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Best of Henry Tamburin

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Winning more by doubling down

28 October 2002

Have you ever wondered how you can possibly play the casino even or win at blackjack when overall you stand to win only 47 percent of the hands dealt to you and lose 53 percent? One reason is the double down option.

Most of the time when you play blackjack, you are on the defensive. By that I mean you are in a losing situation no matter whether you hit or stand (especially when you are dealt the hard 12 through 17 hands). You follow the basic playing strategy to, essentially, cut your losses. This is OK but it won't get you the money at the end of the day.

Doubling down is different. You get to be on the offensive and attack the casino when it is most vulnerable. How? By being able to double your bet when the dealer is showing a lousy up card and/or when you have a high probability of out-drawing the dealer.

Which are the "lousy" dealer up cards? They are the low-value cards, 2 through 6. Mathematically, the dealer will bust about 40 percent of the time with these up cards. Doubling down allows us to get more money on the table at the best possible time -- when the dealer has a relatively high probability of busting.

Which player hands give you a higher probability of out-drawing the dealer? The hard hands totaling 9, 10 and 11, because by drawing a 10 or picture card you end up with a powerful 19 through 21, which most likely will beat the dealer's hand. The double down option allows us to double our bets and our profits at the best possible time -- when we have the edge over the dealer on the hand.

The mechanics and the rules for doubling down are easy to understand. The option allows you to double your original wager and in return the dealer will give you one and only one draw card. To signal a double down in handheld blackjack games, where the player's cards are dealt face down, simply toss your cards face up on the table and place an equivalent amount in chips adjacent to (not on top of) your original wager. The dealer will place your draw card face down and tuck it under your chips. You can peek at the down card if you wish or wait until the dealer reveals it at the end of the round. In blackjack games where the player cards are dealt face up, signal a double down in a similar manner by placing an equivalent amount of chips adjacent to your original bet. The dealer will give you one draw card, usually face up.

Casino rules vary as to when a player may double down. The best player-favorable rules allow unrestricted doubling, which means a player could double down on any initial two-card hand. Some casinos only allow doubling if the initial two cards total 9, 10 or 11. This is not as favorable as unrestricted doubling down.

Most casinos, especially in multiple-deck games, will allow players to double down after pair splitting. Being able to double down on one or more split hands is a very favorable rule for the player. Your gain is about 0.13 percent. It is an option that, unfortunately, most players forget to use in the excitement of splitting their pairs. But you know better!

You can also double down for less money than the original amount wagered on the hand. This means if your initial bet is $10 you could double down for less than $10. But it is not wise to do so because you will maximize your gains when you maximize the amount of your double down bet.

There are two schools of thought on why casinos introduced the double down option in the game of blackjack in the first place. Some say it was to spur more interest in the game by lowering the casino edge to a more respectable level. Others say it was just another easy way to win more money from unskilled players. In fact, both reasons are correct.

Casinos make money on the double down option when players misuse it. Just last week I watched in awe as a fellow player plunked down $50 and doubled down on a hard 12 against a dealer 5 up card. That brilliant play will cost this player about $40 for every $100 worth of bets. Never double down on a hand that could bust with one draw card unless you like giving your money to the casinos.

You should only double down on hands where your chances of beating the dealer are greater than 50 percent. When your chances are that good, why not bet more? You can by doubling down.

What is ironic about doubling down is that with some hands you will actually be reducing your chances of winning the hand. How can this be? Because you get one and only one draw card. If you doubled on a 6,3 against a dealer 5 and drew a 2 for an 11, the only way you could win the hand is to hope the dealer busts. If you hit instead and draw a 2 for an 11, you could hit again, thus improving your chances of winning. Nevertheless, the right play is to double down because of the extra money you put into action. The reason is as follows:

When you hit the 9, you stand to win 59 percent of the hands and lose 41 percent. That means you will win on average $59 - $41 or $18 per $100 bet on the hand. If you double down instead, you will win only 57 percent of the hands (2 percent less then hitting). But you will put double the amount of money in action. Your net gain when you double down is therefore $57 -- $43 times 2 (because you doubled your bet) or $28 per $100 initial bet. That's $10 more gained versus hitting. It's true you had to risk twice as much money, but the bottom line is that you end up with more profit.

The hard hands that give you the most gain over hitting are as follows:

  • hard 11 against dealer's 2 through 10 up card,
  • hard 10 against dealer up card of 2 through 9, and
  • hard 9 against a dealer up card 3 through 6.

In single-deck games you should also double down on these hands:

  • hard 11 against dealer ace,
  • hard 9 against dealer 2, and
  • 5,3 against dealer 5,6.

You can expect to be dealt a 9, 10 or 11 about eight times in every 100 hands. By following the above double down playing strategy, your gain will be about 1.3 percent.

There is more good news when casinos allow players the option to double down on any initial two-card draw. It allows players to double down on soft hands, which are hands that contain an Ace counted as 11.

Soft doubling done correctly will give you another 0.13 percent gain. This is much less then the gain from hard doubling, but as astute blackjack players, we will do everything we can to reduce the casino's edge in this game.

Most blackjack players understand that the main reason for doubling on 9, 10, 11 is that a draw of a 10 or picture card will give them a strong hand. But the logic for doubling on a soft hand like ace,2 (13) or, better yet, Ace,6 (17) isn't very clear to most players. Therefore most pass up the opportunity to double down.

Think back to the reason for doubling on 9, 10 and 11. Some of our gain comes from the fact that the dealer will break and we will win our double down bet. But the majority of our gain arises from outdrawing the dealer (i.e., ending up with a higher hand). With soft double the emphasis is not so much on outdrawing the dealer, but on getting more money on the table when the dealer is most vulnerable to busting.

Consider the soft hand Ace,3 (14) against the dealer 5 up card. We double down not because we hope to get a 7 for a 21 (it's great when it happens, but don't count on it happening often). Rather we double down because the dealer has a lousy up card and a relative high probability of busting. By doubling down on this hand, we can get more money on the table without fear of busting, because of the dual role of the ace. It can count as either an 11 or 1, so no matter what card we draw, we are always in the game.

As a general rule, you should double down on soft hands when the dealer shows a weak up card like 5 and 6. The complete basic strategy for soft doubling is as follows:

A,2 and A,3      Double against 5 and 6
A,4 and A,5      Double against 4, 5, and 6
A,6 and A,7      Double against 3, 4, 5 and 6

Do not double down on A,8 or A,9. These are very strong hands and you will gain more by standing than by doubling.

Some casinos have recently implemented the option to allow players to double on 2-, 3- or 4-card hands. In other words if you had a 5,3 and drew a 3 for an 11, you could double down after drawing the third card. This rule will give you about a 0.2 percent gain, but there are modifications to the basic strategy because you will be less likely to double down on a small total. For the complete basic strategy modifications, consult Stanford Wong's excellent book, Basic Blackjack.

Card counters also benefit greatly from the double down option. In a high-count deck (abundance of 10s), the counter will be betting more and when he doubles down, he will be investing more money when he has his best chances of winning. Card counters also vary their playing strategy in high count decks including doubling a 9 against a dealer's 2 and 7 up card, and 10 and 11 against the dealer's Ace. But be careful -- you must know the exact value of the count where doubling down becomes more profitable than hitting.

Julian Braun, one of the pioneers in developing winning blackjack playing strategies, said this about the importance of doubling down:

"Doubling down is the premier option for the blackjack player. Anyone who doesn't really understand the strategy of doubling down is giving up an important equalizer. Such players are destined to lose, for they forfeit one of the critical advantages a player has in playing blackjack, which are precious few. It is imperative that players master this strategy because, clearly, doubling down is a strategy for winning, by winning more."


BASIC STRATEGY FOR DOUBLING DOWN
d=double, h=hit, sp=split

Player
Hand
Dealer Upcard
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A
11 d d d d d d d d d h/d*
10 d d d d d d d d
9 h/d* d d d d
5,3 h/d*
4,4 sp/d+ sp/d+
A,8 s/d*
A,7 d d d d
A,6 h/d* d d d d
A,5 d d d
A,4 d d d
A,3 h/d* d d
A,2 h/d* d d

* The first action listed is for mutiple-deck games, the second action for single-deck games. Thus for a player 11 vs. dealer ace you should HIT in multiple-deck games and DOUBLE in single-deck games.
+ In multiple-deck games, split 4s vs. a dealer 5,6 if doubling down after pair splitting is allowed. If it is not allowed, then HIT the 4s.
In double-deck games, follow the double down strategy for multiple-deck games plus double down on 9 against a dealer 2 up card.
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:

Winning Baccarat Strategies

> 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