Everyone who plays blackjack regularly has probably at least tried to learn basic strategy, but many fall short. Even people I have talked to who think they are experts miss up to 20 different hands on the chart, but before you take your game to the next level you need to be perfect.
Now let’s say you happen to be that one player in 50 who plays all his hands correctly. What’s next? Most prevailing blackjack literature says that card counting is the next step, but in actuality there are several skills you can learn short of card counting that will improve your game beyond basic strategy. To use them though, you’ll have to start thinking outside the box.
The first and simplest improvement you can make to your game comes when you have 16 against a dealer’s 10. Understand that this hand is a close decision and when you have the typical 10/6 against a 10 – yes, you should hit it. But if you start with a smaller total against that 10 and end up with any 16 that contains a 4 or a 5, you should now stand! That means standing against a 10 with hands like 8/5/3 or 4/9/2 or 7/5/4, etc. It’s known as the “Rule of 45” and it applies to 16 against a 10 only. But if you have something like A/6/8/A against that 10, take a hit because you haven’t killed any 4s or 5s.
Low Card Layouts
The next thing that can improve your game is to realize that the more high cards there are in the shoe, the better the percentages are for the player. So if you’re approaching a table and see a flurry of pat 19s and 20s around the felt, keep on walking. Playing that shoe is likely to cost you extra. If you’re already seated when this happens, it’s a good time to change tables.
When you see a barrage of little cards on the board however, it’s time to jump in if you’re just watching, or raise your bet if you’re already playing. Don’t be trigger happy on this point though. You need at least 8 more “babies” (2s thru 5s) on the board than 10s in order to have an outright advantage on that shoe. If you have at least that, bet more the rest of the way through the shoe or until a noticeable flurry of high cards has surfaced.
Other Peoples’ Doubles
Every day in every blackjack game, players leave advantageous betting opportunities on the table. Don’t let them slide by at yours. How many times have you seen somebody double down for less than double with a good doubling hand? When this happens, seize the opportunity and get your chips over there, capping it off at the max. Just say, “Can I take the rest of that?” They’ll almost always oblige.
One day last month, I walked out of the casino winning $150 and would’ve been a $200 loser for the day had I not doubled down several times on other players’ hands. This is one of the most readily available edges in the game. Correct double downs generally carry an outright advantage of 5% to 10%. Whenever you get one of these for the same amount as your own bet, mathematically it’ll cover your basic strategy disadvantage for your next 15 hands or so.
Even if a player is merely pondering doubling with a solid doubling hand, toss half the price over there and offer to go halves with him. Your vote of confidence will often convince him to go through with it.
Can these extra moves turn a basic strategist into a net winner at the game? That would take some doing. You’d have to be changing tables all the time and hustling a ton of other peoples’ doubles. But even in moderation, it’ll improve your results beyond basic strategy.