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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

There Are Many Different Classes of Blackjack Players

27 June 2008

Other than live poker, blackjack has more strategy to it than any other casino table game. How well or how poorly you play can literally make you or break you.

Even among the more experienced players, there are still several classes of performance. Does a player know his basic hand playing strategy? Does he fall prey to the many senseless myths that so many players believe in -- and play by? Does he recognize the true warning signs of a "bad shoe", or the clues of a good one? Does he really know a good hand from a bad one?

The other night, there was a young man at second base whose play impressed me as being head and shoulders above the crowd. He exhibited thorough knowledge of all the keynotes mentioned above –- except the last one. That's where he revealed a chink in his armor. Here's what happened.

A woman at first base was dealt a pair of 7s against the dealer's deuce. Unsure of what to do, she consulted our young second baseman. Without hesitation he replied, "Split the 7s!" Still, the woman seemed unsure.

Second base then tossed three chips over to the lady and said, "Here. Let's split and go partners." Then he further consoled her adding, "Don't worry, splitting is the right play."

Well, if you were the second baseman, is that what you would've done? You positively should not have, because second base was right about one thing, but wrong about another.

Yes, it's true that when you're dealt a pair of 7s against a 2, your best play is to split the 7s. But that doesn't mean splitting them makes money. All it means is that splitting is your best alternative with that hand. Let me explain.

If you hit the 14, you'll win the hand 31% of the time. If you stand, you'll win 35% and if you split, you'll win 46% of the time on each 7 (after adjusting for pushes and occasional double downs). Splitting is indeed the best play, but it still loses money.

So why would a bystander want any part of that hand? The best thing to do is advise her to split and let her take her own lumps. Even though our young second baseman played all his hands perfectly, and knew when to bet more and when to get out, he still couldn't tell all the good hands from the bad.

Strangely, these things can work that way in reverse too. Suppose the player next to you has a pair of 9s against the dealer's 7. Well, the basic strategy rule is to split 9s against everything but a 7, 10 or Ace. So if that player wanted to split his 9s against that 7, he'd be wrong to do it. But he'd still win 59% of the time on each 9 if he did split. THe problem for him is if he'd have just stayed pat with 18, he'd have won 70% of the time. Nevertheless, if he's inclined to go ahead and split anyway, you should definitely offer to go halves with him. You'll be a 59% shot on the deal.

So as we said before, there are several classes of players at this game. Most ham-'n'-eggers don't even know the proper basic strategy for playing their hands. The majority that do still defeat themselves with myths related to streaks, money management and the "sacred flow" of the cards. Perhaps only 1 in 500 ever learn how to bet more and less at the right times. And fewer yet actually know which of their neighbors' hands they should be willing to take a piece of and which to avoid.

As a test, suppose you were sitting next to a player in a typical shoe game who wanted to double down for half his bet with 8 against a 6, with 9 against a 7, and with 11 against an Ace. Are there any of these that you should take the other half of? Answers next month.

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:

> More Books By Fred Renzey