For those that haven't heard of basic strategy in Blackjack, it is perhaps one of the most effective ways to increase a player's chances of success while sitting at the table. Of course, as Blackjack is a game of skill, a win is never guaranteed, but following basic strategy can help to reduce the house edge, enhancing the probability of winning as a result.
The purpose of this article is to provide an in-depth explanation of basic strategy blackjack, including what it is, how it works, and the array of associated benefits. We will also be offering some practical tips and techniques that can help players to improve their game!
Before we discuss basic strategy, it's important that players clearly understand the different elements of the game itself. Here are a few general rules of Blackjack:
The aim of Blackjack is to get closer to 21 than the dealer, without going over. If players get a score of more than 21, their hand will bust, and their bet will immediately be marked as a loss. In the event that both the player and the dealer have the same valued hand, the bet will 'push' and be returned.
Cards from 2 to 10 are worth their face values in Blackjack, while Jacks, Queens, and Kings are all worth ten. Perhaps the most desirable card is the Ace, which can be worth both 1 and 11, depending on which value will benefit the player most.
After all bets have been placed and accepted, the dealer will give 2 cards to each player and 2 to themself. The dealer will have one face up card, while the other is kept hidden until the end of the round. Whoever is seated to the left of the dealer will act first and once their decisions have been finalised, the action will be passed clockwise. Once all players have acted, the dealer will reveal their card and draw, if necessary, before awarding any potential winnings.
Now it's time to take a look at the principles of basic strategy blackjack, discussing why it is considered the second most optimal way to play, behind card counting. Let's start by explaining what it is!
In a nutshell, basic strategy is a chart that tells the player how to play each hand of blackjack. It takes into consideration their cards, alongside the one shown by the dealer. According to mathematics, basic strategy is the optimal way to play without card counting, as it relies on using probability to determine the best course of action.
Basic strategy, as mentioned previously, is displayed on a chart. Most casinos will be happy for players to take this blackjack basic strategy chart in with them, as the house still has a minimal edge, even if all the recommended actions are followed.
A UK blackjack basic strategy chart will display all of the possible combinations that can occur at the table. It takes into consideration all of the cards that the player can be dealt, alongside the 10 potential card values that the dealer could be showing. From here, it relies on basic strategy blackjack odds to tell the player whether to hit, stand, double down, split, or surrender.
Most UK blackjack basic strategy charts are read in the same way. The possible cards that the dealer can have are shown at the top, while the different outcomes for the player's hand are shown on the left. To read the chart, simply look for where the dealer's and player's hands meet. In the corresponding square will be a letter indicating the optimal course of action, with H, S, D, and SP representing hit, stand, double down, or split.
It may go without saying, but different variations of blackjack will come with their own associated rules. For those that want to use basic strategy while playing, there are two options. One is to find a chart that matches the table rules, while the other is to look for a table that offers standard blackjack. Most casinos will have a regular version of blackjack available to play, meaning that there is always an opportunity to use basic strategy.
While the recommended action is specific to each scenario, there are some general rules and principles that basic strategy uses. Below are a few examples!
Put simply, hard hands are ones that don't feature an ace. They can only have one value and due to this, players should be careful to not bust. Basic strategy suggests that players should always stand on a hand valued at 17 or more and if the dealer is showing a 6, players should stand on any hand with a value of 12 or more.
One common mistake that many players make is hitting a 12 when the dealer has a bad card, as the chances of the player busting are higher than they may seem.
Soft hands include an ace, meaning that they can represent two different values. This means that players can hit hands such as a soft 13, as they have no chance of busting. Basic strategy recommends standing on a soft hand that has a value of 19 or more, as hitting again is unlikely to have a positive effect. It also says that if the dealer is showing a 5 or 6, doubling down is almost always the optimal decision.
Basic strategy has three general rules for dealing with pairs. The first one is to always stand on a pair of 10s, giving the player a strong hand with a value of 20. Rules number two and three involve always splitting eights and aces. According to probability, these cards offer the most potential to players moving forward.
That's all of the standard aspects of basic strategy covered, which leads us to the more advanced concepts. These include the house edge, the option to surrender, and insurance.
The house edge is essentially the odds in favour of the casino. For example, if the RTP, or return to player of a game sits at 97%, this means that the house edge is 3%. Interestingly, this value will sit at about 2% for inexperienced Blackjack players, however, when following basic strategy, the house edge can be reduced to approximately 0.5%.
In some variations of Blackjack, players will be allowed to surrender their hand, which means they forfeit the hand immediately but only lose half their stake. There are two types of surrender, known as early and late, which essentially relies on whether or not a player can still surrender if the dealer has a blackjack.
An 'early surrender' involves acting before the dealer checks for a blackjack, while a 'late surrender' means that players must wait for the dealer to check their face down card, if their visible card is an ace. When using basic strategy, the chart will usually tell players to surrender if they're facing an ace.
Insurance is a side bet that awards at the rate of 2:1, capped at half of the player's initial stake size. For those that aren't card counting, insurance is not favourable, according to statistics. This bet is expected to win approximately 30% of the time and when the odds are factored in, we can conclude that the insurance bet in blackjack comes with a house edge of approximately 5.9%.
'Even Money' is offered to players that have a blackjack, while the dealer is showing an ace. If they accept, they will be awarded at the rate of 1:1, or 2x, for their blackjack, regardless of if the dealer has one too. Should players decline this offer, and the dealer shows a blackjack, the hand will be a 'push', meaning that the bet for the round will simply be returned.
While a lot of punters opt to accept this bet for the certainty of doubling their stake, mathematics says that it's better to decline the offer. After looking at the probability of the dealer having a blackjack, it should be the case about 30% of the time. When this is examined closer, the potential winnings associated with an 'even money' bet is approximately 4% less than they should be, from a mathematical standpoint.
It's worth mentioning that basic strategy does change, depending on a variety of factors. These are all linked to the game rules in one way or another, as shown below:
A few minor changes will be made to basic strategy, depending on the number of decks that are being used. For example, single deck, double deck, and 4 to 8 deck variations of blackjack have their own unique chart, showing players the optimal decision in each scenario.
Whether the dealer must stand on a soft 17 can also affect basic strategy. At most tables, the dealer will have to stand on 17, regardless of how this is achieved, although reading the table-specific rules before playing is a wise move.
Sometimes, players will only be allowed to double down on a 9, 10, or 11, although this can change from table to table. Losing the ability to double down on any hand can actually increase the house edge, as basic strategy looks to take advantage of whenever the dealer has a bad face up card, again, by using probability.
Although basic strategy suggests that aces and eights should always be split, some variations may impose limits on this option. For example, splitting may only be possible once on some tables, while others will allow a split as long as a pair is present. If there is a limit regarding splits, players may be forced into making sub-optimal decisions, decreasing their chances of success as a result.
With enough practice, anyone can learn and eventually master basic Blackjack strategy. Naturally, the first step is to memorise the optimal decision for each combination of cards, in relation to the rules at the table.
For people that are fortunate enough to have a good memory, learning basic blackjack strategy may be rather straightforward. Most of the chart is common sense, for example, players should never stand on a value of 10 or less, as it's impossible to bust by receiving another card. Splits can be relatively easy to learn, too, as basic strategy says that aces and eights should always be split.
One important thing to consider before memorising the chart is the chosen variant, too. Should players have trouble learning multiple basic strategy charts, they could stick to one, perhaps focusing on a Blackjack variant that is commonly offered at both physical and online casinos. This could include standard European or American Blackjack, with both of these being popular, while also offering a relatively low house edge overall.
After committing the charts to memory, the next step is to practise at the table. This can be done with demo versions of the game, or by playing with a low stake size per hand. Keeping a chart nearby, at least for the first few sessions, could also be worthwhile. Over time, it's likely that players will be able to play each combination optimally, without the need to think too much.
Last but not least, players need to stay disciplined while at the table. Some punters may deviate from the chart, especially after a tough spell of luck, in order to try and strike it lucky. This defies the point of using basic strategy, so keeping bets and decisions consistent is key to increasing the chances of success.
To summarise, learning blackjack basic strategy has many advantages, with the most notable being the ability to make optimal decisions. As a result of this, players can increase their odds of winning blackjack with basic strategy due to reducing the house edge. With that being said, a win is never guaranteed, and luck remains a factor, even when perfectly following basic strategy charts.
After learning basic strategy for one variation of Blackjack, players can expand their skillset to cover different types over time. With regular blackjack basic strategy practice and consistent learning, anyone can become a skilled player. This can lead to more enjoyment while playing, due to the increased confidence and understanding.
Blackjack basic strategy is a series of charts that tells the player how to act optimally. It's based on basic strategy blackjack odds and allows the player to give themselves the best possible chance of winning, without card counting.
Learning basic strategy can be as simple as memorising a chart. Of course, practising by playing demo blackjack games can also help. Refer to the beginners guide for more information.
No, basic blackjack strategy does not guarantee a win. Regardless of how a punter is playing, luck will always be a factor when it comes to winning specific blackjack hands.
Yes, basic strategy can be used for all blackjack variations, with each having its own associated chart. For example, single deck blackjack charts will look different to four deck alternatives.
When using basic strategy, it's crucial that players are accurate when making their decisions. If not, the house edge can significantly increase, lowering the chance of success.
Card counting, as the name suggests, is where a player keeps track of the cards that have been used. This allows them to determine the probability of the upcoming cards. The two are related, as card counters will follow basic strategy, until the ratio of cards in the deck is favourable to them.
No, using basic strategy while playing blackjack is not cheating. Some casinos will even allow players to have a b
The time it takes to master basic strategy will depend on the player. For those with a good memory, the time can be greatly reduced, as learning the decision for each outcome is the main principle.