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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

Don't Shoot Yourself in the Foot at the Blackjack Table

30 August 2003

There were three of us at a six-deck blackjack table. I was at third base. The player between us had a pair of 4s against the dealer's 6. He looked over to his friend at first base as he started to shove a second bet out and said, "Should I?"

"Of course!" came the answer. So the player completed his motion and then held out two fingers, indicating a split. "No, no!" objected first base, "Double it!". Play came to a grinding halt and then center field asked my opinion. "I'll go halves with you either way," I replied.

Why did I answer the way I did? It's because the player is the favorite with that hand no matter how he plays it. Both doubling and splitting will make a profit. More specifically, of the three feasible ways to play it, here's how they rank (the following hierarchy assumes you can double after splitting a pair, which you can in most shoe games. If you can't, then just never split a pair of 4s).

Splitting makes the most money
Just hitting makes the next most
Doubling makes the least of the three.

That's why you can watch somebody play this hand any way he pleases and he'll usually gloat back at you afterwards with a "See, I knew what I was doing" sneer. The point, however, is that splitting is the optimal play because over half the time you'll end up doubling down at least once.

Sadly though, not all blackjack mistakes merely reduce your profit on a moneymaking hand. Some goof-ups actually turn you from a favorite into an underdog on the hand. Want a common example? How about when you have this?

A/3 against 2

If you play this hand right and just hit, you're a favorite to win it. But if like many players you decide it's a good double, you become the underdog -- and for twice as much money! The thing of it is, not all small soft hands against small up-cards are good doubles. And very few players can tell the good from the bad. The closer to 6 the dealer's up-card and the side card next to your Ace get, the better the double. The closer to a deuce they both get, the worse.

Another mistake that most players make is when they have:

9/9 against 9

If you just sit tight with your 18 here, you're a 3-to-2 underdog to win. But if you split the 9s, you become only an 11-to-10 underdog on each new hand. That works out cheaper overall.

Another time you have a losing proposition no matter what you do is when you have:

10/2 against 3

Don't be silly enough to assume the dealer has 13 here. Yeah, four times out of thirteen she'll have the 13, but five more times she'll have 7, 8, 9, 10 or 11 (by having a 4, 5, 6, 7 or 8 in the hole). In all, the dealer will make a hand five out of eight times when she has a 3 up. Not hitting 12 against a 3 is a telltale mark of an unskilled player.

There are many other ways players will shoot themselves in the foot when their hard earned money is on the line. Last night, I passed by a table where a big player had bet $2000 on the first hand of the shoe. He was dealt a blackjack against the dealer's Ace up. Without a moment's hesitation, he signaled for the dealer to pay him the $2000 (even money). What could his rationale have been? If he's playing for that kind of money, he should know that only 95 cards out of 309 could reduce his hand to a mere push. The other 214 times he's going to collect three grand! His average profit by just waiting it out would be $2078. It turns out, the dealer didn't have a 10 in the hole and this player showed absolutely no concern over the $1000 that he had just thrown away. Please -- don't you do that to yourself.

Costly Superstitions: It's amazing how far some players will go to protect their superstitious beliefs. An elderly gent who was betting $500 to $1000 per hand was sitting next to a woman betting $50. Halfway through the shoe the girl suddenly put out two $50 bets.

"Don't do that!" chided the older fellow, "I've got $800 up here and you wanna' change the cards?" "I was playing two hands before you got here!", remarked the lady, defensively.

"Here -- get your lousy 50 bucks off the table!" snorted the older gent as he threw the girl two green chips. The girl's eye gleamed just a tad as she pulled her second $50 bet back and then asked, "Now what about the next hand?"

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:

Blackjack Bluebook II

> More Books By Fred Renzey