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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

Passing or Failing the Blackjack Acid Test

26 October 2007

Alright blackjack players, it's your moment of truth. If you didn't answer all four of last week's questions correctly, you're playing a losing game. Worse yet, if you don't believe the answers below, your prognosis is hopeless. So read'em and weep.

1) You're playing your first hand off the top of a six-deck shoe at a seven-handed table. The dealer has an Ace up. Of all seven starting hands, there's not a single 10 on the table. You have A/9. Your correct play is to:

  1. Take Insurance regardless of your hand since a 10 is due.
  2. Refuse Insurance regardless of your hand.
  3. Take Insurance because you have 20.
  4. Take Insurance for just one-fourth of your bet.

1) B – No Stinking Insurance! Insurance is a bad bet because it pays 2-to-1 when the odds are generally 2-1/4-to-1 against winning it. The dealer can have any one of 13 different cards in the hole. So say you make a $10 Insurance bet 13 times for $130 total. Four of those times (when she has the 10 underneath), she'll give you back $20 from your lost hand along with your $10 Insurance bet for a $120 total refund. You just donated a sawbuck to the casino expansion project. Comprende?

How about Insuring your 20 to "protect" a good hand? It's not possible to protect your hand. If the dealer has blackjack, you'll still lose the bet on your 20. But if you manage to recoup that $20 by winning the same amount on Insurance, all you did was "subsidize" your loss with a bad bet. It was a bad bet because you won't win it often enough to get all your Insurance money back – as we just saw.

Should you take Insurance if there's a shortage of 10s on board? Even with the extreme quiz example, not enough cards came out to push the odds against a dealer's 10 in the hole below 2-to-1. Insurance is worthwhile only when the shoe contains over one-third 10s. That can't happen until you get deeper into the shoe, and it's a rare occurrence at that. If you haven't been counting the 10s round by round, Insurance is a losing proposition.

2) You and your mother sit down at a blackjack table with you at first base and Mom at third. You bet $500 while Mom bets the $10 minimum. You're dealt 11 and Mom has 12. The dealer's got a 3 up. You double down, but catch a stupid deuce. How can Mom best play her $10 hand to help her son win $1000 with 13?

  1. Stand according to the cardinal rule of not taking the dealer's bust card.
  2. Hit because that would be Mom's correct basic strategy and playing her hand correctly is most likely to bring the best results not only to Mom, but to all others at the table.
  3. There's nothing Mom can do to improve your chances of winning your hand. So it makes no difference to you what she does.

2) C -- Mommy can't help you now. Most players don't even hit 12 against a 3, so they'd say to stand, believing it would be best for everyone. Sharper players who know enough to hit 12 vs. 3 might answer to hit. But the real answer is, neither play changes the odds on your hand at first base.

To prove it, let's simplify things and say we saw the dealer's hole card – a 9. Furthermore, suppose this time there are only three cards left in the shoe – two 10s and a 5, but we don't know their order. So which way is Sonny Boy more likely to win – if Mom stands, or hits?

Well, if Mom stands, it's easy to see that the dealer will break two times out of three with a 10. But what happens if Mom hits?

Let's see, on two hits out of three, Mom will take a 10. Of those two times, the dealer will break once and make 17 once. But on that third hit, Mom will take the 5, forcing the dealer to break. Bottom line? The dealer also breaks two times out of three if Mom hits. Furthermore, these possibilities will always cancel out, no matter how many or what cards are left.

3) You sit down at a $50 table where it's customary for players to receive more personalized treatment. The floorman comes over holding a sign and cordially invites you to make it a "No-Mid-Shoe" table -- which forbids any new players from entering the game until the next shuffle. The main accomplishment of a "No-Mid-Shoe-Entry" sign is that it:

  1. Keeps the game shorthanded, which in turn causes the cards to be dealt more truly to form.
  2. Pampers high-rolling customers with nearly useless perks, while stopping expert players from jumping in with big bets when the shoe turns advantageous for the players.
  3. Stops new players from barging in during the shoe and corrupting the natural order of the cards, which works against the current players.

3) B – Lulls players into a false sense of security. Read my lips: "The cards have no natural order!" During the shuffle, sometimes a 10 gets haphazardly riffled in front of a 5, and sometimes the 5 comes down first. Some ways will favor the players, and some will favor the dealer. If a new player jumps in and changes that haphazard order, it's as likely to help as hurt the players.

However, if you were an expert observing the game from behind, you'd know when the remaining cards have just produced a player advantage. Now you could jump in and make large bets – unless – it was a "No-Mid-Shoe" game!

The casino knows this and they patronize your superstitious nature by inviting you to make it a "No-Mid-Shoe" game. You believe you're preserving the "sacred" order of the cards when, basically, they're protecting the game from card counters.

4) You're standing behind a blackjack table, scouting the action and looking for a good place to sit down and play. On the first hand of the shoe, the dealer has a deuce up. First base splits a pair of 4s, catches a 5 on each 4, doubles down on both 9s and makes two 15s. The next player doubles down with 8, but catches a 3, sticking him with 11. Center field stands with 12, then third base splits a pair of 5s. He catches a 7 on each 5 and proceeds to double down on both 12s, finally ending up with two hands below 17. The dealer promptly rips off a five-card 21. What's your move?

  1. Dive right in and play two hands at a time, betting extra on each hand.
  2. This table is filled with morons. Run for your life!
  3. Watch the next few hands to see if the dealer cools off.
  4. Wait until the kamikaze at third base leaves, so he won't kill everybody else, then sit down in his seat and control the cards.

4) A – Dive in with both feet. The typical table scout decides he should jump in and play when he sees the players winning. Bad play at the table will tend to quickly scare him off. As usual, though, typical players watch for all the wrong things.

Ask yourself this. In the quiz example, how many high cards vs. how many low cards came out on that first round? There were at least 18 low cards and maybe one 10. With all those small cards gone, the players have the edge now. This is practically all that matters. It's time to get in there and gamble! Bad players, hot dealers and all that other stuff is pure voodoo.

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