Blackjack Decision Making Process
Has this ever happen to you when you play blackjack? You make your bet and the dealer gives you a pair of 9's. You glance at the dealer's face card and it's a 9. Before you know it, the dealer is pointing in your direction waiting for a signal from you. You've reviewed the basic playing strategy a hundred times but in the heat of battle your mind draws a blank. Your fellow players start to get impatient as you stare at your hand trying to remember whether or not you should stand on 18 or split the 9's. Frustrated, you reluctantly wave your hand over your cards indicating to the dealer you want to stand on the pair of 9's (which by the way is not the right play - splitting is).
It's one thing to memorize the basic strategy but quite another to recall it during the excitement of playing. But perhaps the following flow, that summarizes the logical process that you should go through while playing, will help you remember the right play.
First look at the dealer's upcard. If it's a 9, 10 or ace (the key cards) and the casino allows surrender then the first decision you should make is whether or not you should surrender your hand in accordance with the basic strategy rules for surrender.
If you don't surrender, and you hold a pair of 2's through aces (the key cards), then your next decision is whether or not to split according to the basic strategy rules for pair splitting.
If you don't split, then your next decision is whether or not to double down. The key cards in this case are the cards in your hand. If you hold a two card hard 9, 10 or 11 or a soft hand you may be doubling down according to the basic strategy playing rules for doubling.
If you don't double, then the last decision you should make is whether or not to hit or stand according to the basic strategy rules.
To summarize use the following logical decision making process to determine how you should play every hand dealt to you at blackjack.
1. Should I surrender the hand? If not then
2. Should I split? If not then
3. Should I double down? If not then
4. Should I hit or stand?
Let's try a few hands so you get the hang of this. Suppose you are dealt a 10,4 and the dealer shows a 10. Since the dealer has a key card for a potential surrender (the 10) your first must decide whether or not to surrender your hand. According to the basic playing strategy, you wouldn't (only surrender hard 15 and 16 hands against a dealer's 10 but not a hard 14). Since you are not surrendering, go to the next decision (pair splitting). Since you don't have a pair, you can skip this decision and go to the third, doubling. Here again you don't have a key hand for doubling so skip to the last decision, hit or split. The correct basic strategy play is to hit a hard 14 when the dealer shows a 10.
Try this one. You are dealt a 10,6 and the dealer shows a picture card which is a key card for a potential surrender. First decision, "should you surrender?" Answer is yes because according to the basic playing strategy you should always surrender a hard 16 when the dealer shows a 10-value card.
If in the previous example you forgot about surrender and thought first whether or not you should hit or stand, you could have made the wrong play. That's the reason for always thinking surrender first followed by the other decisions.
Suppose you are dealt an ace, 7 (soft 18) and the dealer's upcard is a 9. The dealer is not showing a key card for surrender, you don't have a pair but you do have a soft hand, which is a potential double down situation. However, according to the basic strategy playing rules, you would never double on soft 18 when the dealer's face card is a 9 (you only double when the dealer shows a 3 through 6 face card). Your final decision is whether or not you should hit or stand. According to the basic playing strategy, you should hit soft 18 when the dealer's face card is a 9.
In the actual course of play it won't take very long for you to run through the decision sequence, -surrender, pair split, double, hit/stand in that order especially when you remember the key cards for each decision (see chart below for a summary). In fact it will become second nature to you just like the basic playing strategy. Notice that the play you make most often -hitting or standing - should be the last decision you make. Think surrender first, then pair split, then double, and lastly whether or not to hit or stand. If you always follow that sequence in your decision making process you'll find that that the whole process of deciding how to play out your hand will become easier and less stressful. This in turn will result in less costly playing mistakes and more money in your pocket when you play blackjack.
Basic Strategy Logic Flow
Decision Key Card(s)
Surrender Dealer 9, 10 and ace
Pair split Player pair
Doubling Down Player two card hard 9, 10,11 and soft hands
Hit or Stand Follow basic strategy rules