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Gaming Guru


Your Blackjack Odds Flip-Flop Constantly

24 October 2008

By Fred Renzey

You're sitting at the blackjack table and are dealt 12 against the dealer's 3 up. You may not know it, but you're an 8-to-5 underdog to win the hand (providing you hit it like you're supposed to). But this hand is far from over and you dutifully take your hit, catching a 6 to improve to an 18. That helped. Now you're a 4-to-3 favorite. Nice hit!

The dealer turns over a 7 in the hole to start out with 10. Woops – your 18 just sank to a 7-to-5 underdog. She pulls a 6 to give her 16. Now you've become an 8-to-5 favorite and the hand is almost over. Finally, up pops the devil, a 5, and you lose the hand just like you were supposed to in the first place.

That's how it is in blackjack. Your odds keep shifting back and forth, sometimes four or five times, before the hand is finally decided. If you're just a recreational player, it's a lot of entertainment value. If you play for serious money, it can give you irritable bowel syndrome.

But that's okay, as long as you play your hands right. Let me show you what happens to your odds if you play some common hands wrong, like when you have Ace/7 against a 9, for example.

If you stand on this hand like almost everybody does, you're a 3-to-2 underdog to win it. But if you hit it like the book says, you narrow your underdog gap to just 6-to-5. You're still a "dog", but now only a small one.

Misplaying your hands, however, can punish you a lot worse than that. How about when you have A/2 against a 2? Now, I've seen people double down with that hand all day long. And when they do, they're a slim 15-to-14 underdog, a loser in the long run. The tragic thing is, if they would've just hit it, they'd have been an 11-to-10 favorite. So they took a natural moneymaker and turned it into a money loser by misplaying the hand – and for twice as much money. The casinos gotta' love'em!

Furthermore, your odds to win and lose the hand you've already got aren't the only odds that are constantly changing in blackjack. Your chances to be dealt a good hand or a bad hand also keep going up and down according to which cards have come out so far. Sometimes your chances to be dealt a blackjack on your very next hand are as good as 1-in 16 – and sometimes they're as bad as 1-in-26. That's something that never happens all by itself in other casino games, and it is the reason why blackjack can be beaten.

When you're playing Caribbean Stud, your chances to be dealt two pair are always 1-in-20. That holds true whether you've had two pair for the last three hands in a row, or if you haven't had them in two hours. And it's because the cards are shuffled after every hand.

It's the same with roulette, Three Card Poker, the slots – what have you. They're all games of "fixed odds", since their odds never change. So if you're going to bet even money on the color Red at roulette, how are you going to beat that when the odds are always 20-to-18 against Red coming up (18 blacks plus 2 greens)?

In that sense, those games are for amusement only. If you want an honest-to-goodness chance to win, you have to learn a game of skill - and learn it right. But then again, that takes some work, and might drain the fun out of it.

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

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