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Different Basic Strategies for Different Blackjack Rules

9 October 1999

You've played a fair amount of blackjack in your day. You know your basic strategy. Stand with 12 against a 6, hit 16 against an ace, and double down with 11 against a 5. Everybody knows the easy stuff. What about the other 337 hands you can be dealt, like a soft 18 against a 3 or a pair of 9s against a 9? And what about if the dealer hits a soft 17 or if you're playing with just two decks? And then there's the "surrender" rule and the "no double after split" rule. What do you do then?

It's true that if you just know the generic basic strategy, you'll be playing your hands about 97% correct no matter where you go. But any place that has many casinos will likely have several different sets of blackjack conditions, as well. And if you want to get the other 3% of your hands correct in all cases, you'll need to know how to vary your play appropriately.

A standard basic strategy chart in a typical B/J book usually shows the correct play for four to eight decks, the dealer stands on soft 17, and you can double down on any first two cards, but not after splits. Making all the right plays in this theoretical game, your disadvantage to the house will be 0.57% with six decks. Unfortunately, there is seldom a game exactly like this. In most shoe games, you can indeed double down after splits. There you would take your generic chart and add to the splitting of a pair of deuces or 3s against a 2 or a 3 up, a pair of 4s against a 5 or a 6 up, and a pair of 6s against a deuce showing. Being able to double down on split pairs lowers that six-deck house edge to 0.43% if you do everything correctly.

Now, what if the dealer hits a soft 17? Then you should double down with 11 against an ace, as well as with an ace/8 against a 6 in all games. Although this rule generally favors the dealer (by 0.20%), he also breaks more often with a 6 or an ace showing since he cannot stand pat when he turns over a soft 17. Thus, you should turn more aggressive with your good hands.

There are a couple of additional strategy changes that are in order when you're playing in a hand-held (one- or two-deck) game. First, double down with 9 against a deuce (rather than hit), and split a pair of 6s against a deuce regardless of whether you can double after splits. Next, double down with any 11 against an ace in a single-deck game and also in double-deck play if your 11 contains a 4 or a 5 in it. (Of course, if the dealer hits soft 17, you'll double with any 11 versus the ace).

And what about the surrender option? Depending upon the rules and number of decks in play, there are between three and seven hands that should be surrendered. If the dealer stands on soft 17, you should surrender 16 against a 9, 10 or ace, and 15 against a 10 in the shoe game. With one or two decks, just play out your 16 against a 9.

If the dealer hits soft 17, then you should also surrender 15 and 17 against an ace up with any number of decks. Also, surrender a pair of 8s versus an ace in the shoe game. Proper surrender play will improve your basic strategy performance by 0.03% to 0.10% depending upon the number of decks and specific rules in effectâ€”-the worse the game, the more surrendering helps you. With a typical six-deck shoe, surrender is worth 0.07%.

Finally, what happens if you use the wrong basic strategy for the game that you're in? Usually, it will cost you 0.03% or 0.04%, not counting your neglect of the surrender option.

Blackjack Bluebook by Fred Renzey
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Winning Strategies at Blackjack! Video tape hosted by Academy Award Winner James Coburn, Written by Frank Scoblete
Blackjack: Take the Money and Run by Henry Tamburin
Twenty-First Century Blackjack: New Strategies for a New Millennium by Walter Thomason
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Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send \$9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

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Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send \$9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009