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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

What Is the Dealer's Average Hand in Blackjack?

20 June 2005

A few weeks ago, we talked about the fact that overall, 18 is not a good enough hand to win at blackjack. Well then, on average just how good a hand do you need to beat the dealer?

Many aspiring students of the game have asked me, "What's the dealer's average hand?" Of the three dozen blackjack books I have on my shelf, none of them contain this specific information per se, and there's a good reason for it. You can easily tally up the stats on all the dealer's 17s through 21s, but how many points do you give her for a 22 or a 26? See the problem? Simply adding up all the dealer's totals and then dividing would give you a misleading average.

What you'd really like to know is: Am I the favorite or an underdog with this hand against that up-card? So here's the name of that tune.

A) When you have 17, you're an underdog against every dealer's up-card except the 6, in which case you're an even money shot to beat her.

B) If you have 18, you're the favorite against a dealer's 2 through 8 showing, but are a dog against her 9 through Ace.

C) With 19, you're the favorite over her 9 up, but are an underdog against the 10 and Ace until she checks to see if she has blackjack.

D) Once she's checked for the blackjack and you're in the clear there, your 19 is favored over the 10 and the Ace too.

So then, a player's 18 is favored against seven out of thirteen possible dealer up-cards, making it seem as though that should be good enough to win, right? Not quite! The catch is -- 18 is a bigger underdog against the high up-cards than it is favored over the smaller ones.

The bottom line is, if you were dealt an 18 every time and sat tight with it, you'd have a 0.66% disadvantage in the typical shoe game. That's one good reason why you have to try to do something more with most of your flexible 18s, such as A/7 and 9/9.

If you're still looking for something that tells you how good a hand the dealer is likely to make, consult the following chart. It was put together by computing your relative chances to beat her with 17, 18 or 19.

    Dealer's        Her Likely    
Up-CardFinal Hand
217.6
317.4
417.3
517.2
617.0
717.2
817.8
918.4
1019.1(18.7)
A19.4(18.3)
 18.1

Although a direct calculation the dealer's actual "average" final hand is not feasible (due to the ambiguous value of her busted totals), this chart does give you an accurate picture of where you stand with any hand you may currently have. It is also proportionally accurate regarding your margins of advantage and disadvantage.

For example, notice that when the dealer has an 8 up, you'd be a small favorite over her if you had 18. But if you had only 17, you'd appear to be the underdog by a four times larger margin than when you were favored with 18. This is in fact true. Yet, if you had 19, your edge on the hand would in fact be six times as large as with 18.

Also notice that for a dealer's 10 and Ace up, there are two sets of numbers. The first set applies before she checks her hole card to see if she has blackjack. The numbers in parentheses tell you where she's at if she doesn't have blackjack. As you can see, a player's 19 would be the favorite over both a dealer's 10 and Ace if she has to play her hand out against yours.

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:

Blackjack Bluebook II

> More Books By Fred Renzey