WHAT IS THE CORRECT BLACKJACK BASIC STRATEGY?
There is only one correct basic strategy for this game given a set of established rules. However, since all casinos don’t offer the same rules the strategy can be slightly different from game to game. The number of decks used also affects the strategy slightly. A player should always play his hand using the applicable basic strategy chart unless he is card counting or has additional knowledge of the situation. Card counters often refer to basic strategy as the playing strategy for a neutral deck. As the count rises and falls the optimum playing strategy will also change. Check out our FAQ file for more important questions like this about blackjack.
The first scientific and mathematically sound attempts to devise a basic strategy were published by Roger Baldwin, et al in 1953. In 1962, Edward Thorp published his findings of an optimal blackjack strategy using a high-speed digital computer. Julian Braun continued this work and published what most players know today as the correct basic strategy of the game. Further refinements for single and double deck were made by Peter Griffin who published what is considered, by most professional players today, as the exact basic strategy of the game.
Although the majority of the playing strategies shown have been known for many years you may find differences of opinion on some of the finer points of play. Don’t labor over these fine points! Instead, you might even consider misplaying some of them to camouflage your play as a card counter.
For many years, Peter Griffin’s Theory of Blackjack and Stanford Wong’s Basic Blackjack were the player’s best resources for the “correct” basic strategy for any number of decks and rules. These charts are organized by rule and rule variation. Players are advised to check the particular casino or casino area rules to determine which chart and possibly which portions of the charts are applicable.
Although casino rules can change overnight, players were often (prior to 2000) advised to compare rules with those of the Las Vegas Strip casinos. On the Strip you were often able to find games where you can double down on any two cards and in which the dealer stood of soft 17. In Downtown Las Vegas most casinos would have their dealers hit soft 17. In Reno, dealers generally hit soft 17 and you were usually allowed to double only on 10 or 11. Many of the larger casinos allowed doubling after splitting and some even offered late surrender. Be sure you understand all the rules and options available to you before you step inside a casino. In recent years, many casinos are now forcing 6:5 blackjack rules on the public. This is a terrible rule for the player as it adds about 1.39% more to the casino edge against you.
INSURANCE, SIDE BETS AND BLACKJACK VARIATIONS
The basic strategy for the insurance decision is to never take insurance unless you are counting cards and know when to take this side bet. If you find a casino that offers a side bet (e.g., Royal Match, Over/Under 13, etc) you should not play any of these bets at any time — unless you have mastered a specific optimized count to overcome their usual high house edge . The basic strategy for Multiple-Action blackjack (and similar games) is the same as regular blackjack.
READING THE BASIC STRATEGY CHART(S)
- Dealer’s up-card is shown along the top of the chart.
- Player’s hand is shown vertically on the left side of the chart.
- Always hit hands less than 9 unless otherwise indicated.
- Always stand on A,9 or higher. Always treat 5,5 as a 10.
- If soft doubling is not allowed stand on A,7 Vs 2 – 8.
This is a generic multi-deck strategy where the dealer stands on soft-17 and double after splits is allowed. Refer to the full charts on this page for all rule variations and fine points for single, double and multi-deck games. When trying to make a decision, first decide if surrendering is an option, then whether to split or double and finally whether you should hit or stand. Whether you play blackjack online or in a land-based casino, basic strategy will always be your optimal way to play.
Surrender hard 16 (but not 88 pair) vs dealer 9, 10 or Ace.
Surrender hard 15 vs dealer 10.
Always split Aces and 8s.
Never split 10s and 5s.
Split 2s and 3s vs dealer 4-7.
Split 4s vs dealer 5-6.
Split 6s vs dealer 2-6.
Split 7s vs dealer 2-7.
Split 9s vs dealer 2-6 and 8-9.
Double hard 9 vs dealer 3-6.
Double hard 10 vs dealer 2-9.
Double hard 11 vs dealer 2-10.
Double soft 13 or 14 vs dealer 5-6.
Double soft 15 or 16 vs dealer 4-6.
Double soft 17 or 18 vs dealer 3-6.
HIT OR STAND
Stand on hard 12 vs dealer 4-6.
Stand on hard 13-16 vs dealer 2-6.
Stand on hard 17 or more.
Stand on soft 19 (A8) or more.
Hit hard 11 or less.
Hit soft 17 (A6) or less.
Hit soft 18 (A7) vs dealer 9, 10 and Ace.
IF DEALER HITS SOFT 17
Surrender 15, 88 and 17 vs dealer Ace.
Double 11 vs dealer Ace.
Double soft 18 (A7) vs dealer 2.
Double soft 19 (A8) vs dealer 6.
A PROVEN WINNING SYSTEM
The correct basic strategy is a proven winning system for the game of twenty-one. It is a strategy which maximizes the player’s expectation given only knowledge of the player’s hand and the dealer’s up-card. In the good old days when single deck was plentiful and rules were great, these non-counting strategies could actually give the player a small advantage. Today, casino managers are aware of the power of basic strategy and generally do not offer games that can be beaten off the top of the deck. However, players should keep their eyes open for promotional games which do surface from time to time!
Basic strategy is powerful! All card counters must master it before moving on to the fine art of card counting. Basic strategy is not difficult! A person with average intelligence can memorize it in just a few hours. Basic strategy is the way to play! Every time you make a play on a hunch or intuition and ignore the “correct” basic strategy play you increase the casino advantage against you.
For example, a pit boss witnessing a player standing on an A-7 versus a ten valued dealer up-card would generally consider this player a novice or an idiot. If you stand on this hand you will win it about 41% of the time. If you hit the hand you increase your chances to 43%. Why would anyone not hit this hand? You can’t bust (at least not initially) and you stand a good chance of improving it. But every time I play this game I witness players standing on A-7 vs 10 with the hope that the dealer doesn’t have a nine or ten in the hole. Don’t be an idiot! Trust in basic strategy and play it perfectly. Your bankroll will thank you for it.
OTHER GOOD RESOURCES
- Spanish 21 by Michael Shackleford
- Double Exposure by Michael Shackleford
- Blackjack B.S. Engine by Ken Smith
- Ultimate Guide to Blackjack by Henry Tamburin
- Total Dependent vs Composition Dependent by Michael Shackleford
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Michael Dalton / Blackjack Review Network
FAQ 3: Portions of the above article were originally published as a Frequently Asked Question in Volume 4 Issue 4 of Blackjack Review Magazine