Blackjack Spreadsheet

I’m going to Vegas this weekend. Not really my favorite place, but this time I’m determined to actually try to have a good time. Therefore I will have to gamble. Blackjack seems fun, and at least has an element of skill, so I’m deep in study mode. The amount of preparation required is modest: three spreadsheets must be committed to memory. Fun! I feel like I’m back in third grade, learning my times tables again.


The thing about blackjack is that it’s not just the hand you have that matters: what hand the dealer has (and what the odds are that hand will “bust”) also factor into the decisionmaking process. Fortunately, computer models and statistical analysis have determined the correct strategy: all you have to do is commit the results of that analysis to memory.
Below is the basic spreadsheet for “hard hands” (no aces). Every book about blackjack has this spreadsheet. This alone is enough to make you avoid the most frequent mistake of a novice punter: hitting on 13-16 when the dealer is showing 6 or less. The top row shows the card the dealer is showing, the left column shows the total of your two cards added together. Your only options are to hit (h), stay (s), or double down (dd).

2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A
8 or less h h h h h h h h h h
9 h dd dd dd dd h h h h h
10 dd dd dd dd dd dd dd dd h h
11 dd dd dd dd dd dd dd dd dd h
12 h h s s s h h h h h
13-16 s s s s s h h h h h
17 or more s s s s s s s s s s

Ignore this sheet when you get two of a kind (e.g. two 8s) or when one of your cards is an ace (a “soft hand”). There are separate spreadsheets for those situations.
If you are planning on learning this sheet by heart, the best thing to do is copy it out by hand onto paper. Just the process of writing it down yourself will get you part of the way towards memorizing it. The key thing is that, although there are a lot of cells in the table, there are very regular patterns that can be memorized. This means that you basically have to memorize the contours, not the individual members of the grid.
Once you’ve got that down pat, you can practice your blackjack skills at hitorstand.net. Unlike most online blackjack games, hitorstand scores you on whether you made the correct move, not whether you won or lost money. This makes it a good place to hone your blackjack skills.
You can find a lot more information about blackjack (including the soft hands chart and the split chart) in the wikipedia entry. While you’re there, check out the story of the MIT Blackjack team.

2 thoughts on “Blackjack Spreadsheet

  1. Cort October 27, 2005 / 12:20 pm

    Hi Jon,
    Be aware of this one, too. It’s not “cheating” but it’s a subtle trick that I noticed that they used on me once. (not totally successfully luckily, but it wasn’t until later that I realized what the attempt was)
    If you get some lucky streak going and they ask you to, say “fill out a membership card”. Stop betting right where you are and keep your winnings. What they are trying to do is delay your leaving the table with your winnings until you get a bad streak to offset the good one. It is at this level that they attempt to control the outcome now that the odds have been worked out to a point where they can be made fairly even for an individual sitting.

  2. Jonathan Boutelle October 31, 2005 / 1:26 pm

    Cort,
    Thanks for the advice!
    I ended up gambling for about 2 hours a day for 3 days. Total damage to my wallet was $35. My friend played the exact same number of hands as me, using the exact same system, and lost $65, so our average loss for 6 hours of play was 50$. That’s less than 10$ an hour, and it was definitely 10$ / hour worth of entertainment.

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