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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

Conservative Blackjack Play Cripples Your Winning Odds

7 June 2002

Blackjack players come in all styles. The other day I played with a fellow who had a style similar to many you'd see at the $10 tables, except this was a $50 table. What's more, he was a full-fledged "black chip" player betting about $300 to $800 per hand!

The surprising thing about Black Chip's game was that he played an awfully conservative strategy for a serious shooter. Black Chip never hit 16, no matter what. He needed the dealer to be showing a 6 or lower before he'd ever double down with 10 or 11, and he never doubled with 9 at all. He consistently stood pat on a soft 18, never doubling or hitting. And I don't believe I ever saw him hit 12 against a dealer's 2 or 3 either.

After playing a couple of hours together, I left the table wondering just how much Black Chip was giving away in percentages and money due to his "safety first" game plan. When I got home, I dug out my calculator and blackjack percentage tables, and began crunching numbers. Here's what I came up with.

Never hitting 16 in the proper spots will take 0.25% off your total game. Standing on a soft 18 regardless of the dealer's up-card will cost you another 0.07%. Not doubling with 11 against a 7 through 10 cheats you out of 0.28% worth of profit. Not doubling with 10 against a 7 through 9 clips you for an additional 0.10%. Never doubling on a hard 9 costs another 0.10%. And standing on 12 against a 2 or 3 boils down to a charge of 0.05%.

That's 0.85% worth of charity donated to a cause that doesn't need it. It may sound paltry, but it'll raise the house edge by 170% from 0.50% (if you played correctly) to 1.35%! And that's not even talking about pair splitting errors.

How much money will the mistakes described above cost a guy like Black Chip? I'll say he was averaging $500 per bet. With doubles and splits, that puts his average risk at about $560 per hand. Now 0.85% of that works out to $4.75 per hand trickling away at the pace of about 100 hands per hour. Over the long haul, Black Chip is blowing off an unnecessary $475 per hour by not gambling in spots he should. Trying to save money is costing him a fortune.

What about the lowly $15 a hand peasant? These folks are the bread and butter customers of the blackjack pits. The strategy described in this article is actually pretty common for them. Since the lower stakes tables are more crowded, they'll get in fewer hands -- perhaps 70 per hour. For them, this is a merciful thing. Nevertheless, 0.85% of $15 per base bet at 70 hands per hour works out to about $10 per hour worth of casino charity. Still sound paltry to you?

Don't be one of these "fish." Not only will it cost you money by the hour, it will increase tremendously the odds against your having a winning year. Here's what I mean.

Suppose you went to the casinos one day a week and played $15 blackjack for three hours each time. Now, whether you play perfect basic strategy or make all the mistakes outlined above, the house will still have some kind of edge on you. But the fact is, even over the course of a full year, there will still be some luck involved in your results. That's why they call it gambling. But how much luck do you need to beat them? Well, here's one last calculation right out of my probability and statistics textbook. If you gave the house that 1.35% edge, you'd be an 8 to 1 underdog to have a winning year. If you played proper basic strategy you'd be only a 2 to 1 dog. And win or lose, you'd likely be $1500 better off by playing correctly.

If you think you "kind of" play right, but aren't too sure about some of the more hazy hands, you're definitely making mistakes. Get out your basic strategy chart and stop the unnecessary bleeding.

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