Tips and strategies to help make you a winning casino player
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Thursday, April 5, 2001
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Tough Choices in Blackjack
Is there always one "right" way to play a blackjack hand? Many players will say yes, that basic strategy is invariably the way to go. Study those tables that tell you when to hit, stand, split pairs and double down, and you'll be on your way to trimming the house edge down to the bone. Other players recognize that some situations require a more complicated approach, but never quite get the fundamentals down and end up making basic mistakes at the tables.
To help you avoid falling into either of these traps, here are solutions to the eight most commonly misplayed blackjack hands as well as two "borderline" hands where deviations from basic strategy can save you a few bucks. When you can play these 10 scenarios correctly, you may not always be right, but you'll definitely be a better blackjack bettor.
If there's a single most frequently misplayed hand, this is it. An 18 is going to lose more often than it wins when the dealer's upcard is a 9, 10 or Ace. You can't do anything about that if you have a hard 18 - your chance of going bust is far too great to hit. With soft 18, you can try to improve the hand without fear of busting in one card. That's just what you should do. Hit soft 18 whenever the dealer shows a 9, 10 or 11. Stand only if the dealer shows a 2, 7 or 8. Against a 3 through 6, double down.
Soft 17 vs. Any Dealer Upcard:
When you have 17, you can't win unless the dealer busts. If the dealer makes 17, you push, and if he makes anything better, you lose. So with soft 17, why stand? The worst you wind up with by hitting is another hand that can't win unless the dealer busts. You have a chance to improve the hand, and all you give up is the potential push against a dealer's 17. With that in mind, never stand on soft 17. If the dealer shows a 3 through 6, double down. Otherwise, hit.
Hard 12 vs. Dealer's 2 or 3:
The 10-values are the most common cards in the deck, but they make up only 30.8 percent of all cards. How often will a dealer's face-up 2 be accompanied by a 10 face down, then another 10 on the next card face up? Only about 9.5 percent of the time. And as for bust cards, well, the dealer busts only 35 percent of the time with a 2 up and 38 percent of the time with a 3 up. (The dealer's biggest "bust card" is a 5, and he busts only 43 percent of the time with that start.)
If you stand on 12 against a 2 or 3, you're throwing in the towel more than 62 percent of the time. The strict basic strategist who knows all the fine points will hit hard 12 against a 2 or 3 and stand against a 4 through 6.
Hard 16 vs. Dealer's 7:
Actually, you gain more by hitting 16 against a 7 than you do against higher cards. If you get a small card and improve your 16, you'll win hands against a dealer's 7 that you'd lose against a bigger card. Hard 16 against a 10 is a borderline hand, as we'll see later on. Hard 16 against a 7 is nowhere near the border. Hit it.
11 vs. Dealer's 10:
Pair of 8's vs. Dealer's 10:
Pair of 9's vs. Dealer's 9:
Blackjack vs. Dealer's Ace:
That would be an even proposition if the dealer had blackjack one-third of the time he started with an Ace. But he doesn't, because only 30.8 percent of the cards are 10-values. You'll win more in the long term by accepting the pushes and keeping the 3-to-2 payoffs than by settling for even money.
In this case, if you have 10-6 or 9-7, basic strategy is right on - you need to hit the hand to decrease your losses. But let's say you have a 16 with more than two cards, something like 8-4-4. Now you've taken two cards out of the deck that could really help you. A 4 would give you 20, and you've already used two of them. That's enough to make the difference, even in a six-deck game. If your 16 includes one or more 4's or 5's, the better play is to stand.
Hard 12 vs. Dealer's 4:
So what's the right play? If your 12 consists of 9-3, 8-4 or 7-5, you stand. Since that 9, 8 or 7 already has been dealt, it's not there to help you. But if your hand is 10-2, not only have you not taken out a card that could help, you've taken out one of the 10's that could bust you. And even if you're playing with six decks, that makes a big difference. If your 12 consists of a 10 and a 2, hit it; otherwise, stand - just as basic strategy tells you to do.
The gain you see by changing your play will be small, but it's a step in the right direction for those who want to go beyond the basics.
Doctor's Poker Game
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