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INTERVIEW WITH DON SCHLESINGER DELEVOPER ULTIMATE BASIC STRATEGY CARDS
By Henry Tamburin
Q. How and why did you develop the Ultimate Strategy?

A. It has been a wellknown fact, for many years, that a slight improvement to traditional basic strategy can be realized by considering not simply the total of the player’s cards but also the individual cards that comprise the hand. Examples of such a compositiondependent basic strategy (CD BS), as opposed to a totaldependent (TD) strategy, were featured prominently in Peter Griffin’s masterwork, The Theory of Blackjack. However, although there were dozens of varieties of basic strategy cards on the market, I had never seen any that incorporated the CD plays. So, we set out to build a better mousetrap! I would like to acknowledge the work of “Cacarulo,” one of the Masters of Blackjack on my Web site “Don’s Domain,” at www.AdvantagePlayer.com, for his outstanding contributions to the development of the “Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Cards.”

Q. What is the difference between traditional basic strategy and your Ultimate Strategy?

A. As mentioned above, most BS players don’t pay much attention to how they achieve a certain total. For example, if their first two cards add to 12, they really don’t care if the two cards are 7,5; 8,4; 9,3; or T,2. They figure, “Twelve is twelve; what’s the difference?” But, in fact, in certain circumstances, and especially in singledeck blackjack, there really is a difference in the correct way to play those hands, primarily against the dealer’s upcards of 4, 5, or 6. Below, I’ll give some additional, specific examples of such plays.

Q. Can you give some examples of compositiondependent strategy?

A. Sure. Let’s start with the above situation. Suppose you’re playing in a doubledeck game, and you’re dealt T,2 (total of 12) vs. the dealer’s 4. What is the correct BS play? Well, most basic strategists will tell you that when you have 12 against the dealer’s 4, you’re supposed to stand. But, in this case, it’s the wrong play! Hitting is superior to standing by a small margin.

Sometimes, a CD play involves the number of cards in your hand. For example, most BS players know that, regardless of the number of decks we’re playing against, it’s best to hit our twocard holding of 16 vs. the dealer’s T (assuming that surrender is not permitted). But, what if our 16 is composed of three cards, such as 9,3,4? Do we still hit? It turns out that, now, standing is the better play!

In all, without getting into ridiculous detail, there are about a dozen such plays where the content of the hand, and not just the total of the cards, can alter the traditional BS play.
Q. How much does the Ultimate Strategy improve a player's chance of winning? 
A. The exact percentage of increased return depends upon the specific rules of the game we’re playing and on the number of decks being used, as explained fully in the accompanying “Information Sheet” (see below). Most importantly, using these cards will squeeze out every conceivable edge (short of counting cards) by helping the player to make perfect strategy decisions. And since, in most venues, one may play with the BS cards right on the table, why not extract the “ultimate” edge from the casinos? When one factors in the potential casino comps, the nearly negligible house edge, and the fun of using them, the cards pay for themselves many times over.
Q. How difficult is it to learn the Ultimate Strategy? 
A. We all learn at different rates, but players I’ve spoken to tell me that the cards are clear, concise, and very well organized. Whether you memorize the material for the game or games you play most frequently, or simply rely on looking at the cards, while at the table, for your advice, I think you will find them both enjoyable to use and easy to consult.

Q. Can you explain the format of the Ultimate Blackjack Strategy cards and the accompanying Information Sheet?

A. Gladly. I’m proud to say that the format of the cards is unique. Again, we have Cacarulo to thank for the original concept and Viktor Nacht, the proprietor of RGE Publishing, for the attractive and highly functional layout and design. Most BS cards traditionally furnish the player’s hand vertically, down a lefthand column, while listing the dealer’s possible upcards horizontally, across the top of the card. Where a row for the player’s hand and a column for the dealer’s card intersect, we find the correct BS play. Our cards improve on this scheme by adding a second column for the player’s hand, where the distinction is made, when applicable, between the TD and the CD plays. If need be, the box in which the correct BS play is to be found will be split, to accommodate the two versions of “correct” BS. Thus, in the beginning, the novice might choose to follow the advice of the TD plays only. Later, for more accuracy and precision, the CD plays can be added to the player’s repertoire, thus raising his or her game to the “ultimate” level.

The cards themselves are beautiful multicolor, trifold laminates and can be purchased separately, or in sets, for singledeck, doubledeck, and multideck games. Each card has four distinct charts to account for when the dealer hits or stands on a total of soft 17, and for when the player is or is not permitted to double down after splitting a pair. Thus, no matter what the rules of the game, there is a separate card one may consult. Also included in the trifold is a “Quick Reference: Playing Decisions & Definitions” panel, which explains all of the terminology and how to use the cards.

Finally, included with the cards is the pocketsized, 12page, folded “Information Sheet,” which goes into greater detail than can be furnished on the cards themselves, and provides many examples of the finer points of basic strategy. The sheet also tells you which rules are best for the player and what your expectation will be, against all numbers of decks and various rules, when you employ the Ultimate Basic Strategy.

Thank you for this opportunity to tell you readers about my Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Cards.
Note: The Ultimate Basic Strategy Cards are available in my online store at www.smartgaming.com. I highly recommend them.