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Blackjack Strategy for playing online and offline

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Casinos and strategies for the games you can play there has always been a hot topic. One that has regularly been at the forefront however has been blackjack strategy and there are loads of them doing the rounds.

Movies have glorified some of the strategies, but along with the glorious side of it, there are loads of horror stories. The goal of this article is not to punt one blackjack strategy over another or to discourage you to try out any of them. It is just a study of some of the most popular strategies out there, what they are all about and just generally how they work.

We can absolutely not claim that any of them will lead to countless riches or be responsible if you lose any money. Well enough of all the serious talk. Let’s have a look at some of these blackjack strategies in a little more detail. Below are links to all of the different strategies discussed below. We will first run through a few very general blackjack strategy tips and then get into the different types of strategy.

We will be looking at a number of different blackjack strategies:

General Blackjack Strategy Tips Blackjack Basic Strategy Composition-Dependent Strategy
Advantage Play Card Counting Shuffle Tracking
Identifying Concealed Cards Canfield Expert – Simple Level 1 Canfield Master – Advanced Level 2
Hi-Opt Strategy KO Strategy Omega II
Red Seven Revere Advanced Plus-Minus Revere Point Count
Silver Fox Strategy Unbalanced Zen 11 Uston Advanced Plus-Minus
Uston APC Strategy Uston SS Strategy Wong Halves Strategy
Zen Count Strategy

General Blackjack Strategy Tips

There are many things that some people know to be common sense. When I compiled these I realized that they are actually things that get forgotten so easily. To start off with you should do these things as a rule to ensure that you don’t waste your money in any way and then you can apply the more serious tactics when playing the real thing.

Playing Online
When you play, play. Don’t get distracted.
Here they are:

  • When you have 8s or Aces, you should split them. Double down when you have 11. Stand on a hard 17 or bigger hand. Whenever you have a soft 17 always hit.
  • Never split 10s or 5s. Never stand on 12-16 if the dealer has a 7 or higher showing.
  • Don’t drink and play or play too long without a break. Your attention won’t be what it should be and you will start bleeding money on stupid decisions.
  • Neither tables, nor dealers are “hot” or “cold”… EVER… it is all just superstition.
  • Tipping a dealer won’t make them change the way they deal to you. So tip if you want to, but don’t expect favors in return. If they start “helping you out” they will be unemployed by the end of their shift… if not earlier.
  • Automatic shufflers make it impossible to track specific packets of cards and will kill your abilities to count cards. There should be certain patterns by the dealer if the cards are shuffled by hand, but they will almost never be exactly the same.
  • As with tables and dealers, there aren’t any “special” seats that have an advantage over the others. They are all the same and the cards don’t discriminate against any seats in particular
  • In most instances insurance is an easy way for you to lose money and donate it to the casino. The odds are against you in a big way except if you are keeping track of the ration of Aces and 10s left in the stack of cards.
  • Progressive betting is a bad idea. You might win some seemingly nice amounts in the short run, but it doesn’t change the odds against you in any way. The only thing it does is create problems for you if you start betting out of the ranges you can afford
  • Don’t get emotional about the cards. You will get some bad beats and you will get unlucky sometime. If you don’t play logically, but switch to playing emotionally you will be thrown off your game and start making strategical errors or excessive bets.
  • To get the best odds possible, don’t go and play blackjack if you haven’t memorized one of the blackjack basic strategy charts yet. It cuts down the house edge to the bare minimum giving you the best possible chance of walking away with some cash or at least letting your money go a whole lot further.
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    Blackjack Basic Strategy

    Out of all of the strategies you can use to play blackjack this definitely one of the best. It also forms the basis of many of the others we will be looking at. We discuss the strategy in more detail here.

    Blackjack Basic Strategy Chart
    The Blackjack Basic Strategy Chart
    This particular strategy is based on a precisely worked out mathematical formula which cuts down the house edge to the bare minimum (0.5%) if applied correctly. There are a wealth of different charts available online as well as on our black basic strategy page, which will show you exactly what to do with every possible hand you receive (just like the one here on the right).

    There are however a couple of variations to the chart where it changes when you either hit or stand on 17 (see the charts on the blackjack basic strategy page).

    As mentioned earlier in the general tips it is not something you should play blackjack without if you are serious about the game. If gives you the best odds and it is not the most difficult charts to memorize. You can even just print one of them out and use it when playing online if you want to practice and get used to it.

    It will only take you a little while to get used to how the game flows and then you would be start to make these decisions almost automatically after a while.

    Composition-Dependent Strategy

    When playing blackjack there are always a number of interesting exceptions to the rule. As a rule it makes sense to focus mainly on the blackjack basic strategy, but in some case you might want to deviate from it slightly based on the composition of the cards you are holding. This is the very basic principle of the composition dependent strategy.

    If you are a bit more experienced at playing blackjack (or any casino games for that matter) you will know the value of small percentages. This is where this type of strategy is applicable. Although the advantage is not great over the basic strategy, there is still one and that makes it worth your effort learning it.

    Advantage Play

    Just for those who were wondering about it, I thought I should just quickly touch on advantage play or advantage gambling. It is NOT a blackjack strategy in its own right at all. It basically just refers to any method used whereby a player can gain an advantage over the house in a casino, but it can also refer to when you play others (like poker).

    On the subject of blackjack it would be using card counting for example (no matter what variety) to gain an advantage over the house. There are also some claims out there around video poker games and progressive slot machines, but I wouldn’t get to excited about their prospects.

    There is however merit in card counting and we are not trying to punt the good or the bad of using it, just the facts. In very simplified terms we can give you the 1-2 punch solution to gaining the advantage:
    1. Learn the basic strategy by heart
    2. Learn how to count cards

    Yeah, I know that makes it sound silly, but that is actually really what it boils down to. So without keeping you any longer, let’s have a look at card counting.

    Card Counting

    One of the most hyped up blackjack strategies in the world must be card counting. Many people make it sound like the most mysterious version of gambling magic where the millions will just come running your way! Well it’s not exactly that but can be used to gain a slight advantage over the house with some practice.

    The basic idea of card counting is to keep a running count of the cards you can see with the idea to figure out if you have the edge or if the house will hold the edge. Based on this you then either bet higher if the count favors you and low if it favors the dealer.

    We have dedicated a page to it so that you can learn what card counting is all about and how you can get started using it when you play blackjack.

    Shuffle Tracking

    This is something that is a bit more difficult to do and requires quite a lot of skill. The idea is not to track every single card that is shuffled, but to try to follow groups of cards. It works better when playing blackjack games where there are multiple decks used (6 or 8) rather than trying it with a single deck game. The reason for this is that a single deck game makes it a lot easier to shuffle cards in a much more complex way. With the multiple decks it would more often than not be a simpler shuffle that is done.

    Based on the groups of cards that you identify (either high or low) you can then adjust your count to give you an edge, which you would not have had if you had just reset your count.

    Another version of shuffle tracking is to only track the Ace. The Aces holds the most power of any card in the pack. If you know when an Ace is dealt it would give you just more than a 50% advantage over the house. If you also get dealt an Ace first, you have a change of over 30% of hitting a blackjack. So keeping track of it can be very advantageous.

    Tracking the Ace is done in parts. You start off by picking a couple of cards to track as they go into the discard tray. Based on the shuffle that follows you should look at what order these cards come out when dealt again. After doing this a few times, the Ace comes into the equation. When the Ace is put in the discard tray, you should look at the two or three cards placed on top of it and use it as a marker. When these once come out, you know the Ace is sure to follow shortly and you can adjust your bet in anticipation of the Ace.

    This is not fool-proof, but with some practice you can improve your tracking skills and start to gain some valuable insights into either where the Ace would be or at least some groups of cards.

    Identifying Concealed Cards

    The only reason I want to touch on this is just to lay any myths around it to rest. It is not magic in any way, it is in fact tracking cards based on specific markings, usually normal wear and tear, on the backs of the cards.

    The only time this will have any significant influence on your play is if it is an Ace you can track in this way. If not it doesn’t really matter too much (well cards with a value of 10 can also help). The odds however of playing at a casino where they use old cards that have visibly worn down is very small. As part of the images that casinos are trying to uphold you will be playing with a new deck (or decks) of cards every day you visit the casino.

    Canfield Expert – Simple Level 1 Strategy

    The Canfield Expert strategy is the first one we would like to touch on. It is a level 1 strategy, which means that the count you will be using will just increase by a single digit either up or down.

    As we discussed on our card counting page, card counting is not something limited to the super intelligent individuals out there who can memorize the whole deck. The Canfield Expert is a prime example of this. The system is quite an old one that has been in use for many years.

    It was first detailed back in the year I was born, 1977, by Richard Canfield in his book “Blackjack your way to riches”. But this is not the place to get into too much detail. Click here if you want to learn how to use the Canfield Expert strategy.

    Canfield Master – Advanced Level 2 Strategy

    Moving on a little bit from the Canfield Expert Blackjack Strategy is its big brother, the Canfield Master strategy or the Canfield Master Count. It is the other strategy that Richard Canfield is famous for and is a level 2 strategy with a bit more complexity to it than the Canfield Expert.

    The counts you will use for a the Canfield Master Strategy is a little different from the Canfield Expert, but takes a lot more time to get used to. The difference is that a count of 2 also comes into play. This basically means that you will either have a count of zero, an increase or decrease of 1 or an increase or decrease of 2.

    It might sound relatively simple, but don’t jump to any conclusions just yet. We decided to create a page dedicated to it where you can learn how to play using the Canfield Master Strategy.

    Hi-Opt Strategy

    There are two versions of the Hi-Opt strategy that you will come across, namely the Hi-Opt 1 and the Hi-Opt 2. The Hi-Opt 1 is a variation on a variation… well to put it in language that makes sense, it is based on the Hi-Lo counting system which was first introduced by Edward O. Thorp.

    Charles Einstein did a variation on the strategy back in 1968 and it was known as the Einstein Count in honor of its creator. This in turn was take a step further by Carl Cooper and Lance Humble with the end product being the Hi-Opt 1.

    The Hi-Opt 2 in turn is based on the Hi-Opt 1, but is a far more advanced card counting strategy.

    Want to find out more?

  • Learn how to count with the Hi-Opt 1 strategy
  • Learn how to count with the Hi-Opt 2 strategy
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    KO Strategy

    If there is one thing that can throw you off your game like nothing else, it is trying to keep different counts. When you have been doing a running count and then need to jump to a true count to improve the effectiveness of the counting strategy it start to become quite strenuous.

    This is where the KO card counting strategy really hits the mark. It is a relatively simple card counting strategy, very similar to the Hi-Lo strategy, with a small difference in the card values. The best thing about it is you will always just work on a running count.

    Omega II Blackjack Strategy

    The Omega II is one of the most powerful card counting strategies you can use. It is however definitely not one that you should take on if you are a novice when it comes to card counting.

    Should you however have the perseverance to study this blackjack strategy and apply it correctly, it could lead to some very nice wins for you.

    Bryce Carlson developed the Omega II card counting strategy and describes it in great detail in his book “Blackjack for Blood”. Since I am a fan of a few short cuts where possible, we have put together a short introduction to help you learn how to use the Advanced Omega II card counting strategy.

    Red Seven Strategy

    Usually you will find one of two blackjack strategies. The one will be relatively easy to learn, but not be exceptionally efficient. Then on the other side you get very efficient strategies, but you need to work a hell of a lot at it trying to master the strategy.

    This is the Red Seven blackjack strategy stands out. I personally like this type where you just take the blackjack basic strategy and combine it with an easy to learn and master strategy that is still very effective.

    So why aren’t all strategies made this way? I honestly don’t know. It often happens that people get carried away and lose sight of the people that need to try and learn the strategy. Many others might be mathematically sound and give you some great odds, but if it is not possible to learn how to use it easily and master it, what’s the use?

    Revere Advanced Plus-Minus Strategy

    The name makes it sound like an incredibly intimidating system, but really is just a bit of a more advanced variation on the regular plus-minus system. The Revere Advanced Plus-Minus card counting strategy was made popular in “Playing Blackjack as a Business”, which was written by Lawrence Revere.

    The man is a mad blackjack strategy genius and this is by far the easiest of the strategies he has put together. While this is a level 1 card counting strategy, he also has a few that are level 3 and 4. Now those ones are only for other mad geniuses like Lawrence. For us ordinary folk, this is however a relatively easy card counting system to learn how to use and is quite handy.

    Revere Point Count Blackjack Strategy

    The Revere Point Count Strategy is a definite step up from the Revere Advanced Plus-Minus, but not as crazy yet. It is a level 2 strategy, but which makes use of of quite a few aspects.

    What comes into the game with this level 2 strategy is the Running Count and True Count and then the Betting Correlation, Insurance Correlation and Playing Efficiency. All of the factors taken into account help for more accurate play with a better return on your investment.

    The count used is however not off the charts ridiculous and is something that you can learn to use with a bit of practice. As you get better at card counting you will be able to pick up strategies like these without much difficulty.

    Silver Fox Strategy

    Out of all the card counting strategies we have introduced you to on this page, the Silver Fox card counting strategy might just be the easiest of the lot. It is actually ridiculous how easy it is to learn to use it.

    The mistake is often make with the Silver Fox strategy that people think due to its simplicity that it is not very effective. That can’t be further from the truth actually. Its creator, Ralph Stricker, absolutely killed using this system while playing in Atlantic City.

    It was just way to effective to the liking of the casinos over there. Somehow he managed to escape without too many bumps and bruises and came away with quite a large number of wins.

    Unbalanced Zen II

    There isn’t a huge difference between the Zen II count and the normal Zen count. In fact the only difference is that there is a different value assigned to the 3s in the decks. With the Zen count they would carry a value of +1, while they carry a +2 with the Zen II count.

    It is a level 2 system and is it was put together from the Zen Count and the Reverse Point Count. It is not the most intimidating of card counting strategies you would come across, but it still takes a bit of time to master it.

    Uston Advanced Plus-Minus Blackjack Strategy

    One of the first card counting strategies that made card counting popular was the Uston Advanced Plus Minus card counting strategy. It was developed by Ken Uston and published in his book “Million Dollar Blackjack” back in 1981.

    At the time of its introduction it was revolutionary as many blackjack players didn’t even know that you could count cards! So it really paved the way for a totally new blackjack strategy. When it was first used the one deck and double deck blackjack games were available all over the place, but these have disappeared from most casinos over the years.

    It is still however a good card counting strategy to use for the beginner card counter as it is a good introduction to the art of counting.

    Uston APC Strategy

    As far a blackjack strategies and card counting strategies in general go, the Uston Advanced Point Count strategy (or Uston APC) is among the most powerful ones you will find. Whereas Ken Uston went for total simplicity with the Uston APM with less effectiveness, the Uston APC is the opposite.

    It offers great power and if put in the right hands, it can give a player a great advantage when playing. It is however quite a complex card counting strategy and will take most players quite a bit of time to master. We strongly suggest that beginners don’t try their hand at this one. Only after you have played using simpler level 1 counting strategies should you even attempt to learn the Uston Advanced Point Count.

    Uston SS Strategy

    The Uston SS card counting blackjack strategy was put together by Ken Uston and fellow card counters Sam Case and Arnold Snyder. Between them they developed this to be a super powerful counting strategy that would put many other to shame.

    Details around this strategy were first published in 1986. Although the “SS” in Uston SS stands for “strongest and simplest”, it is definitely not something that is suitable for beginners. The strategy is a level 3 counting strategy for a reason. Learn how to use the Uston SS Strategy if you have a bit more experience counting and you will see why it is a strategy that is still widely popular.

    Wong Halves Blackjack Strategy

    The Wong Halves card counting strategy is quite an advanced strategy but not one used that often. It is very effective if you use it correctly, but learning how to use it and keep a count is quite difficult. The reason for this is in the name of the count: “halves”.

    The card count works in fractions (+0.5, +1.5 and so on). This makes it a lot more complicated when you try to keep the count. It is however still a strategy that is interesting having a look at and there are ways you can use it without going totally insane.

    Zen Count Strategy

    The very last one on our list just happens to be one of the best card counting strategies that any level player can use. The Zen Count strategy is one that is just about as perfect a balance between simplicity and power as you can hope for.

    Arnold Snyder developed this blackjack strategy and it most definitely was a master stroke. You will often find that the guys who develop some of these strategies never take into consideration the humans that want to use it. This is however one of the welcome exceptions, which allows you to play freely with a strong blackjack strategy that won’t disappoint.