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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

The Art of Playing Your "Stiffs" in Blackjack

6 November 1999

A couple of months ago, I detailed some ways you can maximize your double downs by going one step beyond the basic strategy. You would do this by noticing how many high and low cards are on the board when you hold a "borderline" hand, such as 9 against a deuce or 11 against an ace. If just a few extra small cards have been taken out of play, it actually becomes correct to double down with these two hands, even in a shoe game!

This month, I'm going to point out three "stiff" hands that can also be played more accurately than the basic strategy with the use of the same technique. That technique is called "board counting."

If you know and follow your basic strategy, you'll stand on 12 whenever the dealer shows a 4, 5 or 6, and will hit against all other up-cards. That's a neat and concise wrap-up of how to play your 12s. It's fine if you're just a basic strategy robot.

But remember -- the basic strategy was based upon the assumption that all cards except the three that make up your hand and the dealer's up-card are equally available. In reality, however, their availability varies as cards are dealt out. By being observant, you can improve your efficiency just a tad on a few of your stiff hands. Which hands am I talking about? They're listed below.

13 against a 2 up
12 against a 4 up
16 against a 10 up

These hands are all borderline situations. That is, the basic strategy play is marginally correct as long as the remaining shoe contains an even distribution of high and low cards. If you have no idea what's been played, then following the basic strategy is your best option, since the cards have a general tendency to get somewhat evenly distributed anyway. But many times you'll be in a position to know differently.

Here's an extreme example. Suppose you've been dealt a 10/3 against a deuce up. There are three other players at the table and they all have 20. Bingo! You should hit your 13! That's right, hit it against a deuce even though the basic strategy says to stand. Why? Because 13 against a deuce should just barely be held pat under normal conditions. But with those six extra 10s taken out of play, it's a bit less likely the dealer has 12. At the same time you're a tad less likely to bust if you hit. All of a sudden, the odds have reversed themselves and you're better off taking a card. That's where the "art" comes into the play of your hand. A professional card counter would do the same thing in this scenario. (If hitting 13 against a deuce sounds sacrilegious, let me remind you that in Spanish "21" it's proper basic strategy to hit 14 against a deuce due to all the missing 10s, let alone 13.)

It's even more common to find yourself in situations where you should hit 12 against a 4 or stand with 16 against a 10! With hands this marginal, you don't need to count down the whole shoe to find out that it might be better to go the "other way" with your hand. You simply measure the proportion of high to low cards that have appeared during this round by pitting all the 3s, 4s, 5s and 6s (we'll call them "babies") against the 10s, jacks, queens and kings -- there are the same total of each in any number of full decks. After scanning the entire board in this manner (including your own hand and the dealer's up-card), your information can tell you how to play these three hands more accurately than the basic strategy. Here's what to do:

  • With 12 against a 4, if more 10s are on the board than "babies", hit rather than stand.
  • With 16 against a 10, if more babies are on board than 10s, stand rather than hit.
  • With 13 against a deuce, you need at least five more 10s on board than babies, but if they're there, hit rather than stand.

Now, don't get overzealous with your newfound knowledge and start trying to "tweak" your play with same other stiff hands -- always play the rest of them according to basic strategy.


For more information about blackjack, we recommend:

Blackjack Bluebook: The Right Stuff for the Serious Player by Fred Renzey
Best Blackjack by Frank Scoblete
The Morons of Blackjack and Other Monsters! by Frank Scoblete
Winning Strategies at Blackjack! Video tape hosted by Academy Award Winner James Coburn, Written by Frank Scoblete
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