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Best of Henry Tamburin

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How to play seven tough blackjack hands

2 March 2012

Based on my 40+ years playing and teaching blackjack, I consider the following seven hands to be the ones most likely to be flubbed by average players. The list of hands is in no particular order. I've also summarized the correct way to play each hand and the reasons why.

Play #1. Standing on soft 18 against the dealer's 10

"I never hit a good hand of 18." That's the mantra of most players who believe 18 is a good hand that should never be messed with. However, these are the facts. If you have a soft 18 against a dealer's 10 and stand, you lose more money than you win. When you hit, you also lose more than you win but you don't lose quite as much as when you stand. So hitting soft 18 against a dealer's 10 upcard is the correct play (even when your soft 18 hand consists of three or more cards, such as Ace-2-Ace-4).

Play #2. Not splitting 8s against a dealer's 9, 10 or Ace

"A 16 against a dealer's 9, 10 or Ace is a loser. Why compound my losses by splitting and betting more?" Surprise! The right play is to split the 8s. Why? Because playing two hands with a starting count of 8 on each hand is much better than starting with a single hand of 16. You are giving yourself two decent starting hands, while breaking up a horrible 16. However, both of the split-8 hands will lose you money in the long run. However, here's the rub: Your 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 a pair of 8s against a dealer's 10 with your 10 bucks on the layout. And yes, sometimes you'll split and lose both split hands and then start second-guessing yourself as to why you split in the first place. Nevertheless, listen up. The correct play, the one that will save you more money during your blackjack-playing career, is to split the 8s against the 9, 10 and Ace. If you don't have the courage to make that play, you shouldn't be playing blackjack.

Play #3. Not doubling 11 against a dealer's 10

"Why would anyone want to double down against a strong dealer's 10?" Most average players get queasy about doubling down on an 11, figuring the dealer has a 10 in the hole for a pat 20. In fact, the dealer's chances of making that pat 20 are less than your chance of making a 20 or 21! Here's the bottom line: If you bet 10 bucks and hit your 11, you'll win 56 percent of the time. If you double down instead, you'll win only 54% of the time but for twenty bucks. So, what would you rather do? Win ten dollars 56% of the time, or twenty dollars 54 percent of the time? The choice should be clear. You can't afford not to double down on 11 against a dealer 10.

Play #4. Doubling on small soft hands

"I can never remember whether I should hit or double down on those small soft hands when the dealer shows a small upcard." Most average players bungle their small soft hands when the dealer shows a small card. For example, how would you play an Ace-3 against a dealer's 3? How about Ace-5 against a dealer's 4? There are 18 small soft hands that should be doubled, and the easiest way to remember them is to follow these three rules developed by blackjack expert and author Fred Renzey.

  1. Never soft double against a deuce.
  2. Always soft double against a 5 or 6.
  3. When the dealer has a 3 or 4 upcard, play by the Rule of 9.

The Rule of 9 is to simply add the dealer's upcard to your kicker (the card along with your Ace). If they total 9 or more, double down. If it's less, hit. It's that simple. For example, if you hold an Ace-3 against dealer's 3 you should hit (because 3 plus 3 totals less than 9). With Ace-5 against a dealer 4 you should double down (because 5 plus 4 totals 9). The only play that isn't covered by Rule of 9 is to double Ace-4 against a dealer's 4. You'll just have to remember that one (just remember "4-4 double" and you're set).

Play #5. Playing a soft hand containing three or more cards

"My strategy card says to double soft 18 against a 4, but if I'm dealt Ace-3-4 and I can't double down, I'm not sure if I should stand or hit?" When your soft hand contains three or more cards, the casino rules will not allow you to double down. So what should you do? Just follow these two simple rules to play soft hands containing three or more cards perfectly every time.

  1. If you have soft 17 or less, always hit (i.e., never, never stand with soft 17 or less regardless of what the dealer shows).
  2. If you have soft 18 - 21, always stand, except hit a soft 18 against a dealer 9, 10, or ace.

Play #6. Playing 16 against a dealer's 10

"Not again. How am I supposed to win when I keep getting those bloody 16s when the dealer shows those blasted picture cards?" You are not alone here. A 16 against a 10 occurs fairly frequently (about once every 30 hands). How best to play this hand depends on the casino rules and the composition of your hand. Let's take this one step at a time. If the casino offers surrender (if you don't know, ask the dealer), your best play is to surrender your 16 against the 10. Why? Because when you surrender you lose 50 percent of your bet, and if you play out the hand instead, you stand to lose slightly more than 50 percent of your bet (about 53.5 percent) in the long run. So surrendering will save you money, which is why it's the better play. But what if the casino doesn't offer surrender? Your best play, by a slim margin, is to hit. However, if you have a multi-card 16 (like 4-5-7), your best play is to stand against a dealer 10. Why? You've removed from play several small cards that would have come in handy if you were to draw. The removal of just a few of these small cards tips the scales ever so slightly in favor of standing over hitting.

Play #7. Standing on 12 against the dealer's 3

"Every time I hit my 12 against a dealer 3 I bust, so I stand instead and let the dealer take the bust card." This is another play that confounds average players, partly because they have heard so many times that they should not risk busting their own hand when the dealer has a weak upcard showing. So why shouldn't we stand with 12 against a 3? Two reasons. When you hit a 12 once, you can bust only if you draw a 10. What are the chances of that happening? Only 4 out of 13 times on average, which means 9 out of 13 times you will survive the draw and not bust. In fact, five cards -- the 5, 6, 7, 8 or 9 -- will give you a pat hand of 17 to 21, so there are more cards that can help you than break you. In addition, the dealer's chances of busting are not as great as you think. With a 3 upcard, the dealer will break about 37 percent of the time (compared to 40 percent with a 4 upcard, and 42 percent with a 5 or 6 upcard). Bottom line: Even though you'll never get rich on 12 against a 3, no matter how you play it, hitting is the better play, because in the long run it will save you money compared to standing.

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