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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

Some Smart Blackjack Plays Look Dumb to Most Players

9 May 2005

You're playing first base at a blackjack table with four other players. It's the first hand off the top of the 6-deck shoe. The dealer has a deuce up. You've got 19. No problem. You stand.

The next three players have 20, 19 and 20, and they stand too. Third base, however, isn't so lucky. He's sitting there with 13 against that dealer's deuce -- and he hits it!

Blasphemy! Sacrilege! Stone him! Anybody who understands the mere basics of blackjack knows you don't hit 13 against a dealer's deuce. That is, unless you understand more than just the basics.

As it turns out, Mr. Third Base was actually correct to hit his 13 in this particular situation -- win or lose. You see, blackjack basic strategy always assumes that you're playing with a balanced supply of high and low cards. It's a perfectly valid assumption -- when you don't know anything beyond that.

Now with most hands, the basic strategy way of playing them is so much better that you should never play any other way. But some hands are such close decisions that only a small tilt in the supply of high vs. low cards will make the alternate play a superior choice this time around. Thirteen against a deuce is such a hand.

When blackjack basic strategy says to stand with 13 against a deuce, it assumes there are at least as many tens left in the shoe as "babies" (2s thru 5s). Going by that information, it is indeed a little bit better to stand.

But in the example above, Mr. Third Base can catch any one of 94 babies, but only 89 tens. Standing would've been the correct play for a normal shoe. But for this shoe, the best play is to hit! In fact, anytime there are five more babies in the shoe than tens, you should hit 13 against a deuce! Not one blackjack player in 100 realizes this.

I know this move tends to infuriate the average blackjack "hot dog", but Mr. Third Base was simply playing the game at a deeper level than most people are aware of. A number of other unusual hand plays also violate the basic strategy code, but are correct whenever the board becomes skewed high or skewed low. Nearly all of them will draw criticism from the basic strategy robots at your table. Here's one more.

Suppose you have A/8, a soft 19, against the dealer's 5 up. Normally, you should just be happy to have such a nice hand against a weak up-card and stand. But this time, the two players on your right have 5/4/5 and 7/3/4 while the two on your left have 9/4 and 10/5. Now, with a half dozen surplus tens to catch you should actually double down on your soft 19! That'll bring some snide remarks from the peanut gallery -- especially if the dealer ends up making a good hand. But the point is, although proper basic strategy is to stand with A/8 against a 5, when available tens outnumber babies by at least six, proper strategy is to double down.

Several other hands could be played more efficiently than basic strategy by taking your game to this next level. As mentioned many times before in this column, if you're watching and reacting to the board, you'll correctly stand with 16 against a 10 about 45% of the time. This is a hand that falls in front of you about once every 20 minutes, and you should be standing pat with it whenever there are more babies on board than tens.

Those were just three hands that should be "tweaked" if you've got the moxie to know when to do it. There are others, but don't go crazy and start changing up your play with hands that shouldn't be changed. You've got to learn which hands are the borderline ones, and how unbalanced the board has to get to prompt a modified play.

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