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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

If you don't trust blackjack strategy, test it

12 May 2007

I recently returned from a cruise vacation in the Caribbean. There was a casino on board ship and you'd pretty much see the same people at the blackjack tables night after night. Because of that, things got friendlier and more sociable than usual between the players.

Normally when I play blackjack, I mind my own business, play my own game and get in and out. Far be it from me to give advice at the table and finger myself as a knowledgeable player. Casinos don't like knowledgeable players and can do things to hinder their game.

But this was different. After three or four days of watching friendly new acquaintances make the same costly mistakes over and over, I began to offer quiet critiques like, "That's not a good double" or "You really should hit that hand", etc. At that last suggestion, the woman on my direct right who had Ace/7 against a 9 responded, "How can I hit? I've got 18."

I explained that it's all a gamble, but she'd have more ways to win that hand by hitting than by standing. She hesitantly took my advice and ended up making 20 to beat the dealer's 19 –- that time. She then turned around to her husband behind her and said, "I just saved you $20, Dear." He chuckled with a look of disapproval on his face and responded, "Great Honey, but if I got 18, I'm takin' my chances with it".

I can't tell you how many times the recommendation to hit a soft 18 against a dealer's 9 or higher has been ignored, but if you look at a basic strategy chart it clearly says to hit. If you still don't trust the chart, then you owe it to yourself to shuffle a couple decks of cards together and play that hand out over and over, keeping score both ways.

First, give the dealer a 9 up and yourself an Ace/7, then just play the dealer's hand out. Understand that it doesn't matter whether you shuffle the cards after every hand or just run straight through the whole pack. You'll get the same long-term results either way, so do it the fast, easy way. Because of the luck factor, however, you'll need about 300 hands to get a fairly dependable record.

When you're done with that, do another 300 hands, this time hitting your Ace/7 until you either bust or make at least a soft 19 or a hard 17. I can tell you ahead of time that, on average, you'll win the hand 13 more times by hitting it. After doing that, if you still refuse to hit that hand, then nobody can help you.

On this cruise, there was a congenial optimist at the table who kept on doubling down with 8 against a 4, 5 or 6 up. When I pointed out the potential disaster of his catching a 2 or a 3, he replied, "She's got a 5 up there, Bro'! She's gotta' bust it 8 outa' 10. It's a percentage play."

Well, there's a popular blackjack fallacy you can disprove in ten minutes. Take a deck of cards and turn up a 5. Then pretend you're the dealer and play out that 5 a hundred times, just running right through the deck. How many times do you think you'll bust? On average, you'll break 42 times –- that's it. If you don't believe me, try it for yourself. It'll open your eyes and make a better player out of you.

When a basic strategy chart says to play a hand a certain way, it says that for a reason. That goes for doubling down with 11 against a face card, hitting 12 against a 3, splitting 9/9 against an 8, not taking even money with blackjack against an Ace, etc. Only when you learn how to react appropriately to the cards left in the shoe will it ever become correct to deviate from the chart. Until then, do whatever you have to do to convince yourself that the chart is correct –- then follow it!

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