Blackjack – What is ‘perfect strategy’?

Basic Strategy

You’re playing blackjack and you’ve been dealt fifteen. The dealing is showing a six. You play with your chips for a moment, then you decide to hit. Fifteen is not the best total in the world after all, and you’ve around 24 cards that can make your hand better out of the 48 remaining – that’s a one-in-two chance, surely?

So you hit and you are dealt a seven. You’re bust and that nasty Mr Dealer takes all your chips. What a bummer.

The guy seated next to you has fourteen – even worse! You expect him to hit and your cigar falls from your lips when he waves his hand to say he’s happy with what he’s got.

You then laugh as obviously the guy’s an amateur and he doesn’t have a clue what he is doing. He probably doesn’t even know how to play the game.

You played like a pro, but you still lost?

Blackjack Tweny-One

The dealer acts and deals himself a nine. Of course, he’s beaten Mr Know-Nothing already, but due to the nature of the casino version of the game he has to draw another card. The dealer flips an eight for a total of twenty-three and he’s bust.

The guy sitting beside you collects his winning chips. Ah well, you think, he just got lucky.

An hour later you are wondering why you have run out of chips and Mr Know-Nothing has a nice, healthy stack. The answer to that question is that you’re the guy who knows nothing about blackjack, and your friend at your side is the expert.

So, what happened? In truth, you probably don’t know a hoot about perfect strategy, and your friend not only knows about it, he plays it with perfection.

Blackjack is a game where you crunch numbers, and make the same choices every time

Blackjack is a game of numbers and probability. You may think it’s a game of skill like poker, but in reality it isn’t. Okay, so there’s some skill involved in learning how to count, and learning what to do in any situation, but that’s about it. You simply need to read the cards, apply the strategy you’ve learnt, and give yourself the best chance of coming out on top.

Before we get started on our exploration of ‘perfect strategy’ there is one thing you need to know. Perfect strategy does not make you a winner when it comes to blackjack, any more than buying one hundred lottery tickets makes you guaranteed to win the lottery.

By using basic strategy, you give yourself the best chance of winning each hand. The casino has the upper hand no matter how you play. If you’re winning money playing blackjack it’s because you hit a winning streak, avoided losing streaks and quit while you are ahead, and that’s all down to luck.

If you want to be a blackjack pro, then you need to learn basic strategy

So, let’s go. What is perfect strategy, and how did it come about?

For perfect strategy we have to thank the computer. Before computers came around, there was no such thing as perfect strategy. The first person to come up with ‘perfect strategy’ (name unknown) simulated millions upon millions of blackjack hands, and seeing what would happen with any hand if a player hit or stood.

Prior to the creation of perfect strategy players would simply try and score as close to 21 as possible, usually standing on 17 or above. Very little attention was paid to the dealer’s card.

Once the simulation was done, the strategy was devised, and it held some surprises. For example no blackjack player worth his salt would have stood on thirteen, fourteen or fifteen. The simulation revealed that in some circumstances – particularly when the dealer is showing a six – you are much more likely to win if you stand on those totals.

Using basic strategy you can reduce the edge that the casino has over you

An Ace is part of blackjack

Without perfect strategy, and with ‘common sense’ strategy, a casino would typically have a five percent edge over the player. With ‘perfect strategy’, that edge can be reduced to half a percent!

You can download a blackjack strategy chart that show you what to do in every situation, but if you don’t want to look through charts and memorise them, here are eight basic rules of perfect strategy:

  • Always split aces and eights
  • Always double down on nine if the dealer is showing three, four, five or six
  • Always double down on ten if the dealer is showing nine or less
  • Always double down on eleven
  • Always stand on 17
  • Always stand on 12, 13, 14, 15 or 16 if the dealer is showing a six or less
  • Always stand on twelve if the dealer is showing four, five or six
  • Anything else, hit!

Of course, it would be fine if basic strategy ended there, but it doesn’t. Once you have mastered the basic strategy you need to move on to ‘the next level’ if you want truly to be a blackjack pro.

You are probably aware, in blackjack there are two kinds of totals – hard totals and soft totals. A hard total does not contain an ace, but a soft total does. What you need to do is learn what you do on soft totals as opposed to hard totals. For many aspects, your actions remain the same, but for some you need to change.

Before you think ‘isn’t that enough?’ then there is one final thing you need to consider. Different versions of blackjack use different numbers of decks. The less decks a game uses, the better it is for the player.

You will need to alter your strategy slightly in order to give yourself the best chance. You may also need to tweak things if the blackjack variant you are playing allows rules such as surrendering and re-splitting aces.

Becoming a blackjack pro with perfect strategy isn’t easy, but it is something you need to learn if you’re determined to come out on top.

BONUS READ: Blackjack Side Bets – Are They Worth it?

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