — even challenging — by using different methods of training. If you’re a competitive person the timed exercises will appeal to you; it’s a lot of fun to see if you can post a new “personal best” in each of them. But don’t worry, you don’t have to be a Type A personality to learn perfect basic strategy. Just take your time and do as many exercises in a day as you want and if you keep at it on a regular basis, the knowledge will come. Remember, you are learning a skill here which you will be able to use for the rest of your life. Spending a few dozen hours now may return hundreds of hours of profitable play in the future; seems like a fair trade to me.
Let’s get started.
Flashcards – By now, you should have a set of these made up and are using them on a regular basis. Start timing yourself as you go through all of them; a good goal is to recite all the rules perfectly and get through your pack in under two minutes. The time pressure works well in “forcing” you to learn, so record your results so that you can see your progress. If you have a stopwatch, so much the better, because you can use it not only with the flashcards but with many other exercises as well. Don’t go out and buy one, though; the approximate time is all we’re interested in here, so a wrist watch will do just as well.
MICHAEL DALTON COMMENTS
Regarding flashcards: I highly recommend players create their own flashcards. In other words, DO NOT just cut them out of a book. 90% of the learning experience is in the creating of these flashcards.
Basic Strategy Reconstruction Exercise – Print out the form below and run off a bunch of copies. You will notice that it is just a “blank” of the form we used in Lesson 1 to create the rules for each of the player’s starting hands. The object here is to write in the rule for each hand and then check for accuracy. Remember the old saying; “I see, I forget; I write, I remember”? (Or something like that — never did write it down). That’s what this exercise will do for you. Time yourself as you do it and see if you can get under 60 seconds with 100% accuracy.
|5 thru 8||_______________________________|
|13 thru 16||_______________________________|
|17 or Higher||_______________________________|
Basic Strategy Decision Exercise – Here I’ve made up a lot of player’s starting hands along with a dealer’s up card. Use your “Basic Strategy Matrix” from Lesson 1 to make a “correction copy” and mark it as such at the top. Then, just go down the columns of another copy and fill in the proper play. Use your correction copy to check for accuracy. Speed is of the essence here, so work towards a goal of completing this in under two minutes with 100% accuracy.
(Indicate proper play under “Decision”)
S=Stand H=Hit P=Split Pairs D=Double
Editor note: Dlr=Dealer, Dec=Decision
T he Importance of Speed – I stress speed in my classes because the ability to do anything quickly and accurately means you know it well. The play of your hand must be “automatic” because once you learn how to count cards, you’ll be too busy counting to think about the proper play. Make sense?
Card Practice #1 – Now, with a copy of your Basic Strategy Matrix next to you, get out a deck of cards and try this exercise. Deal one card up for the dealer and then two cards for your starting hand. Play that hand according to proper basic strategy and, without playing out the dealer’s hand, push all the used cards off to the side and do it again. Keep going until the deck is used up, shuffle and repeat. This exercise will get you used to making playing decisions in a casino-style setting. Refer to your Matrix as often as you must in order to assure yourself that you are making the proper play.
Card Practice #2 – Some player hands, like A-7 are difficult to learn. So set up a practice like the one above but leave the player’s hand the same and change only the dealer’s up card after each round. Continue to hit or double as before. This exercise is particularly good for getting you used to playing “soft” hands (those which contain an Ace) properly. Time is not important here but accuracy is.
Card Practice #3 – This is a variation on the practice above. On this one, keep the dealer’s card the same — say a 6 — then deal two cards for the player. Play out the hand and then move just the player’s cards off to the side. “Stack” your deck a bit by putting in a lot of pairs so you can get used to splitting properly.
Spend at least a half-hour each day on your flashcards and time yourself.
Do a minimum of one “Basic Strategy Reconstruction” each day. Time yourself and record the results along with the date right on the form.
Do a minimum of one “Basic Strategy Decision Exercise” each day and mark both the date and time it took you to complete it on the form.
Spend at least a half-hour each day doing the 3 card practices. Work on those hands which are the most difficult for you to learn.
School’s out. Any apples?
As always, if you have any questions, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and Ill get back to you ASAP.
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