Last Update: Mar. 18, 2013
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I overhear a lot of bad gambling advice in the casinos. Perhaps the most frequent is this one, "The object of blackjack is to get as close to 21 as possible, without going over." No! The object of blackjack is to beat the dealer. To beat the dealer the player must first not bust (go over 21) and second either outscore the dealer or have the dealer bust. Here are the full rules of the game.
Wizard's Simple Strategy
I've been preaching for years that to play blackjack properly requires memorizing the basic strategy. However, after pitching the basic strategy for 20 years, I've learned that few people have the will to memorize it. In my book, Gambling 102 , I presented a "Simple Strategy," which is seven simple rules to playing blackjack. The cost due to incorrect plays with the Simple Strategy is 0.53%, under liberal Vegas Strip rules.
Ever since my book was published it has bothered me that the cost in errors to my Simple Strategy was too high. So in September 2009 I developed the following "Wizard's Strategy." The cost due to imperfect plays is 0.14% only, relative to liberal Vegas Strip rules. That is the cost of one hand for about every 12 hours of play. Compared to the 250 cells in the Basic Strategy, the Wizard's Strategy has only 21, as follows.
Let me be perfectly clear that this strategy is not right 100% of the time. I continue to get Emails saying that when this strategy was used with my practice game, the player was corrected for following it. For example, my simple strategy says to stand on 12 against a 2, when it is mathematically better to hit. If you want to learn a strategy that is correct all the time you should use the appropriate basic strategy for the set of rules you are playing.
Here are some comments of clarification.
For the appropriate basic strategy for just about any set of rules, please visit my basic strategy calculator. I still have my traditional charts too:
Play my custom-made blackjack game. A special feature is that it tells you when you make a mistake in basic strategy. Choose from various numbers of decks and rule variations.
|Early surrender against ten||0.24%|
|Player may double on any number of cards||0.23%|
|Player may draw to split aces||0.19%|
|Player may resplit aces||0.08%|
|Split to only 3 hands||-0.01%|
|Player may double on 9-11 only||-0.09%|
|Split to only 2 hands||-0.10%|
|European no hole card||-0.11%|
|Player may not double after splitting||-0.14%|
|Player may double on 10,11 only||-0.18%|
|Dealer hits on soft 17||-0.22%|
|Blackjack pays 7-5||-0.45%|
|Blackjack pays 6-5||-1.39%|
|Blackjacks pay 1 to 1||-2.27%|
I also have a longer list of rule variations.
Beware Short Pays on a Blackjack
More and more tables are showing up that pay less than the full 3 to 2 on a blackjack. Most of these tables pay 6 to 5, but some even money and 7 to 5 tables are known to exist. I would estimate that 10% of "21" tables in Las Vegas now pay less than 3 to 2. In my opinion, only games that pay 3 to 2 deserve to be called "blackjack," the rest fall under "21" games, including Super Fun 21 and Spanish 21. Regardless of the other rules, you should demand nothing less than 3 to 2 blackjack. You should always check the felt to be sure, and if the felt doesn't say, look for a sign. If nothing says the win on a blackjack, then ask.
Articles about 6-5 Blackjack:
- Taking a hit: New blackjack odds further tilt advantage toward the house, Las Vegas Sun, Nov. 13, 2003.
- Tighter blackjack rules would hurt players' bankroll, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Feb. 4, 2011.
Three popular bad strategies encountered at the blackjack table are: never bust, mimic the dealer, and always assume the dealer has a ten in the hole. All three are very bad strategies. Following are my specific comments on each of them, including the house edge under Atlantic City rules (dealer stands on soft 17, split up to 4 hands, double after split, double any two cards) of 0.43%.
Never bust: For my analysis of this strategy I assumed the player would never hit a hard 12 or more. All other decisions were according to correct basic strategy. This "never bust" strategy results in a house edge of 3.91%.
Mimic the dealer: For my analysis of this strategy I assumed the player would always hit 16 or less and stand on17 or more, including a soft 17. The player never doubled or split, since the dealer is not allowed to do so. This "mimic the dealer" strategy results in a house edge of 5.48%.
Assume a ten in the hole: For this strategy I first figured out the optimal basic strategy under this assumption. If the dealer had an ace up, then I reverted to proper basic strategy, because the dealer would have peeked for blackjack, making a 10 impossible. This "assume a ten" strategy results in a house edge of 10.03%.
- Appendix 1:Total dependent expected return table for an infinite deck.
- Appendix 2a:Dealer probabilities after dealer peeks for blackjack.
- Appendix 2b:Dealer probabilities before dealer peeks for blackjack.
- Appendix 3a:Composition dependent exceptions to single deck basic strategy where the dealer stands on soft 17.
- Appendix 3b:Composition dependent exceptions to double deck basic strategy where the dealer stands on soft 17.
- Appendix 3c:Composition dependent exceptions to single deck basic strategy where the dealer hits a soft 17.
- Appendix 4:Details on the standard deviation in blackjack.
- Appendix 5:Infinite deck expected return according to player hand and dealer up card.
- Appendix 6:Fine points of when to surrender.
- Appendix 7:Effect of card removal.
- Appendix 8:Analysis of some popular blackjack side bets including Super Sevens, Pair Square, Royal Match, and Lucky Lucky.
- Appendix 9:Composition dependent expected returns for 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, and 8 decks.
- Appendix 10:The effect on the house edge of the continuous shuffling machines vs. the cut card.
- Appendix 11: Value and strategy for 678 and 777 bonuses.
- Appendix 12:Risk of ruin statistics.
- Appendix 13:Probabilities in the first four cards. May be used to test for the number of decks in online blackjack.
- Appendix 14:Value of each initial player card.
- Appendix 15:House edge using total dependent vs composition dependent basic strategy
- Appendix 16: Basic strategy when dealer exposes both cards.
- Appendix 17: The Ace-Five Count. Possibly the easiest way to count cards.
- Appendix 18: Basic strategy exceptions for three to six cards.
- Appendix 19: Blackjack splitting strategy when a back-player is betting.
- Appendix 20: Blackjack doubling strategy, when doubling after splitting aces is allowed.
- Appendix 21: Details on the Wizard's Simple Strategy.
- "21" Movie — Truth and Fiction : My comments on the movie "21."
- Australian Blackjack: Rules and odds for blackjack down under.
- Introduction to Card Counting
- Rule Variations: The effect of just about every known blackjack rule change.
- Automatic Winner Charlie Rule in Blackjack.
- Rummy: Blackjack variant popular in Costa Rica.
Reason #2 why the Wizard likes Bovada:
No-hassle practice games
Most online casinos spend more effort trying to separate you from your money than they do trying to give you a good experience. They have all kinds of popup windows, they usually make you download their software, and if they do offer play-in-browser games then you have to register an account before you can play. And if you register they start sending you emails trying to get you to deposit real money.
But Bovada is different. They have no popup windows at all, and their practice games play right in your browser, with no download, and no registration required. You don’t even have to give up your email address. It couldn’t be simpler: just one click and you’re playing the game.
I wish all online casinos showed this much respect for their players. Other casinos practically ask for your first born child to play for free. Meanwhile Bovada is patient and does not twist anybody’s arm to play for real money. You can play as long as you like for free with no obligation. The real-money games are available if that’s your preference, but if not, you can play the free practice games for as long as you like without hassle.