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Getting Back to Blackjack Basics

5 July 1999

Today's column is devoted to basic strategy in blackjack.

Basic strategy was first popularized in 1962 when Edward O. Thorp, a mathematics professor at the University of California, published his breakthrough book Beat The Dealer. He showed it was possible to gain a mathematical advantage over the casino by employing basic strategy and card counting.

Playing conditions have changed dramatically in the 35 years since the book was written, but the fact remains basic strategy is the best way to play the game. The plays can vary depending on the number of decks used and if you count cards, but for our purposes we'll detail the basic strategy plays for the game the way it's played at Chicago-area riverboat casino destinations:

MULTIPLE DECK HITTING VS. STANDING (HARD TOTALS): Always hit your 2-card total of 11 or less. Always stand on your 2-card total of 17 or more. Stand on 13 through 16 if the dealer's up-card is 2 through 6, hit it if the card is 7 or higher. Hit your 2-card total of 12 if the dealer's up-card is 2 or 3, or 7 or higher. Stand on a dealer's 4, 5, or 6.

MULTIPLE DECK SPLITTING PAIRS: Always split your aces and eights Never split your fives and tens. Split deuces, threes, and sevens against a dealer's 2 through 7 only. Split your fours only against the dealer's 5 and 6. Split sixes against 2 through 6. Split nines against 2 through 6, and also 8 and 9.

MULTIPLE DECK DOUBLING DOWN (HARD TOTALS): Never double down on your 2-card total of 8. Double down on your 9 against the dealer's up-card of 3 through 6. Double down on your 10 against the dealer's 2 through 9 (note, not against a 10 or ace). Double down on your 11 against the dealer's 2 through 10 (note, not against an ace).

MULTIPLE DECK SOFT TOTAL STRATEGY: First off, always stand on a 2-card total of Ace-8 (19) and Ace-9 (20). If you're holding an Ace-2 or Ace-3, double down on it when the dealer's up-card is 5 or 6, hit it against anything else. On an Ace-4 or Ace-5, double down against the dealer's 4, 5, or 6 and hit it against anything else. On an Ace-6, double down against a 3 through 6, hit against anything else. On an Ace-7, stand against the dealer's 2, 7, and 8. Double down against 3 through 6. Hit it against a 9, 10, or Ace.

There are practical, mathematical reasons for every basic strategy play, even though sometimes it seems like you're going against your better judgment. For example, if you're holding an Ace and a 7, you have a "soft total" of 18. But that won't beat the dealer's total of 19 or higher, so as long as you can't "bust" by taking a card, you may as well do it and try to improve your hand.

Then there's the subtleties of holding a pair of nines. The reason you don't split them against a dealer's 7 is because if there's a 10 card in the hold, as you are to assume, the dealer will have to stand on the 17. You already have a 2-card total of 18, which is a winner in this situation.

John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp