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Best of Henry Tamburin

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Avoid misplaying these blackjack hands

30 October 2009

After 34 years of playing blackjack, I can truly say, "I have seen it all." For example, last month I watched in horror as a player started to double down on a 10-4 (14). The other players (myself included) thought the player didn't understand what he was holding so we tried to explain that doubling down on a hand that could bust with one draw card was not a smart play. But our advice fell on deaf ears and he did what he wanted to do. Sure enough, he drew a picture card and busted losing twice his original wager in the process.

As bad as that play was, trust me when I say I have seen worse. In fact just a few days later I watched a clueless player stand on ace-4 when the dealer showed a 3. That's really bad.

I often wonder why players make such foolish plays. Usually, it's because of their ignorance about the game of blackjack. There is not much that you can do when this kind of player decides to make a foolish play other than to shake your head and hope that someday he will come to his senses and buy a book on blackjack before he runs out of money.

But even experienced players often make wrong plays, not because they don't know any better, but because intuitively they feel the right play is wrong. Case in point: Being dealt a pair of 8s when the dealer shows a 9 or 10. Most players are reluctant to split because even if they draw two 10s to the split 8s for pat 18 hands, they feel they'll still probably lose two bets, instead of one, to the dealer's 19 or 20.

On average, casinos have a 2 percent edge over the masses that play blackjack. That's 1.5 percent more than a basic strategy player. This gives you some idea of how poorly the majority of the public plays a "beatable" game.

What follows is a list of common plays that make most players uneasy and indecisive, and a brief explanation as to the logic behind the right play. Hopefully, you won't make a playing error the next time you are dealt one of these uncomfortable hands.

8s against a 10

The right play is to split the 10s. The reason is that two hands of 8 is a much better starting point when the dealer shows a 10 than a single hand of 16. You are giving yourself two decent starting hands while breaking up the horrible 16. However, both of the split 8s will lose money in the long run, but the combined losses will be less than what a single hand of 16 would lose in the long run. Yes, it's sometimes difficult to think long term when you are staring at your 8s and your 10 bucks is on the felt. But the bottom line is that if you don't have the courage to make this play, then you shouldn't be playing blackjack.

12 against 2

Now here's a horrific hand! Hit it and you just know you are going to draw a 10 and bust. But it turns out you have more chances of not busting than busting when you hit (you have a 9 in 13 chance of surviving the hit). Plus the dealer is not as vulnerable with a 2 face card as he is with a 4, 5 or 6, which is another reason why you hit 12 against a 2 (and 3) but stand against a 4, 5 and 6.

16 against 7

Most beginning blackjack players will hit 16 against a dealer's 10 but not against a 7. In fact, it is a much worse mistake to stand against a 7 than against a 10. David Sklansky in his book, Sklansky Talks Blackjack, says it best. "Against either a 10 or 7 you have the same high risk of busting when you hit that 16. However, against a 7 the reward for that risk is much greater. The reason is that when you do catch a small card your chances of winning are greater against a 7 (since he often has 17) than it is against the 10 (since he often has 20). In purely mathematical terms, hitting 16 against a 10 moves you from a 54-cent loser to a 52-cent loser. But against the 7, your hit moves you from a 48-cent loser to a 40-cent loser. So these numbers confirm that you gain more by hitting against the 7 than against the 10."

11 vs 10

Most players know that's it's smart to double down on an 11 but against a dealer's 10 they get queasy, figuring the dealer has a 10 in the hole for a pat 20. It turns out that the dealer's chance of making a pat 20 are less than your chance of making a 20 or 21. The bottom line is this: if you hit, you win 56 percent of the time at one betting unit each. If you double, you win 54 percent of the time but at two betting units apiece. What would you rather do, win $5, 56 percent of the time, or $10, 54 percent of the time? The choice should be clear.

A-7 vs 9

Most players don't think twice about standing on soft 18 when the dealer shows a 9 face card. Well, think of this. If the casino offered you the proposition that they would automatically give you a pat 18 on every hand for the rest of your life, would you take them up on it? If you did you would eventually die a small loser. The reason is the dealer's 9 face card doesn't change the situation one iota. If you stand you will win 8 out of 20 hands. If you hit until you got a soft 19, hard 17 or busted, you would win 9 out of 20 hands. The ace gives you flexibility on a soft 18, so take advantage of it and hit.

Taking Even Money

And why not? You get an even money payoff for doing nothing. It's like the bird in the hand. Well, guess what? That bird in the hand is costing you 4 percent of your profits in the long run. Over time, you'll win more money when you decline even money.

If you master the above plays you are on the way to improve your chance of winning. If you continue to make the wrong plays, well, it's your money.

Recent Articles
Best of Henry Tamburin
Henry Tamburin

Henry Tamburin is the author of the best-selling book, Blackjack: Take The Money and Run, editor of the Blackjack Insider e-Newsletter, and Lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack course. For a free 3-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter with full membership privileges, visit www.bjinsider.com/free. For details on the Golden Touch Blackjack course visit www.goldentouchblackjack.com or call 866/WIN-BJ21. For a free copy of his casino gambling catalog featuring over 50 products call 888/353-3234 or visit the Internet store at www.smartgaming.com.

Henry Tamburin Websites:

www.smartgaming.com

Books by Henry Tamburin:

> More Books By Henry Tamburin

Henry Tamburin
Henry Tamburin is the author of the best-selling book, Blackjack: Take The Money and Run, editor of the Blackjack Insider e-Newsletter, and Lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack course. For a free 3-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter with full membership privileges, visit www.bjinsider.com/free. For details on the Golden Touch Blackjack course visit www.goldentouchblackjack.com or call 866/WIN-BJ21. For a free copy of his casino gambling catalog featuring over 50 products call 888/353-3234 or visit the Internet store at www.smartgaming.com.

Henry Tamburin Websites:

www.smartgaming.com

Books by Henry Tamburin:

> More Books By Henry Tamburin