Learning how to win at blackjack involves three initial steps:
1. Learn basic strategy.
2. Build speed at counting cards.
3. Learn strategy index numbers.
The best way to learn basic strategy is by using any computer program that gives you feedback when you deviate from basic strategy. You have to practice until you know immediately what is the correct play as soon as you see your hand and the dealer’s upcard.
You can of course also learn basic strategy by sitting down and memorizing a table, and by dealing hands and trying to recall how to play them. But doing this with a computer program is more efficient — you will learn faster and build up speed faster.
A reasonable goal is to be able to play 300 hands an hour. Generally in a casino you will play 200 or fewer hands an hour, but that is with the dealer controlling the speed of the game. You have to be able to handle 300 hands an hour when you are controlling the speed in order to be able to handle 200 when the dealer controls the tempo. (With practice, you can play considerably faster than 300 hands an hour.)
You have to be able to count cards quickly, and you have to be able to do it without moving your lips or doing anything else that gives away the fact that you are counting.
You should be able to go through a deck of cards in less than 30 seconds, and it is possible to do it faster. Hold the deck face up and, beginning your count at zero, flip through the cards, keeping the running count: +1, +2, +1, +1, and so on. At the end of the deck your running count should be zero if you have a full deck and have made no errors. Also practice counting two cards at a time, because in a casino you often will see two cards at a time.
You do not really need to practice with a deck of cards; that just is the traditional way of doing it. Using a software program is a more enjoyable and more efficient way to build speed.
Different people learn different ways. I prefer to sit down with a pencil and a blank piece of paper and re-create the table of strategy numbers I am trying to memorize. It is easier for me to memorize a matrix than individual numbers. Some people find it easier to memorize individual numbers, and they prefer to learn index numbers with flash cards. Make a set of cards, each of which has a decision on one side and the appropriate index number on the other side. As you learn particular decisions, you can put those flash cards aside and continue to practice with the others.
To test yourself to be sure you know the index numbers and can use them quickly, play blackjack with any software program that gives you feedback on how well you play.
Learning to win at blackjack is possible and enjoyable. Depending on how much time you devote to practicing, it will take a month or two to build your skill level to the point where you can begin to handle the casino game.
Excerpted with permission from the e-book version of Professional Blackjack
by Stanford Wong.