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Gaming Strategies
This page assumes you already know the rules. If you don't may I recommend you visit the rules section at BlackjackInfo.com.

The Basic Strategy

The most important thing to know about blackjack is the basic strategy, which can be found in every introductory blackjack book. This strategy is simply the best way to play every possible situation, without any knowledge of the distribution of the rest of the cards in the deck. The chart below is for blackjack played with four or more decks. There are a few differences for fewer decks in very borderline situations. Unless you are very serious about cutting down the edge as much as possible it is quite safe to use this basic strategy for any number of decks.

To use the basic strategy look up your hand along the left vertical edge and the dealer's up card along the top. In both cases an A stands for ace. From top to bottom are the hard totals, soft totals, and splittable hands. The splittable hands have been divided into two groups depending on whether or not doubling after splitting is allowed. In multiple deck games doubling after a split is usually allowed and that rule can go either way in single deck. In the body of the chart are color coded cells that indicate the best play: H=hit, S=stand, D=double, P=split, H/P=split if allowed to double after a split, otherwise hit, H/R=surrender if allowed, otherwise hit.

Some other situations have been left out to keep the chart as small as possible they are:

  • Always hit a hard 7 or less in single deck.
  • Always hit a hard 8 or less in multiple deck.
  • Always stand on a hard 17 or more.
  • Always stand on a soft 20 or more in single deck.
  • Always stand on a soft 19 or more in multiple deck.
  • If you have a soft total that normally calls for doubling, but the rules do not permit you to do so, then hit on soft 17 or less and stand on soft 18 or more.

I have more basic strategy charts for other numbers of decks:

  • 1 deck
  • 2 decks
  • All three charts

The best way, I have found, to memorize the basic strategy is notice patterns and to try to understand why you should play every situation as the chart says. Then make flash cards and go over and over them until you know it cold. Do not deal out cards to yourself because the soft totals and the pairs will not occur often enough to test your knowledge.

Many people do not believe in the basic strategy because they once took the advice of someone who knew it and then lost the hand. Let me make something perfectly clear, you will not win every hand with the basic strategy! In fact you won't even win half your hands. However I can personally testify that while you will have short term ups and downs over the long run you will roughly break even using it.

Insurance

House Edge on Insurance
Number of Decks House Edge
1 5.882%
2 6.796%
4 7.246%
6 7.395%
8 7.470%

Do not take insurance, even if you have a blackjack. Card counters can get away with making smart insurance bets when the deck is rich in tens but the non-counting player should always decline it. The following table shows the house edge on the insurance bet depending on the number of decks used.

Surrender

Sometimes in a 6 or 8 deck game the player has the option to surrender. To be specific the player may forfeit half their bet to be excused from playing out their hand. Obviously this option should only be taken in the worst hands when the net return is less than 50%. In late surrender (the only kind I have ever seen) the player may only opt to surrender after the dealer checks for a blackjack. The following table is a basic guide for when to surrender (Y=yes, N=no).

Basic Surrender Strategy
Players Hand Dealer's Card
9 10 A
15 N Y N
16 Y Y Y

Appendix 6 shows more details depending on exact card composition and the number of decks.

House Edge

Blackjack Statistics
Number of Decks House Edge
1 -0.15%
2 0.19%
4 0.35%
6 0.40%
8 0.43%

The table shows the house edge assuming the player is using the basic strategy and the following rules:

  • Dealer stands on a soft 17
  • Player may double after a split
  • Player may double on any two cards
  • Split up to 3 or 4 hands
  • Draw one card to split aces
  • No surrender

 

Rule Variations
Rule Effect
Player may draw to split aces +.19%
Player may resplit aces +.08%
Late surrender +.09%
Player may double on 9-11 only -.09%
Player may double on 10,11 only -.18%
Player may not double after splitting -.14%
Player may not resplit -.10%
Dealer hits on soft 17 -.22%
No hole card: ace showing -.02%
No hole card: ten showing -.10%

Rule variations will have an effect on the player's expected return. The numbers below show the effect on the player's return under various rules and are after taking into consideration proper basic strategy adjustments. These changes are relative to the benchmark rules above.

You may be wondering what the "no hold card" rules mean. In European blackjack and in many online casinos the dealer does not check for a blackjack after dealing the cards. After the players have played their hands, if the dealer does have a blackjack, then the player loses the full amount bet, including the additional bet if the player doubled or split. This rule necessitates some adjustment in the basic strategy which is explained in more detail in my online casino appendix.

Card Counting

Let me say loud and clear that card counting is hard and is not as rewarding as television and the movies make it out to be. If it were an easy way to make money everyone would be doing it.

If you do not know the basic strategy trying to count cards is highly ill-advised. Experienced card counters still play by the basic strategy the great majority of the time. There can be no short cut around learning the basic strategy, those who attempt card counting without a firm foundation in the basic strategy are making a big mistake.

To be a successful counter you have to be able to count down a deck fast and memorize large tables of numbers as well as make it look like you're just a casual player. Furthermore, with today's rules, a realistic advantage the counter will have is only 0.5% to 1.5%. You will not win money slowly and gradually but your bankroll will go up and down like a roller coaster in the short run. Only in the long run over hundreds of hours of playing can you count on winning.

The underlying principle behind card counting is that a deck rich is tens and aces is good for the player, a deck rich in small cards is good for the dealer. The reason for this is complicated but to give just two examples: (1) Blackjacks are more common in ten and ace rich decks, which benefit the player more than the dealer. (2) The probability of busting a stiff hand is greater. The dealer is forced to hit a stiff hand and the player is not.

To gauge the richness of the deck in good cards the player will keep track of the cards the are already played. Strategies vary but all assign a point value to each card. For example the Ken Uston's Plus/Minus strategy assigns a value of +1 to 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7, and -1 to tens and aces. Everything else is 0, or neutral. At the beginning of a deck or shoe the count is 0. Then the counter constantly adds and subtracts from the count according to the cards played. This running total is called the "running count." A positive count means that a disproportional number of small cards have already been played which means the deck is rich in large cards. To determine the "true count" divide the running count by the number of decks left to be played, or in some strategies the number of half decks. This will tell you the relative richness of the deck in good cards.

The true count is used in two ways, to determine how much to bet and how to play your hand. Unless it is obvious every situation has a line in which you should play one way if the count is above the line and another if below. For example a 12 against a 6 may dictate that you stand if the true count is +1 or greater and hit if the true count is less than +1. The counter will also bet more when the deck is rich in good cards.

A problem arises when it comes to treating aces. The player should bet more when the deck is rich in aces since they add to the probability of getting a blackjack. However, when it comes to playing your hand the number of aces left is not nearly as important as the number of tens, so it is desirable, but not necessary, to distinguish between tens and aces. Some card counting strategies keep a side count of aces. In the Hi-Opt I and Revere Plus/Minus aces are counted separately and only considered when making the wager. This is a more accurate and powerful way to play than assigning a negative value to aces and not keeping a side count, as some strategies do. Yet many people feel that for the beginner it is too confusing to keep two counts. A player is more likely to make mistakes keeping two counts and that costs money. The efficiency of a strategy that does not keep a side count of aces is only modestly less but you likely will gain more from fewer mistakes made. Different experts fall in various places in the spectrum in terms of what to recommend for the beginner. The Zen Count takes the middle ground and gives aces a value of -1 and tens -2. Personally I have tried both and would recommend against a count that requires a side count of aces to a person ready to take up card counting. The Uston Advanced Plus/Minus is a good strategy that does not involve an ace side count and can be found in the book Million Dollar Blackjack. How well you know a counting strategy is much more important that which strategy you know.

Legally speaking the player may play blackjack any way he wants without cheating or using a computer, and the casinos may do anything from making conditions unfavorable to barring in an effort to stop anyone who they deem has an advantage over the game. Much of the challenge of card counting is avoiding suspicion that you are anything but a normal non-counting player. The most obvious indication that somebody is counting is that they make a substantial increase in bet size after a lot of small cards leave the table. Although the greater the factor by which you can increase your bet the greater your odds of winning, more than doubling your last bet is a fast way to arouse "heat" from the dealer and pit boss. Usually when casinos do realize you are counting they will either shuffle the cards whenever you increase your bet, essentially removing any advantage, or ask you to leave.

This is only scraping the surface of the subject of card counting. To learn more see my book review section for suggestions on good blackjack books.

Appendices

  • Appendix 1: Total dependent expected return table for an infinite deck.
  • Appendix 2: This appendix is a probability table of the dealer's final hand given the dealer's up-card, assuming the dealer does not have a blackjack.
  • Appendix 3: Composition dependent exceptions to single deck basic strategy. Very useful in playing blackjack online.
  • Appendix 4: All three basic strategy tables side by side, for comparison purposes.
  • Appendix 5: This table shows the player's expected return given their first two cards and the dealer's up card, assuming basic strategy is followed.
  • Appendix 6: Fine points of when to surrender.
  • Appendix 7: Probability table of net win/loss per bet made used to calculate standard deviation.
  • Appendix 8: Analysis of some popular blackjack side bets including Super Sevens and Royal Match.
  • Appendix 9a: Composition dependent expected returns for single deck, dealer stands on soft 17.
  • Appendix 9b: Composition dependent expected returns for double deck, dealer stands on soft 17.

Methodology

A recursive and combinatronic program was used to create the basic strategies on this page. This program takes any two player cards, any dealer up card, any number of decks, and certain rule variations and determines the best strategy and expected return using perfect play based on the distribution of remaining cards to be played and the assumption of a freshly shuffled deck. The house edge was based on using the basic strategy, not optimal strategy.

These are the basics you must learn if you’re going to play blackjack in any casino. Don’t kid yourself, unless you’ve got esp (and you’ll experience esp play on almost every trip and at every table) you can’t buck the house percentages. Commit this strategy to memory and combine it with the money management chart below and you at least will have an educated chance of minimizing the house odds. The chart is easy to read, S=Stand, H=Hit, D=Double, SP=Split.

Money Management

Discipline and the proper management of your money is the most important part of gambling. Always set an absolute limit that you’re willing to lose each session. This limit should be an amount you will not miss if you lose. The following chart works well and takes advantage of the runs. After the second hand you are playing with house money.

Your Bet Slow Progression of Winning Bets
$25 $25, $50, $75, $125, $125, $150, $200
$50 $50, $100, $150, $225, $225, $300
$100 $100, $200, $300, $400, $400, $500
Stay at this limit until you lose a bet. Then revert
to your original bet.

Other important rules to follow:

  • Never drink when gambling – do it after you win.
  • when you’re rested.

  • Never gamble more than you’ve set as your limit for the day. Force yourself to do something else. Remember the tables will still be there tomorrow.
  • Cards run in patterns. Learn to recognize the favorable ones as well as the bad ones.

Remember that these are just the basics of being what I would call an educated gambler. Stupidity can be found at almost every table. No matter how rich you are, it is more fun to win then lose. Throwing your money away because your drunk or half asleep is easy.

Insurance

House Edge on Insurance
Number of Decks House Edge
1 5.882%
2 6.796%
4 7.246%
6 7.395%
8 7.470%

Do not take insurance, even if you have a blackjack. Card counters can get away with making smart insurance bets when the deck is rich in tens but the non-counting player should always decline it. The following table shows the house edge on the insurance bet depending on the number of decks used.

Surrender

Sometimes in a 6 or 8 deck game the player has the option to surrender. To be specific the player may forfeit half their bet to be excused from playing out their hand. Obviously this option should only be taken in the worst hands when the net return is less than 50%. In late surrender (the only kind I have ever seen) the player may only opt to surrender after the dealer checks for a blackjack.

Good Luck….!!

BASIC STRATEGY FOR CRAPS

Similar to Blackjack, the Craps or Dice game house advantage can be reduced to 1% or less. Becoming familiar with the terms and the rules of the game is the first step in becoming a serious player. The next step then is to practice, practice, practice.

Craps Table Terms:
Pass Line, Come, Don’t Pass, Don’t Come, and Place. Most casinos provide a free gaming guide explaining in detail all of these terms. Also plan to spend some time watching the game in operation and the bets made by the players.

Right Bettors:
Most craps players bet on the odds or the Pass Line and Come bets. They are betting that the shooter (the one who throws the dice) will make his points before he rolls a 7.Odds ratios are mathematical calculations on the number of different ways of rolling a seven versus some other number. Casinos allow you to bet not only on the number but to take odds on it coming up. This bet is usually placed directly behind your Pass Line or Come bet. The Pass Line bet is paid off at even money while the odds bet is paid at the true odds.

Example:
You bet $25 on the Pass Line and the point is either 4 or 10, you could take single odds by placing another $25 dollar bet behind your original. If the point is made you win $25 on your Pass Line bet and $50 (2:1) on your odds bet. If you had taken double odds you could have bet double your Pass Line bet ($50) and won $100 on your odds bet.

The Odds Ratios

Odds Numbers
6:3 (2:1) On the numbers 4 or 10
6:4 (3:2) On the numbers 5 or 9
6:5 On the numbers 6 or 8

MONEY MANAGEMENT

Discipline and the proper management of your money is the most important part of gambling. Always set an absolute limit that you’re willing to lose each session. This limit should be an amount you will not miss if you lose. The following chart works well and takes advantage of the runs. After the second hand you are playing with house money.

Your Bet Slow Progression of Winning Bets
$25 $25, $50, $75, $125, $125, $150, $200
$50 $50, $100, $150, $225, $225, $300
$100 $100, $200, $300, $400, $400, $500
Stay at this limit until you lose a bet. Then revert
to your original bet.

Other important rules to follow:

  • Never drink when gambling – do it after you win.
  • Playing with money is serious business. Try to do it when you’re rested.
  • Never gamble more than you’ve set as your limit for the day. Force yourself to do something else. Remember the tables will still be there tomorrow.