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Continuing on the topic of Blackjack, I will discuss a few key strategic decisions this week.

This is not meant to replace learning the entire strategy for Blackjack. Rather, it will hopefully quickly have you turn away from some bad decisions and send you on the path of seeking the complete strategy.

There are two ways to win in Blackjack. If the dealer busts and you have not, you win. Or if you both have not busted and your point total is greater than the dealer’s, you win. The house gets its advantage in Blackjack because if you both bust, the house wins and the player must go first.

Learn the basics of blackjack strategy

We must make the right decisions to maximize our wins from this. The first part of this is realizing that you win if the dealer busts, no matter what hand you have. There is no difference if your final hand is 12, 13, 14, 15 or 16.  The only way you win is if the dealer busts.

It is no surprise that 10’s are the most common cards in a Blackjack shoe (when you consider Face cards as 10). So, if the dealer has a 7, 8, 9, 10 or Ace as his up-card, there is a strong likelihood that he will not be busting.  Thus, anytime the dealer has a 7 thru Ace up and you have a 12 through 16, you should be hitting. The only exception to this is the few times that you should surrender (if allowed). We’ll focus on this in a future column.

I know a lot of players hesitate to hit a 16. This is understandable. Roughly 8 out of 13 times (more than 61 percent), you will bust and lose. Even if you don’t bust, there is no guarantee you will win. You may draw only an Ace, leaving you with 17. This will increase your chances of winning, but not by much – especially if the dealer has a 10 up. In the end, you will have only a roughly 29 percent chance of winning.

If you choose to stand, this will decrease to about 27 percent change. Either way, it isn’t pretty. But, just like video poker, sometimes the choices are not pretty, but that doesn’t make them any less important.

The situation only gets a bit better with lower player hands. When the player has a 14, he has less chance of busting and essentially the same chance of getting a 17 thru 21. Thus, the argument for hitting these hands only becomes stronger.

Watch a live table before you play blackjack for the first time 

Similarly, as the dealer’s up-card goes from 7 to 10 or Ace, the probability of the dealer busting goes down, again strengthening the case for hitting.

On the other side of this, we have the hands where the dealer has a 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 as an up-card. These are commonly called “Bust Cards” as the dealer is far more likely to bust. Thus, the player’s decision to hit or stick does a nearly 180-degree turn.

It would be incorrect to say we never hit in these cases (when the player risks busting), but almost never.  In fact, there are only two cases when the player should hit. When the player has a 12 against a dealer’s 2 or 3. That is it.

To be clear, there are other circumstances where it is close. For example, if the player has a 13 and the dealer has a 2 up, the player does about a 1-2 percent better by sticking vs. hitting. This may not sound like a lot. But when you add up all the cases with a 2 percent or less difference in strategy, this will add up.

We are talking about a game with a 0.5 percent house advantage. You don’t want to triple it to 1.5 percent by playing all these hands incorrectly.

You’re not going to earn Blackjack’s 99.5 percent payback by just doing what I’ve mentioned here. But if you haven’t been following this strategy and start doing so, you will quickly notice the difference in your bankroll.

About the Author

Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome’s roots run deep into gaming theory and analysis. His father, Lenny, was a pioneer in developing video poker strategy in the 1980s and is credited with raising its popularity to dizzying heights. Elliot is a second generation gaming author and analyst with nearly 20 years of programming experience.

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