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Blackjack basic 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 cards).

Blackjack basic strategies and tips to play the game better 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 soft totals.

Hard Totals

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.

Soft Totals

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 higher.
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 or 6.
12 This, of course, consists of a pair of aces, which should be split at all times.

Card Counting

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

More in Casino School:

 Blackjack tips for hard totals
 Blackjack - the game and basic strategy



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