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The GameMaster's Blackjack School

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Lesson 1: Basic Strategy

The foundation of winning at Blackjack is to utilize proper basic strategy in playing the hands. "Proper" means that each decision you make on hitting, standing, doubling or splitting pairs is the correct mathematical play for that hand. There is no room for intuition, gut feelings or guessing when it comes to basic strategy; you must make the "percentage" play each time. Even if you've doubled an 11 against a dealer's 10 five times in a row and lost, when that hand comes up a sixth time you must double. Consistency is a big part of playing a winning game, so resolve right now that you are going to make the proper play, regardless if the dealer rolls his eyes upward or the other players at the table groan quietly when you do it. You are there for the money -- there's no other reason to play blackjack -- and the application of proper basic strategy is going to get that money for you; what others think of your play is not important.

The correct basic strategy for a blackjack game depends upon the rules of the casino where you will be playing. Because of the various rules at various casinos around the world, there are literally hundreds of different basic strategies that could apply. What we will do here in the GameMaster's Blackjack School is provide Basic Strategy charts for some of the more common games. About 90% of all the games out there are covered with these rules:

  1. Single Deck, dealer stands on soft 17, double any first 2 cards, no double after split. Basic Strategy Chart
  2. Single Deck, dealer hits soft 17, double only 9-11, no double after split.Basic Strategy Chart
  3. Multi-deck (2 to 8), dealer hits soft 17, double any first 2 cards, double after split, late surrender.Basic Strategy Chart
  4. Multi-deck (4 or more), dealer stands on soft 17, double any first 2 cards, double after split, "European Hole Card" rule - the dealer does not take a hole card until after the players' hands are completed; the players lose all bets if the dealer gets a 'blackjack.' Basic Strategy Chart

This last set of rules is for a fairly common game that we will teach here: Six decks, double on any first two cards, double after splitting pairs is permitted and the dealer stands on A-6. Here is what this Basic Strategy Matrix owould look like.

 

Basic Strategy Matrix :
for 6 Decks, S17, DA2, DAS, No surrender

This resource can also be downloaded (for printing purposes).

Splitting Pairs


Pairs 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 N N N N
(6,6) Y Y Y Y Y N 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


 

Soft Totals 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 T A
(A,9) S S S S S S S S S S
(A,8) S S S S S S S S S S
(A,7) S Ds Ds Ds Ds S S H H H
(A,6) H D D D D H H H H H
(A,5) H H D D D H H H H H
(A,4) H H D D D H H H H H
(A,3) H H H D D H H H H H
(A,2) H H H D D H H H H H



Key:

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

Hard Totals


 

Hard Totals 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 H H H H H
15 S S S S S H H H H H
14 S S S S S H H H H H
13 S S S S S H H H H H
12 H H S S S H H H H H
11 D D D D D D D D D H
10 D D D D D D D D H H
9 H 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

 

This is the chart that you will eventually know as well as your own name -- but don't worry, you're not going to memorize it in this form. What we are going to do is convert all this into what a "normal" person can understand. I call what's above the "Basic Strategy Matrix" and you'll use it in some of your training. But what we need to do in order to memorize this is to translate the information above into all-inclusive rules. Let's do a few as examples.

Look at the strategy for a player's hand of 9 on the matrix above; it says to double against a 3,4,5 or 6 and hit it against everything else. We can turn that information into a simple rule: "With a hand of 9, double versus 3 through 6, otherwise hit." See how this works? We are going to take each player's starting hand and convert the proper play of that hand into one easy-to-understand rule. Now look at a hand of A-2. Proper basic strategy says to double against 5 and 6 and hit it against everything else, so our rule for A-2 is "Double vs. 5 & 6, otherwise hit." As a bonus, we can group A-2 with A-3 since the play for each is identical. So we end up with a rule like this "A-2 , A-3; double vs. 5 & 6, otherwise hit." One more example; a pair of 3's. When double after split is permitted, proper basic strategy says to split 3's whenever the dealer is showing a 2,3,4,5,6, or 7. Against any other dealer up card, we do not split; we should just hit the hand. Thus, our rule for a pair of 3's becomes "3,3; split vs. 2-7, otherwise hit". Clear on all that? Good. Below is the basic strategy chart for the matrix shown above.


Basic Strategy Decision Chart
for the Basic Strategy Matrix shown above.
This resource can also be downloaded (for printing purposes).


Player's Hand   Decisions
5 thru 8   Always Hit
9   Double 3 thru 6, o/w hit
10   Double 2 thru 9, o/w hit
11   Double 2 thru 10, o/w hit
12   Stand 4 thru 6, o/w Hit
13 thru 16   Stand 2 thru 6, o/w Hit
17 or higher   Always Stand
A,2   Double vs 5&6, o/w Hit
A,3   Double vs 5&6, o/w Hit
A,4   Double vs 4 thru 6, o/w Hit
A,5   Double vs 4 thru 6, o/w Hit
A,6   Double vs 3 thru 6, o/w Hit
A,7   Double 3 thru 6, Stand vs 2,7,8 Hit vs 9,10, A
A,8-A,9   Always Stand
2,2   Split 2 thru 7, o/w Hit
3,3   Split 2 thru 7, o/w Hit
4,4   Split vs 5 & 6, o/w Hit
5,5   Never Split, treat as "10"
6,6   Split 2 thru 6, o/w Hit
7,7   Split 2 thru 7, o/w Hit
8,8   Always split
9,9   Split 2 thru 9 except 7; o/w Stand
10,10   Never Split
A,A   Always Split
     

Remember The Basic Strategy Decision Chart shown here applies only to the game described earlier; you must produce your own to fit the rules of your favorite casino.

Once you've made your Basic Strategy Chart, we can begin to memorize it. To do that, we will produce a set of "Flashcards". Remember those? You probably learned how to add or subtract using those cards and they will also teach you how to win at Blackjack. You need to make one flashcard for each starting hand by reproducing the information above on a 2" x 2' piece of paper. (Manila file folder material does well for this.) Here's what one looks like...

When you're finished, you'll have a pack of flashcards which will help you to memorize the proper basic strategy for the game you've chosen. Start carrying them with you and as you encounter those "lost" moments we each seem to have in our day -- waiting for a plane, sitting at the dentist's office or even while watching TV, pull your cards out and start reciting the rule for the hand shown. Check your accuracy by flipping over the card and then put it on the bottom of the pack. You'll be amazed at how quickly you begin to learn all these rules.


Homework

I said this was a school, didn't I? Well, you will also have some homework to do before we get together again next week. Here are your assignments

Flashcards: Spend a minimum of one hour each day going through the cards.

Next lesson we'll finish with how to learn basic strategy through a discussion and demonstration of additional training aids and exercises which will give you the means to check your accuracy. It is not necessary for you to have your chosen basic strategy memorized perfectly at that point; all you need to know now is HOW to learn basic strategy. Exactly WHEN you learn it is up to you, since each part of this course is separate and does not depend on you knowing perfectly what came before.


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