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Multiple-Deck Basic Strategy

13 June 2002

By John Grochowski

For players who really want to make a difference in their casino results, who want to maximize their chances to win while minimizing their expected losses, there is little they can do that compares with learning basic strategy in blackjack.

The average blackjack player spots the house an edge of about 2 to 2.5 percent, leaving a game that's a little better than Caribbean Stud, Let It Ride or pai-gow poker, but not as good a bet as baccarat or the best bets in craps. But the player who takes the time to learn and practice basic strategy slashes the house edge in a multiple-deck game to about half a percent, give or take a couple of tenths of a percent depending on house rules.

That's an enormous difference, the difference between losing an average of about $2 to $2.50 per $100 wagered or spotting the house only about 50 cents per $100. Anyone who plays blackjack should learn basic strategy, a topic I like to revisit once every couple of years. As we move away from the strategies in poker-based games we've already covered in this occasional series on table-game strategies, let's check out basic strategy for multiple-deck games. Single-deck strategy is slightly different, so in the next installment we'll look at strategy differences for the one-deck game, along with a few moves beyond basic.

BASIC STRATEGY FOR HARD TOTALS

  • Always stand on hard 17 to 21.
  • Stand on hard 13 to 16 if the dealer's face up card is 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6, but hit against 7 or higher.
  • Stand on hard 12 if the dealer's up card is 4, 5 or 6, but hit against 2, 3, 7 or higher.
  • Hit hard 13 to 16 if the dealer's face up card is 7 or higher, but stand against 6 or lower.
  • Hit hard 12 if the dealer's up card is 2 or 3, as well as 7 or higher. Stand against 4, 5 or 6.
  • Double down on 11 if the dealer's up card is anything but an Ace. Just hit against an Ace.
  • Double down on 10 if the dealer's up card is anything but an Ace or a 10-value card. Just hit against an Ace or 10-value.
  • Double down on 9 if the dealer's up card is 3, 4, 5 or 6. Otherwise, hit.
  • Hit totals of 8 or less.

That's easy enough, right? Things get a little more complicated with "soft" hands--hands in which an Ace is being counted as 11. These hands can't be busted with a one-card hit, since we can count the Ace as 1 instead.

BASIC STRATEGY FOR SOFT TOTALS

  • Always stand on soft 19, 20 or 21.
  • With soft 18, hit if the dealer's face up card is a 9, 10-value card or Ace. Stand if the dealer shows a 2, 7 or 8. If your soft 18 consists of two cards, double down if the dealer shows a 4, 5 or 6. If your soft 18 is three or more cards, stand when the dealer shows a 4, 5 or 6.
  • If a soft 13 through 17 consists of three or more cards, always hit, regardless of the dealer's up card.
  • With a soft 17 consisting of two cards, hit if the dealer shows a 2, or a 7 or higher. Double down if the dealer shows a 3, 4, 5 or 6.
  • With a soft 15 or 16 consisting of two cards, hit if the dealer shows a 2, 3 or a 7 or higher. Double down if the dealer shows a 4, 5 or 6.
  • With a soft 13 or 14 consisting of two cards, hit if the dealer shows a 2, 3, 4 or a 7 or higher. Double down if the dealer shows a 5 or 6.

What about soft 12? That's a pair of Aces, and that belongs to the next area of basic strategy, splitting pairs. When deciding whether to split pairs, we need to keep in mind whether the house rules permit us to double down after splitting. If we have the option of doubling, we split more pairs than if we don't.

We always split when we have pairs or Aces or 8s, and never split 5s or 10s. With anything else, it depends on the dealer's hand and house rules.

BASIC STRATEGY FOR SPLITTING PAIRS

  • Pair of 2s or pair of 3s: If we can double after splits, we split 2s or 3s whenever the dealer's up card is a 2 through 7. If doubling after splits is not permitted, we skip splitting against 2s or 3s. Then we split only when the dealer shows 4, 5, 6 or 7.
  • Pair of 4s: If we can't double after splitting the pair, it's not worth splitting 4s. But if doubling after splits is permitted, we have an opportunity to maximize profits when the dealer shows a 5 or 6. That's when we split.
  • Pair of 5s: Never split.
  • Pair of 6s: Split against 3, 4, 5 or 6 in any game, and split against 2 if permitted to double after splits.
  • Pair of 7s: Split whenever the dealer shows a 2 through 7. Splitting against a 7 sometimes is a stumbling block for players who fear creating two losing hands, but we're far better off starting 7 against a 7 than 14 against a 7.
  • Pair of 8s: Always split.
  • Pair of 9s: This is the trickiest pair-splitting hand. Split when the dealer shows 2 through 6, as well as when the dealer's up card is 8 or 9. Stand when the dealer shows a 7, 10 or Ace.
  • Pair of 10s: Never split.
  • Pair of Aces: Always split.
John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago, with podcasts at www.wlsam.com/sectional.asp?id=38069. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook (tinyurl.com/7lzdt44) and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

The Craps Answer Book

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