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6 August 2016
By Henry Tamburin
Most of the time, when you play blackjack, you are in a losing situation, meaning the dealer has a better chance of winning the hand than you do and, therefore, that’s not the moment to bet aggressively.
However, when your initial two-card hand totals 8, 9, 10 or 11, some of the time you will be in the driver’s seat, meaning you have the best of it and should play more aggressively by doubling down (and in a few cases splitting) to put more money on the felt.
Even though most players understand the value of doubling down on the above hard hands (especially 10 and 11), what they don’t understand is that the optimal strategy for doubling (and pair splitting) depends on several factors: the dealer’s upcard, the number of decks, and the playing rules. What follows is a guide on how to accurately play your hard 8, 9, 10 and 11 hands in all varieties of games.
Your hard 8 could consist of 5-3, 6-2, or 4-4. Since the pair of 4s is played differently than a hand composed of 5-3 or 6-2, I’ll cover the 4s first.
Playing 4s in a Single-Deck Game
In a single-deck game, the playing strategy for a pair of 4s depends on whether doubling after pair splitting is allowed (das) or not allowed (ndas).
• With ndas: double 4s against a dealer’s 5 and 6 up card; hit against all other dealer up cards.
• With das: split 4s against a dealer’s 4, 5, and 6 up card; hit against all other dealer up cards.
Playing 4s in a Double- or Multi-Deck Game
In a double- or multi-deck game, you should never double down a pair of 4s; instead, the optimal playing strategy is to split, but only if the rules allow doubling after pair splitting (das).
• If das is allowed, then you should be aggressive and split your 4s when the dealer shows a 5 or 6 up card.
• If the rules are ndas, do not split 4s against a dealer’s 5 and 6; instead, your optimal strategy is to hit.
• Against all other dealer up cards, you should hit.
Playing Hard 6-2 and 5-3
If your 8 consists of 6-2 or 5-3, here’s how to play it.
• In a double- or multi-deck game, the strategy is simple: always hit no matter what the dealer shows (i.e., never double down hard 8 in a double- or multi-deck game).
• In a single-deck game, the traditional basic strategy is to double a two-card hard 8 (non-pair) if the dealer shows a 5 or 6. But here’s a tip from the recent Blackjack Hall of Fame inductee Don Schlesinger (developer of the Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Cards). If your 8 consists of 6-2, you should hit (and not double) against a dealer’s 5 and 6 up card if the rules are s17; if instead the rules specify h17, then hit, but only against a dealer’s 6. (Note: The Ultimate Basic Strategy Cards contain the traditional, total-dependent, and the composition- dependent basic playing strategy.)
The strategy for hard 9 is straightforward.
• In a single- and double-deck game, double down if the dealer’s up card is 2-6; otherwise, hit.
• In a multi-deck game, double down if the dealer’s up card is 3-6; otherwise, hit.
If your hard 10 consists of a pair of 5s, you should never split them (a mistake often made by novice players). You should instead follow this strategy:
• Always double down when the dealer shows a 2 through 9 up card (regardless of the number of decks or the playing rules).
• Hit if the dealer’s upcard is a 10 or ace.
If your 10 is composed of 8-2, 7-3, or 6-4:
• Double down when the dealer shows 2 through 9.
• Hit against a dealer’s 10 or ace.
The playing strategy for hard 11 depends on the number of decks and the playing rules.
• Double down no matter what the dealer shows (yes, even against a dealer’s ace).
• Here’s another tip from Schlesinger. If you are playing in a double-deck game and your 11 consists of 7-4 or 6-5, double down no matter what the dealer shows. If your 11 consists of 9-2 or 8-3, for h17 you should also double down no matter what the dealer shows but for s17, you should not double down against a dealer’s ace, but rather hit.
Six- and eight-deck game with s17
• Double down against dealer’s 2 through 10.
• Hit against a dealer’s ace.
Six- and eight-deck game with h17
• Double against any dealer’s up card (yes, even against a dealer’s ace).
In the event the casino rules don’t allow you to double on hard 8, 9, 10 or 11, or your hand consists of three (or more) cards (e.g., 3-2-6), then you should always hit.
By following the above strategy for hard 8 through 11, regardless of the number of decks of cards or the rules, you’ll always be playing your hand perfectly.
Henry Tamburin, Ph.D. is the editor of the Blackjack Insider e-Newsletter www.bjinsider.com and host of smartgaming.com.
This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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