strategies and tips to play the game better
Below are some helpful hints
based on Basic Strategy play (assuming multi-deck game where the
dealer must stand on soft 17; reference to a 10 includes picture
Being able to refer during the game to any useful notes we make
is obviously an advantage of playing online, as is not being
pressured by other players and spectators who are prone to
having an opinion on the correctness of your play.
Pairs: To Split or Not to Split
That is the question. The answer depends on which pair we have,
the dealer's up card and the facility to double after splitting,
but is fairly easy to get to grips with. In the case of aces,
for example, regardless of the dealer's up card, and even taking
into account receiving only one card per ace, it makes sense to
have two lots of 11 at our disposal rather than one bite at the
cherry with 2 by leaving them together. It goes without saying
that 10s are best left untouched, 20 being too good a hand to
mess with. Similarly, with a pair of 5s a Basic Strategy player
should automatically never split as 10 is a good foundation hand
which also has doubling potential.
Another automatic Basic Strategy choice is to split 8s because
16 is a particularly unhealthy total and should therefore be
avoided if we have the opportunity to do so - irrespective of
what the dealer shows. If this is a 6, for example, splitting
the 8s is the correct option because the odds are favorable
compared with taking the 16, after which we are caught between a
rock and a hard place. Against a 10, meanwhile, we are not too
happy either way, but splitting is still the lesser evil even if
this runs the risk of a double loss, as 16 versus the dealer's
10 is simply too big a handicap in comparison.
The following guidelines on whether or not to split pairs are
just that - guidelines. Different game rules and conditions
might mean tweaking them a little but, in the main, these are
what we would consider part of Basic Strategy:
Aces Always split.
10s Never split.
9s Split when the dealer has 2 to 6, 8 or 9. Otherwise, stand
when faced with a 7, 10 or Ace.
8s Always split.
7s Split when the dealer shows a 2 to 7.
6s Split when the dealer shows a 3, 4, 5 or 6. If post-split
doubling is allowed split 6s when facing a 2.
5s Never split.
4s If doubling after splitting is allowed it is desirable to
split 4s when the dealer shows a 5 or 6. Otherwise don't split.
3s and 2s If doubling after splitting is allowed these pairs
should be split when the dealer shows an up card from 2 to 7.
With no post-split doubling split only when the dealer shows a
4, 5, 6 or 7.
The general conundrum blackjack players face is what to with
awkward looking totals and awkward looking dealer's up cards, a
typically agonizing decision being that which features two poor
hands that could feasibly bust. To add to the confusion there is
the usage of the ace as 11 or 1, giving us so-called hard and
A hard total is a hand which does not feature an ace that counts
as 11. For example a 10 and 7 combine to make a hard total of
17, whereas a 6 and ace make soft 17 (i.e. 17 or 7). Hard total
situations are much easier to handle than those featuring soft
totals because the prospect of going bust tends to rule out
taking another card when the total is too close to 21 for
comfort. Of course life is never easy, particularly when money
is concerned, and the process is not automatic.
Let's have a look at how Basic Strategy points us in the right
direction regarding hard totals:
17 to 21 Always stand.
13 to 16 Stand if the dealer's up card is from 2 to 6 inclusive.
Hit if the dealer's up card is 7 or higher.
12 Stand if the dealer's up card is 4, 5 or 6. Hit if the
dealer's up card is 2 or 3, or 7 or higher.
11 Double down in the case of all up cards other than an ace.
Hit when facing an ace.
10 Double down in the case of all up cards other than an ace or
a 10. Hit when facing an ace or 10.
9 Double down if the dealer's up card is from 3 to 6 inclusive
(hit all other times).
8 or less Hit.
There is a little irony in the term 'soft' here as the element
of danger to the well-being of the one's bankroll is ever
present. A soft hand is one which includes an ace with dual
values of 1 or 11, the point being that drawing a card on 16
soft, for example, cannot bust the player.
Alas, with the flexibility of choice comes the greater
opportunity to make the wrong decision, so this particular
situation is worth giving extra thought as here the benefits of
adhering to Basic Strategy are especially relevant.
Obviously with 21, 20 and even 19 the hand is too good to be
messed with. However, while 18 also seems a very favorable
total, the crucial factor is the dealer's up card which, perhaps
surprisingly, is more significant than many players might think.
Those who follow their own, personal 'basic' commonsense
strategy might automatically stand on 18 as they would with 19.
This is in fact the wrong move when the dealer's up card is 9 or
higher. When facing a 2, 7 or 8 it is correct to stand, while
against 3 to 6 it is time to be aggressive and double.
17 is another soft total that can lead to trouble in the
long-term if treated incorrectly. Being afraid to break an
ostensibly decent total with a hit is illogical because standing
will win only if the dealer busts, while hitting involves no
risk and introduces the possibility of improving. 17 should
always be hit, and the only decision concerns whether to double
(if possible). The same goes for soft totals of 16 down to 13.
19, 20 or 21 Always stand.
18 Hit if the dealer's up card is a 9, 10 or ace. Stand against
a 2, 7 or 8. With a three (or more) card total stand against 4,
5 or 6.
With a two card total double down against 4, 5 or 6.
13 to 17 Always hit with three or more cards. With a two card
total of 17 hit against a 2, or a 7 or higher.
With a two card total of 17 double down against 3 to 6.
With a two card total of 15 or 16 hit against 2, 3 or a 7 or
With a two card total of 15 or 16 double against 4 to 6.
With a two card total of 13 or 14 hit against 2, 3, 4 or a 7 or
higher. With a two card total of 13 or 14 double down against 5
12 This, of course, consists of a pair of aces, which should be
split at all times.
A number of online casinos offer minimal penetration in that
they actually deal a couple of their decks, although dealing out
two of eight decks, for example, hardly seems generous. So while
in theory it is possible to derive something from this limited
card counting online, it is far from practical because in order
to cope with the fluctuations it would be necessary to have both
a larger bankroll than is the case in a bricks and mortar casino
and, of course, to spend more time playing.
One 'advantage' of blackjack online if you do give card counting
a go is - unlike the real world (unfortunately) - being able to
cope with negative decks by simply exiting the game and then
returning, thus re-starting with a fresh shuffle. Nevertheless,
the genuinely skilled card counter is better off finding his way
to a real casino.
Published on 08/02/2007
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