How Hard Is It to Learn Perfect Basic Strategy at Blackjack?

Blackjack players with dealer Leah Prerost. Ethan Miller/Getty Images/AFP

Blackjack basic strategy is the ideal mathematical approach to play every possible hand in the game. Computers simulate and calculate the expected value (EV) of all the potential decisions you make within a blackjack hand to provide varied versions of basic strategy. When a player chooses to make a play with the highest expected value in each hand dealt, you’re using basic strategy. 

Memorizing basic strategy is imperative for those wanting to play the perfect game without questioning your next move. However, we must stress that basic strategy isn’t vigorous enough to give you an edge over the casino, as the house edge will always be superior to the player – no matter how refined your skills or memory can be. 

That said, basic strategy will lower your disadvantage to a level where no other casino game will provide you with a greater mathematical edge than the house. Of course, the goal of most gamblers is to defeat the house, but basic strategy alone won’t achieve this goal. Learning the skill of counting cards combined with basic strategy is the perfect technique to reverse the odds in your favour. Although, most recreational gamblers can find a significantly higher percentage of success using basic strategy versus those who don’t. 

‘The Basics’ of Basic Strategy at The Blackjack Table 

There are countless interpretations of a simple basic strategy, both online and in books. One of the most simplified basic strategies you can stumble on was written by Kevin Black. Kevin is a professional blackjack player, card counter, and author famous for his best-selling book ‘Play Blackjack Like the Pros – which is highly recommended for beginners in the blackjack realm of basic strategy. 

There are ten simplified rules that Kevin suggests following:

  • Always stand on a hard total that is 17 or above. 
  • Always hit a hard 12, 13, 14, 15, or 16 when the deal has 7+. If not, stand. 
  • Double down on 11 should the dealer possess anything but an ace, in which case, hit! 
  • Double down on 10 if the dealer has anything but a 10 or an ace, in which case, hit! 
  • Double down on 9 if the dealer has 3, 4, 5, or 6. If not, hit! 
  • Always hit a hard 8 or less. 
  • Always split aces and 8s.
  • Never split 5s or 10s. 
  • Always stand on soft 18+. 
  • Always hit soft 17 or less. 

Bear in mind, the key pointers above are strictly basics, but they’re an ideal starting place that keeps memorizing to a minimum. And if I’m honest, the difference between this method and the complex method of basic strategy is a mere 0.2% less on the house edge. 

To explain, if you’re at a table where the house edge was 0.5%, and you utilized this approach against the complete basic strategy, you’ll only be playing with a house edge of 0.7%. This conquers almost every game you can play at the casino. 

‘The Basics’ of Basic Strategy at The Blackjack Table 

Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself, as some of you are probably thinking, “what the heck is soft & hard hand” or “how do I double down”. Well, for those completely new to blackjack and its expressions/phrases, let us cover the blackjack slang and definitions that are foreign to our readers.

Soft & Hard Totals

No jokes, please, put your wandering mind aside because understanding the difference between hard and soft totals are the backbone of basic strategy. 

A hard total in blackjack is where you can’t include an ace as 1 or 11. This could be for two reasons, either you simply haven’t been dealt an ace, or because the hand you possess is already counting the ace as 1 to avoid going bust. 

A soft total in blackjack is the opposite, in where the player has an ace which can be 1 or 11. Soft hands give you a lower probability of going bust because you can alter the card’s value from 11 to 1. The ‘total’ in a soft total is when you count the ace as 11; if you are forced to count the ace as 1 to avoid busting, you then have a hard total. 

Expected Value

Expected value, often known as EV, is the mathematical projection of value in each specified situation. You’ll have a positive or negative advantage in any given hand, and it’s conjured up by the profit you can win multiplied by the probability of winning, minus the product of the money you can lose multiplied by the probability of losing. 

 In basic strategy terms, EV value is the anticipated value of a given decision throughout varied situations. A gamble with positive expectations is where you own a mathematical superiority over your opponent or the house. If your hand has a negative expectation, you’re on the wrong end of a mathematical edge.  


When you decide to stand in blackjack, you’re refusing any additional cards to be dealt from the dealer, and your total is held. 


Busting in blackjack is when your dealt cards exceed 22 or higher, and you automatically lose. 


Hitting in blackjack is asking the dealer for an additional card. There is no limit on how many hits you make until, of course, you go bust.


When you split in blackjack, your pair of cards are separated to create two new hands. This does create an additional wager and forces those cards to be the first card in your newly created hands.

Doubling Down

Doubling down involves receiving one final card from the dealer while doubling the stake of your bet. 

The House Edge

The house edge is the expected amount of money you’re going to lose long term, averaged, per bet. It’s disclosed as a percentage of your action. If the house edge is 0.5%, you should expect to lose 50 cents to every $100 you bet. 

It’s not unfamiliar for casino games to own a house edge of 1% or higher, and most of the time, it’s excessively higher than 1%. The intriguing aspect of house edges in blackjack is that the player can lower the house edge by using basic strategy decisions. 

In most cases, the average customer is clueless to basic strategy, and they’re submitting a casino edge of 2%-4%. 

The house edge is used to predict how much money you’re going to lose long term. Multiplying how much you’ve staked by the house edge will return the expected loss. 

For example:

A player stakes $25 per hand whilst playing blackjack for 12 hours. With an average of one hundred hands per hour, you’re looking at $2500 spent. Across 12 hours, that figure rises to $30,000 spent. Should the house have a 4% edge, your expected loss becomes $1200. However, when putting basic strategy above into your game plan, the expected loss could be as low as $210.

Basic Strategy at The Blackjack Table Conclusion 

The basic strategy in blackjack may not seem so “basic”, but it becomes second nature after time. Not all situations will provide a difference in your bottom line, which can be ignored to simplify the strategy. E.g., if you’re dealt a hard 12 versus a 2 or 3, simply hit. 

And to be honest, you don’t lose much in that position should you stand. By simply treating a 12 like a 13, 14, 15, or 16, you’re reducing the complexity of what you need to memorize dramatically. For players who’re just starting with the blackjack basic strategy, utilizing the simple strategy is recommended. Suppose you can eventually master simple basic strategy. In that case, you can begin learning the remaining possible situations that can present themselves – and in your own time, moving onto a complete basic strategy might be your goal.