Understanding Blackjack Basic Strategy

If you read our Q&A on the Best/Worst Casino Games for Noobs you’ll recall that blackjack is a very player friendly game IF you learn basic strategy. In this post, we’ll give you the ‘basics’ of blackjack basic strategy.

Blackjack ‘basic strategy’ isn’t just an abstract concept of strategic tips for beginners. It’s a specific course of action based on the cards that you’re dealt and the dealer’s up card. Simply put, ‘Basic strategy’ is a regimented decision process of how to play each possible hand based on mathematical analysis. You’ll typically see this in chart form where every possible opening hand for the player is matrixed with every dealer up-card. For example, the basic strategy for:

    PLAYER:  13     DEALER:  3  =   STAND
    PLAYER:  9      DEALER:  8  =   HIT     
    PLAYER:  10     DEALER:  6  =   DOUBLE

To use basic strategy you need to memorize the correct action based on your opening hand and the dealer’s up card. This is easier than it sounds—for example, the player should stand on hard 17 or higher regardless of what up card the dealer is showing. Likewise, a player should always hit on 5, 6, 7 or 8. You’ll find a sample basic strategy chart later in this article.

DIFFERENT BASIC STRATEGY FOR DIFFERENT RULE SETS

There’s a myriad of blackjack rule variations and you’ll usually find a specific basic strategy for every one. The most important of these to get right in order to guarantee that you’re using the right basic strategy is deck number and the dealer hitting on hard/soft 17. These are the most fundamental blackjack rules that vary from table to table.

You can find basic strategy charts like the one below available on laminated cards in casino gift shops, in blackjack instructional books and online. Another good option is a cellphone app with basic strategy information:

Blackjack basic strategy matrix

You might be wondering how these basic strategy concepts are derived. They’re based on computer analysis of millions of hands which thanks to the digital revolution is becoming much easier to do. Julian Braun of IBM is credited with one of the earliest ‘basic strategy’ simulations though there are a number others. Today, there are many different ‘basic strategies’ though most have only slight deviation from one to another. It’s now simple to run a blackjack hand simulation to determine or verify any set of basic strategy rules. You can do this on your home computer or even on your cellphone with the right application.

About the Author: Jim Murphy

For more than 25 years, Jim Murphy has written extensively on gambling theory and practice. Jim Murphy has been quoted in media from the Wall Street Journal to REASON Magazine. Murphy worked as a radio and podcasting host broadcasting to an international audience that depended on his expertise and advice.