BlackJack 101

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About

BlackJack 101/Blackjack 101 Free is a basic strategy trainer for the game of Blackjack (link to Wikipedia, opens in Safari). It does not actually play hands of Blackjack, and it doesn't keep track of winnings. It does display how often you chose the correct basic strategy when presented with random Blackjack hands. Basic strategy is based on mathematical analysis of the game, introduced by Edward O. Thorp (link to Wikipedia, opens in Safari) and developed by many others since.

The play is simple: the app deals a hand to you and an upcard to the dealer. You have five options: Hit, Stand, Double, Split, Surrender, or Take Insurance (not all of the options are legal at a given time, or at a given blackjack table, and it is part of the training to decide which are legal actions). You select actions until you get the correct one, and then you are dealt either a new card or a new hand. The stats counter keeps track of your percentage of correct guesses.


Contents

There are 5 screens in this app:



Practice Screen

The practice screen is where the action is. Here you are dealt hands and must choose the correct action.

Actions

There are six possible actions:

Hit - Take another card from the dealer.
Stand - Stop taking cards, ending the hand.
Double - Take one more card from the dealer and end the hand.
Split - Split one hand into two (must have 2 cards of same value).*
Surrender - Give up the hand and lose half your bet.
Insurance - If the dealer shows an ace the player can take insurance against a blackjack.*

* Splitting
After splitting pairs in a real game of Blackjack the player would play out each new hand individually. In Blackjack 101, after the player correctly chooses to split a new hand is dealt. (If the player incorrectly chooses to split, the split button is disabled and player is prompted to try again.)

* Insurance
By taking insurance the player is essentially making a side bet that the dealer has a blackjack. In basic strategy taking insurance is never a good bet, so this option is always wrong.

Practice Modes

There are 3 practice modes:

All: Deals hands of all types. The hand is played out until the player chooses to double, stand, or split, or the player hits and busts.
Soft: Deals only soft hands (one ace and one non-ace). Plays out the hand.
Pairs: Deals only pairs, and redeals immediately after the first choice (to split or not) is made.

Skill Levels

The trainer has 4 skill levels: Normal, and Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced skills. The skill levels are controlled by the button on the practice screen labeled "Skill"

Normal is the default level (indicated by "Norm" on the button) and basically deals hands at random, as if they were being dealt from a normal deck (or decks) of cards.

Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced skill levels favor dealing more difficult hands. The difficulty of a hand is determined by the pattern of strategies for the hand and hands like it. For example, if we look at a hard 16 for a typical set of playing rules (4 decks, late surrender), we might see three different recommended strategies across different dealer up-cards: surrender, hit, and stand. This makes 16 an inherently more complicated hand than, say, a hard 20, for which the strategy is always "stand". BlackJack 101 takes this complexity into account when choosing hands for the various skill levels. On the Beginner skill level the more complex hands are chosen somewhat more frequently than easier hands, and on the Advanced skill level the more complex hands are chosen much more frequently.

The Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced skill levels are indicated on the skill button by "Beg", "Med", and "Adv", respectively.

Stats

The app keeps track of basic statistics for each practice mode: (hands played, choices made, errors made, percentage of correct choices). The reset button sets the stats for the current mode to 0.

Sharing

The sharing button invokes a screen with various options for sharing BlackJack 101 on Facebook, Twitter, or other platforms.



Strategy Card Screen

This screen shows the optimal play for each combination of player hand value and dealer up card. There are 3 sections, one for hard hands (hands w/o an ace), soft hands (hands w/a single ace), and pairs. When you select the strategy card tab it displays the section that is appropriate for the hand you are currently dealt, and highlights the cell, row and column for the current hand on the practice screen.

To read the strategy card, find the column with the dealer's up card and the row equal to the highest total value of your cards that is less than 21. (So, if you have A, A, 7, the highest total is 19, counting one Ace as 11 and the other Ace as 1.) The cell intersected by the column and row will indicate the best play, depending on which rules have been selected on the rules screen.

Symbol  Action
S Stand
H Hit
D Double or Hit
Ds Double or Stand
/ Split
R Surrender or Hit
Rs Surrender or Stand

Some symbols stand for 2 actions, in these cases you choose the first action if it is possible, and the second action otherwise. For example, if the strategy card says "D", then the best play is to double when that is possible (i.e. the hand has not been hit yet and only has 2 cards), but if the hand has been hit already and thus has 3+ cards, the best play is to hit.

There is a legend for the symbols at the bottom. Basically the colors parallel stoplight colors: green means go (hit me) red means stop (stand), yellow means 'go just once more' (double down). White means "I surrender" and blue means split the cards.

You can change the order in which the dealer cards appear across the top, and/or the order of the player hands along the side in the Settings screen.

A note on 'best strategy': best strategy does not mean the move that always wins. Often times you will pick the right move, and you will bust. This is not a mistake. Best strategy is the move that maximizes your chance of winning over thousands of hands. You may win some and you may lose some, but in the long run, you will maximize your potential payout with best strategy. And also note that best strategy may not even mean having a positive payout in the long run. With most casino rules today the best possible return is negative: you can only hope to minimize your losses.



Rules Screen

This screen lets you modify the rules used by the casino, including the number of decks used, whether the dealer hits soft 17, when the player can double, and if/when the player can surrender. After any rules are changed, the strategy card will be updated to reflect the modifications to basic strategy and any pressed buttons on the practice screen will be reset. (The currently dealt hand will remain the same.)

Decks
The number of decks in the shoe affects the basic strategy. Fewer decks is more advantageous for the player, but most Vegas games with one deck alter other rules to eliminate any increase in odds.

Dealer Hits Soft 17
In normal Blackjack the dealer stands on 17 or higher, but when this rule is in effect the dealer will hit a 17 if it is soft (i.e. Ace + Six). This is a common Vegas Rule. It slightly decreases the player's odds.

Double on
Indicates when the player may double down. The options are never, only on 10 or 11, only on 9-11, or on any cards. (Of course, player may only double down on the initial 2 cards). There are many instances with soft hands where doubling is advantageous, so games which only allow doubling on 10/11 or 9/10/11 decrease the odds for the player.

Double after split
Indicates whether doubling down is allowed after splitting pairs. This doesn't affect the play in this training app, since splits are never played out, but it does affect the strategy for splitting pairs in some circumstances.

Surrender
Indicates when the player is allowed to surrender. Can be either early, late, or never. Early surrender means you get the option to surrender before the dealer checks for blackjack. It is the most advantageous for the player, but is less common in casinos. Late surrender is more common, it is less advantageous, but still better than no surrender.

Variations

This section has two common rule variations found in Vegas downtown and the strip. Tapping on "load rules" next to the variation changes the game rules to match that variation. The Downtown variation sets the nubmer of decks to 2, dealer hits soft 17, and no double after split or surrender. The Strip variation sets the number of decks to 4, dealer stands on soft 17, allows double after split and late surrender.



Settings Screen

This screen allows you to control various preferences related to the appearance and behavior of the practice screen and the strategy card screen.

Orientation
Left Handed vs. Right Handed: You can choose how the practice screen is laid out, with the action buttons on the left or on the right. They are nearly mirror images of each other. I call one "left handed" and the other "right handed", but really it's just personal preference which works better for you.

Strategy Card Display Order
Affects ordering of the numbers in the row and column headings on the strategy card. I prefer the high to low ordering, but for some reason nearly all basic strategy charts you'll find in books and on the Internet will have the opposite ordering, so I added the ability to switch the order if you desire.

Delay Between Hands
This control sets the number of seconds (0-4) after the player presses an action button before new card or hand is dealt.

Feedback
These options toggle different types of feedback given by the app after the player makes a choice.

Written
When enabled, the app will briefly display a written message (indicating correct/incorrect) above the buttons after a choice has been made.

Correct Sound
When enabled, a sound is played when a correct choice is made (unless the device is in silent mode).

Incorrect Sound
When enabled, a sound is played when an incorrect choice is made (unless the device is in silent mode).

Vibrate on Incorrect
When enabled, the device (iPhone or iPad) vibrates when an incorrect choice is made, if vibration is supported. (iPod Touch does not support vibration).


Help Screen

This is the screen you are viewing now. For more help, or bug reports or feature requests, email me at daver@redwork.org
(clicking on this link opens a new message in Mail).