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Basic strategy is key to 21

Jun 22, 2004 1:44 AM

Blackjack or "21" is the casino’s most popular table game. The rules are simple to learn, and, if sound basic strategy is followed, the player can greatly reduce the casino’s edge and possibly swing it in his favor.

The key is understanding "basic strategy." Card dealers in this town often express amazement at how some players simply play foolishly.

The play begins with the dealer distributing two cards to each player and two to himself. In addition to standing pat, the player may double down or split pairs.

By doubling down, the player doubles his initial bet and accepts one additional card to complete his hand.

By splitting pairs, the player also doubles his bet but separates his two identical cards into two separate hands, to which he draws additional cards. Each hand is played separately, taking hits as needed. The only exception is that a player who splits aces is only allowed to take one additional card for each ace. If that additional card is another ace, however, the player can split again.

Doubling down and splitting are powerful techniques to increase your chances of winning.

Basic Strategy

The basic winning strategy for blackjack, based on computer-generated studies, is given below. It tells the player when to hit, stand, double down or split pairs, depending on the dealer’s up card. Using basic strategy is not prohibited in casinos, and many dealers are allowed or even encouraged to advise gamblers as to how to properly play. In fact, most casinos don’t mind if players use a "crib sheet" that charts the strategy.

Hit or Stand: With a hard hand (no aces) against the dealer’s 7 or higher, the player should hit until he reaches at least 17. With a hard hand against the dealer’s 4, 5 or 6, stand on a 12 or higher; if against dealer’s 2 or 3, hit a 12. With a soft hand hit all totals of 17 or lower. Against a dealer’s 9 or 10, hit a soft 18.

Doubling Down: Double down on any 11, no matter what the dealer shows. Double down on 10 when dealer shows anything except a 10 (dealer’s "10" also includes face cards). Double down on 9 when dealer shows 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6. Double down on soft 17 (Ace-6) if dealer shows 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6. Double down on soft 18 (Ace-7) if dealer shows a 3, 4, 5 or 6. Double down on soft 13, 14, 15 or 16 against dealer’s 4, 5 or 6.

Splitting Pairs: Always split aces and 8-8. Never split 5-5 or 10-10. Split 4-4 against the dealer’s 5 or 6. Split 9-9 against the dealer’s 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8 or 9. Split 7-7 against the dealer’s 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7. Split 6-6 against the dealer’s 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6. Split 2-2 and 3-3 against the dealer’s 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7.