Blackjack Strategy

Mike: Hi. My name is Mike Shackleford with the Wizard of Odds website, and I’m here with Angela Wyman, my student and dealer, Dan Lubin to teach you about blackjack strategy. I’ve been trying to teach people how to gamble for 25 years and for most of that time I really pressed what’s called the basic strategy really hard. And all the gift shops in Vegas you can buy these cards that show how to play any given situation in blackjack according to your hand and the dealers up card.


However, if there’s one thing that I’ve learned 99% of blackjack players do not have the time or inclination to memorize that. It’s asking too much. So, if you’re in that 99%, I’m going to teach you what’s called the wizard’s simple blackjack strategy. It’s just a handful of rules, and it gets you to 99.8% of the expected return of the basic strategy. So, it’s going to get you almost all the way to perfect play with basic strategy but with a much more simple strategy.

The first rule, and the one that you see a lot is really obvious. It’s if you have a total of hard A or less, you hit. That’s all there is to it. With a nine, what you do depends on the dealer’s up card. If the dealer has a small up card, you’re going to double. If he has a high up card you’re going to hit. Now, let me explain what is a low and high up card. And this is going to be true throughout my whole strategy. A low dealer up card is a two through a six. A high dealer up card is a seven through an ace. So, you’ve got a total of nine. If the dealer showing a two through six, you double. If the dealer’s showing a seven through an ace, you hit it.

Next rule. With a 10 or an 11, the potentially doubling hands, you’re going to double if you have more points than the dealer. For example, if I have a total of a hard 10 then I’m going to double if the dealer has a two through a nine showing. If the dealer has a 10 or an ace showing, I’m just going to hit it. Likewise, with an 11, I’m going to double if the dealer’s showing a two through a 10. And if he has an ace up tying me, then I’m just going to hit.

Next rule. And this one covers a lot of hands and are frequently misplayed. These are the stiff hands. If you have a total of 12 to 16 then you’re going to stand if the dealer’s showing a small card and hit if the dealer is showing a big card. If you remember just one thing from this whole video it should be that because these situations happen all the time and their frequently misplays.

Next rule is pretty obvious. If you have a total of hard 17 or more, you stand. That one’s obvious. So, let’s play a few hands and see how well Angela remembered all that. And we will get to the soft doubles and splits later.

[cards being shared].

Okay, Angela, what should I do?

Angela: You should stand.

Mike: Because.

Angela: Because you have a 20 against a dealer's tag.

Mike: Right. If I have a hard 17 or more, I stand which I obviously do.

Angela: I have a hard 17 so I’m [unintelligible].

Mike: Very good.

[cards being shared].

Mike: Okay, Angela, what should I do?

Angela: A nine against dealer’s two. It’s a small card and you should double.

Mike: Correct. And before all the perfectionists out there write to me I want to remind you this is a simple strategy. There are some borderline cases like this one where it’s not mathematically correct but I made, but we’re going to double this situation in the interest of simplicity.

Dan: And here’s another case 12 against? A two.

Mike: This is another case where the wizard’s simple strategy differs from the basic strategy. Don’t stress about it. Don’t send me an email about it. What does the wizard’s simple strategy say to do in this situation?

Angela: To stand.

Mike: Because.

Angela: 12 on a two. Because the dealer’s got a small card showing.

Mike: Exactly. You have a 12 to 16 at stiff hand and the dealer’s showing a small card so you stand.

Dan: Tag one please. Still on that? Now, I make it.

Mike: Now, no strategy is going to win every single hand but if you learn the strategy, you’re going to be playing better blackjack than the vast majority of players out there. Now, here’s a situation I didn’t cover yet. The soft doubles. If you have a soft hand of 13 to 15, then you always hit. So, here’s a soft 13. It doesn’t matter what you’ve got. I’m going to hit. Now, here I’ve got soft 20. This is pretty obvious but another rule is if you have a soft 19 or more, you always stand. So, I’ve got soft 20, I’m good.

Angela: And I’ve got 15 on a two. Stands.

Mike: Correct.

Dan: 18.

[cards being shared].

Dan: Insurance?

Mike: Okay, here’s another rule. Never take insurance. Period. No exceptions.

Dan: All right, insurance closed.

Mike: Okay, what should I do?

Dan: Your double down rule said, “If you have a 10 you have outrank the dealer’s up card then you double if you don’t, and you just hit. Right?

Mike: Exactly. We count the ace as 11 points. You’ve got more than me so I’m just going to hit.

Dan: 19, two winners.

[card sharing].

Mike: Okay. What are you going to do?

Angela: 10 on four, I will double.

Mike: Because you outrank the dealer.

Angela: Outrank.

Dan: One card, 20. Five, 13, 15, busted.

[cards being shared].

Mike: So, what should you do?

Angela: I should hit.

Mike: Right. If you have a soft 13 to 15, you always hit. So, you got soft 14, it doesn’t make any difference what the dealer has. And now what do you do?

Dan: 13.

Angela: Card 13 so I hit.

Mike: And it’s not that the dealer outranked you. It’s that you had a stiff hand, and the dealer had a big card. So, this is obvious. I’ve got hard 8 or less. I hit. If this were a two card 11, I will double. But I’m not allowed to double because it’s more than two cards. So, with a hard nine, 10 or 11, composed of three or more cards, you always just hit.

Dan: And you lockout.

Mike: Yes.

Angela: And I’ve got 11, so I’m going to double.

Mike: Because, what’s the rule for them?

Angela: Double, 11 on everything except-

Dan: An ace.

Angela: - an ace.

Mike: Yes.

Angela: [laughs]. Yei! No, no, no.

Dan: Yes.

Angela: [laughs].

[cards being shared].

Mike: Wow, look at this. Two hands where the player can split. There are five kinds of cards where sometimes you split and sometimes you don’t. Those being twos, threes, sixes, sevens and nines. If you’ve got any one of those five hands, you will split it if the dealer’s showing a low card, and you don’t, if the dealer’s showing a high card. If you don’t then you revert to the rules I explained before about hitting and standing. So, in this situation, I’ve got one of those five kinds of hands. The dealer’s got a low card so I split.

[cards being shared].

Now, you’ve got aces. There’s two kinds of hands cards that you always split. Eights and aces.

Dan: And you get one card only. There’s a 21. That’s not a blackjack. That’s a 21. And that’s a 21. Those are two 21s. They’re not blackjacks because the original hand was two aces and not a blackjack. But those are good hands and you needed every bit of it, and you got it.

Angela: [laughs].

Mike: Now, we’ve got two more split hands here. As I was saying before there are five kinds of cards which sometimes you split and sometimes you don’t, twos, threes, sixes, sevens and nines. I have got a nine, and then it depends on the dealers off card. If the dealer was showing a low card two through six, I would split these. However, he’s got a high card a seven through an ace so I’m going to be more conservative I’m not going to split in which case I would revert to hitting and standing rule, so I would stand on any 18, so I’m good. Now we haven’t covered fives yet but there are three kinds of hands in the wizard simple strategy that you never split, the three that starts with F, fours fives and faces. You’ve got two fives, you never split no matter what the dealer does, so then you revert to the hitting and standing strategy, so what do you do?

Angela: I double the 10 on the eight.

Mike: Exactly.

Angela: One more, double and double for that.

Dan: Good thing you had blackout, yes you win [laughs] all right.

Mike: This hand gives me an opportunity to explain another rule about soft hands. I explained before that if the player has a soft 13 to a fifteen, you hit no matter what. What I didn’t get to yet is if the player has a soft 16 to 18 then it depends on what the dealer’s up card is. If the dealer has a low card showing, then you’re going to double, if he dealer has a high card showing then you’re going to hit. I have a soft 13 to 15 so I’m just going to hit no matter what the dealer has. 15 against the seven I hit, I’m good 21.

Angela: Soft 17 is dealer high card I’m going to hit.

Mike: Exactly.

Angela: I have a 16, oops on 17.

Dan: Thanks Mike


But that’s the right play. A soft 17 is at least three hits but you’ve a sixteen against a seven.

Angela: Good.

Dan: Don’t worry, you get coms.


Mike: Okay this reminds me of the last hand except this time Dan has a low card showing, so as I explained last time, I have got a soft 13 through a fifteen, so I hit no matter what the dealer has. Now I have got 15, dealer has a low card so I stand. What do you do Angela?

Angela: Oh I have got a soft 17 against dealer low card. Since it’s a fifteen through 17 I double?

Mike: It’s 16 through an eighteen. If you have a soft 16 through an eighteen and then dealer has a low card then you double.

Dan: Yes.


Mike: This gives me an opportunity to explain the last rule of the Wizard simple rule strategy. The only time you surrender is 16 against a ten. That’s it, it’s that simple surrender, and so what should you do Angela?

Angela: Well I have got a pair of threes against a dealer’s high card, so I don’t want to split those. I wonder if it’s a low card, instead I’m going to revert to hit and stand.

Mike: What kind of hand does what you say apply to?

Angela: Twos, threes, sixes, sevens, and nines.

Mike: Right, so you need to remember that, two, three, six, seven and nine.

Angela: All right.

Mike: You fall into that range but the dealer has a high card, so what do you do?

Angela: Revert to hit or stand.

Mike: Exactly.

Angela: It’s fascinating we have some of these, 16 on a ten, oh.

Mike: Yes, this is the closest play there is in black jack, it happens all the time. As I just explained if this was two cards 16 against a ten you would surrender. But you can only surrender on your initial hand. It’s not an option in this case, so the fundamental rule of my strategy with a stiff hand is, right you hit against the dealer high card.

Dan: Go down swing and sometimes you had no choice, you had a bad hand.

Mike: And I know that you probably didn’t remember everything in this video but everything I just said is right on my blackjack page at, go to blackjack and the wizard simple strategy is right there. If you learn the strategy like I said earlier you will get to 99.8% of the power of the basic strategy but it’s much more easy to learn, any questions? Well thank you very much for being my student Angela.

Angela: Thank you.

Mike: And for you Dan to the dealer and good luck to all of you.