Blackjack is one of the most widely played card games to ever grace the gaming felt, with millions of Blackjack hands contested at Blackjack tables around the world each day. The game of twenty-one is a strategic endeavor that allows an advanced player room for aggressive betting maneuvers and subtle strategy plays to gain an advantage over the dealers inherent statistical edge. Players attempt to achieve a count that is both twenty-one or less and higher than the dealers count at the end of the round, using a number of available tactics to maneuver themselves into the most favorable position as possible. The guide assumes that you're already familiar with the rules of the game and are playing against a 4-6 deck shoe where the Dealer Hits a Soft 17 and soft doubling is allowed. Here's a quick review of the options available to the player, all of which are non-reversible once selected:
In the following sections, you'll be presented with a number of basic strategy charts that will allow you to cross-reference each recommended play based on the players hand count versus the Dealer upcard. The top row of each chart shows a listing of numbers starting with 6 and working its way progressively to the right, eventually ending with the Ace (A). These headlining numbers represent the Dealers upcard, the card the Dealer has dealt face-up to their own hand. The Dealer upcard is the basis from which all Blackjack basic strategy is derived, since certain dealer upcards will actually give the player using Blackjack basic strategy a mathematical advantage over the Dealer. Of course, some Dealer upcards decrease the players advantage. The reason each chart uses the 6-5-4-3-2-7-8-9-T-A (left-to-right) sequence is that these numbers represent the weakest dealer upcards on the left up to the strongest on the right, in order of strength. For example, the 6up is the weakest upcard for the Dealer, and conversely the strongest dealer upcard for the player. Next is the 5up, also a very weak upcard for the dealer, continuing on to the Aup on the far right. The Aup is the single strongest Dealer upcard and therefore the worst upcard for the player. The dealer upcards are shown as the card value with 'up' (such as 7up) in the text explanations that accompany the the basic strategy charts in our guide.
The leftmost column in each chart shows either the players Hand Count (for the Hard hands) or specific hands (for Soft or Paired hands). A player determines the count, or total, of a Hard hand (explained below) by adding their cards together. Cards 2 through 10 are counted at face value, with Kings, Queens and Jacks (known as Paint cards due to their elaborate, colorful designs) also being counted as 10's. The total arrived at when adding the cards together is known as the Hand Count and is indicated by a tiny 'c' in the notation. For example, a hand of 86 would make a Fourteen count (14c) since 8+6=14, while a hand of K4 would also result in a 14c since the King is valued at ten and 10+4=14. The only exception to arriving at a count by this method concerns hands that contain Aces. In Blackjack, an Ace may count as either 11 or 1 depending on whether or not counting it as an eleven would cause the player to go over 21 and bust. If counting the Ace as 11 would cause a hand to exceed a 21c an Ace must be counted as 1 instead, and this rule holds true for hands that contain multiple Aces. For example, a hand of A4 would result in a 15c (11+4) since counting the Ace as 11 wouldn't cause the total to exceed a 21c, but a hand of AA4 would only result in a 16c (11+1+4). The second Ace counts as only One to avoid putting the count over 21. Note that the suits of the cards do not effect the count of a Blackjack hand and can be entirely disregarded. Paired hands are covered in a separate section apart from the standard Hard hands.
In the Blackjack Basic Strategy Guide to follow, each of the five playing options from above (Hit, Stand, Split, Double and Surrender) are indicated by their own specifically colored entry in each of the strategy charts. A summary of each color-coded indicator is shown to the right. While a player is always allowed to Hit or Stand on any count (unless their last play caused them to bust) and they may always Split a starting hand that consists of a Pair, occasionally there are a few rule-based restrictions to some of the recommended plays depending on where you're playing the game of Blackjack. The options of Double and Surrender are sometimes restricted or not allowed under certain rules conditions even though they are the recommended optimal play on our chart. If this is the case, consult the accompanying text in each section for a thorough explanation of how to handle this situation and consider finding a more favorable game that will allow these optimal playing decisions! Now let's get started learning the correct Blackjack basic strategy. Be sure to take your time and work through each section until you understand every play based on the corresponding dealer upcard before you move on to the next. We'll start with the most encountered type of hand, the Hard Counts.
The first group of starting hands we'll examine are known as the Hard Hands. Hard Hands are un-paired and contain no Aces, such as T5 or 76. Hard hands make up the majority of the starting hands you'll receive from the dealer, so playing them correctly is essential for solid play. Hard hand counts are discussed separately from starting hands that contain a single Ace, known as Soft hands, and also paired hands. Both of these types of hands will be examined shortly after the Hard hand counts.
|8c||Always Hit an 8c or less|
|11c||Always Double an 11c|
The primary choice for Hard hand counts of 11c or below is whether you'll Double or Hit the hand. Hand counts of eight or less are always Hit due to the fact that mathematically they are not profitable to Double against any dealer upcard (and hitting them will never result in a bust). The more flexible counts are the 9c, 10c and 11c, where doubling takes on more importance and frequency. Nine counts are doubled against only the four weakest Dealer upcards (6-5-4-3) but Ten counts are doubled against almost all of them, only hitting versus the powerful Dealer Tup or Aup. An 11c is the most Doubled hand of all, aggressively pushing in another bet against all dealer upcards. While using the chart returns maximum value for each of these counts, if you find yourself short on chips and unable to afford the additional wager necessary to Double (or you've already Hit the hand previously) just Hit any 11c or less and then proceed as normal.
|17c||Always Stand on a 17c or higher|
With the Hard counts of 12c or higher, the chart indicates that a more conservative approach (Standing) is now necessary against several of the weaker Dealer upcards. This is partially because of the new threat of potentially busting the hand with a hit, but also that the various counts will have statistically better chances of winning a showdown by Standing against the applicable dealer upcard as compared to Hitting them. It is also useful to note that now Surrender is a recommended option for the 15c and 16c versus the strongest Dealer upcards. Both of these counts are surrendered versus Dealer Tup and Aup, and a 16c is even surrendered versus a 9up as well. These two counts will bust a high percentage of the time so the best option is to take back half your bet and live to fight another day. If you are unable to Surrender these hands due to rules restrictions (or you've already Hit the hand previously) you should Hit them instead. The counts of 17c or higher are always Standing hands, regardless of the dealer upcard.
The second group focuses on Soft Hands, which are starting hands that have a single Ace in them, such as A3 or A6. These types of hands are called soft because they will never bust when taking just one card to them (the initial hit). Soft hands have the additional element that Hitting may actually cause them to become a Hard Hand, and they may also stay soft (able to use the Ace as an 11) even with additional cards added to the hand. We'll examine these situations shortly after we take a look at the first subsection of Soft hands, the soft 13c (A2) through soft 17c (A6).
Soft hand counts are arrived at by adding the Ace as an 11 with the second card of the hand. The soft 17c or less hands actually have the same options available to them as the hard 11c or less: Double or Hit. You may also note the hand entries A2/A3 and A4/A5, which list two hands on the same line. This is because the strategy for both of these hands is identical. The A2 is played the exact same way as the A3, and the A4 is handled like the A5. As before, if you can't afford to double the hand as suggested (or are not allowed to based on the rules) just Hit instead and proceed as usual.
When you've hit any of these soft hands and arrived at a Hard hand count, it's time to switch back to the appropriate strategy line from the previous Hard Count strategy section to determine the correct play. For example, let's say you were dealt A6 versus a dealer 8up, and based on the strategy chart you proceeded to hit the hand, receiving a 7 as your third card. Your previously soft hand count of 17c has now become a hard count of 14c (1+6+7). Of course, the Ace is only counted as 1 now since counting it as 11 would cause a bust. Now, a player must revert to the Hard Hand strategy guide to play the 14c since the hand is no longer soft. This aspect of strategy applies to all soft hands that subsequently transform into Hard hands, with only one rub. Most Blackjack rules state that three-card hands are NOT allowed to be Surrendered under any circumstances. So even if your soft hand becomes a Hard 16c versus a Dealer Tup, you'll have to default to Hitting the hand as the preferred option.
Concerning the soft hands that stay soft after the third card is taken, consider the following scenario: You are dealt A2 versus a Dealer 4up and Hit the hand based on the basic strategy chart, receiving another 2 as your third card. Your hand count is now a soft 15c (11+2+2), so you'll now use the soft hand strategy for your soft 15c (the A4 line, since your hand is now effectively A2+2) to make your play as the hand does not yet qualify as Hard. However, even though an A4 indicates that it should be Doubled versus the Dealer 4up most blackjack rules state that three-card hands are NOT allowed to be Doubled under any circumstances. If the correct strategy was to double, you'll have to default to Hitting the hand as the preferred option for this group of soft hands.
|A9||Always Stand on a Soft 20|
For the next group of soft hands, A7 or higher, we'll once again add the tactic of standing into the mix. The soft 18 (A7) is the most aggressively doubled of this group, adding another bet against the five weakest dealer upcards. A player also stands with it against a 7up or 8up and even Hits it against the strongest three dealer upcards. The soft 19 (A8) is kept against just about any dealer upcard except the 6up, where it most profitable to actually double it! Lastly, the A9 is always held regardless of the dealer upcard with excellent, but not indestructible, chances of holding up at the showdown.
As we've previously discussed, there will be times where either your bankroll or the rules of the game prevent you from making a correct doubling play. In previous sections, we've always recommended that the hand be Hit whenever this situation arises. However, for these soft hands, considering their already high count totals, the default play is to Stand when you can't double them. So if you have an A7 versus 2up but your hand is a three-card hand, you'll have to simply Stand as the rules preclude you from doubling anything other than two-card hands.
The last group are the Paired Hands, where a player was dealt two cards of identical value, such as 44 or 55. Remember that since the Paint cards all count as 10's, hands containing two ten value cards like KT or QJ are also considered pairs. Pairs have the additional option of being Split into two separate hands, which requires one additional bet from the player for the new hand.
With this group of hands the options are fairly cut-and-dry. Most of these paired hands will either be Split or Hit, with only one exception: a pair of fives. It is never recommended to split a pair of fives, instead the chart suggests you actually play the hand as if it were simply a hard count of 10c. In fact, if you reference the correct strategy for a 10c in the previous chart you'll find that it is identical to the strategy for 55. For any of the other pairs, they are split fairly aggressively against several dealer upcards. If you are unable to Split any of these pairs the default move would be to treat them as Hard hand and play accordingly. However, the only reason you'd ever do so is that you are down to your last chip. There is no other reason not to follow the chart, since you won't have to worry about three-card hands with pairs and any other play is clearly sub-optimal.
|TT||Always Stand with a Pair of Tens|
|AA||Always Split a Pair of Aces|
For the bigger pairs, we see the options are much more clear. In fact, the second biggest pair TT (any two ten-count cards) is always a Standing hand. Conversely, the beautiful starting hand of AA will always be Split. A pair of 99's is Split against all but three dealer upcards, the 7up-Tup-Aup. The only exception to the basic play of Pairs in Blackjack occurs when we are dealt a pair of eights. As the chart shows, they will be split against all of the upcards excepting a dealer Aup. But when facing the strongest dealer upcard of them all, Surrendering the pair of eights is actually the mathematically best play. Notice that we're not treating the 88 as a hard hand in this strategy line (otherwise, we'd be surrendering against a few more dealer upcards). Just the specific case of being dealt 88 versus Aup requires Surrender. Against any of the other dealer upcards we'll favorably Split the eights and proceed as usual.
|Values 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 are counted as +1|
|Ten Values and Aces are counted as -1|
One of the more advanced Blackjack concepts is Card Counting. In the ChessandPoker.com Blackjack guide we use card counting to determine the amount of our initial bet. To count the cards, we'll use the method detailed in the chart to the right to adjust the Running Count, which is the current indicator of the value of the deck in comparison to players advantage. Determining the always-changing Running Count is fairly simple. You start out with a count of zero in your head. Then, everytime you see a 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 valued card come out of the deck in any players hand, including the dealers, you mentally add +1 to the count in your head for each of these cards. Whenever you see a Ten value card (any Ten, Jack, Queen or King) or Ace dealt into any players hand, you subtract (-1) from the count in your head. This ongoing total in your head is called the "running count" (RC). The 7, 8 or 9 value cards do not affect the Running Count and can be disregared for counting purposes. Here are some example card groups and the resulting Running Count for counting each clump of cards (negative values shown in parentheses).
|0+(-1) = RC(-1)||1+1 = RC2||0+(-1)+(-1) = RC(-2)||(-1)+(-1)+1+1 = RC0||(-1)+1+1+(-1)+0+1 = RC1|
Whenever the running count is positive, it is said that the player has an advantage. When negative, however, the player is at an disadvantage. The larger (or smaller) the running count, the more pronounced the advantage (disadvantage) is for the player. As you'll soon discover, even though the process of card counting is sometimes presented as a difficult talent to acheive, it is actually not that hard at all. In fact, it will quickly become second nature once you get the hang of it. An added benefit is that our Blackjack guide does not depend on Card Counting to alter our Blackjack playing strategy, just the betting aspect of the game. So if you happen to lose count for any reason, you can usually approximate where you were to a close enough degree that your betting will not be altered to a point where you'd need to start over. Of course, you can always default to one chip betting and be just fine! However, for those of you that would like to look at a more advanced method of betting your hand, the next step is to use Card Counting to effectively structure your bet sizes.
ChessandPoker.com has developed our own Blackjack betting system, often known as a betting ramp, based on the counting system we just discussed. This method is designed to gradually increase a players bets when they hold an advantage over the dealer based on a favorable deck, and cut them back when they are at a disadvantage. It has the added benefit of disguising your counting endeavors by adjusting your bet sizes in a way that seems natural to the dealer, instead of drastically changing them on a hand-by-hand basis. Remember, it's entirely acceptable to simply bet the minimum on each hand. However, if you'd like an extra edge and enjoy sliding your chips into the betting circle when you're favored then let's have a look at our progression chart!
|ChessandPoker.com Blackjack Betting Strategy Chart with a 1-4 Chip Spread|
|First Level: Start out betting one chip, your base unit. Keep betting it until you WIN a hand with the Running count at +6 or higher. When this happens, bump your bet up to TWO chips and proceed to the Second Level strategy. This will be the most used betting level.||Second Level: Continue betting two chips until you either LOSE with a +5 count or less (drop back to First Level betting) or WIN with a count of +9 or higher. When this happens, bump your bet up to THREE chips and proceed to the Third Level strategy.|
|Third Level: Continue betting three chips until you either LOSE with a +8 count or less (drop back to FIRST Level betting) or you WIN with a count of +12 or higher. When this happens, bump your bet up to FOUR chips and proceed to the Final Level strategy.||Fourth Level: Continue betting four chips until you LOSE with a +11 count or less (drop back to SECOND Level betting) and proceed from there. Since four chips is the maximum threshold for our Blackjack betting strategy, this is the final wagering level.|
It's useful to note that whenever you lose at the appropriate count in both the Third and Fourth levels, you'll actually drop back two levels instead of just one. This aspect of the strategy, while slightly inaccurate, is partially designed to protect your bankroll while at the same time giving the impression to the dealer that you're simply playing your rushes (betting more when you're winning) and then regaining your common sense when you lose a few hands. Keep in mind that while no betting system can offer the player using it any guaranteed edge, our advanced methods effectively position the player to take advantage of premium situations in a much safer, gradual way than is the case with standard counting systems.
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