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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

Never Play Less Than Your Best Blackjack Game

11 March 2004

There were three of us at the blackjack table. The player at first base was having a pretty good run. Twenty minutes earlier he had bought in for $200 and was betting "quarters". Now he had close to $2000 in front of him and had just placed a $400 bet. He was dealt 7/7 against the dealer's 4 up.

He paused, grimaced, smiled and paused some more. "Well, I guess I gotta try to make a hand, no?" he said to the dealer as he grabbed another stack of greens and stood it next to the original bet. Staring at those two tall stacks of $25 chips out there in the betting circle, he now glanced back at the rest of his chips. By gosh, he was risking nearly half of his stake all on one hand!

Caution suddenly set in and he quickly stopped the dealer, then pulled back one of his stacks. Waving his hand over his original $400 bet, he said, "I'm just gonna hold."

"Are you sure now?" asked the dealer before proceeding. That's when the player looked over at the two of us with a quizzical look on his face. So I said, "What would you do if you only had a quarter on the hand?" "Split 'em," he replied without hesitation. "And which time would you be more likely to win -- the time you had two 25s riding or when you had two 400s riding?" "The same," he answered in a flash.

I flipped my hands up as much as to say "Well, then?" He quickly reached back again for that other $400 stack and finally split his two 7s like he was supposed to. His first hit brought a 10 for a total of 17. On his second 7 he caught a 3, and he glanced at me with a "Now what?" expression -- although we both knew that he knew the answer.

Seeing his fear over risking maybe two thirds of his stake on one deal I quickly offered, "I'll go halves with you on the double." (I like nothing more than to walk right into a situation where I knew I was a 5-to-3 favorite to win). That was all he needed. He immediately reached right back and stood a third $400 stack out there, correctly doubling on his own. The news wasn't good -- he bought a deuce to make 12.

I stood pat with 15 and third base stayed on his 18. The dealer promptly ripped off a four-card 19 and swept the table. First base then stood up and said, "Well, it's time for me to leave." I offered a quick apology but maintaining his poise, third base said, "No, no, I know you were right -- I still made $500". And with that he left.

There are a couple of lessons in this true story. The first is, you need to remember that on any hand you might end up risking three, four or even five bets through potential doubles and splits. The second is, if the size of your wager causes you to hedge on these doubles, splits and re-splits, then you have bet too much.

The player with the pair of 7s may have not known the exact odds of splitting vs. just standing, but he did know the right plays. Yet, his bet size was about to cause him to play less than his best game. No matter how much was riding on the hand, he was a 40% shot to win it by standing with 14. If he splits, he becomes a 51% shot on each new hand of 7. The bigger the bet, the bigger the mistake if he doesn't split!

How about the outcome? He simply took his best shot and lost. Here's the right way to look at these things. If he stands with two 7s against a 4, he averages a 20% loss on whatever his bet is (40% winners minus 60% losers). If he splits, he averages a 2% win (51% winners minus 49% losers), and he gets to do it twice.

As for how it'll work out this one time, that's where the luck of the draw comes in. But remember this. You know which way will turn out better if you did it 1000 times. Even if you do it only once, you're just taking one tiny random piece out of that big pie that says you come out better by splitting. Knowing that, there's nothing left to think about.

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