Tag Archives: FAQ

What is correct basic strategy for blackjack?

By Michael Dalton

Example Basic Strategy ChartThere is only one correct basic strategy for blackjack given a set of established rules. However, since all casinos don’t offer the same rules the basic strategy can be slightly different from game to game. Also, the number of decks used affects the basic strategy slightly. Peter Griffin’s Theory of Blackjack and Stanford Wong’s Basic Blackjack are the player’s best resources for the “correct” basic strategy for any number of decks and rules. Basic strategy charts can also be found in Michael Dalton’s online book The Encyclopedia of Blackjack (Twenty-One)

The example card shown on the right reflects a correct basic strategy for multi-deck blackjack games with double after splits not allowed and dealer stands on soft 17.

CORRECT BASIC STRATEGY 1)This is a generic multi-deck basic strategy where the dealer stands on soft-17 and double after splits is allowed.  Refer to full charts in the Encyclopedia of Blackjack 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.

SURRENDER

Surrender hard 16 (but not 88 pair) vs dealer 9, 10 or Ace.
Surrender hard 15 vs dealer 10.

SPLIT

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 DOWN

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.

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 basic strategy 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.

For more information read Michael Dalton’s complete article on “Basic Strategy” in the Summer 1995 issue of Blackjack Review magazine.

For more information on the correct basic strategy and complete charts for blackjack, check out the basic strategy section in the Encyclopedia of Blackjack (Twenty-One). Also, check out the basic strategy app at the bottom of this page.

 

Copyright © 1994 – 2018 All Rights Reserved
FAQ 3: Originally published in Volume 4 Issue 4 of Blackjack Review Magazine

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1.This is a generic multi-deck basic strategy where the dealer stands on soft-17 and double after splits is allowed.  Refer to full charts in the Encyclopedia of Blackjack 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.

What are the top blackjack play variations…

… that yield the greatest gain for card counters?

By Michael Dalton

Illustrious 18 play variationsThe top play variations for blackjack card counters are knowing when to take insurance and stand on 16 versus a dealer’s 10. The top 18 plays, known as the Illustrious 18 are show in the table below in order of importance1) The gains cited are associated with a player spreading bets from 1 to two hands of 6. These are the average gains for flat betting multiplied by the average bet one has out when he makes the departure. :

These top plays were recommended by Donald Schlesinger in an important study published in the September 1986 issue of Blackjack Forum. The study suggested that players might just as well forget all of the other play variations and stick to the top 18 plays since this is where most of your profitable gain is going to come from. In December 1995, Schlesinger continued his study to include the top surrender plays which have become known as the Fab 4:

Fab 4 play variationsThe analysis and discussion that presented the above conclusions can also be found in Donald Schlesinger’s book Blackjack Attack, which was first published in 1997. This book includes some of the most important technical insights into the game of blackjack ever published.

Play variations (variations you make from basic strategy) are what card counting index numbers are all about. They can be very important in single deck and become less important as decks are added to the game. Each card counting system assigns unique index numbers for these plays. For example, in the Hi-Lo system the Insurance index for a 6-deck game is 3.0. This means that the player’s best technical move is to take insurance if the “true” count is 3 or higher. If the player has a 16 versus a dealer 10 the Hi-Lo index number is 0. This means that the player should “stand” if the count is greater than or equal to 0 and “hit” otherwise.

Although these top play variations are technically correct you may have difficulty implementing some of the plays from a camouflage point-of-view. For example, the casino pit will often watch players who correctly take insurance on bad hands and decline insurance on good hands. Splitting ten valued cards is another give-away that you may be counting cards. The saying is that only two types of players split tens — idiots and card counters. If you don’t look like an idiot at the table they may just suspect that you are counting cards. Many counters have given up splitting tens for this very reason. However, insurance is too valuable a play variation to ignore. If you need to mix-up your play I would suggest you consider taking even money on small bets occasionally when the count does not justify it.

When you are ready to add more play variations to your repertoire you may want to consult Peter Griffin’s book, The Theory of Blackjack and the article “The Most Important Plays in Blackjack” published in the Summer 1992 issue of Blackjack Review.

The Hi-Lo Count Illustrious 18 Deviations from Jack Dell

FURTHER STUDY

[ The Illustrious18 ] [ The Fab 4 ] [ The Hi-Lo Count ] [ Blackjack Apprenticeship: What are Blackjack Deviations ]

Copyright © 1994 – 2018 All Rights Reserved
FAQ 12: Originally published in Volume 7 Issue 1 of Blackjack Review Magazine

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. The gains cited are associated with a player spreading bets from 1 to two hands of 6. These are the average gains for flat betting multiplied by the average bet one has out when he makes the departure.

What is the best card counting system?

By Michael Dalton

Dealer Dealing BlackjackThere is no such thing as a “best” card counting system unless you are a robot, in which case you would be keeping track of each and every card. Humans, on the other hand, have limitations. For shoe dealt games, all card counting systems perform within a tenth of a percent (or so) of each other. For single deck games, a balanced multi-level count with an ace side-count can show a significant theoretical improvement over unbalanced and single-level counts, however, the player runs the risk of mental fatigue and errors. The bottom line for most players is that “simple is best!” I recommend the Hi-Lo, Red Seven, K-O or Zen for shoe games and the Hi-Opt I, Zen or Omega II for single-deck. What is the best all around count? I like the Hi-Lo because it allows me to concentrate on more important things… like convincing the pit boss that I am a loser!

Obviously, the answer to this question is not as easy as it appears. Several approaches have been used in the past to evaluate card counting systems. One analytical approach is the calculation of several performance parameters (e.g., playing, betting, and insurance efficiencies). The results are then used to approximate the potential of one system over another. Another approach that is used is to simulate each system against typical game conditions on a high speed computer. Simulations can provide an accurate real-world estimate of the advantages and win-rates that are possible in playing a particular system.

However, the problem with coming up with a ‘best’ card counting system is that you can always come up with a ‘better’ card counting system. Instead of a single-level 1) A single-level count assigns point values in such a manner that the non-zero point values are the same in absolute value, namely +1 or -1. The single-level Hi-Lo count, for example, assigns 2 – 6 as +1, 7 – 9 as 0, and Tens and Aces as -1.  ‘unbalanced’ count you could assign more accurate point values to each card and determine true counts by the exact number of decks or cards remaining. You could improve ‘playing’ efficiency by assigning a ‘zero’ to the Ace and side counting each of them. You could also side count other cards such as 7s, 8s, and 9s thus improving your play against specific hands. You could also incorporate play variations (changes to basic strategy) based on specific counts by remembering ‘every’ index number for ‘every’ play possible. To improve the accuracy of your insurance decisions you could also keep a separate count of all the tens in the deck or shoe. Of course, you don’t want to forget all the ‘practical’ advice each system offers in regard to betting, playing, camouflage, and other tips and tricks of the trade.

Peter Griffin, author of the classic text The Theory of Blackjack, wrote “If one’s ambition is to raise overall strategic efficiency beyond the 70% level, perhaps as high as 90%, it is imperative that the primary system be quite simple and hence allow great flexibility for incorporating several auxiliary, independent sources of information.”

I believe the above comment was one of the most important suggestions ever made about card counting. Griffin suggested that it may be better to keep your base count simple to allow your brain the ability to perform other tasks and to utilize other sources of information. These other sources of information can often improve the potential of a single-level count over an advanced 2- or 3-level count that doesn’t use this information. This information includes side counts, shuffle tracking, ace location strategies, key card techniques, and dealer errors. My own experience at card counting has shown that Griffin was probably right.

Human error is another reason to keep it simple. The most advanced card counting system in the world is not going to do you any good if you can’t play it accurately. Thus, the best card counting system may be one that perfectly balances theoretical power and your human ability to execute it accurately.

ADDITIONAL RESEARCH

Copyright © 1994 – 2018 All Rights Reserved
FAQ 11: Originally published in Volume 6 Issue 4 of Blackjack Review Magazine

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. A single-level count assigns point values in such a manner that the non-zero point values are the same in absolute value, namely +1 or -1. The single-level Hi-Lo count, for example, assigns 2 – 6 as +1, 7 – 9 as 0, and Tens and Aces as -1. 

Isn’t card counting illegal?

By Michael Dalton

JusticeNo! It’s no more illegal than using your brain to add up how much money you have in your wallet. But that doesn’t mean they won’t kick you out for trying! In most casinos in this country casino management has the right to bar players for any reason they want. Most casinos are considered private clubs and if they don’t like you they can ask you to leave. In Atlantic City, New Jersey, casinos cannot bar you but they are allowed to implement specific countermeasures that will reduce if not eliminate any profit potential you previously might have had.

If casino management suspects a player is a threat to its bankroll they will usually implement several countermeasures, which include reduced deck or shoe penetration and shuffling up. Psychological tactics are also often attempted to distract the player and to convince him or her to leave. Some less than reputable casinos may even implement cheating countermeasures — such as preferential shuffling. If all else fails, a suspected card counter may be asked to leave and/or to refrain from playing blackjack any further.

In Nevada, the courts have made it clear that card counting is legal. During a cheating case in 1983, which involved a player who was crimping cards to gain an advantage (definitely cheating), the court made an interesting statement: “By way of contrast, a card counter — one who uses a point system to keep track of the cards that have been played — does not alter any of the basic features of the game. He merely uses his mental skills to take advantage of the same information that is available to all players.” As I. Nelson Rose, author of the book Gambling and the Law*, states — “The card counter is playing by the rules of the games, as set up by the casino regulators and the casinos themselves.”

When I play blackjack I sit there and watch the cards. I use my brain to make decisions. I risk hard earned money on individual outcomes that are far from certain. If card counting were considered cheating then casinos would probably have little signs stating, “Thinking in this casino is forbidden! Players found using their brain to make decisions will be asked to leave.”

In a similar vein… if a dealer unintentionally flashes his hole card and a player sees the card, would it be considered cheating for the player to make use of this information? Of course not! The player is still playing by the rules of the house and is simply using all the information that is presented to him. Of course, if the dealer is intentionally flashing his hole card then that would definitely be considered cheating in every court in this country and both player and dealer could be charged with an illegal act. [If the dealer were intentionally flashing it to a third part confederate, an innocent bystander who didn’t know he was flashing intentionally wouldn’t be guilty of anything; but, he might have a hard time proving he wasn’t in on the caper!]

Although card counting is not illegal from a technical point of view, in some countries you still might find yourself behind bars, forced to return monies won, or worse! You are on your own in some of these third world countries where the law is often undefined.

Professional players are at the greatest risk because of the betting level they play at and because of reporting agencies such as Griffin. The Griffin Detective Agency of Las Vegas, Nevada publishes a monthly list of blacklisted players to casinos around the world. This list includes suspected cheats, con artists, card counters, and even card counting team members. If you are in a foreign country and they notice that you are on this list they may just throw you in jail… not bothering to make the distinction between being labeled a cheat and someone who uses legal card counting techniques.

*Editor note:  Since this article was originally written, I. Nelson Rose and Robert A. Loeb had collaborated on the excellent book Blackjack and the Law.  Also, Robert Nersesian’s book The Law for Gamblers is a must read.  Another good article on whether card counting is legal or not is on Norm Wattenberger’s site IsCardCountingIllegal.com.

Colin and Ben from Blackjack Apprenticeship discuss “Is Card Counting Illegal?


Copyright © 1994 – 2018 All Rights Reserved

FAQ 10: Originally published in Volume 6 Issue 3 of Blackjack Review Magazine

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How much money can I expect to win if I count cards?

By Michael Dalton

Money in the HandTo be perfectly honest, you stand a fair chance of losing money in this game! It all depends on your skill level, bankroll, the level of risk you are willing to take, and the quality of games you play. Assuming you balance all of these factors, the theoretical long-run advantage a skilled card counter can obtain is between 0.5% and 1.5%. This is not to say a player can not have a greater advantage on any individual bet or circumstance, however, in the long run a player can expect to win about 1% of the total sum of his “action”. Therefore, if your average bet is about $25 and you play 75 hands an hour you might expect to make about $19 an hour. But be forewarned… your mileage will vary!

I generally tell players that they can expect a winning streak as often as a losing streak in this game. You will often go for days, if not weeks and possibly even months questioning your ability because of losses. But you will also go through periods where you will feel invincible and unable to lose. During both of these periods your discipline will be severely tested. In the long run, if you are a good player, are not being cheated, and can get away with it, you should show a profit.

Basic card counting is not the only legal way to make money at this game. You can milk the comp system. You can use casino coupons. You can shuffle track. You can join a team. You can take advantage of dealer errors and mistakes. You can exploit casino promotions and new variations. I would estimate that it is possible to achieve at least a 2% win-rate in blackjack if you are an advanced player and use some of the above tricks and methods.

Milking the comp system is a true art form. It is getting tougher these days due to computers, however, it is still possible to achieve more than your fair share of comps. According to Max Rubin, author of Comp City, more than half a million dollars worth of complimentaries (free drinks, food, rooms, shows, limo rides, airfare, golf, and more) are handed out every day in Las Vegas. On weekends and holidays, comps climb into the millions.

Casino coupons are also wonderful! From those simple lucky buck coupons and free meals to discounts off your room — if you use them often I guarantee they will become like extra cash in your wallet. You can often find good coupons in local newspapers and magazines and through publications such as the monthly Las Vegas Advisor.

Shuffle tracking 1) Shuffle tracking is an advanced form of card counting.   A complete tutorial and expose of shuffle tracking can be found in Arnold Snyder’s 3-issue Shuffle Tracking Series from Blackjack Forum Magazine.   is an advanced area of card counting and if mastered you can expect to easily double or triple your expectation. That is assuming you find “trackable” games of course. Unfortunately, it is becoming harder and harder to find these games.

Some players join teams to allow them to reduce monetary fluctuation and play with a bigger bankroll. Also, non-counters can be used effectively on a team. Theoretically, you can make more money by playing on a team, assuming you trust everyone to accurately report wins and losses.

Dealer errors and mistakes happen occasionally and I would estimate they add a small percentage to my overall win-rate. It may not be much but I will take every edge I can get.

Your greatest expectation can come from exploiting casino promotions and new games and variations. Casinos have offered 2 to 1 on blackjack, early surrender, single deck with an edge, bonuses, jokers in the deck, etc. If you are sharp these games can be a short-time gold-mine.

But most important to how much money you can make in this game is the element of time. If you don’t play they don’t pay! Put in the time and everything else will take care of itself.

Why You Need a $10,000 Bankroll to Win $10/hour Card Counting Blackjack by G. Chang


Copyright © 1994 – 2018 All Rights Reserved

FAQ 9: Originally published in Volume 6 Issue 2 of Blackjack Review Magazine

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Shuffle tracking is an advanced form of card counting.   A complete tutorial and expose of shuffle tracking can be found in Arnold Snyder’s 3-issue Shuffle Tracking Series from Blackjack Forum Magazine.