Blackjack Instructor is easy to use and largely self-explanatory. The examples below will get you started.

Configuring the Rules

Blackjack Instructor is set up with default rules used in much of Vegas today. However, even casinos on the Strip can vary, so you have the option of configuring the rules to simulate any given casino. The Las Vegas Blackjack Survey site maintains a list of current rules, and the casinos that offer them.

To start, tap the "Configure Rules" button on the main menu:

You will see the following screen:

Each button displays a currently active rule. Tapping a button switches to a different rule, and the button text will change to reflect the new rule. When you're finished, tap the "Back to main menu" button in the top-left corner of the screen.

For example, let's say you want to learn the basic strategy for the single-deck dealer-stands-on-soft-17 games.

  • First tap the "Number of decks" button, changing it from "Number of decks: 4 or more" to "Number of decks: 1."
  • Then tap the "Dealer hits soft 17" button, changing it to "Dealer stands on soft 17."

Then tap "Back to main menu":

Sometimes you will need to tap a button more than once to get to your desired rule variant. For example, if you wanted a two-deck game instead of a single-deck game in the illustration above, you would tap twice: first to go from "Number of decks: 4 or more" to "Number of decks: 1", then again to get to "Number of decks: 2".

Also notice that when you flip one rule, other buttons may appear or disappear. For example, if you change "Can split aces" to "NO," then the buttons for "Only one card on split aces" and "Can resplit aces" will disappear.

Below is a short explanation for each rule option:

  • Number of decks - The allowed values are 1, 2, and "4 or more." 3-deck games are very rare and therefore are not supported by Blackjack Instructor. Basic strategy doesn't change when the number of decks is between 4 and 8.

  • Dealer hits/stands on soft 17 - This affects the dealer's play. Traditionally, the blackjack dealer would draw cards (hit) as long as her total was less than or equal to 16, and she would stand on 17 or higher. Recently, many casinos have altered the rule to make the dealer hit with a soft total of 17, i.e. with a total of 17 when counting an ace as 11. This change benefits the casino.

  • Double down on any two cards versus only on 9, 10 and 11 or only on 10 and 11 - To double down is to double your bet in exchange for only being able to hit once. This is typically allowed on any two cards, which is the default setting. However, some casinos impose extra constraints, and you can train against them here.

    The supported options are that doubling down is allowed:

    • on any two cards (the default)
    • only on two cards with a total between 9 and 11 (to choose this, tap the button once)
    • only on two cards with a total of 10 or 11 (two taps).

  • Double down after split: YES/NO - If the first two cards you were dealt are of the same value, you can split them. This means, you can take the hand apart and form two new hands. The dealer will draw a new card for each of the original cards. You will have to make an extra bet equal in size to your original bet. Then you play the two hands independently.

    The default setting is "YES," which means you can double down on a hand which was a product of a split. However, some casinos don't allow doubling down on new hands formed in this way, so we offer a "NO" option as well.

  • Can resplit: YES/NO - If you split a hand, and one of the newly formed hands is once again composed of two equal-valued cards, are you allowed to split the new hand as well? Typically you are, and that is the default option.

  • Can split aces: YES/NO - Self explanatory. Most casinos allow splitting aces, so the default for this option is "YES."

  • Only one card on split aces: YES/NO - Typically the casino will allow you to split aces, but not to add any new cards to the new hands, i.e., you are left with two cards in each resulting hand. The default for this option is "YES," reflecting the usual practice. This option only makes sense if the "Can split aces" option is set to "YES." Otherwise the "Only one card on split aces" button disappears.

  • Can resplit aces: YES/NO - Whether the player is allowed to resplit a pair of aces. The default is "YES." If "Can split aces" is set to "NO" then this option no longer applies, and the corresponding button disappears. Same will happen if "Can resplit" is set to "NO."

  • Surrender: YES/NO - Another popular option is surrender. Here the casino will let you choose to lose half of your original bet right away, rather than play the hand and risk the loss of your entire bet. Typically surrender is only allowed on the first two cards. The default for this option is "YES."

  • Surrender after split: YES/NO - Some casinos will allow you to surrender even after splitting the hand. Under this rule, you can surrender a hand that has exactly two cards, but they need not be the very first cards dealt. This is quite rare, so the default value for this option is "NO."

  • Dealer peeks: YES/NO - In a standard blackjack game, if the dealer has a blackjack and the player doesn't, the bet is lost right away. The player's hand never gets played. This is beneficial for the player, because it prevents you from losing the extra bets you might make for splits and double downs.

    (In other words, the dealer "peeks" for a blackjack: when the dealer's upcard is an ace or a ten-valued card, s/he peeks at the other card, a.k.a. the hole card, to check whether there is a blackjack or not.)

    The default for this option is "YES." The alternative - the dealer does not peek - is also known as a no-hole-card game, and is popular in European casinos.

  • Insurance: YES/NO - In case the dealer's upcard is an ace, some casinos allow you to make a side bet, called insurance, that the dealer doesn't have a blackjack. When the player has a blackjack, an insurance bet is often called even money.

    Under basic strategy an insurance bet is never correct, so it doesn't matter how you set this option. (It exists in case we extend Blackjack Instructor to teach card counting. For a card counter, an insurance bet can be the right decision, depending on the count).

Learning the Basic Strategy

Unsurprisingly, you start by tapping the "Learn basic strategy" button on the main menu screen:

It will take you to a lesson screen, either the first lesson, or the lesson where you last left off. Here is a screenshot of a lesson screen:

Worth noting:

  • The lesson material is presented as text and then repeated in chart form. For most people the chart will probably be more illuminating. Other than the notes in parentheses (see the next point) the text and the chart convey exactly the same information.
  • Many lessons include parenthetical notes, demonstrating how the strategy would differ under a different selection of rules. Not every difference is mentioned, but the important ones are. If you only care about learning the strategy for the specific set of rules you configured, feel free to ignore these notes.
  • Tapping the "Practice" button takes you to the practice session screen, described below. We recommend that you do the full practice for each lesson, even if the lesson material appears straightforward. However, if you are confident that you don't need to practice a given lesson, or that you have practiced enough, tapping the "Next lesson" button will skip the practice and take you directly to the following lesson. You can also go backwards by tapping the "Previous lesson" button.
  • At any point, tap "Back to main menu" to return to the starting screen.

The Practice Sessions

Tap the "Practice" button to start:

You will see the practice session screen:

The screen shows your dealt hand, along with the dealer's upcard. Before time is up (the "Time left" indicator on the left hand side) you need to tap one of the six buttons at the bottom ("Hit", "Stand", "Double Down", "Split", "Surrender", "Insurance"), corresponding to the correct basic strategy action for the given hand and upcard.

Once you have answered, the program will tell you whether your answer was correct, and ask you to tap anywhere for another hand:

Sometimes you have to choose the correct action more than once before you can declare success:

(The hand may or may not be played till the player stands.)

Notice how after each correctly played hand, the "Correct answers in a row" count increments at the top-left corner of the screen. Whenever you run out of time or make a mistake, the counter will reset to 0. When the counter reaches 20, the program concludes that you are ready for the next lesson:

If you don't want to wait till you have 20 correct answers in a row, you can go to the next lesson at any time by tapping "Pause practice" and then "Next lesson":

And that's pretty much it. Work through all the lessons until you can follow basic strategy in your sleep. Enjoy yourself, and good luck!