Learn the strategy, please

Aug 31, 2004 5:01 AM

It’s been demonstrated through computer simulation and the actual playing experiences of skillful players that the casino game of blackjack can be beaten. Yet, cynical players often ask out loud that, if blackjack can be beat, why would the casinos offer the game to the public? After all, they are in business to make money.

The first reason why the beatable game of blackjack is such a big moneymaker for the casinos is because most average players don’t take the time to learn how to play properly.

When we say blackjack is beatable, this applies only in the case of skillful players. Specifically, these players have put in the effort to learn the correct strategies that can be used to help them increase the size of the bet.

Fortunately for the casinos, these skillful players represent only a very small percentage of the population that plays blackjack. In essence, the publicity that blackjack gets as the "beatable" game is the lure that brings the masses to the tables. And with no knowledge or skills on how to play and bet, these players are doomed to lose and their losses far outweigh the monies won by the skillful players.

So why do casinos tolerate skillful players that can win more than they lose over the long run? Actually, some casinos don’t tolerate card counters and go to great lengths to try to catch and bar them from playing.

Moreover, in recent years some casinos have "put the screws" to blackjack players by altering the payoff from 3-2 for a natural blackjack to 6-5, as well as other measures that swing the house advantage further in their favor.

Usually, extreme measures on the part of casinos only occur with players who wager very large amounts since they have the potential of winning big. For the average $5 to $25 bettor who is content to walk with a couple hundred dollar win, the casinos usually tolerate this as the cost of doing business.

So why don’t unskilled blackjack players take the time to at least learn the correct basic playing strategy instead of their convoluted strategy? Here is their usual response.

"I only play blackjack a couple of times a month. I don’t play enough to invest my time to learn the basic strategy."

But that’s silly. Once you learn the basic strategy, you’ll have a skill that you can use for the rest of your life. If you enjoy playing blackjack even as infrequently as once a month, you still have a lot to gain in your lifetime by learning this strategy.

Or how about this excuse:

"I learned the basic strategy but I still lose. My strategy works better."

It’s true that it is possible to experience several consecutive losing sessions even using the basic strategy. This is not because the strategy doesn’t work but because of the inherent variability of the game. The bottom line is that you will always fare better using the basic strategy over the long run than any other type of playing strategy.

Here’s another misconception.

"You need a tremendous bankroll to win appreciable amounts."

I started playing blackjack 25 years ago at $1 a hand with a $100 bankroll. The key is to increase your bets in proportion to your bankroll. As I began to win, I increased my bet size and started to win more. You don’t need to start with a big bankroll.

Blackjack is a beatable game. Take the time to learn the strategy, learn how to bet properly and you will have the winning edge. Believe me, winning is a lot better than the alternatives!

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.