The beauty of blackjack is that the game has been “solved” so to speak, which means an optimal strategy exists for every single situation a player can encounter during the game. Of course, knowing exactly which move to make, as well as when to make it can become a difficult task.
The term “basic strategy” is used when referencing perfect blackjack play, and if you’re serious about playing blackjack in any capacity above recreation, learning basic strategy is an essential step. Fortunately, basic strategy boils down to a set of rules that dictate when you should hit and when you should stay – with each decision depending on the precise cards in your hand and the dealer’s up card. This means you can commit these rules to memory, which should ensure that you’re playing optimally (or as close to optimally as you possibly can).
Employing basic blackjack strategy at the tables is a winning move because this lowers the house edge on the game to less than 1 percent in games with good rules – making it the most advantageous opportunity for players on the casino floor.
You can learn basic strategy by studying tables and other resources online or in books. These resources can be presented in textual form, but the most useful way to study basic strategy comes in a convenient grid that organizes all possible situations according to two variables: your hand and the dealer’s up card.
The premise of basic strategy is that for every possible starting hand players can receive, an optimal play exists based on the dealer’s up card. As an example, consider one of the most difficult spots a blackjack player can encounter: being dealt a 12. Hitting seems like the right play because you’re quite far from 21, but with so many 10s in the deck, drawing one of these puts you at 22 and bust. Staying can be dangerous too, because the dealer needs only to produce a 17 or higher to win, while hitting on hands 16 or lower still gives them a great chance at catching up.
According to basic strategy, however, you should always stand on 12 when the dealer is showing a 4, 5, or 6, and you should always hit in all other situations. By parsing the game down into straightforward, binary decisions like this, basic blackjack strategy removes much of the gamble and gives the player a better shot at overcoming the odds against them
Basic strategy also produces hard and fast rules for players to live by. One of these holds that you should never split two 10s. It may seem like a good idea to split 10s and try to make two good hands rather than one, but blackjack experts advise against this play, as the risk is just not worth the potential reward.
On the other hand, experts recommend always splitting aces or eights. The justification for this play is that beginning with two aces gives you a total of 2 – which will need tons of help to improve to 21. Two eights gives you a 16, which is the worst total you can have in blackjack. Splitting the first combo gives you two aces, and assuming you get dealt 10-value cards, two separate 21 totals. Splitting two eights could leave you with two 18s, which is a great total.
Finally, whenever your two cards total 11, you should double down every time. This gives you one shot at drawing a 10 (or another high card) from the deck, and when you do, you’ll double your winnings.