Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Learn Blackjack Basic Strategy the Royal Flusher Way

Are you ready to become a solid Basic Strategy Blackjack player? Let's get down to some useful tips.

I promised you'd get them, and now, here they are.

Right there. Right down below this rambling paragraph. Look down... down there. That's where they are.
Simplified Blackjack (and Slot) Strategy for Complete Morons. I use it often.

1: Decide on a Basic Strategy and Stick to it

Published strategies vary from card to card, site to site, program to program because the rules of playand number of decks change from table to table, casino to casino. Those blackjack poindexters that want to get every last hundredth of a percent advantage care about these things because at the levels at which they play, it means real money to them.

You (probably) and I (definitely) do not fall into this category because we are only just blackjack babykins, barely able to reach up high enough above our bobbling babykins heads in order to suckle at blackjack's luscious monetary teat.

For the sake of your sanity, get a good, solid, basic set of rules and learn them cold. (We will get to the But HOW???? part shortly.) Never mind the little tweaks. You are going to be going from a 90% return by guess and by God player to a 99 plus % return Blackjack Basic Strategy Maven (with optional luscious monetary teat-suckling).

You will be better at this than probably 90% of the players out there.

If you decide to use a trainer (like a program, app, or website) or other means of drilling yourself, make sure you can tweak the strategy so that it uses the one you've decided to play to.

There is no sense in learning a set of rules on one trainer, and then being told you are making mistakes for the same decisions in another. This confuses even Jimmy Poon. Norbert, on the other hand, plays by the 'never stop with an even number of cards' strategy. He also takes extra cards to try to get more 'red ones'. This, clearly, is non-savvy folly.

Where do you get such a strategy? Easy. Well, you could get it from the Wizard of Odds. Or from Wikipedia. Or you could buy a strategy card in a casino gift shop. Or you could Google a strategy card image and print it off. You could buy one of a thousand blackjack books.

Instead of the full Basic Strategy, you could even opt for either the Blackjack Insider or the Wizard of Odds simplified strategy, either of which you probably could learn by rote fairly quickly, because of the reduced number of little boxes to learn, of which there are a daunting number.

Read on. We'll fix that.

2: Reduce the Rules

As someone who pretty much makes his own rules in life, I figured out that the secret to learning Blackjack is to get a set of rules and learn them thoroughly, so that I'll know which ones to break.

When you are a savvy, hard-nosed gambler like The Flusher, you need a simplified strategy because only a very savvy gambler would be able to take a complex strategy and memorize it just like it is, without distilling it down into its key concepts. So the simpler the strategy, the smarter you are, and the more in keeping with the Royal Flusher Way. Does that make as little sense to you as it does to me?

Remember I said in the previous article that there are some 340 blackjack boxes to learn, based on all the possible dealt combinations? In looking over any basic strategy you'll see that there are some simple rules that you can commit to memory that will greatly reduce this number. Yes, there is hope for our addled Commodore 64-sized brainses.

Let's look at some sledgehammer rules that smash that 340 boxes to a manageable number of things to remember.

Player dealt 5 through 8 - always hit. That saves you 40 boxes off the Basic Strategy chart.

Always split Aces and 8s. Another 20 boxes, skimmed off the top, like so much fat on top of the Country Throw-up Gravy vat.

3: Learn Generalities, Use Mnemonics

Learn generalities in the strategy and memorize the exceptions. Use word pictures, sayings, mnemonics, or other gray matter tools to internalize them.

As you get familiar with the Basic Strategy chart, you'll see some patterns emerge that apply to a bunch of hands of a similar type, with a few exceptions. You can remember the big block rules, and then the exceptions to get what Jimmy Poon calls a heuristic rule. I call that mother a rule of thumb. I also kick Jimmy Poon's butt at horseshoes. Heuristic my ass!

Always stand on hard 17 or higher (except soft 17 and soft 18). That's 40 boxes saved, and you have to keep those exceptions in mind.

So far, we've distilled 100 boxes out of the 340 into just three heuristic Jimmy Poon rules. Pretty damn savvy, no?

Double 10 and 11 if Dealer Card is Lower.  This includes pairs of 5s (which add to ten), so now you don't have to remember what to do with pairs of fives - just use this rule, which is worth 30 boxes.

Let's look at the pairs.

Generally, you are splitting pairs in the 2 through 9 range against dealer's 2 through 7, with exceptions.

We already know about always splitting Aces and 8s.

Split 2s, 3s, and 7s against 2 through 7. 30 boxes saved.

Split 6, 6 to the 6. This exception gives 666, fitting for gambling pursuits such as blackjack. I use the mind picture to remember the exception.

Split 4,4 against 5 and 6. I remember this one as 4,5,6.

This next one, I had fun building a little mind picture for. What do you do with a pair of 9s? I think of Agent 99 from Get Smart. And I think of Max 'standing on seven tennis shoes'.


9-9 - stand on 7, 10, Ace. 7 10-Ace shoes. Got it?

Split 9,9 except stand on 7 tennis shoes. It's worth it for another 10 boxes saved.

And just like that, you've got the pairs covered. That's a third or so of Basic Strategy right there.

Now, committing the rules to memory is one thing, and learning to use them is another.

I've created flash cards with the mnemonics and gone through them. That worked pretty well. Once I knew the rules, I applied them by playing with Casino Verite (software which simulates a casino experience in the comfort of your own hom) on the Video Poker WinSimulator 3000 with new added Blackjack. So I got to play games and reinforce the Blackjack Kindergarten Simplified Strategy rules I've had drilled myself on.

Let's look at some non pair hard hands.

We've covered 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, and 11.

Stand on 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 against dealers 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Exception, hit 12 against 2 or 3.

That's 55 boxes right there. We always assume the down card is a 10 and the next card is a 10 - because its the most likely card, generally speaking. And the dealer drawing 10 against 12, 13, 14, 15 or 16 means they are going to bust. So we sit tight.

Double 9 against 3,4,5,6. This one, I don't have a mnemonic or mind picture for. I just learned it.

4: Look for patterns to help you remember.

Now we're into soft hands. For soft 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 there is an interesting pattern.

Soft 3, 4 double against 5, 6 else hit
Soft 5, 6, double against 4, 5, 6 else hit
Soft 7, 8, double against 3, 4, 5, 6 else hit except soft 8, which has a bunch of exceptions.

The soft 8 exceptions, you just have to learn.

Now you've got a handful of heuristic rules to represent maybe three quarters of the Basic Strategy boxes (or fuzzy Italian bathroom tiles, if you will).

It's now manageable, with a little effort.

5: Practice, Practice, Practice

Use a trainer of some sort to put your sort-of whoozis memory things... whatever... to use. Your remembered strategies, yeah, that's it.

There are endless websites, programs, apps, and on and on to drill you on basic strategy. Once you start learning it, you need to practice until you have it cold.

I've found it critical to learn in different ways.

Best ten bucks spent.
I bought and use Deepnet Technologies Blackjack Mentor app on my piPhone 3.14. (There are Android  and other versions available as well.) It has a ton of useful features such as learning by playing hands, replaying your errors, configuring which hands NOT to drill you on, choosing to drill on subsets of hands like hard hands, soft hands, or pairs. It also has a blank strategy chart that you have to fill in yourself to see if you know it. And you can configure the strategy used as well.

Play Full Hands, Not Just Initial Decisions

The one thing Blackjack Mentor doesn't do is let you play hands through to a win or loss. Why do you need to do this? Well, it's fun. And, it's more like the real casino situation you are training for. But most importantly, you have to make multiple decisions, still based on Basic Strategy, as you play a hand.

For example, you could be dealt a soft hand like Ace-7, and get another Ace. Now you've got another soft hand decision to get right.

One of the best blackjack programs out there, and one that goes way, way, way beyond the needs of the beginner, is QFit's Casino Vérité.

Not only does it have a snazzy sounding French name, it will teach you basic strategy and it will teach you to count cards, if you want it to. It's configurable up the ying-yang (French for keister), and let's you simulate casino play, right down to using the mouse to make hit and stand motions, and having the dealer make mistakes. Like that ever happens...

Casino Vérité costs a few bucks, but with over 500 options, you won't outgrow it.
The QFit people have mobile apps as well, which I haven't played with yet. I'm going to give them a whirl, so this text here you're reading will some day in the future be crossed out, and additional information will be added.

Practice Ahead

Don't leave all this shit until the plane-ride out to Vegas. If you want to do this, you've got to put in some time, and you've got to start well in advance of your trip. Do an hour a day starting six weeks out and you will be well on your way.

Well, that is pretty much one method of learning basic strategy. Blackjack is a cool game. You can shave the house edge down, get free drinks, socialize, and often, win some money. It's as complex a game as you want to make it, and there are different ways of learning that will work for different people.

I am by no means a gambling expert, let alone a blackjack expert. But I put some work and thought into my play. That way, I lose all my money in an informed manner.

But seriously, do yourself a good turn. Don't play that 6:5 crapjack. And learn basic strategy as well as you can. It doesn't matter if you have it down perfectly the first few times out - what matters is that you are making better decisions than the 'playing hunches' method. Keep at it, keep studying, keep improving, and keep savvy!

This is the third in a three part series on Blackjack here at Royal Flusher World. 

Part 2 Blackjack Basic Strategy Card Mysteries Revealed.

Disclosure. The fine folks at Blackjack Insider publish some of my Las Vegas Trip Reports, and they have a little ad banner from time to time that points to my Trip Report site. That said, they are an excellent resource for blackjack, and I purchased and used the Blackjack Mentor app well before we started doing that cross-publishing thing a few months back.

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