Does Basic Strategy Apply to the Third Card in Blackjack?

 Does Basic Strategy Apply to the Third Card in Blackjack?

Sometimes, things are so ingrained in experienced casino players that we forget newcomers haven’t yet learned all the ins and outs.

Not long ago, I received email from a blackjack player who is working on learning basic strategy. He was using a strategy card.

The reader questioned what you do after you hit and have a three-card total instead of your two-card starting total.

“Are basic strategy cards just for your first two cards, or do they apply to the totals after more cards?” he wrote. “That is, if I’m supposed to hit 14 when the dealer has a 9, do I still hit when my 14 is a 7, 6 and Ace besides when it’s a 9 and 5, 10 and 4 or 8 and 6?”

In most cases, yes, you should follow the same strategy with three or more cards as with two. You still hit 14 against a 9 no matter how many cards make up your 14.

The most common exception comes on double down hands. You’re allowed to double down only on your first two cards, so if you have a three-card 11, you can only hit, not double. On nearly all double-down totals, the best play with three or more cards is to hit. The exception is soft 18, where in a six-deck game in which the dealer hits soft 17, basic strategy calls for doubling down vs. dealer’s 2 through 6. If your soft 18 is three or more cards, you stand instead.

To dig a little deeper, there are some close calls on composition-dependent hands. A card counter would consider the full count, not just the cards in one hand, but a non-counter can make a small gain by standing on 16 vs. 10 if the player’s hand includes a 5 or 4. You’d stand vs. 10 with 5-5-4-2, for example, but hit with 10-6 or 9-7.

But composition strategies are for players who really want to get serious. For most players, applying the same basic strategy with three or more cards as with two cards will do.

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