Lesson 2 – Learning Basic Strategy

This free course on blackjack and card counting was created by the GameMaster, publisher of the GameMaster Online website. It is reproduced here in its entirety with permission of the author. His 24-lesson course is an excellent introduction to winning blackjack.

To start at the beginning, visit the Welcome page.

This is a very simple lesson — I’m going to show you how to memorize your chosen basic strategy perfectly. So perfect, in fact, that you won’t have to think about which play is proper; you’ll just do it automatically. That skill is developed through a lot of practice; many hours of repetitious exercises which will leave you knowing basic strategy as well as your own name. (I didn’t say this was easy, just simple).

But we can make those hours of practice a little more fun and somewhat interesting — even challenging — by using different methods of training. If you’re a competitive person the timed exercises will appeal to you; it’s a lot of fun to see if you can post a new “personal best” in each of them. But don’t worry, you don’t have to be a Type A personality to learn perfect basic strategy. Just take your time and do as many exercises in a day as you want and if you keep at it on a regular basis, the knowledge will come. Remember, you are learning a skill here which you will be able to use for the rest of your life. Spending a few dozen hours now may return hundreds of hours of profitable play in the future; seems like a fair trade to me.

Let’s get started.

Flashcards – By now, you should have a set of these made up and are using them on a regular basis. Start timing yourself as you go through all of them; a good goal is to recite all the rules perfectly and get through your pack in under two minutes. The time pressure works well in “forcing” you to learn, so record your results so that you can see your progress. If you have a stopwatch, so much the better, because you can use it not only with the flashcards but with many other exercises as well. Don’t go out and buy one, though; the approximate time is all we’re interested in here, so a wrist watch will do just as well.

Basic Strategy Reconstruction Exercise – Print out the form below and run off a bunch of copies. This resource can also be downloaded for printing purposes. You will notice that it is just a “blank” of the form we used in Lesson 1 to create the rules for each of the player’s starting hands. The object here is to write in the rule for each hand and then check for accuracy. Remember the old saying; “I read and I forget; I do and I remember.” That’s what this exercise will do for you. Time yourself as you do it and see if you can get under 60 seconds with 100% accuracy.

Player’s hand Decisions
5 thru 8 _______________________________
9 _______________________________
10 _______________________________
11 _______________________________
12 _______________________________
13 thru 16 _______________________________
17 or Higher _______________________________
A,2 _______________________________
A,3 _______________________________
A,4 _______________________________
A,5 _______________________________
A,6 _______________________________
A,7 _______________________________
A,8-A,9 _______________________________
2,2 _______________________________
3,3 _______________________________
4,4 _______________________________
5,5 _______________________________
6,6 _______________________________
7,7 _______________________________
8,8 _______________________________
9,9 _______________________________
10,10 _______________________________
A,A _______________________________

Basic Strategy Decision Exercise – Here I’ve made up a lot of player hands along with a dealer’s up card. Use your “Basic Strategy Matrix” from Lesson 1 to make a “correction copy” and mark it as such at the top. Then, just go down the columns of another copy and fill in the proper play. Use your correction copy to check for accuracy. Speed is of the essence here, so work towards a goal of completing this in under two minutes with 100% accuracy. This resource can also be downloaded for printing purposes.


(Indicate proper play under “Decision”)
S=Stand H=Hit P=Split Pairs D=Double


P D Dec P D Dec P D Dec
8,3 A ____ 2,3,6 4 ____ A,4,2 3 ____
6,6 4 ____ 9,9 7 ____ 7,6 3 ____
5,4 6 ____ 10,3 3 ____ 8,2 A ____
7,7 7 ____ 9,8 7 ____ 8,8 10 ____
9,6 8 ____ A,7 2 ____ 10,7 2 ____
7,5 3 ____ A,4 5 ____ 9,3 3 ____
A,2 5 ____ 6,4 10 ____ 7,4 A ____
3,3 4 ____ A,4 5 ____ 6,3 7 ____
9,2 10 ____ 10,8 6 ____ A,6 5 ____
5,5 9 ____ 6,8 7 ____ A,9 6 ____
A,7 6 ____ 9,7 8 ____ 10,4 5 ____
6,3 4 ____ A,2,5 6 ____ 9,9 9 ____
5,2 2 ____ 3,6 4 ____ 2,4 2 ____
10,2 3 ____ 7,8 9 ____ 6,5 2 ____
9,9 7 ____ 10,3 3 ____ 7,7 2 ____
10,4 9 ____ A,4 4 ____ 3,4 5 ____
6,5 9 ____ 10,5 7 ____ 4,4 6 ____
A,6 2 ____ 5,2 10 ____ A,2,4 6 ____
4,4 6 ____ 8,8 8 ____ 10,2,A 3 ____
10,10 5 ____ A,A 7 ____ 8,2 10 ____
8,6 7 ____ 8,3 10 ____ 6,6 6 ____
7,9 10 ____ 5,5 10 ____ 5,4 2 ____
10,2,A 3 ____ A,5,A 3 ____ A,7 3 ____
A,2,2 6 ____ 2,2 7 ____ 3,3 2 ____
2,6 4 ____ A,5 4 ____ 7,8 7 ____
9,A 6 ____ 6,6 2 ____ 9,9 7 ____
10,6 3 ____ 3,7 9 ____ 2,5,4 2 ____
7,7 6 ____ 3,3 2 ____ 10,4 6 ____
A,A 9 ____ 5,5 9 ____ 9,3 5 ____
2,2 2 ____ A,6 3 ____ A,2 6 ____
9,4 4 ____ 10,6 7 ____ 9,8 7 ____
A,3,4 9 ____ 6,6 3 ____ A,4,A 2 ____
A,4,2 6 ____ 9,4 2 ____ 7,5 3 ____
8,8 10 ____ A,4 10 ____ 2,2 6 ____
5,5 8 ____ 6,4 9 ____ 3,3 7 ____
A,8 6 ____ 8,3 A ____ 6,6 2 ____
5,2 2 ____ 9,9 10 ____ 2,9 10 ____
A,4 6 ____ 7,5 4 ____ 9,7 5 ____
2,3,4,A 6 ____ 7,7 9 ____ 5,4 3 ____
A,A A ____ 9,3 7 ____ 7,4 10 ____

The Importance of Speed - I stress speed in my classes because the ability to do anything quickly and accurately means you know it well. The play of your hand must be “automatic” because once you learn how to count cards, you’ll be too busy counting to think about the proper play. Make sense?

Card Practice #1 – Now, with a copy of your Basic Strategy Matrix next to you, get out a deck of cards and try this exercise. Deal one card up for the dealer and then two cards for your starting hand. Play that hand according to proper basic strategy and, without playing out the dealer’s hand, push all the used cards off to the side and do it again. Keep going until the deck is used up, shuffle and repeat. This exercise will get you used to making playing decisions in a casino-style setting. Refer to your Matrix as often as you must in order to assure yourself that you are making the proper play.

Card Practice #2 – Some player hands, like A-7 are difficult to learn. So set up a practice like the one above but leave the player’s hand the same and change only the dealer’s up card after each round. Continue to hit or double as before. This exercise is particularly good for getting you used to playing “soft” hands (those which contain an Ace) properly. Time is not important here but accuracy is.

Card Practice #3 - This is a variation on the practice above. On this one, keep the dealer’s card the same — say a 6 — then deal two cards for the player. Play out the hand and then move just the player’s cards off to the side. “Stack” your deck a bit by putting in a lot of pairs so you can get used to splitting properly.

Homework

  • Spend at least a half-hour each day on your flashcards and time yourself.
  • Do a minimum of one “Basic Strategy Reconstruction exercise” each day. Time yourself and record the results along with the date right on the form.
  • Do a minimum of one “Basic Strategy Decision exercise” each day and mark both the date and time it took you to complete it on the form.
  • Spend at least a half-hour each day doing the 3 card practices. Work on those hands which are the most difficult for you to learn.
← Previous: Lesson 1
Next: Lesson 3

3 comments on “Lesson 2 – Learning Basic Strategy

  • esnatch said:

    Getting an account on Quizlet.com for free is great for doing drills. You can make your own flash cards, and it will drill you at break-neck speed. The advantage is you can access your flash cards from any internet source, even an iphone. Doing so will give you the ability to burn through thousands of repetitions as opposed to the old fashioned way. It’s really easy to set up. Just go to the website, give your email, and set up cards however you want them. Once you get the basic strategy down, you can make sets of cards that cover strategy deviation as well.

  • a5teve said:

    In the above drill, “Basic Strategy Drill exercise” You have made up STARTING hands and given the dealers up card. If these are meant to be starting hands, what is the idea behind some of the Three figured player hands?

    • Good point. I suspect the GameMaster wrote that line and later created the exercise. Regardless, I have edited the description of the exercise to remove the “starting” part of the description. Thanks! The 3-card exercises are of course to be treated just like the others. Make sure you know the correct basic strategy for the 3-card hands.

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