A few years ago I read a book, or saw a show, or talked to a friend, or skimmed a website, and came across a quote I’d like to reiterate now, sadly, I won’t be able to attribute it to the original author, but the quote stuck with me. It was “Skill breeds long term luck”.
Most people who ask me about my blackjack playing ask how someone can learn to win consistently, over the long term. But I always say to win over the long term you have to be lucky, and that is the honest truth, because no matter how well you play you wont be able to scoop the house edge down to below 0%. Your best chance to be lucky in the long term though, is to play skillfully the whole way through. In fact, when you think about it, the only chance you have to be lucky in the long term is to play with skill consistently. There are card counting professionals out there who may be able to gain a small advantage over the casino by keeping track of cards. These pros have dropped in numbers over the past few years as Vegas and other gambling hot spots institute new variations on the game which make it harder to count cards (such as multiple decks and auto-shufflers).
So how do we become a skillful blackjack player? Well, we do two things. We learn some bankroll management, and we learn basic strategy, more on basic strategy in a second. Bankroll management can take many forms – I don’t recommend any systematic methods (well occasionally I do, in fact the only time I recommend systems at all is when they have some bankroll management built in), I just like to give a couple of basic tips that apply to more than just blackjack strategy. Setting loss limits is probably the most important aspect of bankroll management. Once you’ve lost a set amount of money, stop playing; do not chase your losses. Simply paying attention to your bankroll is probably the best way to manage it. Better than that, set all of your spending limits before you ever enter the casino itself. Once you’ve mastered setting limits and sticking to them, you’ll be ahead of 90% of the people around you in the casino.
Basic blackjack strategy is the label placed on a set of playing guidelines which were worked out by computer a number of years ago. If you know the number of decks in use at a table and each of the rules in play, it is possible to work out the best decision available to you for each possible dealer up-card. Early in the 1980s computer programmers designed a piece of code to simulate a blackjack game, follow each possible decision from each possible situation, and determine which would be the most advantageous for the player. From this research we have what is collectively known as ‘basic strategy’. Basic blackjack strategy is most often expressed in a table with the value of the dealer’s up-card running along the top, and the value of the two player cards running down the side. Take a look at our basic strategy table below. To use the table find the column that corresponds to the dealer up-card, and follow it down to the row that corresponds with your blackjack hand. The resulting cell will either tell you to stand, hit, double, or split. There is often a separate table set up for hard and soft totals, and a separate table for doubles (since doubles on your first two cards allows the option of splitting).
Really, Really Advanced Strategy
Many people shy away from studying a basic blackjack strategy chart simply because of the name basic strategy. Some players already feel they know the basics and should be looking for something called advanced strategy instead. With the exception of counting cards (something that’s getting much harder to do with new casino technology and game styles) there is no better way to play than with basic blackjack strategy, it may as well be called really, really advanced strategy. You can even calculate out what any other decision in a given situation will cost you in dollars for deviation from basic strategy; this is possible because basic strategy is mathematically precise.