Understanding the Strategy
The premise of basic strategy is amazingly simple: the dealer's up card provides all the information you need to make a reliable prediction about what will happen with his or her hand. This prediction will then determine what you do with yours.
Let's take a closer look at this and why it works as well as it does. A standard fifty-two-card deck, which is what blackjack uses, has a total of sixteen cards that carry a value of 10. This is slightly more than 30 percent of the deck.
Is using basic strategy considered cheating?
Definitely not! It's always a good idea to learn as much as possible about the basics of any game you're going to play. Since basic strategy is based on information that is available to any player of blackjack, it can hardly be considered cheating.
This is where the predicting comes in. If a dealer is showing an up card with a low value — 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 — he or she will need at least two additional cards to reach 17 (and remember that the dealer has no choice but to hit until he reaches at least 17 or busts). Given the preponderance of 10-value cards in a deck, there is a greater chance of dealers busting when they have low-value up cards.
Now, let's take a closer look at what happens if the dealer is showing a higher-value up card — a 7, 8, 9, 10, or ace. Given the percentage of 10-value cards in the deck, with these cards it's more likely that the dealer will have a pat hand — in other words, won't have to draw another card. Therefore, he is less likely to bust.
So there are two situations: one in which the dealer is likely to bust, one in which he isn't likely to bust. Based on this information, you need to decide what you are going to do with your own hand. What should you do? In a nutshell:
If there's a good chance that the dealer is going to bust, you should avoid busting your own hand. Remember, if the dealer busts and you bust, this isn't a push. You lose your bet. For the most part, you'll want to stand on the cards you already hold, or hit if you hold very low cards with no chance of busting. Your goal is to win simply by letting the dealer go bust. In situations like this, you can be more aggressive about maximizing your play by employing options such as doubling down or splitting, which you'll read more about in Chapters 6 and 7.
If the dealer's up card indicates that he's less likely to bust, you can be less cautious about busting your own hand. You should hit with the intention of trying to reach a winning total.
Many times basic strategy is used to lessen a certain loss. As an example, let's say you're holding a 16 into the dealer's 10. The odds are against the player winning this hand no matter how it's played. Over time, however, you will lose less if you hit than if you stand.