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Blackjack Strategy

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Walk into any glitzy casino, or log in online, and you’ll find a huge choice of games, but there is only one that you have any real hope of beating with skill rather than depending on random outcomes. Most casino games, such as roulette and craps, are utterly unpredictable; with these games, the outcome of each play based entirely on chance, via the bounce of the ball or the roll of the dice. However, blackjack stands out from the pack because, over time, the outcomes are almost entirely predictable.

How are random cards predictable?

Of course, on any single hand, the cards you draw are not predictable at all. However, because there are only a set number of possible outcomes for any given combination of your two cards and the dealer’s upturned card, you can run these possibilities millions of times through a computer and start to see a predictable pattern. This gives you what is called basic blackjack strategy, and while it won’t help win any individual hand, it will help you do a whole lot better over time.

What is a basic strategy?

The basic strategy for blackjack consists of a set of tables that tells you what to do in any given blackjack situation. It sums up the most successful plays for all possible player/dealer combinations and tells you whether to stand, hit, double or split (as well as when to surrender, if this is available). There are many basic strategy tables available online, but they are all much the same, with only minor variations, so any set will do.

How much better will you do?

Blackjack is easy to learn and simple to play for fun, but basic strategy will improve your chances if you are playing to win. Using basic blackjack strategy can cut the house edge to just 0.5% in a six-deck game. That means you have an almost 50/50 chance of winning your hand. This compares well to roulette, where the house edge is 2.7% with a single zero and over 5% with a double zero. Under these circumstances, you will lose even chance bets—such as red/black or odd/even—eleven times for every ten you win, on average.

The table rules are normally printed on the playing surface

The fewer decks that are used in the game, the lower this house edge gets. In fact, the basic strategy technique is so good that in a single deck game, where the dealer stands on a soft 17, it is the player who actually has a slight edge of 0.1% over the dealer. It might not sound like much, but it is far better than most games and can make a significant difference to your winnings over time.

Learning the basic strategy

It’s unlikely that a brick-and-mortar casino will let you take strategy tables to the blackjack table, so you need to learn it beforehand in order to know instinctively what to do as soon as you see your cards. The margins are already very tight, so there is no ‘good enough’ here; you have to be perfect. Getting 98% of your calls right just hands another 2% edge to the house, giving blackjack about the same return as roulette, despite all your hard work.

You need to practice and practice your basic blackjack strategy until you are faultless before you start playing. Different people learn in different ways, with some memorizing the visual image of the tables while others see patterns or simply learn by rote. One easy way is to download blank tables and fill them in every day until you know them by heart. Of course, if you play blackjack online, you can simply print out the basic strategy tables and have them in front of you while you play.

Other ways to reduce the house edge

There are many subtle variations in blackjack rules, and you can improve your chances of winning by choosing the right game. Make sure the dealer has to stand on all 17s, because if they can hit on a soft 17, the house edge increases by 0.2%. Games that allow early surrender, before the dealer checks for blackjack, can cut the house edge by 0.624%, while the option of doubling after splitting will also reduce the house edge by 0.13%.

These may all seem like small increments, but they will soon add up over the course of your play, so choose your table or your game carefully. The table rules, especially the policy on 17s, are normally printed on the playing surface, but if you are unsure, you should always ask. Never play on a table that you know reduces your chances; there’s always another game in town.

The basic strategy may seem like a lot of hard work, but it is well worth it in the end. Remember, the hardest work has already been done for you by the computer, which has already played millions upon millions of hands on your behalf. All you have to do to turn yourself into a serious blackjack player is to learn the results.

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