Ultimate blackjack strategy

 It worked for Ken Uston, who won millions!

Last week, we recounted the exploits of Ken Uston, who during the 1970s and 1980s raked millions of dollars from casinos playing high-stakes blackjack in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

This week, we will review Uston’s basic strategy for blackjack, which he published in a pamphlet called "Dollars and Sense: The Ultimate in Blackjack Strategy."

So here, in his own words so to speak, is Ken Uston’s basic strategy.

Hard Hitting and Standing

There are only three hitting and standing rules for hard hands, but they are most important rules – ones which you will use in by far the majority of hands.

• If the dealer has a 2 or 3 upcard, hit until you have a total of 13 (yes, you hit 12). Obviously, if you have a total greater than 13, you stand.

• If the dealer has a 4, 5 or 6, you do not allow yourself to bust – stand on any total of 12 or more. For your general information, then the dealer has a 5 upcard, he is most likely to bust 43 percent of the time. With a 6 upcard, he’ll bust an average of 42 percent of the time, and with a 4, 40 percent of the time.

• If the dealer has a 7, 8, 9, 10 or ace upcard, you hit until you have a total of 17 or better (yes, you hit that 16 against a 10) – unless you can surrender, which will be discussed later.

Soft Hitting and Standing

A soft hand is one in which the ace can be counted as 1 or 11. In all cases, you must hit soft hands until you get at least soft 18. Thus, you never stand on A-6; that hand should always be hit or doubled down on, as we will see later.

When the dealer has a 9, 10 or ace upcard, hit until soft 19 (you hit A-7 in those cases). If you hit A-7 with, say, a 7, you then have a hard hand (hard 15 in this case) and must revert to the hard-hitting rules listed above. Thus you would now hit your hard 15 until you attain a total of hard 17 or better.

Pair-Splitting

The rules of pair-splitting are simply learned. They are:

• always split aces

• split 8’s against dealer 2 through 9 upcard (8’s are surrendered against a 10 or ace)

• split 9’s if the dealer has 2 through 9 showing, but not against a 7 (a crutch to remember the 7 exception is that you have 18 and the dealer is likely to have 17, thus you should not split)

• split 7’s if the dealer has a 2 through 7

• split 6’s if the dealer has a 2 through 6

• split 4’s if the dealer has a 5 or 6

• split 3’s and 2’s if the dealer has a 2 through 7.

Doubling Down

The rules for doubling down are also worth memorizing:

• double on 11 if the dealer has a 2 through 10 showing

• double on 10 if the dealer has 2 through 9

• double on 9 if the dealer has 3 through 6

• double on A-7 and A-6 if the dealer has 3 through 6

• double on A-5 and A-4 if the dealer has 4 through 6

• double on A-3 and A-2 if the dealer has 5 or 6.

If you have split pairs and are allowed to double down after splitting, obviously do so.

Surrender

Where permitted, this is a favorable rule for the player as he can save half his bet in situations where the odds are against him. Consider surrendering, depending on what the dealer shows:

• versus an ace: Surrender all hard totals of 5, 6, and 7 and also 12 through 17 (yes, toss in your 17’s against a dealer ace);

• versus a 10: Surrender all hard totals of 14, 15 and 16 (this includes 7-7 and 8-8);

• versus a 9: Surrender 16 if you have 10-6 or 9-7, but split 8-8.