In blackjack, your hand, and the dealer’s one visible card, known as the “upcard”, are the only information you have to work with. More often than not, this information alone is not enough to make a reliable decision.
Basic strategy is therefore a system of options that inform and guide the player on how to play their dealt hand in an optimal manner.
Understanding House Edge
The house edge, or casino edge, is the statistical advantage that all casino games have over the player and determines the percentage of loss a player will experience over time.
Depending on the house rules of the casino, one can potentially reduced the house edge from 2 – 3% to as low as 0.2 – 0.5 % simply by playing basic strategy.
Hit & Stand
A beginner player might assume that if their hand is high enough, then it is safe to “stand”. Or, if there is chance the dealer’s might be higher, that they must “hit” in hope of beating it. In other words, relying on guessing or luck.
The reality is that blackjack is in essence a mathematical game, and that there are statistically correct moves to make for literally every combination of your hand vs. the dealer’s upcard.
Charts and tables for hit and stand strategy are readily available via a quick web search.
After being dealt your initial two-card hand, and have considered the dealer’s upcard, if you doubt your chance of winning, you may choose to “surrender” half the amount that you have wagered for the round.
Early Surrender – players can surrender to the dealers upcard of an ace, or card with a value of ten, before the dealer can check to determine whether they have a blackjack.
Late Surrender – players can surrender after the dealer’s second card is revealed, but only if the dealer does not have a blackjack, upon which this option is no longer available.
When dealt a pair of cards with the same value, you have the option of splitting them into two hands and playing each individually to increase your chance of winning. In some casinos this includes a pair of any face-cards as they all hold the value of ten, though in other casinos, they must be matching.
When feeling confident with your dealt hand, you may have the option of doubling down. This means that you can double the amount of your initial bet. It also means, however, that you may only request one other card from the dealer.
Most casinos allow the player to double down on any two-card hand, though others will only allow specific hands of e.g., 10 and 11.
If the dealer’s upcard is, e.g., an ace, you will be asked if you would like to take insurance in case they have a blackjack. In most casinos, this allows you to place an extra amount of half your bet as a separate insurance bet. If the dealer wins, your insurance pays back 2 to 1, and you will break even. If you win, the insurance bet is lost, and play continues.