Blackjack Basic Strategy: Improve Your Game - galabingo

Blackjack Basic Strategy: Improve Your Game

The Importance Of Mastering Basic Strategy In Blackjack

The Importance Of Mastering Basic Strategy In Blackjack

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One of the most iconic casino games of all time, blackjack is simple to learn and easy to play. The aim is straightforward: beat the dealer by getting closer to 21 without busting. 

But although the core principles of blackjack are simple, if you want to improve your chances of winning, there's much more to learn. Blackjack basic strategy is a system that helps players to choose their next move and enhances the probability of success. The odds of winning blackjack with basic strategy are much better - although, of course, there's no such thing as a guaranteed win!

The house edge is the enemy of the player; the lower it is, the better chance it is for the player to win. Blackjack has a very competitive house edge of around 2%, but using a blackjack basic strategy chart, it's possible to reduce this to just 0.5%. 

One of the reasons that blackjack has remained so popular is that it's not just about good fortune and taking potluck. Certainly, you can play blackjack that way, but if you play more strategically, it becomes a game of skill and expertise - and you'll increase the chances of winning. 

You don’t need to be a casino expert to learn and apply blackjack basic strategy. It’s much easier and more reliable than card counting, and any player can learn how to use it. 

This guide will give you the complete lowdown on basic strategy, blackjack and how to memorise the charts. From the foundations of blackjack basic strategy practice right through to the more complicated moves, you’ll find everything you need to know here. 

Before we start delving into the UK blackjack basic strategy chart details, we'll just briefly cover the rules of the game. If you're already familiar with blackjack and how to play, you can skip to the next section, which starts to look at the foundation of blackjack basic strategy. 

Understanding The Rules Of Blackjack

1. The Goal Of The Game

Although there may be several players seated at any blackjack table, the only person you are trying to beat is the dealer. Your goal is to get closer to a score of 21 than the dealer without busting (going over 21). 

You'll be dealt two cards initially, and it's up to you whether you stand (stick with the two cards you have) or hit (take another card). The risk is that by hitting, the next card that is revealed could take your score tally above 21, busting your hand and giving the dealer an automatic win. This careful balance of risk and reward is the reason why basic strategy is so important. 

2. Card Values

The score in your hand is counted by adding up the value of the cards. Each card is worth the same as its face value, with picture cards (jack, queen, and king) all worth 10. 

Aces can be worth either 1 or 11, depending on what suits your hand. 

3. Dealing And Playing Procedures

Traditionally blackjack is played at a semi-circle table with the players seated around the curved edge and the dealer opposite. This provides all players with a clear view of the dealer and the cards dealt. 

The game begins with every player, and the dealer, being dealt two cards. These are face-up as the game doesn’t require any secrecy. The only exception is the dealer; just one of the dealer’s cards is face-up. This provides a clue to the hand that the dealer may have. 

Each player is free to implement whatever playing strategy they choose, but the dealer must adhere to a very strict set of rules. These rules determine when the dealer must stand or hit. There’s no deviation or personal judgement permitted; the dealer must always take the action that the rules state. 

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The Blackjack Basic Strategy Foundation

What Is Blackjack Basic Strategy?

In the 1950s, four mathematicians led by Roger Baldwin developed a system for playing blackjack that was based on mathematical probability. Worked out painstakingly over many weeks simply with the use of calculators; later have ascertained that this system was extremely accurate (to within a couple of percentage points). 

This system became known as blackjack basic strategy and forms the cornerstone of what players still use today to improve their odds of winning. It has been refined slightly over the years to offer even greater precision and to provide variations (such as single and multiple deck charts).

With basic strategy blackjack players know exactly what move to make, as it doesn't leave anything to chance. There's no personal judgement; the blackjack basic strategy chart shows when the player should stand, hit, or make one of the more complex moves (such as splitting our doubling down).

The blackjack basic strategy can sometimes feel uncomfortable for the player, especially if the recommended move isn't what the player would naturally choose to do. However, the process has been proven to have the best probability of winning, so it's highly advisable to follow it on every hand rather than picking and choosing when to adopt it. 

At this point, it's worth stressing that basic strategy doesn't guarantee you'll win. But it will give you the best statistical chance of winning, which is the next best thing. Learn more about Blackjack for beginners.

Blackjack Basic Strategy Charts

1. The Role Of Basic Strategy Charts

You don't need to be a mathematician yourself to be able to follow blackjack basic strategy. However, there are so many different variations; it's hard to follow when you first start to learn the technique. 

Luckily, there are basic strategy charts to make the process easier. There is a separate chart for each type of hand - more about that below - so it’s easy to check what your next move should be. Memorising these charts means that you can implement basic strategy quickly and seamlessly in any type of live blackjack game.

2. How To Read And Use Basic Strategy Charts

You’ll need to know the blackjack rules before you will understand the basic strategy charts. However, once you know how to play blackjack, the basic strategy charts are simple to read and use. 

The top line correlates to the visible dealer's card, while the far left column shows the hand you have. Find the square where the top and the side lines intersect, and you'll have your next move. 

It's not illegal to have basic strategy charts out during gameplay, but it's considered to be poor etiquette. It's therefore advisable to memorise them so you don't slow any of the hands down. 

3. Customising Basic Strategy Charts For Specific Rule Variations

Basic strategy can be applied to any game of blackjack, but the charts vary slightly depending on the rules being played. To get the very best possible results and to maximise the benefits of mathematical probability, it’s advisable to make sure you’re using the charts that apply to the blackjack variation you’re playing. 

We’re going to look at this in a bit more detail next. 

Implementing Basic Strategy In Various Game Situations

1. Hard Hands

Hard Hands - galabingo

A hard hand is one that doesn’t contain an ace. This is the blackjack basic strategy chart for players holding a hard hand:

2. Soft Hands

Soft Hands - galabingo

A soft hand is one that contains an ace. This is the blackjack basic strategy chart for players with a soft hand:

3. Pairs

There is a separate blackjack basic strategy chart for a hand that contains a pair:

Splitting Pairs - galabingo

Before deciding whether to split, it’s advisable to check whether the casino has any restrictive rules about hitting and resplitting after you’ve split a pair. 

Advanced Concepts Related To Blackjack Basic Strategy

1. Understanding The House Edge

The house edge is the statistical advantage that the casino holds. The lower the house edge, the better odds there are for the player to win. 

The house edge is calculated over a very large volume of turns and is an average expected return. The actual experience of an individual player during a single session may be nowhere near the published house edge. This is because the number of games played isn’t sufficient for the overall results to match what is predicted. 

Reducing the house edge is extremely beneficial for players as it means there’s a higher likelihood of a win. Basic strategy uses mathematical calculations and the laws of probability to lower the house edge in blackjack.

2. Surrender

There are two types of surrender in blackjack: early surrender and late surrender. Not all casinos allow both types of surrender. 

Early surrender allows players to receive half of their bet back in return for surrendering the hand. This is done before the dealer checks to see if they are holding a natural blackjack. Regardless of whether the dealer has a natural blackjack, the player will receive half of their bet back. 

Late surrender means that the player has to wait to see if the dealer has a natural blackjack. If they don’t, the player will receive half of their bet back. If they do, the player loses all of their bet in the same way as if they’d played the hand. 

Both early and late surrender can form part of blackjack basic strategy, but it’s important to know when to use it and when to play out the hand. 

Based on a multi-deck game of blackjack, you should choose early surrender if:

  • The dealer has an ace and you hold a hard 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, or 17
  • The dealer has an ace and you hold a pair of 3s, 6s, 7s, or 8s
  • The dealer has a 10 and you hold a hard 14, 15, or 16
  • The dealer has a 10 and you hold a pair of 7s or 8s

Based on a multi-deck game of blackjack, you should opt for late surrender if:

  • If the dealer has an ace or 10 and you have 15 (providing the dealer hits on soft 17)
  • If the dealer has a 9, 10 or ace and you hold 16
  • If the dealer has an ace and you hold a pair of 8s, and the casino doesn’t permit doubling down after a split

If the dealer has an ace and hits on soft 17 and you hold 17

3. Insurance And Even Money

Insurance is a type of side bet that you can place if the dealer’s hand is showing an ace. The stake is set at half your main bet and pays out 2:1 if the dealer has a 10 card in the hole (the covered card).

If the dealer isn’t holding blackjack, the insurance side bet will lose. You can still also lose your main bet if the dealer’s hand beats yours. When playing the insurance side bet the house edge increases to around 7% (unless you are counting cards) so it’s almost universally accepted to be a poor value bet. 

Even money is another side bet which is similar to insurance. The even money side bet can be taken if you are holding blackjack and the dealer’s hand shows an ace. Although it offers a guaranteed win, it reduces the overall payout. This is because the dealer will statistically only have blackjack around 30% of the time, so all of the other even money side bets will be a waste. It’s more profitable to take the hit 30% of the time and collect the higher payouts for the remaining 70% of bets. 

Adjusting Basic Strategy For Different Game Variations And Rule Sets

1. Number of decks in play

The number of decks in play alters basic strategy charts, so to take full advantage, it's advisable to use the specific chart. You can find rule sets for every variation of blackjack from single-deck games upwards.

2. Dealer's actions on soft 17

Not all casinos play the same rules for a dealer's hand of soft 17. Traditionally the dealer would stand, and this is the rule that basic strategy is based on. If you're playing a variant of blackjack where the dealer hits on soft 17, you'll need to make some tweaks:

  • The dealer has an ace and you hold 11 - double down, not hit
  • The dealer has a 2 and you hold soft 18 - double down, not stand
  • The dealer has a 6 and you hold soft 19 - double down, not stand

3. Doubling down restrictions

Doubling down is another blackjack rule that varies between casinos and different games of blackjack. If the basic strategy charts say to double down, but the rules don't allow it, simply hit instead. 

4. Re-splitting and hitting split Aces

The ace is an extremely powerful card, and wherever possible, a pair of aces should be split and then hit again. This includes resplitting aces which have already been split. However, casinos often limit what actions players can take with split aces and may only allow the split aces to be hit once. 

Practical Tips For Mastering Blackjack Basic Strategy

1. Memorisation techniques

When factoring in the different variations, there are a large number of moves to memorise in basic strategy. The ultimate goal is to memorise all of the moves for the type of blackjack you like to play, but this may not be practical at first. 

By sacrificing a few percentage points, it’s possible to use a simplified version of basic strategy instead. The rules for this are the same for all variations of blackjack:

  • Stand on a soft 18 or higher
  • Hit on a soft 17 or below
  • Stand on a hard 17 or higher
  • Hit a hard 8 or lower
  • Split 8s and aces
  • Don’t split 10s or 5s
  • Double down on 11 unless the dealer has an ace when you should hit
  • Double down on 10 unless the dealer has a 10 or an ace, when you should hit
  • Double down on 9 if the dealer has 3, 4, 5, or 6 - hit for anything else
  • For a hard 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16 with a dealer card of 7 or higher, hit - otherwise stand

2. Practising with simulators or online games

At Gala Bingo, we've got lots of blackjack demo games that give you an accurate simulation of the real thing, providing valuable experience. These types of practice games are the perfect way to hone your skills and test your application of basic strategy.

3. Staying disciplined and consistent during gameplay

As mentioned higher up in this guide, basic strategy has been meticulously calculated, and it's based on statistical probability. This means that there isn't a better mathematical chance of winning. 

There may be times when you feel uncomfortable with a move, but it's highly advisable to stick with the basic strategy at all times. If you pick and choose when to follow basic strategy, you won't achieve the maximum potential, and you won't decrease the house edge as calculated. 

Final Thoughts

Mastering blackjack basic strategy takes a bit more work at the outset, but the benefits will make it a worthwhile investment of your time in the long run. Using basic strategy means that you will make better, more informed decisions at the blackjack table. You will also benefit from a reduced house edge and a higher probability of winning. 

The simplified basic strategy is a good place to start but to gain full advantage from the system; you'll need to learn the various different charts and how they apply to each type of blackjack. This will allow you to refine your strategy to get the most out of each hand you play. 

Although blackjack is very quick to learn, it's a game of skill and strategy, not just good luck. That means the more you practice, the better you'll become at reading the cards and making the right decision. At Gala Bingo, you'll have the option of playing many different demo blackjack games to sharpen up your skills and reach your very best. 

Blackjack Basic Strategy FAQ

What Is The Blackjack Basic Strategy?

The blackjack basic strategy is a system based on mathematical probability that improves the odds of winning. By using blackjack basic strategy, it’s possible to reduce the house edge.

How Do I Learn The Basic Strategy?

Here at Gala Bingo, we have everything you need with our comprehensive blackjack strategy guide.

Does The Basic Blackjack Strategy Guarantee That I'll Win?

The odds of winning blackjack with basic strategy are higher but can’t guarantee that you’ll win every hand. 

Can The Basic Strategy Be Used For All Blackjack Variations?

Basic strategy can be tweaked so that it suits whatever variant of blackjack you’re playing.

How Important Is It To Strictly Follow The Blackjack Basic Strategy?

To gain the mathematical advantage from basic strategy, it’s important to always follow the suggested manoeuvres even if they feel counterintuitive. The only exception is if you are counting cards and have concrete information to suggest that it would be statistically better to play a different move. 

What Is Card Counting, And How Does It Relate To Basic Strategy?

Card counting is a way of keeping track of the cards that remain in the deck to gain an insight on the true probability. Card counting isn’t for everyone, but it can work alongside basic strategy to gain the maximum advantage from using both strategies together. 

Is Using The Basic Strategy Considered Cheating?

Basic strategy uses mathematical probability and is completely legal to use in all forms of blackjack. 

How Long Does It Take To Master The Basic Strategy?

Although the concept sounds simple, basic strategy is very easy to master. It’s possible to learn the core concepts for the simplified strategy in less than an hour!