The game of blackjack, also known as “21,” has greatly increased in popularity in recent years. This is most likely due to the apparent simplicity of the game. I say apparent because even though the object of the game is easily understood, the complexities are widely overlooked.
If you ask a blackjack player what the object of the game is, they will most likely tell you it is to draw a card total as close to 21 as possible. This is a widely held belief, but it is incorrect. The sole object of the game is to beat the dealer.
To win, the player must either have a higher value hand than the dealer or have a valid hand under 21 when the dealer exceeds that target. Exceeding the total of 21 by either the player or dealer is referred to as “busting.”
Blackjack had always been a fabulous profit producer for the casinos and was always considered to have a huge house edge prior to the mid 1960’s. It was at this time Dr. Edward O. Thorp wrote his groundbreaking book “Beat The Dealer.”
Dr. Thorp’s book offered the first explanation of card counting techniques and how by tracking the depleted cards would give the player an advantage over the dealer.
Prior to this time no one had any idea that altering the composition of the deck would actually shift the advantage between the dealer and player depending on the cards that were dealt.
More importantly, those same computer trials produced a “basic strategy” for playing the individual hands based on the dealer’s exposed card. Despite all that has been written on the subject, the correct strategy for properly playing their hands is actually known by very few players.
Though most blackjack authorities claim that their strategies are based on either computer trials, mathematical calculations or a combination of the two, I have found that their resulting strategies are in no way consistent.
Thorp’s rules of play were also based on the use of a single deck of cards. At the time it was written all blackjack games were played with a single deck. Following the publication of his book, the nervous casinos fearing a loss of profits, countered by changing to an eight deck game dealt from a long, rectangular, plastic card holder called a “shoe.”
The difference between the playing strategy for a single deck and a multi-deck game is dramatic. This accounts for the wide variety of rules and misinformation employed by players today. The single deck strategy cannot be used when playing the eight deck game.
The truth is, using a proper eight deck playing system allows the player to play an even game with the casino in which they have little if any advantage over the player at all. Applying an intelligent money management system and betting strategy gives the player a significant edge over the game.
While there are several casino table games, such as craps and baccarat, that offer the player the ability to play with less than a negative 1.5% house percentage, it is only blackjack where the advantage moves in favor of the player depending on their skill and the composition of the remaining cards left to be dealt.
With the advent of card counting methods, I do not believe there are any casinos that still offer single deck blackjack. The following is a complete description of the most effective “basic strategy” for use at a multi-deck game. It is as follows:
Dealer’s up card is 2 or 3… Stand on hard total of 13 or more
Dealer’s up card is 4, 5, 6… Stand on 12 or more
Dealer’s up card is 7, 8, 9, 10 or Ace… Stand on 17 or more
Always Split Aces
Always Split 8’s
Split 2’s & 3’s when Dealer’s up card is 4, 5, 6 or 7
Split 6’s when Dealer’s up card is 7 or less
Split 9’s when Dealer’s up card is 2-6 or 8 & 9 (stand on 7)
Do Not Split 4’s, 5’s, or 10’s
Double Down on 11 when Dealer’s up card is 2 – 10
Double Down on 10 when Dealer’s up card is 2 – 9
Double Down on 9 when Dealer’s up card is 3 – 6
Double Down on Soft hand 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 & 18 when Dealer’s up card is 5 or 6
Always hit (take a card) a soft hand of 13, 14, 15, 16 & 17 when not Doubling Down
Always hit soft 18 when Dealer’s up card is 9, 10 or Ace
The use of “Insurance” or “Surrender” is not recommended. These options should only be used when the player is certain of the deck composition through card counting.
Although card counting strategies offer the player a means of consistently maintaining an edge over the game, the practice and concentration required to be effective is often beyond the reach of the average player.
For most players the use of the “basic strategy” is the optimal method of winning blackjack. An educated decision will always win more often.