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Frank Scoblete - The Always, Nevers, and Sometimes of Blackjack

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  • Frank ScobleteBLACKJACK

    The most popular game in the casino, the game that gives the player the best chance to win, and the game that the majority of players actually play so poorly that the casinos win more money from it than from any game other than slots is blackjack. Blackjack is a game where your choices count -- whether you count or not (count cards, that is). So here?s a rundown on some of the always, nevers, and sometimes of this most popular game:

    Always split aces and eights, no matter what the dealer has showing. This strategy is a delight when the dealer is showing a 6 as his upcard. Who doesn?t want to get more money out when the dealer is in such a disadvantageous situation? But this same strategy can be extremely hard when you are facing an upcard of 10 because you think -- rightly and wrongly -- that if he has another 10 in the hole, you are dead meat. The fact is -- if he does have another 10 in the hole, you are dead meat, is not a strong enough argument for the fact that chances are he doesn?t have another 10 in the hole. Even a cursory examination of blackjack math tells us that the 10s make up a mere 16 cards out of 52 cards. Therefore it is far more likely that the dealer has anywhere from a 2 through a 7 than he does a 10. Those 8s against a 10 are a losing hand, but splitting always loses you less in the long run.

    Of course, blackjack has its nevers as well. For example, never split a pair of 10s or 5s. A hand of 20 is the third most powerful hand for the player, behind a blackjack and a multiple-card 21. The chances of getting two 10s on your split 10s are not good since you have taken two of the 10s you need out of the deck or shoe to make that original 20. You?ll likely get a hand that is a loser -- perhaps, two losers -- if you always split your 10s. This applies even against an otherwise weak dealer upcard such as 5 or 6. Also, should you split 10s, you will be branded a moron by all the people playing with you at the table, and some will say it so loud that everyone in the casino will know what you?ve done.

    Splitting 5s is also a no-no. A total of 10 is a great hand to double down on when the dealer is showing 2 through 9 because your two 5s have increased the percentage of 10s in the remaining pack.

    Always hit your stiff hands, 12-13-14-15-16 against a dealer?s upcard of 7 or higher. Never hit your stiffs of 13-14-15-16 against a dealer?s stiff upcard ( 2-3-4-5-6). Always hit your 12 against a dealer?s 2 or 3, but never hit it against a dealer?s 4 through 6. Always double your 11 when the dealer is showing a 2 through 10. But sometimes double your 11 against a dealer ace as well. That would be in single-deck games. You always split your pair of 2s against a dealer?s 3 through 7, but you sometimes split them against a dealer?s 2. When is that sometimes? In single-deck games you don?t split 2s against a dealer?s 2. In multiple-deck games you do. But there?s a big ?but? in the ointment, as disgusting as that clause sounds, because if the single-deck game allows doubling after pair splitting, then you do split those 2s against a 2; and if the multiple-deck game doesn?t allow doubling after splitting, then you don?t split those 2s against a dealer?s upcard of 2 or 3. Confusing? Sometimes.

    Sometimes you split a pair of 4s and sometimes you don?t. When is which? Well, if you can double after splitting pairs, then when the dealer shows a 5 or 6, you split those 4s in both single and multiple-deck games. But when you can?t double after splitting, you simply hit your two 4s (an 8 after all) against all dealer upcards in a multiple-deck game, but you double down on that 8 against a dealer?s 5 or 6 in a single-deck game. Never take insurance in multiple-deck games. However, sometimes you can make a good insurance bet during the first round of play in single-deck games even if you are not a card counter. Look around and see if there are any 10s in the hands of the players to the right and left of you. If they have none and you also have none, insurance becomes a good bet as seven non-10 cards have been removed from the deck (the dealer?s ace counts too). That means of the 45 remaining unseen cards, 16 of them are 10s. Always insure your hand in such a case. That bet now has the edge for the player.

    Because of the nature of blackjack, with each discrete rule change a change in some of the decisions in given situations is called for -- far too many to encompass in this article. Suffice it to say that blackjack has more sometimes than any other casino table game. The blackjack fanatic will memorize all the changes in hand playing depending on the rule changes in order to reduce the casino edge fractionally more than the fraction it has already been reduced to by using one Basic Strategy for all blackjack games.

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