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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

Blackjack Players Don't Realize the Value of Their Hands

11 July 2008

We closed the last column with a test question about blackjack hand values. Namely, if you're playing a standard shoe game and the player next to you doubles down for half his bet with 8 against a 6, then with 9 against a 7, and then with 11 against an Ace, should you offer to take the other half with your own money on any of them? And if so, which one(s)?

The correct strategic answer would be to go in on all three of them. This advice will surely outrage most experienced blackjack purists, which only goes to show that they don't understand the true value of the hands.

It's true that in your typical shoe game (6 decks, dealer stands on soft 17), all three hands should just be hit. That's because in all three cases, just plain hitting wins more money than doubling down. But the little known fact is that all three hands still make some profit even when you double with them. So if your neighbor wants to double down for less than the max. with any of these hands (as well as some others), you'll gain a useful edge by filling in the rest of his double.

The chart below tells you what percentage of the time you'll win (after adjusting for pushes) by hitting vs. doubling with five common hands that would be incorrect basic strategy double downs.

      The

Hitting

Doubling

Hand

 Wins

Wins

8 vs. 5 up

54%

51%

8 vs. 6 up

56%

52%

9 vs. 2 up

54%

52%

9 vs. 7 up

59%

53%

11 vs. A up

57%

53%

Even though doubling down wins less often than hitting, it still wins more often than it loses. So whenever you see somebody doubling for less with any of these hands, you'd do well by asking if you can take the rest of his double with your own chips. The same, of course, goes for any correct double down where a player doubles for less than the full amount.

If you're not accustomed to seeing players interact with other players' doubles or splits and feel shy about initiating the action, don't be. It's perfectly legal and you'll be surprised how often somebody will accept your offer. It tends to produce a feeling of camaraderie at the table, and most players like that. Your main benefit, of course, is that you'll be picking up an edge where you wouldn't have had one by just watching this player make a partial double down.

It's surprising how little the typical player understands about the odds for winning his hands. Playing with a friend recently, he had 17 against a 4, comfortably waved the dealer off and asked, "Freddie, what are my odds on this one?" I replied, "About a 7-to-6 underdog." He responded in surprise, "Not even 50-50? You're kiddin' me!"

And so it goes. Most players have no idea what their chances are on so many hands. Most players also have a warped opinion of how costly various hand playing mistakes are. Want an example?

Ever see somebody hit their 12 against a dealer's 4? That player would likely be assaulted with a barrage of insults and severe criticisms for making such a stupid play. In reality, though, 12 against a 4 is one of the closest hit/stand decisions in blackjack, and how you play it will make almost no difference in your overall game.

Yet, the same player who delivered the insult will stand with Ace/7 against a 9 (rather than hit) and have no idea that he's just cost himself dearly in his chance to win the hand.

There's a lot more to being a good blackjack player than just perusing a basic strategy chart. To learn these things, you need a good blackjack book and have to read beyond the chart.

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

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