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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

Grading Blackjack Players by How They Play Soft 18

16 August 2003

Blackjack players range in skill from strong to weak, but most are on the weak side. Of the 340 different hand situations you can be dealt in this game, the average veteran will consistently misplay between 30 and 60 of them. Those mistakes can triple or even quadruple the natural house edge that the casino has over the players.

Still, every blackjack player fancies himself as an expert in his own mind. These pseudo-experts will sit there and critique other players' mistakes on round after round, oblivious to their own self-damaging, expensive errors.

Floor people observe high-rolling blackjack players at length in an effort to rate their "earning potential" for the house. Did he just stand with 16 against a 7? There's a big mistake. Did he double on 8 against a 6? There's another. How did he play that pair of 4s against a 5? If he didn't split, he probably doesn't know his basic strategy too well.

There are so many different hands that it can take a while before you've got a player profiled. But if I were a floorman trying to figure out what a person's action is worth, I'd look for just one hand -- a soft 18 against any up-card. If a guy's got holes in his game, they'll show up right here because I'll tell you right now, nine out of ten players don't know how to handle this hand.

How about you? Let's do a little self-test right now. Suppose you have a soft 18. Below is a scrambled list of all the dealer's possible up-cards. Next to that list, right down how you'd play your Ace/7 against that up-card.

DEALER'S UP-CARD YOUR PLAY
7
4
9
2
A
3
6
10
8
5

The correct answers in order are: stand, double, hit, stand, hit, double, double, hit, stand and double. If you scored 60% or higher, you're an above average player! But if like most players you got half of them wrong, it's a good bet you're making plenty of other mistakes too. Then you're probably doubling down with A/4 against a 3, just hitting 11 against a 10, not splitting 9/9 against an 9 and taking even money on your blackjacks against an Ace. These are all ignorant, needless errors that are costing you money.

Let's look at the third hand, A/7 against a 9. Hardly anybody plays this hand right. When you stand, you'll win it eight times out of twenty. But if you hit until you make either a soft 19, a hard 17 or bust, you'll win it nine out of twenty. So take your pick -- 8 wins or 9 wins, it's your call.

How about the sixth hand, A/7 against a 3? Born losers will double against a 3 all day long with A/4 or A/5, but they won't do it with A/7. That's backwards, my friends! Why? Because with A/4 and A/5, there are only five hit cards out of thirteen that will give you a made hand. But with A/7, there are eight. Count'em.

Now let's look at the eighth hand -- A/7 against a 10. Not hitting here is particularly expensive because it comes up four times as often as against a 9 or an Ace. By the way, it doesn't matter if your soft 18 happens to be something like an A/2/3/2 -- you still have to hit it! As soon as you see a player stay pat with this lame duck, you know he's a softball.

Blackjack is a game where the house edge is almost non-existent if you just learn all the sound basics. If you can grow beyond those basics, you can actually play with the edge. But you need the right information, and you're not going to get it by watching the guy next to you at the table.




The answers:

DEALER'S UP-CARD YOUR PLAY
7 stand
4 double
9 hit
2 stand
A hit
3 double
6 double
10 hit
8 stand
5 double
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:

Blackjack Bluebook II

> More Books By Fred Renzey