Basic strategy, often referred to as “The Book,” is the mathematically best way to play a hand of blackjack without knowledge about the distribution of the rest of the cards in the deck. It is important for a blackjack dealer at any dealing school in Las Vegas to have a working knowledge of basic strategy, as well as to understand the misconceptions.
There are many variations of the blackjack basic strategy chart. Any rule change (such as not allowing double after split) and any variation on the number of decks changes the strategy. For instance, on a six-deck shoe if a player has 7-7 vs. a dealer’s 10, basic strategy dictates the player should draw, but on a single deck, it’s proper to stand.
Every situation is different, but a general rule to remember is that you, as the dealer, are providing a service to players. You’re there not only to deal cards, but to assist them in having fun at the table. Instigating a fight by telling someone they are wrong is not fun for anyone. Here’s an example of what you can say to give the player options: “16 vs. a 10 is tough. Basic strategy as I know says to hit, but a lot of players don’t like to. Either way, it’s not looking good.” If you can turn it into a joke, you’re easing the pressure.
Aside from getting blackjack basic strategy wrong (most players do), the biggest misconception a player makes is when he believes another player’s actions affect his hand. Players often have a selective memory and remember that time when a player stood on his 14 vs. the dealer’s 6 and “took the dealer’s bust card,” but mathematically, another player’s decision has equal chance of hurting or helping. Basic strategy is not written as a collective strategy for the entire table – that is simply superstition.
The easiest way to think of basic strategy is in terms of weak or strong dealer hands. If a player assumes the dealer’s hole card is 10, a 7, 8, 9, 10, or A as the upcard gives the dealer a pat hand. If the dealer’s hole card is 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6, it’s a very weak hand for the dealer. No matter what card is underneath, the dealer will have to draw. Drawing another card increases the dealer’s chances of busting.
- Basics of basic strategy
- (1) If a dealer shows a strong upcard (7 through A), the player should hit until 17.
- (2) If the dealer shows a weak upcard (2-6), player should stand on 12+ (exception 12 vs 2/3).
- (3) Split and double down on soft hands often against a weak dealer’s upcard card.
- (4) If a player has 11, he should double down.
- (5) If the player has 10, he should double down against every card except a 10 or A.
- (6) If the player has 9, he should double down against a weak dealer upcard of 3-6.
- (7) If the player has A-A or 8-8, he should split.
- (8) If the player has 9-9, he should split except vs. 7, 10, A.
This chart below (taken from The Wizard of Odds) shows the basic strategy for the most common blackjack game in Vegas: multiple deck, dealer hits soft 17. Read the chart by finding the player’s hand on the left column and matching it with the corresponding cell for the dealer’s upcard.
H = Hit
S = Stand
D = Double
P = Split
R = Surrender
Ds = Double, but if doubling is not allowed (ex: you’ve already received more than two cards), then Stand.
H/P = Split if casino allows double after split, otherwise Hit.
P/R or H/R = Surrender if the casino offers it, otherwise Split or Hit, respectively