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This article was originally published in the Blackjack Insider, a Blackjack e-mail newsletter edited and published by Henry Tamburin, author of "Blackjack: Take the Money and Run". The article was written by Dan Pronovost, President of DeepNet Technologies.

Simplified Basic Strategy

For some recreational blackjack players, spending many hours memorizing strategy tables or complex count systems is simply too much bother. Although many blackjack players know that there is such as thing as perfect basic strategy and card counting, very few people actually take the time to learn these methods.

For these players, the challenge is to learn the easiest possible playing strategy that minimizes their disadvantage at the blackjack tables. This article provides a scalable set of simplified blackjack rules and shows the cost of using this system.

Designing the rules

In issue #30 of this newsletter, we explored the impact of using a single set of basic strategy tables for all blackjack games, regardless of rules. Surprisingly, it was determined that the impact on your earnings was fairly small, even when playing with the worst 'match up' of rules to casino conditions.

With this knowledge, our goal is to come up with a single, simple set of blackjack rules that can be mastered in minutes, and plays well in all games. Rather than memorize complete tables, players can simply apply these easy rules as the hands are played.

To further simplify the process of learning the plays, the set of rules is made scalable: players can start with the first rule, and add on new rules as they are comfortable. As each new rule is added, the casino's advantage is diminished.

It is important that we analyze our rules to make sure that they minimize our losses while providing the most simplicity. To do this, we ran simulations in Blackjack Audit, a blackjack simulator from DeepNet Technologies, to compare the expectations for different games at each step in our rules. With a good rule set, the casino's edge over the player will lessen as we add rules, leaving us with a minor and acceptable increase in losses.

Simplified blackjack strategy

After running many simulations with different rules and comparing the resulting expectations, we came up with the following set of simple rules that deliver good results and performance. The rules are listed in order of importance, and players should memorize them in sequence. Note that references to 'soft hands' mean hands with an ace that can have two different values. For example, ace-4 (5 or 15), or 7-ace-ace (9 or 19. Note that you can usually only double after the first two cards.

    1. Dealer rules (H17): Draw on 16 or less, stand on 17 or greater. Exception: hit soft 17. Never take insurance or even money.
    2. Easy splits: Always split aces and 8s.
    3. Easy stands: Versus dealer 2 to 6, stand on hard 12 to 16.
    4. Easy doubles: Double on 10 or 11 when your total is higher than the dealer's up-card.
    5. Soft doubles: double all 18 and less soft hands against dealer 4 to 6.
    6. More splits: split all pairs (except 4s, 5s, and 10s) against dealer 2 to 7.

The first rule is equivalent to the dealer's actions in a casino where they must also hit soft 17: hit until you reach 17 (hard or soft), but also hit soft 17. Beginners should practice this rule until it is instinctive!

The remaining rules simply add easy play exceptions to the initial table. Rules 2 to 6 do not overlap: a hand has at most one exception. For any given play situation, start with the action recommended for the first rule, and modify it only if one of the other rules is triggered. Here are some examples:

Hand (player/dealer)

Basic play: rule #1

Proper action

Overriding rule

Ace-4/5

Hit

double

#5

5-5/4

Hit

double

#4

9-9/Ace

Stand

stand

none

14/4

Hit

stand

#3

8-8/7

Hit

Split

#2

22/3

Hit

Split

#6

Table 1: Example plays using the simplified strategy

The results using simplified basic strategy

The following tables show the results of applying the simplified strategy in comparison to the ideal basic strategy for different casino games. A minimum of 150 million hands of blackjack was run for each table entry. Flat $5 bets were used throughout. The hourly loss is computed by multiplying the average wager per round for each simulation, times 100 (an average number of hands per hour), times the expectation. If your average bet is not $5, simply scale this result proportionately. 75% and 67% shoe penetration was assumed in the eight-deck and single-deck game respectively.

The actual strategy tables corresponding to each rule set is available online by clicking on the names in the left most columns of table 2 or table 3 below, or you can visit our web site: www.deepnettech.com/article3.html.

Strategy rules: incremental (click for tables)

Eight-deck game expectations

DAS, H17

NoDAS, H17

DAS, S17

NoDAS, S17

1) Dealer rules

-5.9%

-5.9%

-5.4%

-5.4%

2) Easy splits

-5.4%

-5.4%

-4.9%

-4.9%

3) Easy stands

-2.3%

-2.3%

-2.1%

-2.1%

4) Easy doubles

-1.0%

-1.1%

-0.82%

-0.85%

5) Soft doubles

-0.94%

-0.97%

-0.74%

-0.77%

6) More splits

-0.73%

-0.85%

-0.53%

-0.66%

Ideal Basic Strategy

-0.54%

-0.67%

-0.35%

-0.47%

All six simple rules: hourly loss

$4.08

$4.73

$2.96

$3.67

Ideal basic strategy: hourly loss

$3.06

$3.75

$1.98

$2.63

% increase in hourly losses

33.51%

25.96%

49.56%

39.42%

Table 2: Performance results for our simplified rules in eight-deck blackjack

From table 2 above, we can see that using our six-rule simplified basic strategy increases our losses by less than 50% on average. You will lose a bit less than your average bet every hour to the casino. Although ideal basic strategy is preferred, beginners can apply our simplified six-rule system without much increased loss in multi-deck blackjack.

From table 3 below, we can see the results of using our simplified basic strategy in single deck blackjack. Since single-deck blackjack is a more profitable game for players, our six-rule strategy has a greater percentage increase on losses. But the hourly loss is still less than of your average bet.

Strategy rules: incremental (click for tables)

Single-deck game expectations

DAS, H17

NoDAS, H17

DAS, S17

NoDAS, S17

1) Dealer rules

-5.9%

-5.9%

-5.4%

-5.4%

2) Easy splits

-5.6%

-5.6%

-5.1%

-5.1%

3) Easy stands

-2.1%

-2.1%

-1.9%

-1.9%

4) Easy doubles

-0.69%

-0.71%

-0.50%

-0.52%

5) Soft doubles

-0.56%

-0.58%

-0.38%

-0.40%

6) More splits

-0.35%

-0.46%

-0.18%

-0.29%

Ideal Basic Strategy

-0.12%

-0.25%

+0.049%

-0.073%

All six simple rules: hourly loss

$1.94

$2.54

$1.00

$1.60

Ideal Basic Strategy: hourly loss

$0.68

$1.41

-$0.28 (profit)

$0.41

% increase in hourly losses

184.49%

80.41%

458.31%

289.51%

Table 3: Performance results for our simplified rules in single-deck blackjack

Conclusions

Although using the correct basic strategy will minimize your losses, using our simplified six-rule system is acceptable for beginners, and is still better than virtually all existing casino games. For example, using our simple six-rule system will give players a greater than 99% return in every blackjack game (since the expectation is between -1% and zero in all cases), which is far better than roulette, craps, baccarat, and slot machines. Players should be cautioned though that using anything less than the first four rules results in a significant losing rate of 2% or more.

For those who are curious, we did run a number of simulations on variations of these rules. For example, rule #6 was tried with splitting from dealer 3 to 6, and 2 to 6. Also, rule #5 was tested with doubling on dealer 5 and 6 only. In all cases, better overall performance was delivered with the simplified strategy as presented in this article.

Beyond the simplified rules we have presented, we recommend players next memorize the complete basic strategy. The remaining differences are all individual exceptions that are difficult to categorize. Although it is challenging to memorize the proper strategy, you can reduce the casino's edge by 50% or more in most cases (0.53% to 0.35% for an eight-deck DAS/S17 game, for example). In our first article in issue #30 of the "Blackjack Insider", we recommended the eight-deck/DAS strategy as the single best table to memorize for all blackjack games. Table 4 below shows the strategy for our simplified six rule system, hilighting the differences from the eight-deck/DAS table and the correct plays shown in brackets. The letters represent the following actions: H=hit, S=stand, D=double, P=split.

Hand

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

T

A

8

H

H

H

H

H

H

H

H

H

H

9

H

H(d)

H(d)

H(d)

H(d)

H

H

H

H

H

10

D

D

D

D

D

D

D

D

H

H

11

D

D

D

D

D

D

D

D

D

H

12

S(h)

S(h)

S

S

S

H

H

H

H

H

13

S

S

S

S

S

H

H

H

H

H

14

S

S

S

S

S

H

H

H

H

H

15

S

S

S

S

S

H

H

H

H

H

16

S

S

S

S

S

H

H

H

H

H

A2

H

H

D(h)

D

D

H

H

H

H

H

A3

H

H

D(h)

D

D

H

H

H

H

H

A4

H

H

D

D

D

H

H

H

H

H

A5

H

H

D

D

D

H

H

H

H

H

A6

H

H(d)

D

D

D

H

H

H

H

H

A7

S

S(d)

D

D

D

S

S

S(h)

S(h)

S(h)

A8

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

A9

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

AA

P

P

P

P

P

P

P

P

P

P

22

P

P

P

P

P

P

H

H

H

H

33

P

P

P

P

P

P

H

H

H

H

44

H

H

H

H(p)

H(p)

H

H

H

H

H

55

D

D

D

D

D

D

D

D

H

H

66

P

P

P

P

P

P(h)

H

H

H

H

77

P

P

P

P

P

P

H

H

H

H

88

P

P

P

P

P

P

P

P

P

P

99

P

P

P

P

P

P(s)

S(p)

S(p)

S

S

TT

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

Table 4: The simplified six-rule strategy with differences from D8/DAS

Simplified Basic Strategy Tables

These are the exact basic strategy tables used in the simulations shown in our article "Simplified Basic Strategy", as published in issue #32 of the Blackjack Insider by Henry Tamburin.

Grey background entries represent actions that are different from the preceeding table.

1) Dealer rules

Hand 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 T A
8 H H H H H H H H H H
9 H H H H H H H H H H
10 H H H H H H H H H H
11 H H H H H H H H H H
12 H H H H H H H H H H
13 H H H H H H H H H H
14 H H H H H H H H H H
15 H H H H H H H H H H
16 H H H H H H H H H H
A2 H H H H H H H H H H
A3 H H H H H H H H H H
A4 H H H H H H H H H H
A5 H H H H H H H H H H
A6 H H H H H H H H H H
A7 S S S S S S S S S S
A8 S S S S S S S S S S
A9 S S S S S S S S S S
AA H H H H H H H H H H
22 H H H H H H H H H H
33 H H H H H H H H H H
44 H H H H H H H H H H
55 H H H H H H H H H H
66 H H H H H H H H H H
77 H H H H H H H H H H
88 H H H H H H H H H H
99 S S S S S S S S S S
TT S S S S S S S S S S

2) Easy splits

Hand 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 T A
8 H H H H H H H H H H
9 H H H H H H H H H H
10 H H H H H H H H H H
11 H H H H H H H H H H
12 H H H H H H H H H H
13 H H H H H H H H H H
14 H H H H H H H H H H
15 H H H H H H H H H H
16 H H H H H H H H H H
A2 H H H H H H H H H H
A3 H H H H H H H H H H
A4 H H H H H H H H H H
A5 H H H H H H H H H H
A6 H H H H H H H H H H
A7 S S S S S S S S S S
A8 S S S S S S S S S S
A9 S S S S S S S S S S
AA P P P P P P P P P P
22 H H H H H H H H H H
33 H H H H H H H H H H
44 H H H H H H H H H H
55 H H H H H H H H H H
66 H H H H H H H H H H
77 H H H H H H H H H H
88 P P P P P P P P P P
99 S S S S S S S S S S
TT S S S S S S S S S S

3) Easy stands

Hand 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 T A
8 H H H H H H H H H H
9 H H H H H H H H H H
10 H H H H H H H H H H
11 H H H H H H H H H H
12 S S S S S H H H H H
13 S S S S S H H H H H
14 S S S S S H H H H H
15 S S S S S H H H H H
16 S S S S S H H H H H
A2 H H H H H H H H H H
A3 H H H H H H H H H H
A4 H H H H H H H H H H
A5 H H H H H H H H H H
A6 H H H H H H H H H H
A7 S S S S S S S S S S
A8 S S S S S S S S S S
A9 S S S S S S S S S S
AA P P P P P P P P P P
22 H H H H H H H H H H
33 H H H H H H H H H H
44 H H H H H H H H H H
55 H H H H H H H H H H
66 H H H H H H H H H H
77 H H H H H H H H H H
88 P P P P P P P P P P
99 S S S S S S S S S S
TT S S S S S S S S S S

4) Easy doubles

Hand 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 T A
8 H H H H H H H H H H
9 H H H H H H H H H H
10 D D D D D D D D H H
11 D D D D D D D D D H
12 S S S S S H H H H H
13 S S S S S H H H H H
14 S S S S S H H H H H
15 S S S S S H H H H H
16 S S S S S H H H H H
A2 H H H H H H H H H H
A3 H H H H H H H H H H
A4 H H H H H H H H H H
A5 H H H H H H H H H H
A6 H H H H H H H H H H
A7 S S S S S S S S S S
A8 S S S S S S S S S S
A9 S S S S S S S S S S
AA P P P P P P P P P P
22 H H H H H H H H H H
33 H H H H H H H H H H
44 H H H H H H H H H H
55 D D D D D D D D H H
66 H H H H H H H H H H
77 H H H H H H H H H H
88 P P P P P P P P P P
99 S S S S S S S S S S
TT S S S S S S S S S S

5) Soft doubles

Hand 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 T A
8 H H H H H H H H H H
9 H H H H H H H H H H
10 D D D D D D D D H H
11 D D D D D D D D D H
12 S S S S S H H H H H
13 S S S S S H H H H H
14 S S S S S H H H H H
15 S S S S S H H H H H
16 S S S S S H H H H H
A2 H H D D D H H H H H
A3 H H D D D H H H H H
A4 H H D D D H H H H H
A5 H H D D D H H H H H
A6 H H D D D H H H H H
A7 S S D D D S S S S S
A8 S S S S S S S S S S
A9 S S S S S S S S S S
AA P P P P P P P P P P
22 H H H H H H H H H H
33 H H H H H H H H H H
44 H H H H H H H H H H
55 D D D D D D D D H H
66 H H H H H H H H H H
77 H H H H H H H H H H
88 P P P P P P P P P P
99 S S S S S S S S S S
TT S S S S S S S S S S

6) More splits

Hand 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 T A
8 H H H H H H H H H H
9 H H H H H H H H H H
10 D D D D D D D D H H
11 D D D D D D D D D H
12 S S S S S H H H H H
13 S S S S S H H H H H
14 S S S S S H H H H H
15 S S S S S H H H H H
16 S S S S S H H H H H
A2 H H D D D H H H H H
A3 H H D D D H H H H H
A4 H H D D D H H H H H
A5 H H D D D H H H H H
A6 H H D D D H H H H H
A7 S S D D D S S S S S
A8 S S S S S S S S S S
A9 S S S S S S S S S S
AA P P P P P P P P P P
22 P P P P P P H H H H
33 P P P P P P H H H H
44 H H H H H H H H H H
55 D D D D D D D D H H
66 P P P P P P H H H H
77 P P P P P P H H H H
88 P P P P P P P P P P
99 P P P P P P S S S S
TT S S S S S S S S S S