Lesson 1 – Basic Strategy

Last Updated: January 7, 2020

The foundation of winning at Blackjack is to utilize proper basic strategy in playing the hands.

“Proper” means that each decision you make on hitting, standing, doubling or splitting pairs is the correct mathematical play for that hand. There is no room for intuition, gut feelings or guessing when it comes to basic strategy; you must make the “percentage” play each time. Even if you’ve doubled an 11 against a dealer’s 10 five times in a row and lost, when that hand comes up a sixth time you must double. Consistency is a big part of playing a winning game, so resolve right now that you are going to make the proper play, regardless if the dealer rolls his eyes upward or the other players at the table groan quietly when you do it. You are there for the money — there’s no other reason to play blackjack — and the application of proper basic strategy is going to get that money for you; what others think of your play is not important.

The correct basic strategy for a blackjack game depends upon the rules of the casino where you will be playing. The strategy which applies to a single deck game in Reno, for example, is quite a bit different than the strategy for an eight-deck game in Atlantic City. I’m going to show you how to learn the basic strategy of your choice; exactly what that strategy is will depend on you. To select a basic strategy, go to the Blackjack Strategy Engine and simply fill in the blanks. Once your strategy is computed, print it out.

Here’s what that looks like for a fairly common game: Six decks, double on any first two cards, double after splitting pairs is permitted and the dealer stands on A-6.

Basic Strategy Matrix :
for 6 Decks, S17, DA2, DAS, No surrender

This resource can also be downloaded for printing purposes.


Splitting Pairs

Splitting Pairs

Pairs23456789TA
(A,A)YYYYYYYYYY
(T,T)NNNNNNNNNN
(9,9)YYYYYNYYNN
(8,8)YYYYYYYYYY
(7,7)YYYYYYNNNN
(6,6)YYYYYNNNNN
(5,5)NNNNNNNNNN
(4,4)NNNYYNNNNN
(3,3)YYYYYYNNNN
(2,2)YYYYYYNNNN
Keys:
Y
Yes, split the pair
N
No, don’t split the pair

Soft Totals

Soft Totals23456789TA
(A,9)SSSSSSSSSS
(A,8)SSSSSSSSSS
(A,7)SDsDsDsDsSSHHH
(A,6)HDDDDHHHHH
(A,5)HHDDDHHHHH
(A,4)HHDDDHHHHH
(A,3)HHHDDHHHHH
(A,2)HHHDDHHHHH
Keys:
H
Hits
S
Stand
D
Double (Hit if not allowed)
DS
Double (Stand if not allowed)

Hard Totals

Hard Totals23456789TA
17SSSSSSSSSS
16SSSSSHHHHH
15SSSSSHHHHH
14SSSSSHHHHH
13SSSSSHHHHH
12HHSSSHHHHH
11DDDDDDDDDH
10DDDDDDDDHH
9HDDDDHHHHH
8HHHHHHHHHH
Keys:
H
Hits
S
Stand
D
Double (Hit if not allowed)

This is the chart that you will eventually know as well as your own name — but don’t worry, you’re not going to memorize it in this form. What we are going to do is convert all this into what a “normal” person can understand. I call what’s above the “Basic Strategy Matrix” and you’ll use it in some of your training. But what we need to do in order to memorize this is to translate the information above into all-inclusive rules. Let’s do a few as examples.

Look at the strategy for a player’s hand of 9 on the matrix above; it says to double against a 3,4,5 or 6 and hit it against everything else. We can turn that information into a simple rule: “With a hand of 9, double versus 3 through 6, otherwise hit.” See how this works? We are going to take each player’s starting hand and convert the proper play of that hand into one easy-to-understand rule. Now look at a hand of A-2. Proper basic strategy says to double against 5 and 6 and hit it against everything else, so our rule for A-2 is “Double vs. 5 & 6, otherwise hit.” As a bonus, we can group A-2 with A-3 since the play for each is identical. So we end up with a rule like this “A-2 , A-3; double vs. 5 & 6, otherwise hit.” One more example; a pair of 3’s. When double after split is permitted, proper basic strategy says to split 3’s whenever the dealer is showing a 2,3,4,5,6, or 7. Against any other dealer up card, we do not split; we should just hit the hand. Thus, our rule for a pair of 3’s becomes “3,3; split vs. 2-7, otherwise hit”. Clear on all that? Good. Below is the basic strategy chart for the matrix shown above.

Basic Strategy Decision Chart
for the Basic Strategy Matrix shown above.

This resource can also be downloaded for printing purposes.


Player’s HandDecisions
5 thru 8Always Hit
9Double 3 thru 6, o/w hit
10Double 2 thru 9, o/w hit
11Double 2 thru 10, o/w hit
12Stand 4 thru 6, o/w Hit
13 thru 16Stand 2 thru 6, o/w Hit
17 or higherAlways Stand
A,2Double vs 5&6, o/w Hit
A,3Double vs 5&6, o/w Hit
A,4Double vs 4 thru 6, o/w Hit
A,5Double vs 4 thru 6, o/w Hit
A,6Double vs 3 thru 6, o/w Hit
A,7Double 3 thru 6, Stand vs 2,7,8 Hit vs 9,10, A
A,8-A,9Always Stand
2,2Split 2 thru 7, o/w Hit
3,3Split 2 thru 7, o/w Hit
4,4Split vs 5 & 6, o/w Hit
5,5Never Split, treat as “10”
6,6Split 2 thru 6, o/w Hit
7,7Split 2 thru 7, o/w Hit
8,8Always split
9,9Split 2 thru 9 except 7; o/w Stand
10,10Never Split
A,AAlways Split

Remember The Basic Strategy Decision Chart shown here applies only to the game described earlier; you must produce your own to fit the rules of your favorite casino.

Once you’ve made your Basic Strategy Chart, we can begin to memorize it. To do that, we will produce a set of “Flashcards”. Remember those? You probably learned how to add or subtract using those cards and they will also teach you how to win at Blackjack. You need to make one flashcard for each starting hand by reproducing the information above on a 2″ x 2′ piece of paper. (Manila file folder material does well for this.) Here’s what one looks like…

Flashcard sample

When you’re finished, you’ll have a pack of flashcards which will help you to memorize the proper basic strategy for the game you’ve chosen. Start carrying them with you and as you encounter those “lost” moments we each seem to have in our day — waiting for a plane, sitting at the dentist’s office or even while watching TV, pull your cards out and start reciting the rule for the hand shown. Check your accuracy by flipping over the card and then put it on the bottom of the pack. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you begin to learn all these rules.

Homework

I said this was a school, didn’t I? Well, you will also have some homework to do before we get together again next week. Here are your assignments

Flashcards: Spend a minimum of one hour each day going through the cards. Here’s a great resource if you want to create flash cards online or view other people’s blackjack flash cards.

Next lesson we’ll finish with how to learn basic strategy through a discussion and demonstration of additional training aids and exercises which will give you the means to check your accuracy. It is not necessary for you to have your chosen basic strategy memorized perfectly at that point; all you need to know now is HOW to learn basic strategy. Exactly WHEN you learn it is up to you, since each part of this course is separate and does not depend on you knowing perfectly what came before.



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Larry
Larry
1 year ago

This was a great start for me today the info is awesome

Leslie Piper
Leslie Piper
1 year ago

Sure glad you are still here and available. Got a good grasp of basic strategy from you several years ago….made one profitable trip up to the favored casino; again after health problems not so good. Back for another bite, this time I will get the count. You taught me quite a bit of useful info, and not only about blackjack. I’ll get more action, enjoyment and profit this time. Thanks again for being so clear and easy for me to learn and use.

Tyler
Tyler
3 years ago

So I’ve been working on learning the basic strategy for all possible rule combinations I can think of that I may encounter in the US. I made flash cards for BS pertaining to the following:
4 Decks, DAS, S17
4 decks, DAS, H17
(Same as both above, no DAS)
(All above rule variations with 2 decks and 1 deck)
I hope that makes sense, I was just feeling lazy and didn’t want to type out 12 variations. Just basically any combo with 1,2, or 4 decks, with and without DAS, and both S17 and H17. Also with surrender as an option with my cards explaining what to do if it’s not. I didn’t notice much change in surrender vs no surrender. My question is, is it necessary to learn all these combinations? Because I plan on going to both single and multi deck games eventually. I just don’t know what rule variations exist and which ones don’t. Also, am I neglecting any factors that may be valuable to me?

Thank you

LV Bear
Editor
2 years ago
Reply to  Tyler

Playable single deck is nearly extinct, except in northern Nevada, so unless you plan to regularly play in Reno or Wendover, forget about it. There aren’t many four-deck games left either. Your best bet is to learn double-deck and six-deck strategies and index numbers, easily learnable from Ken Smith’s cards:

https://www.amazon.com/Advanced-Blackjack-Strategy-Cards-Set/dp/0982119178

Tyler
Tyler
3 years ago

Hey Ken,
I asked a couple questions about progressive betting and navigation of the blackjack school. And I want to thank you for the responses. I just came up with another question. So on this matrix a Hard16 vs 10 says to hit. So why is it when I plug the same game in to the engine, and turn on the option to surrender, the engine says to surrender on 10, but if that’s not an option, to stand(RS)?

Tyler
Tyler
3 years ago
Reply to  Tyler

Something I want to add, I saw a video of Henry Tamburin talking about the top five most misplayed hands. And when he mentioned the 16 v 10, he said to hit when you have a two card 16, but when your 16 is made up of three or more cards (5,7 &4 for example) to stand. I know counting will give you a better idea on what to do in these scenarios, but what is your take on this?

Tyler
Tyler
3 years ago
Reply to  Ken Smith

Thanks for that! Makes a lot more sense now!

Nicholas Konyn
Nicholas Konyn
3 years ago

I’ve got a question regarding the charts. In the chart for the rules of: 6-deck, dealer hits on soft 17, double after split, late surrender allowed, peek, it says to double down on a soft 14 15 or 16 in certain scenarios, but what if they are 3+ card soft 14, 15, or 16s? (Then you CAN’T double down, of course.) Soooooo what happens then?

anonymous
anonymous
4 years ago

Why are you telling people to follow basic strategy if they’re to be counting cards? They shouldn’t be following a simple hit-stand-double-split table, there should be a threshold in many entries. Like you double 10 against 10 if the truecount is over 4, you double 10 against A if the truecount is over 3, you hit 16 against 10 if the count is 0 or negative, stand if anything positive, double 11 against A if truecount is positive, don’t if 0 or negative, etc. I think it’s counterproductive to learn these things as fixed entries, they’re functions. It’s just, that “basic strategy” is the value of those functions when the truecount is 0. It is important to learn how close the thresholds are to 0 at the very least, which ones are borderline decisions. For one thing, you want the casino to think you’re a superstitious fruitcake. I do that all the time, I’ll be like “I know I shouldn’t, but I’m going to hit on this” (talking about hitting 13 against 3, with the truecount below negative 2 and 2 thirds) or “no way am I doubling, I’ve got a bad feeling about this” (10 against 9, count is -2 or lower), “I’m a do it! I shouldn’t but I’ll do it!” (splitting 9’s against an ace with a truecount over 3). And the funny thing is, it doesn’t hurt the optimality that badly if you don’t hold to the threshold exactly, so maybe sometimes you’ll split 9’s against an ace if the truecount is only 2.5, another time, maybe you won’t if it’s 3.5.

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago
Reply to  Ken Smith

hello Ken, thanks for everything! When i split Aces, i get only one card in each hand and no doubling. Is this on every casino? Do I still split A-A every time?

JR Russell
JR Russell
4 years ago

Ken:
I would like to thank you for your knowledge and course. I read the course did the practice and it payed off big. Had a large bankroll to start $25k and get comps. in Vegas due to my slot losses on previous trips. I looked on websites for lowest house advantage, and started at Bellagio (-.252)6 Deck $25 game, dealer stands soft 17, DAS, Surrender, all the right rules. Played for six hours and noticed was being watched by pit boss after and hour( I am sure I was obvious as first time playing with all the rules and high low together), I varied my play using a 25-250 spread. I was up so I started tipping, staying higher bet after shuffle even made a few questionable plays as I knew they were on to me. Stayed for three days was up $6200 in about 30 hours of play at four casinos. (bellagio, MGM, Teasure Island and Aria)
Was wondering for a beginner like me what other advice you have to not look so obvious a counter to the man.
Thanks again!

Jose
Jose
4 years ago

If I am playing in the European style, with no hole card and I am the last player in the table. I have 16 against a dealer 10. Basic strategy says you must hit. But in the European style, the next card can be for the player (if he hits) or for the dealer (if he stands). If the player hits good cards for the player are A, 2, 3, 4, 5. But, except for the Ace, all other is also good for the player since it is possible he bust with the next card. It is the same for a 15 against 10, or a 15 against 9 etc.
My question: Should I change the basic strategy in this case? In which cases.

Glen
Glen
4 years ago

Hi Ken. I’ve been playing basic strategy for years and am starting to learn to count properly. I’m going on a trip to Connecticut and playing at MS. The BSE says to surrender 16 against a 10, I get that, but it says to stay if no surrender. I’ve never stayed on 16 against a 10, is that really mathematically correct?
Thanks,
Glen

Glen
Glen
4 years ago
Reply to  Glen

I’m also not sure if they H17 or S17, but if it’s H17 it says to surrender, or stay with 17 against an Ace. Ok, so I’ve never stood on 16 against 10 and I’ve never surrendered a 17. Can you help me understand these 2 plays?
Thanks again,
Glen

Glen
Glen
4 years ago
Reply to  Ken Smith

Thanks Ken. I read the article and I’ll do what your BSE says. I just wanted to make sure. My wife & friends are going to over me some strange looks when they see these plays.
I love your site,
Thanks again,
Glen

Glen
Glen
4 years ago
Reply to  Ken Smith

Hi again Ken.
I was using your trainer with surrender as an option to practice BS and was going to practice a little counting as well but when surrendering it doesn’t show the dealer’s hole card. Is there a way to get it to show the dealers hole card or should I count it as a -1, or 0?

James Ong
James Ong
4 years ago

If the casino does not pay out 3 to 2 for blackjack after splitting Aces, do we still proceed to split ace pair?

pili
pili
4 years ago

first i want to apologyze about the thing concerning my security, it was just bullshit. i was trolling a bit, my country is not dangerous, i love colombia. but some people get angry at you when you play BS. i have another question, here in my city there is a side bet which you gamble to get a pair. if you get a mix pair(red and black) like a 6 of diamonds and a 6 of spikes they pay 6 times your side bet. if you get a color pair(red and red or black and black) like a 6 of diamonds and a 6 of hearts they play 12 times your side bet and if your ge a perfect pair(the same card) like a 6 of diamonds and a 6 of diamonds they pay you 25 times your side bet. my question is it worth it?

Jim
Jim
4 years ago

i dont understand, is the BS always used or just when playing alone against the house, and if so, why???
when im studying BS i see suicidal hands

Jim
Jim
4 years ago
Reply to  Ken Smith

but what if for example i have a 14 against an 8 and there have been three low cards in a row, you know there is gonna appear a 10 so i am going to burst, but BS tells me to Hit. Should i still hit??

pili
pili
4 years ago
Reply to  Ken Smith

hey, but what if the true count is +3 and i have a 14 against an 8. im the last one in the table and there has appeared 5 low cards in a row, i know that there is gonna appear a 10, if i hit it im gonna burst but if i dont hit it im gonna lose, in that case the smartest to do is to surrender, right? or be a suicidal bomber playing blackjack??
Another thing, yesterday at the casino some people got mad at me and insultated me because i got a 13 against a 10(i was the last one at the table) and it had appeared 4 high cards in a row, i knew a low card was coming, probably a 5 or 6 that would leave the house in 15 or 16 and would probably burst. but i followed the BS and i got the 6, that leaved me at 19. for a surprise then the house made 20. if wouldnt have hit it, everyone would have won, instead everybody got mad at me. what should i do if i feel and probably know that theres gonna appear a low card? i feel and i know it, and it happened. please help, i dont get insulted again, i live in a third world country and people that go to the casinos are dangerous, maybe im gonna get in trouble

Wufei
Wufei
4 years ago

Spliting 8s against a ten? Isnt that a sucker play? I mean your going up against the highest card a dealer can have isnt that just asking for punishment?

Jim
Jim
4 years ago

i dont understand the charts, please help, im a total begginer

Jim
Jim
4 years ago
Reply to  Ken Smith

ohhh, thanks a lot

Chad B.
Chad B.
5 years ago

Ken, when trying to print this lesson, the charts don’t print in color. Not sure why, but it shows up fine on-screen but just doesn’t print in color.

George
George
5 years ago

Hey Ken, I have a question.
In your basic stategy matrix you write to split the 8,8s against a T or A, but in a matrix for a UK casino would just hit. What is the difference between them?

Oliver
Oliver
5 years ago

How frequently should we move on to the next lesson?

Ali
Ali
5 years ago

Hi,

What about cutting the decks half? Many internet casinos cut the 8decks to half. Does that nulify card counting also?

Anonymous
Anonymous
5 years ago
Reply to  Ken Smith

I have a question about penetration and keeping track of the TC
I play an eight deck game. The dealer probably discards about 3 1/2 decks when he shuffles and the player cuts . I am considering both the pros and cons of hi & lo and KO. With KO for example, the count starts at -28 ( 4-4*8). What I usually do is I start the count at 0. And say the RC is 28 ( including the 7s as +1), I now know that the shoe is getting warmer if it goes to +4 ( or in other words +32 -28), I raise my bet because now allegedly the deck is rich in high cards. Here where I am confused : if the dealer discards almost half of the shoe aka bad penetration, I rarely see a positive count as high as what I described . I am doing something wrong by not accounting for the bad penetration ?
Thanks all !! First time poster 🙂
Love this forum

Anonymous
Anonymous
5 years ago
Reply to  Ken Smith

Thanks much Ken 🙂
Appreciate your prompt response. I might’ve better served hitting the other casino an hour away then ( a total of two hour drive) . I play with a dealer at this one who deals at the other casino and he commented on the poor penetration by comparing to where he deals stating that it is way better. Is my approach of starting at 0 using KO and subsequently subtracting or in fact adding positives to negatives valid ?
Also what would you suggest in this case because I really like this casino . All the dealers and Pit bosses know me by name and I feel like they genuinely root for me and always ask me not to return any purples once they are in my pocket . I am not naive but I do feel they are small town America type of folks and genuinely friendly and accommodating. I have never raised an eyebrow when I won big but then again when I lose I also lose big at times . Any other words is there a way to account for poor penetration say you multiply by 5 instead of 8 ( decks ) in KO?

Joe
Joe
5 years ago

What do you mean about Continuous shuffle machines and a regular shuffle machine? whats the difference?

Ryan
Ryan
5 years ago
Reply to  Ken Smith

Do the majority of modern casinos have regular shuffle machines or continuous shuffle machines? It seems to make sense that casinos would prefer the continuous shuffler in an effort to thwart card counting.

eni
eni
4 years ago
Reply to  Ken Smith

can you please look at betfair online live casino i don t think they have a shuffling machine is.is there good to play pls take a look

Anonymous
Anonymous
5 years ago

thanks