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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

What Comes After Basic Strategy in Blackjack?

16 September 2005

I'd like to say that most avid blackjack buffs commit their correct basic hand-playing strategy to memory – but they don't! Even those who consider themselves to be well polished players will misplay at least 20 hands on a basic strategy chart. Before these people can take their game to the next level, they need to plug those fundamental leaks.

But let's say you happen to be that one player in maybe 40 who plays all his hands right. Where do you go from there? Most prevailing blackjack literature says that card counting is the next step.

In reality however, there are several skills you can learn short of card counting that will improve your game beyond basic strategy. To use them though, you'll have to start thinking outside the "basic strategy" box.

Hand Tweaking: The first and simplest improvement you can make to your game comes when you have 16 against a dealer's 10. Understand that this hand is a close decision and when you have the typical 10/6 against a 10 – yes, you should hit it. But if you start with a smaller total against that 10 and end up with any 16 that contains a 4 or a 5, you should now stand! That means standing against a 10 with hands like 8/5/3 or 4/9/2 or 7/5/4, etc. It's known as the "Rule of 45" and it applies to 16 against a 10 only. But if you have something like A/6/8/A against that 10, take a hit because you haven't killed any 4s or 5s.

Low Card Layouts: The next thing that can improve your game is to realize that the more high cards there are in the shoe, the better the percentages are for the player. So if you're approaching a table and see a flurry of pat 19s and 20s around the felt, keep on walking. Playing that shoe is likely to cost you extra. If you're already seated when this happens, it's a good time to change tables.

When you see a barrage of little cards on the board however, it's time to jump in if you're just watching, or raise your bet if you're already playing. Don't be trigger happy on this point though. You need at least 8 more "babies" (2s thru 5s) on the board than 10s in order to have an outright advantage on that shoe. If you have at least that, bet more the rest of the way through the shoe or until a noticeable flurry of high cards has surfaced.

Other Peoples' Doubles: Every day in every blackjack game, players leave advantageous betting opportunities on the table. Don't let them slide by at yours. How many times have you seen somebody double down for less than double with a good doubling hand? When this happens, seize the opportunity and get your chips over there, capping it off at the max. Just say, "Can I take the rest of that?" They'll almost always oblige.

One day last month, I walked out of the casino winning $150 and would've been a $200 loser for the day had I not doubled down several times on other players' hands. This is one of the most readily available edges in the game. Correct double downs generally carry an outright advantage of 5% to 10%. Whenever you get one of these for the same amount as your own bet, mathematically it'll cover your basic strategy disadvantage for your next 15 hands or so.

Even if a player is merely pondering doubling with a solid doubling hand, toss half the price over there and offer to go halves with him. Your vote of confidence will often convince him to go through with it.

Can these extra moves turn a basic strategist into a net winner at the game? That would take some doing. You'd have to be changing tables all the time and hustling a ton of other peoples' doubles. But even in moderation, it'll improve your results beyond basic strategy.

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

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