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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

Side Bets Can Trim Your Handicap in Blackjack

13 November 2004

I say blackjack is the best game in the casino for a smart gambler. But no matter how well you learn to play your hands, you're still going to come out just a little on the short end over time - assuming you're not a professional card counter.

So if you want to help your odds beyond simply playing your hands right, you'll have to start thinking "outside the box" by making some good side bets involving other players' hands.

In recent columns, we discussed "hand interaction", which consists primarily of doubling down on other players' hands when they don't want to. This time, we'll talk about some side bets you can make with other players at the table that will further subsidize the half percent handicap a basic strategy player fades.

Suppose you're at a friendly table and the guy next to you has 19 against the dealer's face card with a $20 bet up. Now most players don't think so, but if the dealer has already checked her hole card and doesn't have blackjack, then this player's 19 will win 53% of the time. So how does that help you?

You can take advantage of that old "dealer always has a 10 in the hole" fable by tossing this player $10 and saying, "I like your 19 this time around - I bet you win with it." Explain to him that a "push" is no bet. But if he wins he pays you $10 and if he loses, you pay him $10. He gets to cut his risk in half on his scary looking 19 against a dealer's 10 - sort of like insurance. Meanwhile, you've just made a bet that is an 8-to-7 favorite to win. That's almost a 7% edge.

Want another example of a profitable side bet? Suppose the same guy has 18 against an 8. Although most players expect a push here, the 18 is a 5-to-4 overall favorite to win. So if you make the same deal with him on this one, you've got a 10% edge!

Now here's a surprising example of a hand that doesn't look like an overall winner, but is. The player next to you has 7/3, or 6/4 or 8/2 - any hand that adds up to 10. The dealer has an Ace up and checks her hole card - no blackjack. Once you're past that hurdle, the player with 10 is a 6-to-5 favorite to win his hand - providing he simply plays it correctly.

So if you've seen that this person is a competent basic strategy player, toss him half his wager and bet him that he wins (again, with the stipulation that a push is no bet). Be quick about it though. You'll have to get this done before he starts taking hits to his hand. If like many players he feels negative about playing an unmade hand against a fearsome Ace showing, he might very well take you up on your offer. If he does, you'll have an 8% edge working.

One last hand that's a surprise favorite to win is 10 against a dealer's playable 10 - but it's a much closer situation. Here, the player is a 19-to-18 favorite. Still, having a known 3% edge going in is better than not having it at all. They all add up to $$ at the end of the year.

To recap, those four side bets you'd be looking to make on other players' hands are:

19 against a 10
18 against an 8
10 against an Ace
10 against a 10

How often do they come up? One of them will show in front of each player about once every 24 hands. So if you're conversing with just the player to your right and to your left, you'll have about seven chances per hour to make yourself a side bet with an average edge of 6%. If each one is for half the amount of your own bets, that alone will chop your half percent disadvantage down to 0.30%

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