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Blackjack Players Gain an Edge When High Cards Come

16 January 2009

By Fred Renzey

Blackjack contains two important strategic elements that no other casino game has both of. The first is discretion. That's what you use when you place your bet and then decide whether to hit, stand, double down or split. You don't get to use such discretion in craps, roulette or the slots.

The second important element is that once you've played your hand, those particular cards get eliminated for the rest of the shoe. Because of that, sometimes your chances to be dealt a blackjack on the next hand are 1 in 16 – and sometimes they're 1 in 26. It all depends upon what cards are left.

These two characteristics, discretion and elimination, are what make blackjack a beatable game. Most blackjack players do use discretion in playing their hands – although often not correctly. But it's that second element, elimination that usually sails right over the top of everybody's heads.

In blackjack, high cards favor the player and low cards favor the dealer. It's true that no matter what kind of cards are left, the dealer and player both have exactly the same chance to receive any given card. But the player can make a lot more money with high cards than the dealer can.

Just imagine a shoe where all the remaining cards were 10s and Aces. There are going to be a ton of 20s and blackjacks. If you bet $100 and are dealt a 20 while the dealer gets blackjack, you lose your $100. But if you get the blackjack against the dealer's 20, you win $150, If you and the dealer keep trading blackjacks, it's just a matter of time before you empty her chip tray.

But that's not the only way lots of high cards help the player. Suppose that instead of 20 or blackjack, you're dealt two Aces. You can split them into two 11s and the shoe is loaded with high cards. But with the same pair of Aces, the dealer must simply hit her soft 12. Catching more 10s and Aces can't help that hand.

Now, what's the most valuable card in the deck for the dealer? It's the 5. Why? Because a five-spot will turn every dealer's "stiff" (12-to-16) into a made hand. The player can stand on a stiff if he wants to, but the dealer must hit them all – even if she already has your 14 beaten with 15. The 5 is the miracle bailout card for the dealer whenever she turns up a bad hand. Besides that, when lots of low cards are left in the shoe, the player's double downs usually go down the tubes.

So what can you do about it? First, learn your basic hand playing strategy – all of it. You won't get anywhere without that firm foundation. Once you're there, you need to develop an awareness of high vs. low cards expended.

Learning a card counting system would be one way. Ninety-nine percent of the blackjack players, however, are not dedicated enough for that.

Still, it would help your game to be keenly vigilant for glaring clusters of high cards or low cards on the board. If everybody at the table has pat 19s, 20s and blackjacks this round, the next few rounds are not likely to be very good for the players. Bet small, or not at all.

However, when everybody takes two or three hits to their hands, and then the dealer rips of a five-card 21, this is no time to leave. Double or triple up on your bets until you've seen a compensating distribution of high cards come out.

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

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