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Home / Blackjack / Strategy
The Strategy of Blackjack
As a blackjack player you must learn at least the basic strategy. Use this strategy and the house edge will drop below one percent. If you want to gain an advantage over the house you have to use advanced card counting systems. The best possible strategy for all players who are not counting cards, basic strategy represents the proper way to play when you take into consideration only your hand and the dealer's upcard. Different playing conditions require different playing strategies.

Is it possible to win in the long run? The answer to that question is: Yes. And No. It is definately possible to play blackjack for many years as recreation and for fun and win money on the whole. But, on the other hand, if you let a computer play millions of rounds of blackjack even with the optimal strategy (card counting) it will lose.

One way to improve the chance of winning is to use statistical analysis to predict the outcome of various hands. The player then plays the way that is statistically the most likely to result in a win.

Because the dealer must play using the house rules he/she must always hit with a hand of 16 or less and stand with a hand of 17 or more (some casinos allow the dealer to hit on a soft 17). One of the dealer's cards is face-up for all to see, and the following predictions for the dealer going bust have been computed.

Dealers face-up card is: 2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  Ace
Percentage chance of busting: 35 37 40 42 42 26 24 23 23 17

It can now be seen that the dealer has a better chance of busting when his face-up card is a six or smaller value card, and less if the face-up card has a value of seven or more. Using this information the following blackjack strategy was developed:

Soft Hand Rules (Ace counted as a one OR an eleven)
Most casinos allow an ace to be played as either a 1 or 11, whichever value is most beneficial to the holder. When a player has an ace that is being used as an 11, it's referred to as a "soft hand". These hands are played differently as the player cannot draw to a soft hand and bust (the player just revalues the Ace to count as 1 instead of 11).

The basic strategy for playing soft hands is to double down when the dealer has a high probability of busting (low value face-up cards).

Players Hand Strategy
Soft 19 or 20 Stand
Soft 18 Stand if the dealer is showing 2,7 or 8.Hit if the dealer is showing 9,10 or Ace.Double if the dealer is showing 3,4,5 or 6.
Soft 17 Hit if the dealer is showing 2, 7, 8, 9, 10 or Ace.Double if the dealer is showing 3,4,5 or 6.
Soft 16 or 17 Hit if the dealer is showing 2, 3, 7, 8, 9, 10 or Ace.Double if the dealer is showing 4,5 or 6.
Soft 14 or 13 Hit if the dealer is showing 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10 or Ace.Double if the dealer is showing 5 or 6.

In the event that you are dealt a card that changes your hand from a soft hand (Ace = 11) to a hard hand (Ace = 1) then change strategies to the hard hand rules discussed previously.

Card counting

The technique of card counting allows the player to take note of changing probabilities and by altering playing and betting strategies accordingly, they can gain a statistical advantage over the casino.

To learn the the skill of card counting is relatively simple. And no - you don't need to have a photographic memory or a freakish mathematical ability.

The card counting system described below is designed only as a rough guide to give you an idea how card counting is done. It is not recommended that it be put to use in a practical sense. This is intended only to give a feel for how card counting is done, and is not recommended for actual practice.

For single deck games:
1. Start the count at -4 when the deck is shuffled.
2. Count -2 for 10, J, Q, K.
3. Count +1 for everything else (including Aces).
4. Bet low when the count is negative, high when the count is positive (actually, simulations show that you can bet high for a count of -2 or above).
5. Take insurance when the count is positive.
6. Play basic strategy at all times.

Something to know about card counting

The principle behind card counting is that a deck of cards rich is tens and Aces is favorable to the player, a deck rich in small cards is favorable to the dealer. A deck rich in tens and Aces, is likely to bust the dealer more often.

To gauge the richness of the deck in high cards or lack of them, the player needs to keep track of the cards that are already played and assign a point value to each card. The calculation is quite complex, but basically the card counter will give a plus point each time the deck of cards becomes more favorable and a minus point each time it becomes less favorable. Basically, the high cards have a -1 point and the low cards a +1 point and the in between 0 point.

The counter then counts by adding and subtracting points according to the cards played and keeps a running total of the count called 'running count'. Then he also needs to divide the running count by the proportion of the size of the deck of cards left to get the 'true count'. Now he knows the relative richness of high cards in the remaining deck.

A positive count is good and a high positive count is best and the card counter will assess his hand, the dealer's up card, weigh up his options and intensify his betting accordingly.

To be a successful card counter you need to have a powerful memory and fast reaction while amassing information as you play. And for what? If everything works out well, you will be looking at a slow and tedious 1% average profit. If you wager large sums of money to make the 1% worthwhile, you are likely to be noticed by the pit boss and prompt frequent shuffling of the cards. Card counting is hard, not liked by the casinos and is not as rewarding as it may seem.

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