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Solve the Riddle of the Dealer's Bust Card

20 February 2009

By Fred Renzey

Most blackjack buffs are firmly convinced that if another player misplays a hand, it will probably hurt the rest of the players at the table. This belief becomes particularly evident when the player at third base takes a hit to a hand that that the other players think should be held pat. In this spot, if the dealer ends up making a good hand, third base usually receives the blame. Often, it's loud and indignant blame. Have you ever been one of the accusers in this type of situation?

Well, it's time to look at this logically. Talk is cheap. It's easy to blame somebody else when things go wrong. But let's try to find out how much you truly believe in what you're accusing.

What if the player at third base had 12 against the dealer's 4 up. Now, most everybody feels certain that third base's best play is to stand. But just before he acted on his hand, he turned to you and asked, "Which card is going to be more likely to break the dealer – the first one out of the shoe, or the card after it?" What would your most intelligent answer be?

Suppose third base wanted to hit his 12, and you sternly objected. So he would agree to play his hand your way only if you would make him a little side bet. He would bet that the second card out of the shoe would be worse for the dealer than the first. But he insists that you put up $30 of your money to $25 of his for the privilege of dictating how he must play his hand.

Now be honest here. Would you take that bet? If you believe wholeheartedly in the bad player myth, you could turn one bad situation into two good ones by giving the dealer her worst card – and winning a $25 side bet to boot. As for me, I like the other fella's chances better, getting 6-to-5 odds on a 50-50 proposition.

Why do I say it's 50-50? Just play along with me a little further in my silly game. Suppose you were the one at third base with that 12 and this irrepressible voice in your head kept whispering, "Don't take the dealer's bust card".

The man to your right has $1000 riding on his hand and holds 16. All the other players are sitting there in stone silence, but their eyes are shouting, "Don't take the dealer's bust card!" Finally, you decide to stand, when the dealer unbelievably reaches into the shoe and reverses the order of the first two cards.

Panicky, you look to the other players. They say nothing, but you can literally read their minds, "Save the table -- Don't take the dealer's bust card". Problem is, which card is the dealer's bust card now? In fact, which was the dealer's bust card before?

The truth is, you never know which card is the dealer's bust card and you can never deliberately save or kill the table. Even if you knew exactly what the next two cards were, without knowing their order you'd never know whether you preferred that the dealer get the first card or the second.

The whole reason third base has one best play is because of all the cards he can catch versus all the cards the dealer can catch. But exactly where are those cards? Nobody knows. Once everyone else has made their own best play, the dealer's draw card is blind chance. So being all concerned over what third base does is just plain silly.

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

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