Blackjack strategy charts draw a line in the sand. On one side you have the gamblers, you know, the players that don’t use basic strategy charts. On the other side you have varying degrees of advantage players; players that choose to use them to reduce the house edge.
Which side are you on?
Even if you don’t want to become a professional, card counting blackjack player, I highly recommend taking the side that uses strategy charts. You’ll learn the basic strategy necessary to reduce the house to nearly a coin flip.
And I recommend that you start by reading this page. If you do a Google search for blackjack charts, you’ll notice that most sites just post the charts and a key that covers what the abbreviations mean.
However, I think that you’d get a lot more out of your strategy charts if you knew more about them. Things like why you should use them, how to read and memorize them. Those are the types of things I’m going to cover in more detail below.
Beginners FAQ to Blackjack Strategy Charts
What are strategy charts?
Blackjack strategy charts are paper or digital guides that tell you how to play your hand based on the game you’re playing, your hand and the dealer’s hand. You can find them online with a simple Google search. Brick and mortar casinos give them away, too. In either case they’re free — or should be.
These will give you the basic strategy you need to reduce the house edge from 6-9 percent, to as low as .5 percent, depending on how well you know and use them.
Not only will strategy charts reduce the house edge, but they’re the foundation to card counting techniques, too. To be a good card counter you’ll want to have these (basic) plays down pat. All of your more advanced plays and decisions will be based on them.
Why should you use strategy charts?
The simplest answer is that you reduce the casinos’ edge to nearly nothing. So instead of losing .40-.50 minimum per hand (live), you reduce your losses down to .2-.3 per hand.
Another way to look at is that you remove most of the luck factor from the game. Instead of crossing your fingers hoping for the dealer to bust, you can use basic strategy to take control and increase the odds of that happening.
They’re free, too. Although it might take a little bit of effort to learn them, and at times they might be inconvenient, you’re going to increase the likelihood that you walk out of the casino with cash in hand. And worse case scenario, is that over the long run you’ll be about breakeven. How many people in the casino can say that about the games they’re playing?
Why do casinos give them to you? How come they let you use them?
I don’t know the exact reason why casinos are willing to give out basic strategy charts, let alone give you permission to use them at the tables. I can make a couple of guess though.
- Basic strategy won’t put the house edge in your favor. In the long run the casinos will still make money, and that’s all they care about.
- Most people don’t use strategy charts that well or to the fullest extent. So not everyone is able to reduce the house edge so low. The margin of error is still 1-2 percent, giving the house a 2-4 percent edge. Again, in the long run the casinos make money.
- Those two points in mind, I would think that strategy charts keep players in the chairs longer, perhaps thinking that they’ve finally got control of the situation.
Ultimately, the casinos are still going to make money. Otherwise they wouldn’t give them out.
What do the abbreviations mean?
This is what the abbreviations mean:
- H = Hit
- S = Stand
- D = Double if allowed, otherwise hit.
- Ds = Double if allowed, otherwise stand.
- P = Split
- Ph = Split if double after split is allowed, otherwise hit.
- Rh = Surrender if allowed, otherwise hit.
- Rs = Surrender if allowed, otherwise stand.
- Rp = Surrender if allowed, otherwise split.
These abbreviations may be different depending on the chart you use. They should be listed on the chart, though.
How do you read the chart?
The cards are very simple to read.
On the left side of the chart will be your hand. Look at your hand and ask if it’s hard, soft or a pair. Then look down the left side of the chart to find it.
On the top of the chart is the dealer’s up card. Find that on the chart.
What you’ll want to do next is move your finger from left to right, starting from the hand you have, and starting with the dealer’s up card, move your finger from top to bottom. You’ll stop where the 2 lines intersect. This will give you an abbreviation, which will be the move you need to make.
How do I memorize strategy charts?
Memorizing a strategy chart can take a lot of time. In fact, I would guess that’s why so many people balk at the idea of learning card counting. Card counting sounds sexy in theory, but there’s a lot of work and time involved.
Experts recommend that you use flash cards to learn strategy. I’m not an expert, but I think that’s a great idea, too. I would create a flash card for every hand (or group of hands) that you can be dealt, along with a specific dealer up card. The (correct) action would be on the backside.
By the time you’re done you’ll have nearly 250 flash cards to go through. One method is to go through them all. However, I think I would focus on just soft, hard or paired hands, or, focus on one type of hand period. For example, memorize all the plays for when you have a soft 17, or, all the plays for when the dealer is showing a 2.
However you decide to go about it, it’ll take you some time to get each decision right. Just stay consistent with it, spending maybe 30-90 minutes on it everyday and you’ll get there.