Memorizing Basic Blackjack Strategy

Published on Sunday, August 30, 2009 in , , ,

Basic Black StrategyDealing with memory and living in Las Vegas, I suppose it's inevitable that I should get around to discussing how to memorize basic blackjack strategy.

Before anything else, make sure you understand the basic rules of blackjack. If you don't get the basic rules down first, nothing else will help. Beyond just understanding the fundamental rules, you should also be aware of the rules imposed by particular casinos, and read up on the different variations when possible. For example, are those single deck blackjack games that pay 6:5 on a blackjack a good deal?

Once you understand the rules, you need to be able to learn to play effectively. This is where basic strategy comes in. Basic strategy is most familiar to people as those little blackjack charts like this. Above and beyond the strategy cards, I've even developed basic blackjack strategy T-shirts (note that the charts are printed upside-down, so you can read them while wearing them) as one solution, but it's really better to memorize them if you can.

Disclaimer: Before we continue on, remember that no method of playing can guarantee you win, which is why it's called gambling. In this article, I'm merely focusing on the challenge of memorizing basic blackjack strategy. This should not be taken as an endorsement or encouragement of gambling, and Grey Matters can in no way be responsible for any wins, losses or other consequences (including damages) that happen as a result of following the advice in this blog.

When memorizing a chart, you might think that the best approach would be to take an approach that's similar to my 400 Digits of Pi feat. However, doing blackjack strategy this way is actually twice as difficult, as there would 230 spots to memorize on such as chart.

The first rule when memorizing something is to minimize what you need to remember later. Thankfully, due to the large ranges of similar strategies in basic strategy, this is possible. The best work I've seen on minimizing basic strategy rules is in an iPhone/iPod Touch native app called Easy Blackjack Cheat Sheet (EBCS - iTunes Link), which breaks the entire chart down into 17 simple rules to remember, and it's available for free!

To give you an example, the whole approach boils down to the 4-line rhyme: SURRENDER, SPLIT, DOUBLE, HIT. In other words, you first ask yourself whether you should surrender or not, then whether to split or not, followed by whether to double or not, and finally whether to hit or not, and always in that order. For each of these rules, simple mnemonics are provided to remind you when you should take each of those actions, as well as when to ignore the decisions. For example, in the second screenshot here, you can already see that you don't think about splitting if you don't have a pair, and that the time to split 2s, 3s and 7s is only when the dealer has a 2 thru 7 showing. “2s, 3s, and 7s vs. a 2 thru 7” is pretty easy to remember.

EBCS is only a method of helping you memorize the correct play for various hands. If you're serious about memorizing basic strategy, you need to practice it during actual play, too. I've found that PepperDogSoft's Blackjack Teacher works well for this, and there are many other native apps available, as well. Instead of playing a full game, it only focuses on the initial deal and the proper choices to make. It also tracks your streaks of correct answers, and even reminds you of the length of your longest correct answer streak. Before EBCS, I had trouble getting a streak of just 3 correct answers going, but now streaks of 10 or more weren't difficult to reach less than a day after getting it.

As long you're practicing with an iPhone/iPod Touch anyway, probably the most effective approach would be to learn and practice as above. However, when you're going into a real casino game, make sure you're aware of the rules at the particular casino of your choice (the chart at that link is for Vegas only), and then use the basic strategy engine at Blackjack.info to find the best plays for that game. Usually, there are only a few plays that are different, so making up 1-3 of your own mnemonics to adjust the rules is all that's required and will be time well spent.

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8 Response to Memorizing Basic Blackjack Strategy

12:29 AM

Having watched some of your casino documentariy list, it seems important to have a dubious beard stuck on from time to time while visiting these casinos. Perhaps there could be a mnemonic for remembering which disguise was worn already this week.
I recently watched the remake of Starsky and Hutch; and I picked up a lot of ideas about how to be in disguise.

I like the idea of having crib notes on my T-shirt. Sometimes, my belly could store much of Wikipedia.

1:01 PM

I believe that before approaching to any casino play, we need certain techniques to learn. However, specifically for Blackjack Casino, we always need a special kind of strategies. I appreciate your time to write some of them and of course that will help me out.

6:37 AM

Is there anyway to get easy blackjack cheat sheet on my 3g mytouch
Thx you

9:30 PM

You can ask the developer at Calanoa.com, but since it's interactive, it may not be easy for them to port to the 3G mytouch.

5:27 PM

Well, like all online casino games, effective tournament strategy is about Risk Management. It is to make sure that you get full value for every big bet you make. In order to win in the gambling world, you must know where to stop and where to continue and of course strategies and good decision making.

BJ Newbie
8:19 AM

Hi! Know this is an old post, but curious if you written out your 17 rules/mnemonic or could publish them for those that are looking to find an easier way to memorize basic strategy.

I've seen the simplified 11 step version from Wizard of Oz but that raises the edge a bit but if I can learn 6 more steps to get the complete basic strategy then why not! :)

The original app is no longer available (think the developer closed shop and the app has been removed).

Thanks so much!

9:12 PM

Here's a simplified strategy that is almost as good as the full (complicated) basic strategy, but is much easier to memorize:

1. Always split A-A or 8-8. Don't split any other pairs.

2. Always double on 11. Double on 10 or 9 vs. a dealer low card (2 through 6).

3. Always hit soft 17 or less, always stand on soft 18 or more. "Soft" means an ace counts as 11.

4. Hit 11 or less (if you can't double), stand on hard 17 or more.

5. If you have any "stiff" (hard 12 through 16), look at the dealer's up card: against any low card (2 through 6), "never bust" (stand); against any high card (7 through A), "mimic the dealer" (hit until you get 17).

If you use this simple strategy, you'll be playing a lot better than most blackjack players. The strategy is not perfect, but you'll lose only about one-half one percent more than using the full (and incredibly complicated) basic strategy.

For details, see Easy-to-Memorize Blackjack Basic Strategy

1:56 PM

The EBCS is no longer available on iTunes. Do you know where we can find it now?