Blackjack: What is Basic Strategy?

Almost everyone knows the goal of blackjack: try to get closer than the dealer to a card total of 21 without going over. Pretty simple, no? But is it all guessing about what you need to do when you get a particular sequence of cards? The easy answer is no and hopefully I’ll give you a bit more information about how you can educate yourself on the right decisions.

Back in the 50’s, there was a group of bored mathematicians who wondered what the proper action was for a player who is dealt his first two cards and could only see the dealers upcard in blackjack. They determined a testing method that I won’t go in to here but I can tell you that they fed their data into a bunch of calculators and a computer, had it play several million hands (remember this is the 50s. That would have taken a ridiculous amount of time) and waited for the results.

After analyzing the results, they created what would eventually become modern day basic strategy for the game based on millions of simulated blackjack hands. For example and generally speaking, if you have a five and a six (or a 7,4 or an 8,3 or 9,2) totaling 11 and the dealer is showing any up card, you double down, every time. The odds are just slightly in your favour ranging from 58.3% (against a dealer 2) down to 49.1% (against a dealer Ace).

Now you know that every time you have an 11 you’re going to double down because it’s the right action to take based on probability. Now, learn the action for each of the other sets of cards you might receive and you will know exactly what to do at the table, every time.

One interesting thing about Blackjack is that it has the smallest house advantage among all the games on a casino floor even before you take into account basic strategy. This allows for many benefits like free drinks, resort credit, free buffets and complimentary hotel room offers at a very low risk to the player.  Notice I didn’t say risk free? But it’s pretty close enough to even that playing is a great way to spend a few hours at the tables and enjoy a classic Las Vegas activity.

The video below talks about a simplified basic strategy by Michael Shackleford, a very clever guy who approaches gambling from a very mathematical approach. Michael has a whole series of videos on how to play blackjack intelligently that would prepare anyone to play in Vegas.

One further thing I’ll say about risk. Remember, this is a game of probabilities (not inevitability)  and you could lose some money or win some money. Either way it’s important that if you decide you want to try your hand at Blackjack you should do it with a bankroll (your gambling ‘fun money’) that you can afford to lose. Trust me, you won’t enjoy playing the game and losing if it’s with money you really don’t want to lose.