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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

Blackjack Player Asks, "What's After Basic Strategy?"

10 March 2002

I was browsing through one of the internet blackjack chat rooms on my computer today and saw a much repeated question posted by a blackjack player. He said something like, "I've learned all my basic strategy and play with confidence, but realize that the house still has a slight edge over me. What else can I do to improve my game further? I'm not interested in becoming a card counter. Is there no in between?"

There were several posted replies and all advised that it was time to either bite the bullet (learn to count cards) or remain a mere "vanilla" basic strategy player. This is not totally accurate. I entered my personal reply in that chat room -- and will reprint it here for the benefit of the huge multitude of players who fall in that vast gap between strict basic strategy and card counting. There are a number of mini-steps a basic strategy player can take, short of out-and-out card counting, that will chip away at that last tiny morsel of house edge. The first would be learning to play your close hands according to the exposed cards on board. I see players attempting to do this all the time. The problem is, without knowing which hands are actually the close ones, you'll probably be "tweaking" your play on a lot of wrong hands!

So then, which are your close hands? They're 9 vs. 2, 11 vs. A, 12 vs. 4, 13 vs. 2, 16 vs. 10 and Ace/8 vs. a 5 or 6. These are called "the Magnificent 7 hands" because only a slight shift in the high/low supply of remaining cards will make an alternative play superior to basic strategy. With a lot of little cards on board, for example, you should double with 11 vs. A, stand with 16 vs. 10 and double with A/8 vs. 5. Learning to play these hands more astutely will elevate you from a blind rote blackjack player to an analytical "card player" in your own right. With any other hand, you can't see enough cards on board to make it right to switch your play.

Next comes a technique known as "hand interaction." Case in point: Basic strategy says to split a pair of 7s against a 2 or 3 up. So blind basic strategy players obediently split them and never think beyond that. They don't realize you should make these splits not because they make money -- but because they lose less money than by standing. Splitting merely "saves money," thus it's the right play if you're stuck with two 7s against a 2 or 3. The same is true with some other pairs as well.

But it doesn't have to end there. When you have 7/7 against a 2, you'd save even more money if you could get rid of one of your 7s and just play one hand of 7 against a deuce. How can you possibly do that? Ask the player next to you if he wants to play one of your 7s. He might like the idea since, after all, it's a basic strategy play. He probably doesn't understand as you do that you're splitting just to lose less -- and that you'd lose even less if he'd take one of the 7s off your hands.

That's "defensive" hand interaction. You can also play some "offensive" hand interaction by capping off anybody's proper double down if they doubled for less than the maximum, such as with A/6 against a 5 -- or with 11 against a face-card. You can even pay another player even money for his blackjack against an Ace up before he takes it from the dealer. All these offensive interaction plays will make you money in the long run.

Next, players are always trying to decide when it's time to leave a particular table. They tend to use their own recent outcomes as an indicator, which is all wrong. The time to leave the table is right after you've seen an obvious "high card layout." If everybody has pat 19s, 20s and blackjacks, that's a bad sign. The extra low cards left in the shoe favor the house. The fact that the players won the last round is irrelevant.

Conversely, the table you should probably sit down at is the one where everybody has just stormed away after getting crushed by a six-card 20 or 21. When you see this, look the board over. If it's a glaring "low card layout," sit down and play.

All these tactics will improve your results beyond basic strategy without card counting.

Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send $9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

Books by Fred Renzey:

Blackjack Bluebook II

> More Books By Fred Renzey

Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send $9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

Books by Fred Renzey:

> More Books By Fred Renzey