Blackjack Basic Strategy
Basic strategy is simply defined as the optimum way for a non-card counter to play his hand. This strategy has been developed mathematically and proven through computer simulations. Sometimes, a different "optimum play" exists for different rules and for different number of decks. For every possible hand, these strategies will tell you what play will give you the "best expected return". Playing basic strategy will reduce the house's edge to one half of a percent as compared to a two or three percent house edge over the average player.
Playing the strategy does not guarantee you a win or even the advantage on some hands. For example, if you have a total of 13 and the dealer has a ten showing (10, jack, queen or king), an analysis of the decision would tell you that:
- if you hit you will win 29
times and lose 71 times per 100 hands.
For this hit/stand decision you will lose less often if you hit. Even if you don't make the statistically correct play, you still have almost the same chance of winning the hand. You may see player's beside you winning with these kind of plays while you are losing playing good basic strategy. What you probably won't see is that player's long term losing results. What is important is that in the long run, you have a much better chance of doing better if you make the correct play on each hand. Avoid the pitfall of playing on a hunch or getting discouraged because you have lost a bunch of hands in a row. As I will try to explain as I go along, the game of blackjack has many ups and downs. You should expect streaks, good and bad, and not make radical changes in your play when they occur.
Different Basic Strategies
To be precise, there are marginally different strategies for different number of decks and for different sets of rules. In most cases the differences are so minute that they are not worth learning. The links below show Ken Uston's basic strategies for single and multiple deck, as taken from his book "Million Dollar Blackjack". You may ask yourself if it is worth the effort to memorize both strategies. If you are just starting, I would recommend learning the strategy for the game you plan to play the most. With very few exceptions, Atlantic City has 6 and 8 deck shoe games. Las Vegas, on the other hand, has many good single and double deck games, along with shoe games. Elsewhere, you will see mostly multiple deck games.
The only big difference between the two strategies is that in single deck you tend to double down more often. In these situations, you are increasing the money you put on the table for a marginal gain. When you put out more money in a double down situation, your increased bet increases your fluctuations and therefore your chance of going broke. In general, it would be worst to double down when it is not advantageous than to miss doubling down when it is to your advantage.
If you plan to advance to counting cards, you will not need the added weight of trying to remember two basic strategies while learning to count. I would recommend using the multiple deck strategy unless you know that you will be playing mostly single deck. After you can count without difficulty, then learn the difference in the strategies and use the one applicable to the game your playing. At this time, you should spend some time learning and practicing one of the strategies. See the BJ Practice Methods section for practice techniques.