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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

Improve Your Basic Strategy Game Beyond Basic Strategy

26 June 2004

In most gamblers' minds, the gold standard for rating a blackjack player's performance is whether he plays all his hands according to proper basic strategy. Few can pass this test, and many think that's all there is to the game.

The truth, however, is that basic strategy is merely the "tip of the iceberg" regarding skillful blackjack play. In reality, it's merely the "foundation" upon which serious players build the rest of their game.

Correct basic strategy will reduce the house edge down to one half percent in a typical game -- one of the smallest handicaps in the casino. But to get beyond that, you need to know more - and do more! Several improvements do not require that you become a card counter.

For example, few players know that fairly often you should stand with 16 against a 10, and hit 12 against a 4, and double down with A/8 against a 5. The exposed cards lying right there face-up on the board can tell you when it's time.

Even fewer know which of your neighbor's doubles and pair splits it would behoove you to take a piece of. Yet, if you could interact with the right other players' hands once every 15 minutes or so, you could entirely eliminate that last half percent of disadvantage. Today, I want to just scratch the surface of these blackjack skills that come right after, and go just beyond, basic strategy.

The "Rule of 45": The first thing a polished basic strategy player should understand is that once about every 20 minutes, he's going to have 16 against the dealer's 10. But his 16 won't always be a 10/6. Sometimes it'll be an 8/5/3 or a 6/2/8.

Now 16 against a 10 is a very close decision. If you hit, you need to catch a 4 or a 5 in the worst way. Whether to hit or not is so marginal with this hand that if your 16 contains any 4s or 5s -- you should actually stand. Otherwise, just hit it. That's the "Rule of 45".

Other Peoples' Doubles: Any correct double down will win more often than it'll lose. These hands carry a known, up-front edge going in - and edges don't come that easy. Yet many players pass up lots of correct double downs or, worse yet, they double for less than the max.

When somebody at your table looks like they're about to pass up a legitimate double or slides less than the max out there, that's your cue. Make it your business to get involved. If they double for less, toss them the remainder. If they look as if they're not going to double, offer to go halves with them - or even ask if you can take the whole double on your own.

If that person is betting bigger than you are, so much the better! The more money you can get down on other peoples' doubles, the quicker you can make up for your own disadvantage. If the table is crowded, better still. With five other players at the table, roughly 30 potential doubling hands per hour will be dealt to them. Get in on as many as you can.

Hi/Lo Layouts: Blackjack is just a game of high and low cards - nothing more. Since the dealer adheres to different rules than you do, high cards help the player and low cards help the dealer. The most glaring example of this axiom is the fact that if you bet $10 and the dealer gets blackjack, you lose your ten bucks -- but when you have the blackjack you win fifteen.

How about when you're dealt a pair of Aces? You get to split them up into two 11s, but when the dealer has them she's got to hit a soft 12. Notice that all of these hands contain only high cards. They're an asset to you and a liability to the dealer -- and the more high cards there are in the shoe/deck, the more often they'll be dealt.

So what you should do as a basic strategy player is watch the board for glaring high card or low card layouts. The time to raise your bets is right after you've seen an obvious rash of little cards.

What's an obvious rash of little cards? If the board contains at least eight more "babies" (2s thru 5s) than 10s in a six-deck game, you've got what you need to start betting it up. However, if the board is blatantly littered with Aces and faces, it's time to find a new shoe.

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