We will assume that you already understand the rules of blackjack. If you do not, there are many articles on Counting Edge which will help you learn how the game is played. The first step to becoming a successful blackjack player is the mastery of basic strategy.
What is basic blackjack strategy? Basic strategy applies to the decisions you will make when playing blackjack. On every hand you will be faced with a decision. You will hit, stand, double down, split, take insurance, or surrender your hand. Knowing which decision to make in each and every circumstance is crucial to your blackjack success. Basic strategy lets you know which play to make in every situation.
In many ways, blackjack is a game of variables. The cards change, the count changes, and the number of players at the table can change. The fact is, however, that there are many aspects of successful blackjack which do not change but always remain the same. These constants are the things addressed by basic strategy.
Basic strategy basically provides you with a formula. That formula says that when you act on your hand in a specific way against a specific dealer card, your chances of winning the hand greatly increase. For example, when the dealer shows a 6 you will stand on almost every total greater than 12. Why is this? It is because the chances that the dealer will bust are much higher when he shows a 6. Therefore, any total you hold will be good enough to win the hand.
Does basic strategy work each and every time? Of course not. Nothing works 100% of the time in a game of chance. That is why it is called gambling. There is always a risk that the dealer won’t bust when he shows that 6. Since we cannot accurately predict what the outcome of each hand will be, we must rely on probability theory to make our decisions.
Entire college classes are taught on probability theory. A full examination of this concept is way beyond our scope here, but we can give an example that will help you understand why probability theory is so important. Let’s say that you and your friend are going to make a bet on the outcome of the Kentucky Derby horse race. Let’s also say that in this Kentucky Derby there are only two horses in the race—Horse A and Horse B. Horse A is a 3 year old stud who began racing this year. Horse B is a three year old stud that began racing late last year. The horses are equally matched in speed and both of them have won races. They are in all respects identical except for the year in which they began their racing career. Horse A began his at age 3. Horse B began his at age 2. Which horse would you bet on?
You might think that either bet is good because both horses have a 50-50 chance of winning. Perhaps you like how Horse A looks. He is snorting and dancing around and looks ready to destroy the competition. You will bet on him.
But what if I told you that the last horse to win the Kentucky Derby without having a race at age 2 was Apollo, who won in 1882! 129 of the last 130 Kentucky Derbies have been won by horses that began their racing career when they were 2 years old. How do you feel about your bet on Horse A now?
This story is a good illustration of probability theory. It says that if you made the same bet with your friend 130 times, betting on the same horse every time, you would lose 129 times out of 130. Your friend will be happy to bet with you again next year.
What does this have to do with blackjack? Probability theory says that whenever the dealer shows that 6 like we mentioned earlier he will bust most of the time. Therefore, you must bet with the probability that the dealer will bust in order to make a consistent profit over time. It is simple mathematics.
Trying to figure out the probabilities for each and every hand of blackjack would take you many years of analysis. This is where basic strategy comes in. Basic strategy takes the probability theory associated with different scenarios in blackjack and expresses it in a table which gives you the correct play to make in every situation. If you stick with the basic strategy you will be making the correct play as determined by probability theory.
Here is the Counting Edge chart for basic blackjack strategy:
On the left hand side, in the green column, you will see the hand you hold. Across the top, also in green, is the dealer’s face-up card. Using the legend at the bottom, find where the two hands intersect and you will have the correct play to make for this situation based on probability theory.
Your first exercise in the Counting Edge blackjack system is to memorize this basic strategy chart. Get out your decks of cards and deal yourself hand after hand of blackjack until you can make the correct play each and every time from memory. Some players will print a copy of the basic strategy chart and use it at the blackjack table. This is not recommended. Memorize it and do not play live blackjack until you have done so.
Going against basic blackjack strategy is one of the worst mistakes you can ever make as a blackjack player. Do not do it. Always remember the story of the horses we gave above. Always make the decision that has the highest probability of winning.