The Strategy of Blackjack

There is a Basic Strategy table which itemises the entire set of optimal plays, or ideal choices the player should make according to the dealer’s and player’s cards. The use of the Basic Strategy reduces the house advantage markedly but in this section we concentrate on alternative means of optimising your chances over and above the Basic Strategy.

Card Counting

Card counting simply allows the players to keep track of the cards as they are played and to use the remaining cards to their greatest advantage. Statistics show that by counting cards the player can glean an advantage of up to 2% over the house.

One of the main advantages of counting cards is that the player can increase their starting bets should they be aware, for example, that there are still several aces and 10s remaining in the deck. A second advantage is that the player may use information about the remaining cards to improve on the criteria of the Basic Strategy for specific hands played.

The casino bosses are no fools, however, and in an effort to counter the positive effects card counting may have for their patrons, they now opt to use multi-decks of cards colloquially known as ‘shoes’. Card counting is not illegal and is not considered cheating, but the casinos have the right to ban players so it is best not to make it obvious when counting the cards. The use of electronic counting devices are not allowed.

Composition-dependent Strategy

Although the Basic Strategy is very clear as to what choices should be exercised, the actual composition of the hand could sway the decision away from the tried and tested Basic Strategy.

For example, according to the Basic Strategy a player holding 12 should ‘stand’ against the dealer’s 4 but, in a single deck game, the player would be best advised to ‘hit’ if the 12 is made up of a 10 and a 2. The logic behind this unprecedented move is that the player would dearly love any other card except a 10 and with one 10 already in the hand, the odds are pretty long for a second 10 to be dealt to the same player.

Shuffle Tracking

Shuffle Tracking is a more difficult technique to simple card counting but, in a nutshell, it involves tracking groups of cards, known as packs, slugs or clumps, during play and through the shuffle and then playing and betting on those same cards as they come into play again. Shuffle tracking not only requires outstanding eyesight but colossal powers of visual estimation as well. A number of books have been penned on the subject including Arnold Snyder’s ‘The Shuffle Tracker’s Cookbook’.