Blackjack Basic Strategy

blackjack-21Becoming profitable in blackjack, as in every other casino game, is a tough endeavor, but not an impossible one. Moreover, as we’ve already said, blackjack is actually the casino game with smallest advantage of the house over players, and because of that, employing basic strategy or advanced play methods allows you to almost even the odds, or even take advantage over the house.

Blackjack players can be split into four groups, according to their experience and style of play:

basic players – these are casual players who visit the casino from time to time and typically play in games with small limits. Basic players are in general clueless about how to properly play blackjack and incur heavy losses as percentage of their capital, but because they don’t bet much rarely play, they don’t earn the casino that much.

experienced players – experienced players are gamblers who have played a lot of hands in their life but they haven’t perceived the idea of basic strategy entirely, nor advanced play, thus the odds are still stacked against them. These gamblers have gathered enough experience to know some of the basic strategy plays, but not nearly enough of them.

They know when to play a certain hand, or split or double down occasionally, but they miss the general picture and wholeness of basic strategy to be able to come to near-even with the house. Because they have some knowledge and probably some profitable evenings, despite being well in the red in the long-term, they keep coming back to the casino often and lose money regularly. This is the house’s favorite group of players.

basic strategy players – this is the first category of blackjack players for whom you can say are doing well. These players have mastered the proper strategy for each hand. When they sit on a table with player-friendly rules, basic strategy players can play the house almost even. They know the rules and employ them well, know when to do side bets or not, and although the house still makes money from them, basic strategy players can come a little ahead when you factor in the comps.

People Playing Blackjack in Casino

Thus, basic strategy is best for the so-called recreational players – people who play the game for the experience and fun, while profit comes second. These players have a different day job and visit casinos for the thrill itself. Their small disadvantage against the house is compensated by the freebies they receive. However, this is as far as they can get, and because casinos still manage to make money from basic strategy players, they are welcome to play, like the previous two groups.

advantage player – an accurate depiction for these players would be a shark. Advantage players employ advantage play methods which push the game odds into their favor, giving them an edge over the house the moment they sit on the table. Advantage players are skilled card counters who know every single aspect of the game and are consistently profitable in the long term.

Although card counting is not illegal, card counters playing on high stakes easily draw attention, and if discovered, the casino will stop them from playing. However, many skilled card counters manage to avoid being discovered and earn a decent amount of money by playing at lower stakes. You don’t have to be a genius to learn to count cards, but you do need to dedicate a lot of time to study, practice and build discipline.

We won’t be wasting another bit of time on the first two groups because they are irrelevant to us. Instead, we will dedicate our time on explaining the play style and strategies of the latter two groups, which you can think of as casual, but good, players (basic strategy players) and pros (advantage players).

Blackjack dealer showing a AJ 21 hand.

Basic strategy

Before delving into the specific strategies and compositions used for basic strategy, let us elaborate a bit more on this style of blackjack play.

Basic strategy has always offered blackjack players a great value in the casino when you take into account the comps, since a player can play at most casinos with a disadvantage of less than half a percent. Although still in the red, this is nothing compared to some games’ 7-10%, up to 25% edge of the house over gamblers.

Most casinos offer versions of blackjack which, when combined with proper execution of basic strategy, have an expected player loss of about only 0.3%. Even if a basic strategy player sits on a table with exceedingly player-unfriendly rules, the house’s advantage rarely exceeds 0.8%. Thus, employing basic strategy does well for every player who is not willing to commit to take things on the next level by learning card counting.

However, a question arises – if basic strategy players incur very little losses and taking into account comps they are at breakeven or slightly ahead, why do casinos put up with them and still welcome them to the house.

The more you lose, the more valuable you become

Here’s an explanation. The majority of players, let’s refer to them as “the mass”, don’t employ proper basic strategy, and their losses are much larger. Casinos want to attract such players and keep them as guests for as long as possible by offering free drinks, dinners, rooms, concert tickets etc. The amount of comps a player receives depends on his expected loss ratio – the larger that ratio is (theoretical loss), the more and better comps he will be awarded with.

To not lose money, casinos aim to offer players who do well (employ basic strategy) less freebies than average players, scaling that down as their theoretical loss narrows. However, there is a flaw to their plan.

Casinos record players’ play time and average bets on their casino cards, but what they also do is to categorize each player, according to their skill. Generally there are three group of player skill – “poor”, “average” and “superior”.

And although basic strategy players should be counted as “superior” if pit bosses are doing their job properly, almost all players, regardless of their skill, are rated as “average”, allowing them to enjoy enough comps. A useful piece of advice to extend the comps received is to time your biggest bets when the floormen are watching, and average down by betting less when they are not around.

Blackjack dealer dealing cards.

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