Blackjack isn’t really analyzed any differently than any other game. It essentially comes down to determining your possible plays at any point in time and then figuring out which one results in the highest unit wins or lowest unit losses.
The first thing you might notice is I did not say whichever strategy results in the highest expected value. The term expected value, while applicable to all games originated out of video poker where the Player makes a wager before the deal and that is the only one for the duration of the game.
When we decide to hold 2 or 4 cards, the wager amount is the same. Thus, the expected value can be used to determine the best play. If one possible way to play the hand has a 0.87 expected value and the other a 0.67, both of these are based on the same size wager.
This is not the case in every game.
In blackjack, when the Player has a 10 or an 11, he will often think of doubling down – doubling his wager. Since the expected value is effectively the percent of the wager the Player has returned to him, which would you prefer – a 1.05 expected value of a 1-unit wager or a 1.03 expected value of a 2-unit wager?
The former will result in a net win of 0.05 and the latter a net win of 0.06. You want the latter. So, the first thing to realize is, when looking at blackjack, the critical number is not the expected value but the net win or loss of the strategy option.
Unlike video poker, blackjack strategy builds on other strategy. I can’t know what to do with a Hard 12 unless I know what to do with a Hard 16. The net win or loss of a Hard 12 is based on exactly how I would play a Hard 16 if I were to draw a 4 on the Hard 12. It is for this reason we start by analyzing a Hard 20.
To do this, I run a fixed number of hands (usually 10,000 or 100,000) of this scenario. With a Hard 20 (2 10’s/faces), the Player might Hit, Stick or Split (I feel comfortable using common sense to say he won’t Double!). I look at the results of each of these options (Hit/Stick/Split) and determine which one has the highest net win or lowest net loss. This is the proper strategy for this situation. Obviously, proper strategy in this case is always to stick.
Next, I repeat the process for a Hard 19. When I simulate the possibility of the Player hitting this hand, I make sure if is dealt an Ace he follows the strategy that has already been determined for a Hard 20. Again, I will find that I should always stick.
I then repeat this process for Hard 18 down to Hard 12. Each time, I use the strategy determined for the Higher hand to know what to do when I hit the lower hand. So, when I get down to a Hard 12, I know if I wind up hitting a 2 (to get to 14), I follow the strategy that has already been determined to be optimal for a Hard 14 against whichever up card the Dealer has.
When I get to a Hard 11, I need to include the possibility the Player will double. This will cause his wager to double to 2 units per hand and I must take this into account when I determine if the Player is better off Doubling or Hitting. Also, when I get to a Hard 11, I can remove the option to stick.
It is fairly obvious the Player would never stick on an 11 or below – at least not in regular blackjack. I also need to take into account that when the Dealer has a 10/Face or an Ace up that if the Dealer has Blackjack, the Player will only lose his base wager and not his double down.
I continue the process until I get down to a Hard 5 (the lowest possible Hard Hand that is not a Pair). I start with Hard Hands before Soft Hands and Pairs because these may turn into Hard Hands. A Hard Hand cannot turn into a Pair of Soft Hands.
After the Hard Hands have all been analyzed, I move on to the Soft Hands. All of the Soft Hands must be looked at with a potential to Double Down, Hit or Stick (except Soft 16 to Soft 13, which can never be Stick).
Last, the Pairs are analyzed. These can be the most complex as the Player might Double after a Split, etc. So, the overall wager is a bit more varied than Hard or Soft Hands. Also, Hands like Pairs of 4’s or Pairs of 5’s must be looked at to determine if splitting or doubling is preferable.
Once all the options are looked at, a strategy table can be created showing what the Player should do in every possible circumstance. You may have noticed that in this analysis, nothing differentiates between a 7-5 and an 8-4 for a Hard 12. For 99.9% of these situations, it will not matter at all. For the remaining 0.1%, I simply believe the impact is too little for you to concern yourself with.
The likelihood of you making a mistake is far greater than the few pennies you might lose over time by not varying your play by these composite specific hands. If you’ve mastered basic strategy for blackjack, then you can go in search of these nuances.
I’ve used this type of analysis for Spanish 21, Free Bet Blackjack, Blackjack Switch and regular blackjack. It is a bit more complex than analyzing video poker, but the same basic concepts exist in both.
Standard Chart- Atlantic City Multiple Deck Blackjack Strategy
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Elliot Frome is a second generation gaming analyst and author. His math credits include Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Mississippi Stud, House Money and many other games. His website is www.gambatria.com. Contact Elliot at [email protected].