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Advanced Basic Strategy For Blackjack

By Henry Tamburin

It’s no secret that the basic playing strategy is the optimal way to play your hand when the only information you consider is your hand total and the dealer’s upcard. This scientifically accurate strategy will cut the house edge to a measly half a percent or so, depending upon the precise rules.  But, you can do even better than this by employing some advanced basic strategy plays.


Suppose you are a dealt a 16 against a dealer’s 10 (and surrender is not available). The traditional basic playing strategy (often referred to as “total-dependent” strategy) states to HIT your 16, because in the long run, you will lose less money compared to standing. However, what the traditional basic strategy doesn’t consider is the make-up of the hand. It turns out that there is a difference between a hand that totals 16 consisting of a two-card 10-6, or 9-7, and another containing, for example, a three-card 4-5-7. Yes, both hands total 16, but with the three-card 16, you are better off STANDING, whereas with the two-card 16, you should HIT.


The reason you should stand on a 16 when your hand contains three or more cards is because your hand contains one (or more) small-value cards that are no longer available in the pack of unplayed cards. These small cards are exactly what you need to make a pat hand when you hit your 16. The fact that a few of them are not available (remember, they are already in your hand) is just enough to shift the odds toward standing rather than hitting.


Fred Renzey, author of Blackjack Bluebook II, states the following in his book: “Against a 10 up, if your 16 contains any 4’s or 5’s, then stand.” Blackjack author Donald Schlesinger takes this rule one step further with his Ultimate Blackjack Strategy cards (, where it states: “Stand if 16 is multi-card, or the result of a pair split.” (Note: According to Schlesinger, “When all multi-card 16s are taken into account, and the edges are weighted, it is wiser to stand on all of them rather than hit on all of them. There are some exceptions, but their level of complexity was too great to be enunciated on the strategy card. These exceptions, however, are catalogued by Michael Shackleford on his site,”)


Another hand where your strategy is dependent upon the make-up of the cards is a starting total of 12 against a dealer’s 4 upcard. Total-dependent basic strategy states to stand on 12 against a dealer 4. However, there are, in fact, four different ways to be dealt a 12: 10-2, 9-3, 8-4 and 7-5 (6-6 would be considered separately, as a pair to be split), and in the specific case of 10-2, you are slightly better off HITTING against the dealer’s 4, whereas with 9-3, 8-4, and 7-5, you are better off STANDING. Schlesinger adds, “By having just one ten-value card in your hand when you hold a 10-2, you slightly lower your chances of breaking with a hit just enough to tip the balance in favor of risking busting by drawing one more card, rather than standing. This effect, however, diminishes as the number of decks increases, because removing one ten out of 16 is a lot more dramatic than removing one ten out of 128 for an eight-deck game. Therefore, for six or fewer decks, it’s best to hit a 12 consisting of 10-2 against a dealer’s 4 upcard, but in an eight-deck game, it’s best to stand.”


Another advanced playing technique that can further reduce the house edge is to make a bet on another player’s hand. You might think this is a strange play, but it is perfectly legal (as long as the player allows you to make a bet on his hand). Why would you want to bet on another player’s hand? Because with some hands, a player might have a big edge and not realize it, allowing you the opportunity to take advantage of the situation.


Fred Renzey calls this technique of betting on another player’s hand, “hand interaction,” and he describes several of them in his book. Here’s an example.


Suppose the player next to you bets $20 and is dealt a 7-4 against a dealer’s 10. The player might know that the basic strategy for this play is to double down but he may be reluctant to push out another $20 with the dealer showing a 10, so instead he shoves out $10 worth of chips and doubles for less. According to Renzey, “This is when you should spring into action, toss $10 in chips to him, and tell him, I’ll go with you on this one partner.”


Essentially, your $10 is riding on the outcome of your fellow player’s hand. But according to Renzey, “You are a 9% favorite, so if the player doesn’t know enough to take the whole advantage to himself, go ahead and take the rest.” Renzey adds, “Getting in one extra double down per half hour for the same amount as your own bets, will reduce the house edge by about 0.15%.”


Here’s another hand interaction described by Renzey involving pair splitting. Suppose a fellow player splits a pair of 7’s against a dealer 6 and draws another 7. The player should replit, but suppose he hesitates to put out more money. According to Renzey, “Since a 7 against a dealer 6 is an outright moneymaker, you should quickly toss a bet to him and offer to absorb the cost of splitting that third 7. You are a 3% favorite, and if doubling after pair splitting is allowed, you’ll have a solid 10% edge on the hand.”


There are several more advanced basic strategy plays in the above two references. By adding some, or all of them, to your playing arsenal, you will be improving your chances of winning. Why not give them a try on your next visit to the green felt?