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Overview of Hitting and Standing Strategies in Blackjack

Here is a quick primer on hitting and standing strategies for blackjack. This article concentrates on the hitting (drawing) and standing player options. Note that hard totals, hands where an ace isn’t counted as 11 points, are different than soft totals. For example, a 9-8 (17) or 10-6-A (17) is a hard total and A-6, which can count as a 7 or 17, is a soft total.

In casino blackjack, if both you and the dealer hold the same total of 21 or less, the hand is a push and nobody wins.

PLAYER’S HAND OF 11 OR LESS (HARD TOTALS)

    You should always draw to any hard total 11 or less (unless a doubling or splitting option is more profitable). By hitting this hand, you have no risk of busting, no matter what you draw, and drawing a card can strengthen your total. There is no question about the correct decision—drawing is a big gain.

PLAYER’S HAND OF 17-21 (HARD TOTALS)

    Always stand on these hard totals (17-21) because the risk of busting is too high to make drawing worthwhile. It is obvious that the chances of improving these high totals are minimal, and the risks of busting are very probable. In addition, totals of 19, 20, 21, and to a lesser extent, 18, are already powerful hands. While a hard 17 is a poor player total, the risk of busting by drawing is far too costly to make drawing a viable option. Stand on hard totals of 17-21 against any dealer upcard.

PLAYER’S HAND OF 12-16 (HARD TOTALS)

    You will make the bulk of your decisions when you’re dealt these cards because there are no automatic decisions on these hard totals, as there on other player totals. Your hand is not an obvious draw (such as the 11 or less grouping) because the risk of drawing a 10 or other high card and busting is substantial. Your hand is not an obvious stand decision either (such as the 17-21 grouping), since the only times you’ll win with these weak totals of 12-16 are the times that the dealer busts.

    To be a winning blackjack player, you must first know the correct way to play your hands. The same applies to any player who moves on to a professional counting or non-counting strategy—understanding and properly implementing Basic Strategy is a must. Therefore, be sure that you understand these basic strategies before going on to the winning techniques of play.

GENERAL PRINCIPLES: HITTING AND STANDING

  • When the dealer shows a 7, 8, 9, 10 or A, hit all hard totals of 16 or below (unless doubling or splitting is more profitable—in any case, you will always draw a card).
  • When the dealer shows a 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6, stand on all hard totals of 12 or more. Do not bust against a dealer stiff card. Exception: Hit 12 vs. 2, 3.

HARD TOTALS

HARD TOTALS 12-16

    The decision to hit or stand with hard totals 12-16 is a strategy of minimizing losses—no matter what you do, you have a potentially losing hand against any dealer upcard. Do not expect to win when you hold a stiff. However, to maximize the gain from your overall strategy, minimize your losses in disadvantageous situations like the one above, and maximize your gains in advantageous one.

PLAYER TOTALS OF 12-16 VS. DEALER PAT CARDS 7, 8, 9, 10, A

    When the dealer shows a 7, 8, 9, 10, or ace, hit all hard totals 16 or below.

PLAYER TOTALS OF 12-16 VS. DEALER STIFF CARDS 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

    The greater busting potential of the dealer stiff cards makes standing with hard totals of 12-16 a big gain over drawing. While you will win only 40% of these hands (the times that the dealer busts), standing is a far superior strategy to drawing, because you’ll bust too often drawing to your own stiffs against upcards that will bust fairly often

    themselves. The times that you will make pat totals by drawing won’t guarantee winners either, because the dealer will often make equal or better totals.

    Though the dealer will make more hands than bust, your strategy here is to minimize losses so that when you get your good hands, you’ll come out an overall winner.

Exception—Hit Player 12 vs. 2 or 3

    Hitting 12 vs. 2 or 3 is the only basic strategy exception to drawing with a stiff total against a dealer’s stiff upcard.

SOFT TOTALS

PLAYER’S HANDS OF A-2, A-3, A-4 AND A-5

    Unless you’re able to double down, always draw a card to these hands.

PLAYER’S HANDS OF A-6, A-7, A-8, AND A-9

    The decision to hit or stand with soft totals 17 or higher necessitates a closer look at the strength of these totals. Unlike hard totals of 17 or more, drawing is a viable option with these soft totals. Since you have the option of counting the ace as 1 point or 11 points, drawing a 10-value card will not bust your soft totals. While you have no risk of busting, you do risk drawing a weaker total, and therefore must ask yourself the question, “How strong is my total?”

PLAYER’S HAND OF SOFT 17 (A-6)

     Always draw on soft 17, no matter what the dealer shows as an upcard.

PLAYER’S HAND OF SOFT 18

    Against dealer stiff upcards of 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, standing with 18 is a smart strategy move. Stand against a 7, you have a winning total, and against an 8, you figure to have a potential push.

    Against the powerful dealer upcards of 9, 10, and ace, your standing total of 18 is a potentially losing hand but you have a chance to minimize your losses by drawing.

PLAYER’S HAND OF SOFT 19 AND 20

    These hands are strong player totals as they stand. You have no reason to draw another card.

UNIVERSAL MASTER STRATEGY CHART

    The following strategy chart is designed to give you a near-even game against the casino. To get an aactual advantage, you willhave to learn a counting or non-counting blackjack strategy. (Go to www.cardozabooks.com for more information.)

UNIVERSAL MASTER STRATEGY CHART

DEALER UPCARDS
Player 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A
7/less H H H H H H H H H H
8 H H H H H H H H H H
9 H D D D D H H H H H
10 D D D D D D D D H H
11 D D D D D D D D D H
12 H H S S S H H H H H
13 S S S S S H H H H H
14 S S S S S H H H H H
15 S S S S S H H H H H
16 S S S S S H H H H H
A2 H H H D D H H H H H
A3 H H H D D H H H H H
A4 H H D D D H H H H H
A5 H H D D D H H H H H
A6 H D D D D H H H H H
A7 S D D D D H H H H H
A8 S S S S S S S S S S
A9 S S S S S S S S S S
22 H H spl spl spl spl H H H H
33 H H spl spl spl spl H H H H
66 H spl spl spl spl H H H H H
77 spl spl spl spl spl spl H H H H
88 spl spl spl spl spl spl spl spl spl spl
99 spl spl spl spl spl S spl spl S S
AA spl spl spl spl spl spl spl spl spl spl
A= Ace
H = Hit      S = Stand     D= Double     spl = Split
Do not split 4-4, 5-5, or 10-10. Always split 8-8 and A-A.

 

About the Writer
Avery Cardoza has written twenty-one books on beating the casino and is the world’s largest publisher of gaming and gambling titles (www.cardozabooks.com). Cardoza is also the owner of the legendary Gambler’s Book Club (www.gamblersbookclub.com), home to the world’s largest selection of gaming books. His novel, Lost in Las Vegas, is a critically acclaimed dark comedy about two hapless vacationers who find themselves hunted by the mob, FBI, six killers, and the Rat in a world where nothing is as it seems—and then things go downhill for them. “A fantastic read… The Vegas underbelly as if presented by the Coen brothers.”—Kevin Pollak.