Blackjack strategy

Blackjack is a deceptively complex game. While its portrayal in books and movies would have you believe that the game consists merely of “hitting,” “standing,” and counting cards, there are actually a good deal more variables and decisions that go into playing successfully.

More importantly however, with the advent of computers, people have distilled a mathematically optimal way of playing blackjack, resulting from the analysis of millions and millions of simulated blackjack games. This essentially means that for every blackjack hand you are dealt, taking into account the card that the dealer is showing, there is a “right” way to play that hand to maximize your odds against the house (which, of course, are always below 50%).

Game time

In a week, some buddies and I will be traveling to Atlantic City for Columbia University’s fall break to play some blackjack and poker. Among us are some math nerds (including myself) who would obviously hate to be caught playing any game suboptimally, especially when our own money is on the line.

So I built a little training tool, based on the strategy outlined here, to help me and my friends practice making optimal choices in blackjack.

This slightly simplified model of blackjack (my training program does not allow the player to surrender) presents the player with a dealer card, and then a 2-card hand. The player then decides whether he wants to hit, stand, double, or split in the situation, and the program tells him if he was right or not before shuffing the deck and dealing out new cards.

If you’re planning on hitting the casino anytime soon I recommend using this to brush up a little! Though I’m told most dealers will simply tell you the “right” thing to do with your hand if you ask them, that just feels like cheating.

Happy gambling!