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The Most Misplayed Hand in Blackjack

14 May 2000

By Fred Renzey

Strategic blackjack mistakes come in many forms. A few examples are doubling down for less, sizing your next bet according to the last outcome, and taking insurance based upon the quality of your own hand. But by and large, most blackjack errors come in the form of misplaying your hand outright. And there's one hand that get misplayed more often than any other. Can you name it?

Could it be when you have 12? Nope. It's true, most players don't hit 12 against a 3 and they should. But that's where their self-inflicted damage usually ends. Then how about something like a pair of 9s? Nahh. Most folks correctly split those against any small card, though many neglect to do it against an 8 or 9 up. There's still one more hand that really gets butchered regularly and that's a soft 18.

What's that you say? You play all your soft 18s perfectly? Well then, go ahead and play out the hands listed below:


Ace/7 against a 3
Ace/3/2/Ace/Ace against a 9
Ace/7 against a deuce
Ace/3/2/2 against a 10
Ace/7 against a 6
Ace/7 against an Ace

The correct answers are: double, hit, stand, hit, double, and hit.

Here's one more move that most players blow; let's say you have:

7/7 against a 4

and you correctly split. After taking one card on each split you have:

7/10 and 7/Ace

What should you do with your 7/Ace? Double down.

So tell me, were you perfect? Not if you're among the players I see in the casinos day after day. It's true, if you know this is a test you'll think and answer a bit more judiciously. But when these hands pop up in the middle of a game and your money's at stake, a whole different rationale tends to take over--a self-defeating rationale. Let's explain the reasons for the correct plays, so that you'll never misplay a soft 18 again.

Against a 3 up: If you stand with 18 against a 3, you're a 58% shot to win, and that's a money maker, no doubt. But if you double down, even though you'll wreck some of your hands by catching a 4 through 8, you'll still remain a 55% shot--and for twice the money! Thus, if you don't double you're giving away an edge.

Against a 9 up: Some of the more "savvy" players will in fact hit a two-card soft 18 against a 9. But when they start out with something like Ace/3, take several hits, and finally reach 18, they lose stamina and quit. This is a mistake. An 18 will beat a dealer's 9 only eight times out of 20. But if your 18 is a soft one and you hit until you make either a soft 19, a hard 17 or bust, you'll win 9 out of 20. So, take either 8 wins or 9 wins; what's your choice?

Against a deuce: Even though soft doubling against a small card is usually a good move, it's just too dangerous against a deuce. You're a 56% shot the way you are, but if you double and catch a bad card, the dealer will only break 35% of the time. Just stay pat with this one.

Against a 10: In case you don't know it, 18 against a 10 is a 7-5 underdog regardless of how many cards it contains. If your 18 is soft, play it the same way as you would against a 9 up.

Against a 6: It's ironic that most players have a penchant for doubling down with Ace/2 or Ace/3 rather than with Ace/7. Yet Ace/7 is by far your most profitable soft doubling hand. With Ace/2 you can catch eight bad cards when you double, but with Ace/7 there are only five. Always put the extra money out there when you have an Ace/7 against a 3, 4, 5, or 6.

Against an Ace: It's the same story as when you're up against a 9 or 10. You're a solid underdog, but will pick up an extra win here and there if you hit it.

After splitting: Nothing has changed. It doesn't matter that you've already invested some extra money in this hand by splitting. You've still got an edge to take advantage of. Don't let it slip by!


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:

Blackjack Bluebook II

> More Books By Fred Renzey