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Doubling Down for Less in Blackjack Is a Big No-No

9 October 2004

By Fred Renzey

The player on my right was betting roughly $100 per hand. I'd say he was in his early twenties - pretty heavy hitting for a youngster. He made the typical basic strategy mistakes of standing with 12 against a 3, doubling with 4/4 against a 4, standing with Ace/7 against a 10, etc. No big deal - even fifty-year-old veterans do that all day long.

Then he made a mistake that was a big deal. He had Ace/6 against a 4 for $100 and stuck an extra $50 out there to double down for less than the max. Now there are three basic ways you could play this hand - stand, hit or follow correct basic strategy and double down. Of the three options, here's why doubling is the correct play.

Standing, you'll win the hand just 7 times out of 15 - an overall loser. Hitting, you'll win it 8 times out of 15 - a long-term moneymaker. And doubling down, you'll also win it 8 times out of 15 - but for twice the money! That's why doubling down is a must. But if you don't put up the maximum amount when you know you've got the upper hand, you're just giving money back to the house, statistically speaking. Having the upper hand doesn't come that often in blackjack.

So what did I do when I saw this player leave half of his double open? You can bet your sweet bippie I tossed him the other 50 bucks and said, "Can I go partners with you on this one?" He obliged, we won the hand and the game went on.

As time went by, this player doubled for less several more times. And once the "gentleman's" partnership was initiated, he looked over at me whenever he wanted to double for less and would often ask, "You want some of this?" I took it whenever the hand had a built in edge, which was most of the time.

Now it's one thing to double for less on a hand where doubling down can't change the outcome, such as with the Ace/6 vs. 4 example. The outcome won't change on this hand whether you hit or double because there's no card you can catch that will make you want to take a second hit. Your worst card would be a 5 to make you a 12 -- and with 12 against 4 you're going to stand anyway.

There are plenty of other hands, however, where doubling down actually wins less often than just hitting - yet doubling is still the correct play. An excellent example would be when you have 9 against a dealer's 3 showing. If you just hit it, you'll win the hand 55% of the time. But if you double down, you'll win only 53% because if you catch a deuce or a 3, you can't hit again. Still, doubling down is the right move because going 53-47 for two bets each makes more money than going 55-45 for one bet apiece.

But suppose you're that youngster at the table with the $100 bet up when you're dealt 9 against a 3 -- and you double for just an extra $50. Now you're going to go 53-47 for $150 each. That'll net you $900 on all 100 doubles combined. Problem is, you could've just hit it and gone 55-45 for $100 each, netting $1000! You've gone out of your way to reduce your edge with an advantageous hand!

Here's today's lesson. With proper doubling hands where you'd want to take a second hit if your first card was a baby -- doubling down is the best play -- just hitting is second best -- and doubling for less is often the worst of the three! Notice that doubling for the full $200 would go 53-47 and net $1200.

So you can opt for the full double, which gains 12 bets every 100 times, or just hit it, which earns 10 bets, or you could double for half, which earns 9 bets. Take your pick.

"Nuff said!?

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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