Basic Blackjack Strategy

Blackjack players often speak of taking an action “according to the book” or making a supposed misplay that “goes against the book.” They talk as if there is some volume on how to play Blackjack that everyone has read and memorized. In fact, it is generally acknowledged that “the book,” in such cases, is not some figure of speech but a real instruction manual for how best to play the game, one which can be easily obtained at a library or bookstore.

Playing by the Book

Roger Baldwin’s original classic “The Optimum Strategy in Blackjack,” published in 1956, is one such book. Dr. Edward O. Thorp’s ground-breaking “Beat the Dealer,” which described the so-called “Basic Strategy for Blackjack” in 1961~62, is another. And Lawrence Revere’s 1969 “Playing Blackjack as a Business” is a third. The three are quite similar, providing all of the information needed to learn what has been proven mathematically to be the optimum way to play. In fact, almost all Blackjack Strategy Charts in circulation today are based upon one of these manuscripts.

Dr. Thorp’s book, in particular, made Basic Blackjack Strategy popular. It was based upon Baldwin’s study of all possible card combinations, which led to an inevitable method for play of each hand. The book also opened the way for the practice known as “card counting”—a way of tracking the cards that have been played in order to gain a statistical advantage over the house.

Counting cards, however, is by no means necessary in order to apply Basic Blackjack Strategy. Nor does it require memorization of some “rule book” or the ability to visualize a chart containing all of the possible situations that can occur—290 of them in total. Basic Blackjack Strategy is much more simple than that.

To start, beginners should keep in mind that the dealer can only have only one of ten possible cards showing, with face cards being treated the same as the 10 in all cases. The player, on the other hand, has only three situations: a hard total, a soft total, or a pair.

The Basics in a Nutshell

Hard totals of 17 or more are “made hands.” There are no decisions required; the player should always stand. For hard totals of less than 8, such as a 2-3 or a 3-4, the player also has no choice but to hit. The hand cannot bust on the next card and it has poor odds or improving by doubling down.

That leaves hard totals of 8~16 for the player to respond to, and only three possibilities exist: stand, hit, or double down. When the dealer shows a 7~Ace, the player should take a card. Doubling is possible on counts of 10 or 11 when the dealers shows 2~9 and on a hard total of 9 when the dealer has 3~6. With hard counts of 13~16, players should stand when the up card is 2~6. When holding a total of 12, the correct play is to stand against 4~6; otherwise, hit.

For soft hands, always stand on A-8, A-9, or A-X (a blackjack). Always hit when holding an Ace with a 4~6 and facing the dealer’s 7~Ace. Hit an A-2 or A-3 against any card except the dealer’s 5 or 6 showing, in which case the correct action is to double down. Also double down on A-4 through A-7 facing the dealer’s 4~6. The A-6 or A-7 can be doubled against a 3 showing, but against the deuce up, the A-6 should hit and the A-7 should stand. Also, the A-7 should stand against 7 or 8 and hit facing a 9 or higher.

That leaves only pairs to consider, which are quite straight forward. Aces and 8s are always split. Pairs of 4s, 5s, or 10s (including face cards) are never split; 4s are always hit, 5s are treated as a hard count of 10, and pairs of 10s, of course, demand a stand. Pairs of deuces and treys are split facing the dealer’s 4~7, but hit otherwise. A pair of 6s will be split against the 3~6, but hit facing anything else. Split 7s when the dealer shows 2~7, else hit. And for a pair of 9s, the proper play is to split against anything except the 7, any 10-value card, or the Ace, in which case standing is the proper play.