Blackjack Strategy

Blackjack players have a greater role in their own destiny than almost any other gambling players because the Blackjack dealer follows set rules and makes no real decisions of his or her own. An intelligent, well-informed player uses this knowledge to his or her tremendous advantage. There are three different strategies a Blackjack player can utilize:

  • Play Blackjack as a game of luck: Use a money management scheme and decide when to call a card and when to stand regardless of what the dealer shows. Apply a suitable money management system like the Paroli System and know when to quit by setting appropriate profit and loss limits.
  • Use basic strategy: Follow the game and analyze the dealer’s cards in order to determine whether to call a card or stand. Apply a suitable money management system like the D’Alenbert System and set appropriate profit and loss limits so you know when to quit.
  • Card Counting: This is difficult and if casinos catch you doing it they won’ t be too happy. If you utilize this method, it is best to learn from the experts. There are many books that detail Blackjack card counting strategies.

Paroli System
This system is in a way the opposite of the Martingale system. You start with one bet and you increase your bet when you win rather than when you lose.

However, you will need to plan a betting procedure whereby you know how far you will let the bet build before you take it down to the initial starting bet and how much to raise after each win. This obviously depends on the type of game played and the odds of the bet. The advantage of this system is that you do not require a large bankroll. It lets the profit run and cuts short the losses.

D’Alenbert System
This is a mixture of Martingale and Insurance systems. Bets are raised one unit after each losing bet and lowered one unit after each winning bet. The sequence and amount raised or lowered can be varied to suit particular games and odds.

Basic Rules

  1. If the dealer’s up card is a seven (7) or higher, you should play to seventeen. That means that if you were dealt a 10 and a 2 (you have 12), you must hit this hand until you reach 17.
    Let’s say your next card is a 4 (you now have 16), You must hit this hand again, until you reach 17.
  2. If the dealer’s up card is a six (6) or lower but higher than a three (3) you must play to twelve and stop.
  3. If the dealer has a six (6) showing and you were dealt a 10 and a 2 ( you have 12), you must stand on this hand.
  4. If the dealer’s up card is a two (2) or a three (3) you must play until 13.
  5. If you were dealt a 10 and a 2 (you have 12), you must hit this hand.
    Let’s say the next card is an Ace (you now have 13), you must stand on this hand.

Basic Strategy
Some of the most favorable odds found in any casino game can be found in Blackjack. However, these odds diminish greatly as the gambler strays from what we call “basic strategy.” “Basic strategy” is a chart that an individual player follows that tells he or she exactly when to hit, stand, split, or double down.

The charts that follow outline the basic strategy for a game that contains two decks, and one that forces the dealer to stay on a soft 17. If you follow this strategy your chances of a successful round of Blackjack will increase significantly. When played closely, the Basic Strategy can reduce the House’s edge in Blackjack to 0.5% or less, depending on the rule variations in effect.

Basic Strategy – Single Deck

Your Hand vs Dealer’s Upcard
8 Double on 5 to 6. Otherwise hit.
9 Double on 2 to 6. Otherwise hit.
10 Double on 2 to 9. Otherwise hit.
11 Always double.
12 Stand on 4 to 6. Otherwise hit.
13 to 16 Stand on 2 to 6. Otherwise hit.
17 to 21 Always stand.
A,2 to A,5 Double on 4 to 6. Otherwise hit.
A,6 Double on 2 to 6. Otherwise hit.
A,7 Double on 3 to 6. Stand on 2,7,8 or A. Hit on 9 or 10.
A,8 Double on 6. Otherwise stand.
A,9 Always stand.
A,A Always split.
2,2 Split on 3 to 7. Otherwise hit.
3,3 Split on 4 to 7. Otherwise hit.
4,4 Same as 8 above.
5,5 Same as 10 above.
6,6 Split on 2 to 6. Otherwise hit.
7,7 Split on 2 to 7. Stand on 10. Otherwise hit.
8,8 Always split.
9,9 Split on 2 to 9 except 7. Stand on 7,10 or A.
10,10 Always stand.

The above chart assumes the casino doesn’t allow doubling down after pair splitting. If the casino allows doubling down after pair splitting then use the following pair splitting rules.

Your Hand vs Dealer’s Upcard
2,2 Split on 2 to 7.Otherwise hit.
3,3 Split on 2 to 7.Otherwise hit.
4,4 Split on 4,5 or 6. Otherwise hit.
6,6 Split on 2 to 7. Otherwise hit.
7,7 Split on 2 to 8. Stand on 10. Otherwise hit.

Basic Strategy – Four, Six, Eight Deck

Your Hand vs Dealer’s Upcard
5 to 8 Always Hit.
9 Double on 3 to 6. Otherwise hit.
10 Double on 2 to 9. Hit on 10, A.
11 Double on 2 to 10. Hit on A.
12 Stand on 4 to 6. Otherwise hit.
13 Stand on 2 to 6. Otherwise hit.
14 Stand on 2 to 6. Otherwise hit.
15 Stand on 2 to 6. Otherwise hit.
16 Stand on 2 to 6. Otherwise hit.
17 Always stand.
18 Always stand.
A,2 Double on 5,6. Otherwise hit.
A,3 Double on 5,6. Otherwise hit.
A,4 Double on 4 to 6. Otherwise hit.
A,5 Double on 4 to 6. Otherwise hit.
A,6 Double on 3 to 6. Otherwise hit.
A,7 Double on 3 to 6. Stand on 2,7 or 8. Hit on 9,10 or A.
A,8 to A,10 Always stand.
A,A Always split.
2,2 Split on 2 to 7, Otherwise hit.
3,3 Split on 2 to 7. Otherwise hit.
4,4 Split on 5,6. Otherwise hit.
5,5 Never split. Treat as 10 above.
6,6 Split on 2 to 6. Otherwise hit.
7,7 Split on 2 to 7. Otherwise hit.
8,8 Always split.
9,9 Split on 2 to 6, 8 or 9. Stand on 7,10, or A.
10,10 Always stand.

The above multiple deck basic strategy is valid if the players are allowed to double down after pair splitting. If doubling down is not allowed after pair splitting, then use the following pair splitting rules.

Your Hand vs Dealer’s Upcard
2,2 Split on 4 to 7.Otherwise hit.
3,3 Split on 4 to 7. Otherwise hit.
4,4 Never split. Always hit.
6,6 Split on 3 to 6. Otherwise hit.

Splitting Pairs

This table shows when you should Split identical pairs. (A “T” in the Pairs column represents any pair of ten-valued cards). A “Y” means you should split when you have the indicated pair, and the Dealers shows the indicated upcard.

Dealer’s Upcard
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 T A
(A,A) Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
(T,T) N N N N N N N N N N
(9,9) Y Y Y Y Y N Y Y N N
(8,8) Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
(7,7) Y Y Y Y Y Y Y N N N
(6,6) Y Y Y Y Y Y N N N N
(5,5) N N N N N N N N N N
(4,4) N N N Y Y N N N N N
(3,3) Y Y Y Y Y Y N N N N
(2,2) Y Y Y Y Y Y N N N N

Key:

  • Y = Yes, split the pair
  • N = No, don’t split the pair

Soft Totals
A “soft” hand is one that includes an Ace, which can be counted as 1 or as 11. The general rule of thumb is that you can always improve a soft hand with a total of 17 or less by hitting. Only hit a soft 18 when the Dealer shows a 9 or better.

Dealer’s Upcard
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 T A
(A,A) Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
(T,T) N N N N N N N N N N
(9,9) Y Y Y Y Y N Y Y N N
(8,8) Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
(7,7) Y Y Y Y Y Y Y N N N
(6,6) Y Y Y Y Y Y N N N N
(5,5) N N N N N N N N N N
(4,4) N N N Y Y N N N N N
(3,3) Y Y Y Y Y Y N N N N
(2,2) Y Y Y Y Y Y N N N N

Key:

  • H = Hit
  • S = Stand

Hard Totals
A “hard” hand does not include an Ace. This table is the core of the Basic Strategy. A “D” in this table means you should Double in those situations.

Dealer’s Upcard
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 T A
17 S S S S S S S S S S
16 S S S S S D D D D D
15 S S S S S D D D D D
14 S S S S S D D D D D
13 S S S S S D D D D D
12 H H S S S D D D D D
11 D D D D D D D D D D
10 D D D D D D D D H H
9 D D D D D H H H H H
8 H H H H H H H H H H

Key:

  • H = Hit
  • S = Stand
  • D = Double; if unable, Hit

Card Counting
The technique of card counting allows the player to take note of changing probabilities and by altering playing and betting strategies accordingly, they can gain a statistical advantage over the casino.

To learn the the skill of card counting is relatively simple. And no – you don’t need to have a photographic memory or a freakish mathematical ability.

The card counting system described below is designed only as a rough guide to give you an idea how card counting is done. It is not recommended that it be put to use in a practical sense. This is intended only to give a feel for how card counting is done, and is not recommended for actual practice.

    For single deck games:

  1. Start the count at -4 when the deck is shuffled.
  2. Count -2 for 10, J, Q, K.
  3. Count +1 for everything else (including Aces).
  4. Bet low when the count is negative, high when the count is positive (actually, simulations show that you can bet high for a count of -2 or above).
  5. Take insurance when the count is positive.
  6. Play basic strategy at all times.

A note about card counting

The principle behind card counting is that a deck of cards rich is tens and Aces is favorable to the player, a deck rich in small cards is favorable to the dealer. A deck rich in tens and Aces, is likely to bust the dealer more often.

To gauge the richness of the deck in high cards or lack of them, the player needs to keep track of the cards that are already played and assign a point value to each card. The calculation is quite complex, but basically the card counter will give a plus point each time the deck of cards becomes more favorable and a minus point each time it becomes less favorable. Basically, the high cards have a -1 point and the low cards a +1 point and the in between 0 point.

The counter then counts by adding and subtracting points according to the cards played and keeps a running total of the count called ‘running count’. Then he also needs to divide the running count by the proportion of the size of the deck of cards left to get the ‘true count’. Now he knows the relative richness of high cards in the remaining deck.

A positive count is good and a high positive count is best and the card counter will assess his hand, the dealer’s up card, weigh up his options and intensify his betting accordingly.

To be a successful card counter you need to have a powerful memory and fast reaction while amassing information as you play. And for what? If everything works out well, you will be looking at a slow and tedious 1% average profit. If you wager large sums of money to make the 1% worthwhile, you are likely to be noticed by the pit boss and prompt frequent shuffling of the cards. Card counting is hard, not liked by the casinos and is not as rewarding as it may seem.

Shuffle Tracking
This is a fairly new technique that has not been publicized very much. The best definition I have seen is this one: “‘Shuffle-tracking’ is the science of following specific cards through the shuffling process for the purpose of either keeping them in play or cutting them out of play.” The concept of Shuffle tracking appears to have resulted from bored mathematician’s research and computer simulation of shuffling cards.

Of course, just because someone shuffles a deck (or decks) of cards does not mean that the cards are “randomized”. The methods mentioned in the two previous sections (Basic Strategy and Card Counting) assume a random order of cards. (According to some authors, a single deck of cards must be shuffled twenty to thirty times to ensure a truly random dispersion. If a Casino is using a 6 deck shoe, that’s 120 to 180 shuffles!) As in the Card Counting section, I am going to restrict the discussion to the basics of shuffle tracking as the combination of references listed at the end of this section provide a complete discourse of the topic.

A beneficial (to the player) shuffle for a one deck game is executed by dividing the deck equally into 26 cards and shuffling them together a minimum of three times. This allows the cards to be sufficiently intermixed to yield a fairly random distribution. An adverse shuffle prevents the cards from mixing completely.

The simplest example is the Unbalanced Shuffle. As its name implies, the dealer breaks the deck into two unequal stacks. As an example, let’s say you are playing two hands head on with the dealer and the last 10 cards in the deck are dealt. The result of the hand was that both your hands lost to the dealer primarily due to the high percentage of low value cards in the clump. Note that if you were counting, you would have bet a single unit since the deck was unfavorable. The dealer is now ready to shuffle the deck, and separates the deck into 31 cards in one stack and 21 in the other stack. The dealer shuffles the two stacks. If the shuffle is done from the bottom of each stack on up, the top ten cards of the larger stack will remain intact without mixing with any of the other cards. Those ten cards can remain in the order they were just dealt throughout the shuffle if the process of bottom to top shuffling is not altered. You are now asked to cut the deck. If you don’t cut the deck, the 10 cards that were dealt last hand will be dealt as your first two hands. The result will be the same as your last and you will lose the two hands. However, if you cut the deck exactly at the end of those ten cards, you have just altered the future to your benefit. Those cards will now be placed at the bottom of the deck. Should the dealer shuffle up early, you will avoid them altogether. In addition, if you were keeping count, you would know that the deck was favorable during the first 3-4 hands since there would be an abundance of tens in the portion of the deck that will be played. You would accordingly increase you bet size to maximize your winnings.

Some dealers will unknowingly split the deck into unequal stacks. However, more often than not, they are required to split the deck into unequal stacks. If they are required to do this, they are performing the House Shuffle. The casino has trained the dealer to shuffle a particular way… on purpose! Why? In the long run, the house will benefit from this because most players will not cut any bad clumps out of play. If you have played BlackJack in a casino, how much did you pay attention to the way they shuffled? Like most people you were probably oblivious to it.

There are a number of shuffle methods, some of which have been labeled as: the “Zone Shuffle”, the “Strip Shuffle”, and the “Stutter Shuffle”. The Zone Shuffle is particular to shoe games (multiple deck games) and is probably one of the most common shuffle methods. It is accomplished by splitting the shoe into 4 to 8 piles depending on the number of decks in the shoe. Prescribed picks from each pile are made in a very exact way with intermittent shuffles of each pair of half deck sized stacks. The net effect is a simple regrouping of the cards pretty much in the same region of the shoe as they were before, thereby preventing clumps of cards from being randomly mixed. If the dealer won 40 hands and you won 20, this trend is likely to continue until you are broke or until the unfavorable bias is removed through many shuffles.

What if the players are winning the 40 hands and the dealer only 20? If the dealer has been mentally keeping track of how many hands each side has won in the shoe, the dealer will probably do one of two things. One is to keep the shuffle the same, but ‘strip’ the deck. When a dealer strips a deck, he/she strips off one card at a time from the shoe letting them fall on top of one another onto the table. This action causes the order of the cards to be reversed. The main consequence is to dissipate any clumping advantages (a bunch of tens in a clump) that the players may have. The second thing the dealer may do is simply change the way they shuffle to help randomize the cards.

* Numbers and rules may vary depending on the casino.