Blackjack is a game played for money in a casino. It is, by its nature, an adversarial game; you are playing against the casino (the “house,” if you will). They want to win your money, and you want to win their money from them. To be successful in winning money from the casino, the player must fundamentally accomplish what the objective is.
Many people, in explaining what the object of the game is, tell you that the goal is to attain a total closer to 21 than that of the dealer. This is true in a sense, but not necessarily accurate. It is less the “end” than the means to an end.
In the interests of accuracy, the object of the game of blackjack is simply this:
To beat the dealer, in whatever way is possible.
Okay, so how does one do that?
(1) Yes, to make a hand which totals closer to 21 than that of the dealer, without exceeding 21;
(2) Stay safely under the total of 21 while the dealer exceeds that total (known as a “bust”)
Ah, lt’s not forget about that one. See, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.
As part of blackjack’s basic rules, the dealer must hit a total of 16 and stand on all 17’s. He is “programmed” in that sense, and there is an edge, to some degree, to the player in that the dealer does not get to choose the strategy moves he will make, while the player does. This is where (2) comes into play. On the other side of the coin, the player must act first. He does not get to see what the dealer’s hole card is before making a decision. So the player will risk going over 21 if he hits any two-card hand that is 12 or higher.
That is part of what frames the challenge, and the mischaracterization of the objective. One can win with 12 yet lose with 19. So it goes without saying that getting as close to 21 as possible is by no means a mandatory factor in winning. Obviously there are subtleties that will help the player reach the objective with more success than otherwise. Well then – when to hit, when to stand, and when to do other things?
The player can determine all this by learning and implementing a certain “Basic Strategy” for playing the game. It is the recommended path the player follows in approaching his decision making on a hand-by-hand basis.
The Basic Strategy is a set of rules that represents, mathematically, the best possible decision a player can make for any given two-card hand he is dealt against every possible dealer upcard. It will dictate, for instance, that the player stands on a “hard” total of 12 against certain dealer upcards like 5, because the percentage chance the player has of making a winning hand with that two-card combination is lower than the percentage of wins he’ll gain by waiting for the dealer to “bust” with his own hand. You will find that standing with your own bad hands against the dealer’s likely bad hands is generally a prudent move, because, once again, the dealer has to adhere to certain guidelines in his play while the player has the freedom to make his own decisions.
Mastering elements of the Basic Strategy are critical to the player’s chance of eventually achieving the objective – beating the dealer.