Weekend Basic Strategy

-John Vega



Some Terms

The most important decision for a Player to make is whether he would like to add to the total of his hands by taking additional cards ("hitting") at the risk of going over 21 and automatically losing ("busting"), or whether to decline additional cards ("standing"). A Player has the right, on his initial two cards, to double his initial bet on hands where he agrees to take one, and only one, hit ("doubling"). If the Player's first two cards are a pair, the Player may split them into two seperate hands by moving them apart and placing an amount equal to his intial bet on the new second hand ("splitting").

After splitting, the two hands are played as if the Player had just started. So, it is possible after a split, to split again if the Player again receives a pair ("resplitting"), or double on one of the new hands. Most casinos allow resplitting of all pairs except Aces.

The order of thought for a player is that he should first to check for a pair. If so, the Player must decide whether to split the pair. Next, the Player should look at the hand to see if it is of the type to double. Last, and by far the most common decision, the Player must decide whether to hit or stand.

A Soft Hand is a hand which has an Ace which may be counted either as a 1 or an 11. For example, an A-7 may either be counted as 8 or 18 and is called a "Soft 18". For comparison, a Ten-8 may only be counted as an 18, so it is called a "Hard 18". Soft Hands are flexible because you can hit them without fear of busting.

A Dealer's up card of 2 through 6 are called "Stiffs". These are because these cards tend towards hands for the Dealer of 12 through 16; "Stiff Hands." Stiffs are the worst up cards for the Dealer, and the best for the Player, because of the increased potential the Dealer has of busting. Players will tend to hit, double or split more aggressively against a Dealer's Stiff. The worst Stiffs for the Dealer are 5 and 6. The Dealer will bust on his own almost 50% with these two cards. You will double or split against a Dealer's 5 or 6 very aggressively.

A Dealer up cards of 7 through Ace tend towards hands of 17 through 21; "Pat Hands." These are the worst up cards for the Player. Players will tend to stand, and avoid most doubling or splitting against a Dealer's 7 through Ace.

Perfect play without counting cards is called "Basic Strategy". Weekend Basic sacrifices small amounts of accuracy for the sake of a simplified system which may be played without errors, even by the casual player. It achieves an accuracy rate of 99.93% of that of Basic Strategy, with less than one-half of the rules and exceptions to memorize.



The Strategy


1. Never take Insurance.

2. Against a Dealer's Stiff, hit up to a hard total of 12.
exception: hit a 12 against a Dealer's 2 and 3

3. Against a Dealer's 7 through Ace, hit up to a hard total of 17.

4. Always hit a soft 17 or lower. Stand on a soft 18 or better.

5. If you have a hard Ten or Eleven on your first two cards, double against Dealer's cards which are worse than your total. (i.e. Double on a Ten against a Dealer's 9 or less; double on an Eleven against a Dealer's Ten or less)

6. If you have a hard Nine on your first two cards, double against a Dealer's Stiff.

7. If you have a Soft 13 through Soft 18, double against a Dealer's 5 or 6.

8. Never split 4s, 5s, or Tens.

9. Always split Aces and 8s.

10. Split all other pairs against Dealer's Stiffs only.



Some Explanations:


Rule 1: Never Take Insurance.

Insurance is a sucker bet unless you are a card counter. Insurance is offered when the Dealer has an Ace showing. It is a side bet as to whether the dealer has a blackajck.

For the dealer to have blackjack, his down card must be a ten. There are 4 tens (the Ten, Jack, Queen, and King) out of 13 cards in each suit. Therefore, the odds of a Dealer blackjack are 4 in 13, or 30.77%.

Insurance pays 2 to 1 of the amount of your insurance wager. The payoff is related only to your insurance wager, and is not related to your original wager that you are somehow "insuring".

So, if you made 100 ten dollar insurance wagers (totalling $1,000), for the 30.77% of the time you win, you would keep your $307.70 in wagers and receive and additional $307.70 in winnings. For the 69.33% of the time you lost, you would receive nothing and forfeit your wager. Your expected return for $1,000 dollars wagered would be $615.40. That is a healthy 38.46% edge to the house on each wager.


Rules 2 and 3: Against a Dealers 7 through Ace, hit up to a hard 17; against a dealer's stiff, hit up to a hard 12. Exception: Hit a 12 against a dealer's 2 or 3.

Hard hitting and standing is the single most important decision a player can make. Proper har hitting and standing is responsible for 53.1% of the player's edge (or lack thereof) against the house. These two rules are identical to perfect Basic Strategy.

Another way to look at these rules is to never hit a hard 17 or above. This is probably common sense. You have a pat hand and your risk of busting is unacceptably high. Obviously, you are always doubling or hitting any hand that is 11 or less. There is no risk of busting on an 11 or less, and no reason not to try to improve your hand. The only decisions, therefore, come when you have a 12 through a 16.

It is helpful to visualize the dealer's down card as a 10. A hand with a 6 up "tends" to a 16, a hand with a 7, tends to a 17. This is important, as the Dealer must hit on 16 and below, and stand on 17 and above.

First consider hands where the Dealer has a stiff; a 2 through 6. These hands tend towards a 12 through 16, and then, after the dealer is forced to take a hit, tend towards a bust for the dealer. If you have a hand with a hard 12 or above, it is not worth it to take a hit and risk busting when the dealer is tending towards a bust. Remember, if both you and the dealer bust, he gets to keep your money.

Next consider hands where the Dealer has a 7 through Ace. He now tends towards a pat hand of 17 through 21. His chances of busting are significantly lower. If you stand on a hand less than a 17, you are doomed. You will automatically lose any time the dealer doesn't bust, which is just about all of the time. Although you risk busting, it is worth it to try to improve your hand to a pat hand. Once you reach a hard 17 or better, put on the brakes. It's now time for the dealer to try to beat you.

The only exception is when you have a 12 and the dealer has a 2 or a 3. Although both hands are potential bust hands, the risk of busting is low for each. Only four cards out of thirteen will bust your twelve. The dealer has two unknown cards, his down card and the card he must take for a hit. Unless he's pulling a pair of tens (or a ten and a nine if he has a three), he's not likely to bust. So, the unique combonation of the low risk of you busting a 12 with the low risk of the dealer busting a 2 or 3 leads to this exception.



Rule 4. Hit a Soft 17 or below, stand on a soft 18 or above.

Soft hitting and standing is the third most important playing decision to make. It accounts for 14.5% of the good player's edge. There are 88 potential decisions to make, eleven different dealer up cards against a player's soft 13 through 20. A soft 21 is a Blackjack, so there isn't much thought involved there. A soft 12 is a pair of Aces, which are always split under rule 9, below. So, that leaves soft 13 through soft 20 to think about.

Of the 88 potential decisions, the above rule correctly states 85. Of the three instances it is incorrect, one of the choices is a virtual push. In total, the three incorrect instances occur on only 0.49% of all hands, and the result under the above rule achieves 75.3% of the anticipated result of the perfect play for those three hands. In all, we give an edge of 0.0206% back to the house for the sake of simplicity (2.1 cents per $100 bet).

The thought process in remembering is simple. A 17 is a lousy hand for a player. Of all the dealer's pat hands, it ties one and loses to the rest. With a hard 17, the risk of busting is too high to merit trying to improve it.

With a soft 17, there is no risk of busting. So, the only cost to trying to improve your hand is the chance that you will end up with a worse hand, say a 12 through 16. Still, pause for a moment to think. A 16 still beats all of the dealer's bust hands just like a 17, and loses to all dealer's 18s through 21s just like a 17. The only edge you give up is the potential to tie a dealer's 17 (be still my beating heart) for a significant chance to improve your hand. Since the only cards which will make your hand worse are 5 through 9, this is a small risk well worth the potential reward.

With a soft 18, the situation changes. Not only does it tie a dealer's 18, it beats a dealer's 17. The cost to try to improve the hand has now increased significantly. And, there are now 6 cards, 4 through 9, which will make your hand worse. The combination of the increased likelihood that your hand will worse with the increased value of an 18 justifies standing on soft 18s and better.


Rule 5. If you have a hard Ten or Eleven on your first two cards, double against Dealer's cards which are worse than your total.

Rule 6. If you have a hard Nine on your first two cards, double against a Dealer's Stiff.

Hard doubling is the second most important decision for the player. Rule 5 gets all 22 of the possible plays correct. Rule 6 gets 10 of a possible 11 correct. The edge to the house for simplicity is 0.0020%.

Rule 5, in other words, says to double on a total of Ten against a Dealer's 9 or lower; double on a total of Eleven against a Dealer's Ten or lower. In essence, double when the dealer's up card is worse than your total. The logic is simple: you have an advantage over the dealer and it is time to put more money on the table. Your eleven tends towards a 21, his hands tend towards one point less. Your ten tends towards a twenty, again his hands tend towards one point less.

The cost to the player is that he agrees in advance, by doubling, to take only one hit. This is a small cost when the player already has a ten or eleven. Chances are that you would only hit those hands once anyway. With an eleven, 8 of the possible 13 cards give you a pat hand that you would stand on at all times. The 5 times out of thirteen that you don't have a pat hand and end up with a 12 through 16, are cushioned for by the fact that you would always stand against a dealer's stiff anyway. The few times that you end up with a 12 through 16 against a dealer's 7 to ten are more than made up for the huge increase in the number of times that you win double your original bet.

An added bonus is the fact that dealers check for blackjack before you have to make the decision whether to double down. If you are doubling an 11 against a dealer's ten, it is comforting to know that he doesn't have an ace down below. So, not only does your hand tend to a better total than his, he has told you in advance that he doesn't have the card most helpful to him.

Doubling on a hard 9 begins to get a little riskier. The number of cards that would leave you with a stiff hand has increased to six of thirteen. The odds that you would want another hit have increased. No longer is a single point advantage sufficient to double against the dealer's up card. Since you would want to hit a stiff hand against a dealer's 7 through A, those are the hands that you must not double against. Against a 7 through A, you keep your options open and merely hit your 9 without doubling.

However, against a dealer's stiff, you would never hit a 9 more than once. Even if you end up with a stiff hand, you would stand against a dealer's 2 through 6. So, there is no cost to doubling down those hands, and there is money to be made by pressing your advantage. Accordingly, double a total of 9 against a dealer's 2 through 6.



Rule 7. Double a Soft 13 through 18 against a Dealer's 5 or 6.

Soft Doubling is only 3.7% of the player's edge. This rule has been dramatically simplified because the gains from perfect play are small, and the full rule is a bit more complicated. The simplified rule 7 correctly guides you in 71 of 77 decisions. The Player gives the House a 0.019% edge for this simplification.

Note that the decision to double is made before the decision to hit or stand. So, a soft 18 is doubled against a dealer's 5 or 6. If the Dealer doesn't have a 5 or 6, then the Player stands on a soft 18.

As mentioned, a dealer will bust almost one-half of the time when he has a 5 or a 6 for his up card. So, it is in the player's interest to increase his wager by doubling. Since soft 13s through 17s are lousy hands anyway, doubling these hands allows the Player to both increases his wager when he has the edge against the dealer and also offers him a good chance to improve his hand. With a soft 18, it is still in the player's interest to increase his wager by doubling. With a soft 19 or above, the fact that a real nice hand is being ruined outweighs the Player's potential gain from doubling.



Rule 8. Never split 4s, 5s, or Tens.

Rule 9. Always split Aces and 8s.

Rule10. Split all other pairs against Dealer's Stiffs only.

Splitting is an important part of the play, accounting for 13.1% of the good player's edge. However, the full splitting rules are very complicated. Of 121 possibilities, the above simplified version accurately states 114 of them. The seven for which the Player makes the second best choice under Weekend basic costs him 0.028%.

Splitting is the first decision for the player to make. If the Player does not split, he then decides whether to double or not. If the hand is not doubled, then the decision on whether to hit or stand is made. For example, a pair of fives would not be split, but may be doubled as they total ten.

Picturing the card you will receive after you split as a Ten makes it easy to remember these three rules. If you split a pair of fours, you have taken a hand that tends towards 18 (a good hand) and turned it into two hands that tend towards 14 and doubled your wager to do so.

The same logic applies to splitting Fives. Why turn a potential twenty into two potential fifteens? The reverse principle applies to Aces and Eights. Split Aces tend towards two hands of 21; together, they tend towards one hand of 22. Split eights tends towards two hands of 18; together, you have an ugly 16 count.

The rule against splitting tens is not based on this logic. Rather, it is premised on the simple fact that ten plus ten totals twenty. A twenty is too good of a hand to monkey with. Take your victory and be content. Getting greedy could leave you with two possible losers rather than one sure winner.

Rule 10 relies upon the principle of putting more money on the table when the dealer has a stiff, just like doubling on a hard nine. By splitting these other card combinations, you neither dramatically improve them nor do you worsen them. The justification is pressing your edge against against the house when you have one. You have the edge when the dealer has a stiff, not when he has a 7 through A.

An added benefit is that most casinos permit doubling after a split ("DAS"). When you split two cards against a dealer's stiff, you next card may lead to a total of nine, ten or eleven. If so, you now can double your bet and press your edge against the house even further. It's always a blast to split a pair of twos against a dealer's 5 or 6 and double on your two new hands. So, when you see a dealer's stiff, think split unless you have Fours, Fives, or Tens.