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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

When Should You Break Basic Blackjack Strategy?

27 April 2007

In a past column, we ran through three fundamental truths about blackjack that most players either aren't aware of -– or don't believe in. They were:

  1. Money Management Doesn't Win
  2. Bad Players Don't Hurt You
  3. Basic Strategy Is Not Sacred

Shortly afterwards, I received a response from a reader regarding #3. He wanted to know what hands he should sometimes play differently from the normal basic strategy way and when.

It's tough to get typical players to realize that "consistency" in how you play certain hands is not the best thing. It's true, most hands you'll be dealt should be played the same way every time. But some hands are close calls, and if a few extra high cards or a few extra lows have come out, you should go the other way with those hands that time around. The question is, which hands?

First, understand that the standard mathematical way to play your hands is based on the assumption that all cards are equally available. Even when they're not equally available, that's still not enough to change the right way to play most hands. But you can squeeze a little extra percentage out of the real "close call" hands by "switching them up" when the shoe has become unbalanced.

How to Know: There are a few methods you could use to identify when it's best to break standard form with your hands. Some are more superficial than others. For example, even a very casual player should know that it's time to stand with his 16 against a 10 simply by noticing that his 16 contains a 4 or a 5 in it.

Going one step further, a slightly sharper player will occasionally know that he should double down with 9 against a deuce if he notices enough small cards around the board. But to have a more dependable picture of how to play these hands, you'd like to be aware of more than just the cards in your hand -- or those on the board right now. It would be a bigger help to know a little something about all the cards that have been dealt since the beginning of the shoe. But that's not as tough as it sounds.

The First Two Decks: With a six-deck shoe, it usually takes the first couple of decks before the cards get substantially out of kilter. So what you do is add up all the 10s and Aces that come out during those first two decks. That will be your checkpoint for how to play the rest of the shoe. Just add the Aces and 10s together as though they were all the same.

Since each deck of cards contains 16 10s and 4 Aces, it would be normal to see 40 Ace/10s come out in those first two decks. But if just three more or three fewer Ace/10s came out, there are a half dozen hands that should be played differently.

Look at the discard tray to tell when two decks have been dealt. It's important that your estimation of two decks is pretty accurate. About 3 out of 8 cards is normally an Ace/10, so if your estimation of two decks is 8 cards off, you'll probably be 3 Ace/10s off with your total.

Now, one fourth of the time, you'll find that your two deck Ace/10 total will be 37 or less. At those times, you'll be left with a heavier supply of high cards and should play the following six hands differently from basic strategy for the rest of the shoe:

  • Double w/ 9 vs. 2
  • Double w/ 11 vs. A
  • Stand w/ 16 vs. 10
  • Double w/ A/7 vs. 2
  • Double w/ A/8 vs. 5
  • Double w/ A/8 vs. 6

That alone will reduce the 0.5% house advantage just a little further. You could also use your front two deck "read" to bet more effectively the rest of the way and actually gain an advantage over the house. But that involves an aggressive betting approach, which produces a roller coaster ride that not every player is up for.

For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet, "Ace/10 Front Count", send $9 to, Fred Renzey, PO Box 598, Elk Grove Village, 60009.

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