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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

Blackjack Players Have Trouble Recognizing Good Hands

15 June 1999

It's surprising what a distorted view most players have of their odds in blackjack. This is true even of experienced veterans who play for serious money. What do I mean? Look at the list of five blackjack hands below. On four of the hands, the player is an underdog and will probably lose. There's only one hand down there that the player is actually favored to win. See if you can recognize a good hand when you see one and name the favorite.

13 against a 5
19 against a 10
ace/5 against a 2
18 against an ace
17 against a 4

Which is the hand you're supposed to win? Let me answer that question with a little make-believe story.

There you are, playing center field in a quarter minimum game. You've just split a pair of 8s against a face-card for $25 apiece. On your first 8, you catch two running 7s and bust. On your second 8, you catch a third 8, re-split and bust out the next 8 as well. That's the way it goes. On your third and final 8, you labor through four hits of 4/ace/deuce/4 to make 19. "There's another loser," you mutter out loud. "You know she's got to have 20."

So the fella next to you asks, "How would you like to get out of the hand?"

"Whata ya mean?" you reply.

"I'll buy your hand from you for $25," he explains. "I'll give you your money back, take your 19 and live with the results."

Well, what do you think of his offer? Who would be the sucker in this deal? It would be you. That's right. When you have 19 against a 10, once you find out the dealer doesn't have blackjack, you'll win the hand 53% of the time. I don't think most players perceive it that way. Yet, many players often expect to win in spots where they are at a distinct disadvantage.

I suspect you could get rich by just walking around the casino floor and buying up everybody's 19s against a face card. Why is that? Because of the prevalence of that old myth: "Always assume the dealer has a 10 in the hole." Since only 30% of the cards are 10s, where are all those 10s in the hole going to come from? Fact is, the dealer will have a 10 in the hole only 30% of the time.

What about the other four hands listed above? You'll win 43% of the time with 13 against a 5; that's how often the dealer will break with a 5 showing. You'll win 49% of the time with ace/5 against a deuce provided you just hit it, and less than that if you're foolish enough to double down (that's because you won't be able to hit again if you catch an ace or a 6). You'll win 45% of the time with 18 against a playable ace and 46% of the time with 17 against a 4.

But that's not the end of my story. Later on in that same session, you're playing two spots for $50 apiece. On one deal, you're dealt a 20 and a 16 against the dealer's ace up. When the dealer asks if anybody wants insurance, you immediately toss a $25 chip out towards the insurance betting ring. The dealer places it right on the line, but a bit closer to your 16 than your 20.

"No, no!" you yell in a panic, "I want to insure the 20, not the 16!"

Silly you. You're going to come out of it with the same total financial result regardless of which hand you insure. If the dealer has blackjack, you're going to lose $50 no matter which hand you take insurance on.

Now what if the dealer doesn't have blackjack, but makes something like 19 after you've hit and busted your 16? You'll lose $25 no matter whether you insured your 16 or your 20.

In fact, which of the two hands you've decided to insure can never alter your combined bottom line one iota no matter what happens. That's why it doesn't make sense to insure one hand but not the other.

The only thing that can change that bottom line is whether the dealer has blackjack, but it'll always work out the same whether you've insured your 20 or your 16. So, what's the right move? Which hand is good enough to insure? Neither of them! Insurance is a sucker bet, regardless of what hand you have. Why is that? Because with any hand (unless you're a card counter), you'll come out with a better averaged result if you don't take insurance, even when you have a blackjack yourself.

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:

> More Books By Fred Renzey