Basic Strategy: Improve Your Odds by 75%

At blackjack tables around the world, it’s an all too common scene. Players contemplating, arguing, agonizing, and eventually guessing how to play their hands. Player 12 vs Dealer 3 is just one situation that has many players wanting to pull their hair out. The good news is all of this frustration and soul searching is completely unnecessary. For every blackjack player that has called upon the gambling gods for guidance, basic strategy is the answer to their prayers.

Basic strategy is the best way to play your hand versus the dealer’s up-card. For each and every possible hand, there is one and only one correct play. Regardless of whether you’re a professional card counter or a recreational gambler, basic strategy is your best friend. The first requirement for every new recruit on the MIT Blackjack Team was learning basic strategy. It’s comforting to know that brilliant mathematicians derived this optimal playing strategy. There’s no need for any guess work or analysis on your part. All the work has already been done for you.

What does basic strategy do for you in terms of dollars? The house edge over any given player can vary because blackjack is a a game of skill. The average blackjack player is at about a 2.0 % disadvantage to the house. Assuming a rate of 60 hands dealt per hour, it costs the average \$25 bettor about \$30 an hour to play.

Expected hourly loss = Avg Bet x Hands/Hour x House Edge
Expected hourly loss = \$25 x 60 hands/hr x 2.0 % = \$30

If you learn basic strategy and play it consistently, the house advantage drops to about .5 %. Look what happens to the expected hourly loss.

Expected hourly loss = \$25 x 60 hands/hr x .5 % = \$7.50

For a \$25 bettor, basic strategy results in a savings of \$22.50, and that’s just for one hour of play. If you bet more than \$25 a hand, you’re savings will be proportionally larger. Basic strategy reduces a player’s expected loss by 75% which means the average blackjack player pays 4 times as much to play as a basic strategy player. That’s equivalent to paying \$8.00 a gallon for gas when you could easily pay only \$2.00 a gallon. If you’re not playing basic strategy, you’re paying a very steep price.

There’s no reason or excuse for not playing basic strategy. Not only can you dramatically improve your odds to nearly break even, the next time you have a 12 and dealer is showing a 3, you will know with 100% certainty that the correct play is to hit. No more angst or hesitation over what to do.

1. Ruben says:

I always have played basic strategy, but occasionally deviated. After reading this I’ll stick to strict basic. Thanks for laying out the numbers & dollars in layman’s terms.

2. Tommy says:

I always try to get my friends to play basic, but they usually resist. People are short sighted. When I tell them to make a basic strategy play and they lose, then it just reinforces in their minds that basic doesn’t work. So, its good to see the benefits of basic strategy explained in dollars and cents.

3. John says:

I think part of the problem is human nature. My friends and I know about basic strategy but we’re too lazy to master it. It’s similar to smoking. I know it’s bad for me but I just don’t have the discipline to quit.

4. I’m not so sure there is no reason to play basic strategy. I’ve noticed that dealers encourage people to play that without any reprimanding from the pit bosses. That’s a little strange right?

5. G COSNERR says:

I USED THE CHART ABOVE AND PLAYED THE BLACKJACK TRAINER, WHICH IS VERY COOL BY THE WAY, BUT I LOST STILL AND PRETTY QUICKLY TOO..WHATS UP WITH THAT.. IM NEVER GIVING UP ON THE BASIC BUT I DEFINATLY DONT HAVE A THOUSAND TO GO THREW THAT QUICK AT ATLANTIC CITY THIS WEEKEND HAHA

6. travis white says:

looking for team players!

7. sokha says:

I always hit the 12 against the dealer’s 2 or 3 up card and other players gets so mad and think I am stupid saying that I misplayed that hand. I even show them the basic strategy chart and they still don’t believe it. Oh well I guess they can lose more of their money.

8. lol says:

This makes no sense to me… “lose less!” No wonder casino wants you to always stick to such a strategy!
How about not do a losing strategy period?
I think of basic as a baseline… Simply deviate from close decisions based on even an intuitive idea of what the count is and you may be able to skew odds in favor slightly…
EG double down on 9 vs dealer 2-6 when you haven’t seen face cards in awhile and just hit when you haven’t seen low cards in awhile…. Or double down on soft 18 and 19 and possibly even 20 when facing 5 or 6 if you haven’t seen face cards in awhile… Or be slightly less more willing to hit when you haven’t seen low cards.
I honestly doubt you need to even literally count cards to have an edge changing a few borderline decisions and betting slightly larger when count is high…. But the edge would not be very large (that is slightly advantageous in the long run)… Unfortunately most people would be too aggressive with bankroll and their edge would not be big enough to allow it so even with an edge the casino still will win a large % of the time.
I imagine that with a high enough count splitting 10s vs a 5 or 6 may even be correct…. So basic strategy is not always right and there always is an alternative play…
What about statistical probability of standard shuffling having high probability that cards nearthe bottom likely to remain there after several shuffles? That could influence probability of card coming up too… So basic strategy could say stay, card counting could say count is low hit, and statistical odds of high cards being all near the bottom could suggest probability of you busting is so low that you should double down… And integrating all might suggest any one option, while collusion strategy might suggest the lowest bet amount player to split just to get all the low cards out of the deck until the count is more likely to bust dealer and helps a high roller at the table to have a more profitable double down.