Stay informed with the
Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski

# Blackjack Basic Strategy Changes

4 September 2022

QUESTION I'm a basic strategy player from way back. My grandpa taught me to play blackjack and he insisted I know the basic strategy chart inside out before he'd take me to a casino. My 21st birthday present was a ride, \$250 in chips and a buffet.

I found you online and have been reading old articles on blackjack. You've said sometimes basic strategy isn't the best play. Sometimes it's right to stand on 16 when the dealer has a 10, when basic strategy is to hit, and that if your hand includes a 5 or 4, you should stand instead.

Can you explain why that would be?

ANSWER: Basic strategy gives you the best average play for every situation in blackjack. Hard 16 vs. 10 is not a winning hand for you, but you'll lose less money overall if you hit every time the situation comes up.

However, the average is made up of a lot of specifics. The specific situation of a hand with three or more cards in which at least one card is a 4 or 5 is a basic strategy exception.

Removing a 4 or 5 from the remaining deck means one fewer card that can turn your 16 into a 20 or 21.

It's a close call. If your hard 16 consists of 8-6-2, with no 4s or 5s, your average loss is 53.7 cents if you hit, and rises to 54.09 cents if you stand. So you make the basic strategy play and hit. But with 10-2-4, the average loss of 54.12 cents when standing is marginally less than the 54.13 cents when hitting.

Those hands were designed to show the difference with a closer than close call. The difference expands a bit with multiple 5s and 4s in the hand. If you have 5-5-4-2, the average loss of 55.35 cents if you hit is a full cent lower at 54.30 cents if you stand. So you switch away from basic strategy.

The gain is very small. If thinking about composition complicates the game enough for you that you overthink and start making basic strategy mistakes, you're better off with basic.

But to answer your question, the reason that small potential gain exists is that removing 5s or 4s from the remaining deck reduces the potential to improve your 16.

QUESTION: Why do people play slots or roulette or Big Six? Shouldn't everybody just find the low house-edge games and play blackjack or craps? Why give the house more money than you have to?

ANSWER: People play for different reasons, and they don't all involve cutting the house edge to the bone.

Playing slots for entertainment or for the chance at big jackpots is a legitimate way to play as long as slot players understand there will be more losing sessions than winners. Most of the time, losses are the cost of the day's entertainment, just like paying for a movie, play or ballgame ticket is the cost of a different day's entertainment.

If the player has fun at the slots, sampling different bonus rounds and interacting with the game features, then they have a reason to play regardless of the house edge.

Some choose strategy-light table games rather than blackjack or games with fewer betting options to sift through than craps. They like to play and take their shot at winning, but aren't serious enough to prioritize the lowest house edge.

Besides, if you really wanted to prioritize the lowest house edge, wouldn't that be to skip the games altogether? No house edge there.
Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.