My friend, slot expert John Robison, has decided to learn how to play blackjack. He?s a serious-minded gambler and he wants to play the best possible game he can against the casinos. So he?s learning basic strategy.
Basic strategy is the uncreative name for the computer-derived play of every player hand against every dealer upcard. If you follow the basic strategy for hitting, standing, doubling down, and splitting pairs, you will face very small casino edges on multiple-deck games -- in the vicinity of 0.3 to 0.6 percent -- and almost no casino edge on single-deck games. In fact, in some single-deck games with good rules, the player can have a tiny edge over the casino, on the order of 0.14 percent! (A casino edge translates like this: If a casino has an 0.6 percent edge that means for every $100 wagered, the long-run expectation is for the player to lose 60 cents.)
Players who play some shadow version of basic strategy or play the ?I have my own strategy and don?t tell me no different!? will face edges of from one percent to six percent depending on how far they stray from the correct moves. So for a little effort, the few days of memorizing of basic strategy, there?s a lot of reward -- you?ll get to keep more of your money when you play against the casinos.
Most of basic strategy is relatively easy to learn and understand. After all, when you get a two-card 21, you just sit there and smile and collect your 3-2 payoff. You certainly don?t double down on it as if it were an eleven. Also, when you have a 17 through 20, you do nothing but wait and hope you can beat the dealer or that the dealer busts.
The above strategies are logical and most players intuitively understand that hitting a 20 or splitting tens won?t help them very much. And doubling on a two-card 5 is not the right move against a dealer?s 10 up.
But some strategies are not so logical and often fly in the face of logic. Hitting your 12s against a dealer?s 2 or 3 is one such. In the long run, the computers show that a basic strategy player who hits his 12s against a dealer?s 2 or 3 will win slightly more money, or lose slightly less money (same thing but said differently), than one who stands. Still, those busting tens do come with irritating frequency when you?re hitting that 12, or at least they seem to. It is no wonder that many players balk at the move, despite the fact that it is the correct one to make.
Interestingly enough, there is one area that tends to trouble even relatively experienced players, and has been driving slot expert John Robison crazy, and that is what to do on certain soft hands -- soft doubling, in other words. (Quick refresher. A soft hand is any hand with an ace where that ace can be used as a one or 11.) When you get that A:3 and the dealer shows a 3, what do you do? Or when you have an A:6 and the dealer is showing that same 3, what?s the move?
Interestingly enough, soft-doubling is the least important doubling area in terms of overall player expectation, but still, you want to make the right moves all the time to maximize your chances to win more (or lose less).
Step in blackjack expert Fred Renzey, author of the critically acclaimed Blackjack Bluebook. He has come up with a handy way to decide what to do with most soft doubles in multiple-deck games, the most common games to be found in America. Renzey has come up with an ingenious method for deciding when to double and when to hit those maddening soft hands. He calls it the ?rule of nine.?
Here is what Renzey has to say about soft doubling:
?First, understand that as a basic strategy player, the only soft hands you should even consider doubling with are when you have Ace/2 through Ace/7 against a dealer?s 6 or lower in multiple-deck games. Okay, now with some of those hands you should soft double and with some you shouldn?t. The easiest way to keep them straight is to break them into the following three groups.
Against a deuce up: Never soft double ? you?ll get burned too often!
Against a 5 or 6 up: Always double down (with any A/2 through A/7). This is when the dealer is at her weakest.
Against a 3 or 4 up: Here it gets tricky. This is where the Rule of Nine comes in. What you do with the Rule of Nine is add together the dealer?s up-card (be it a 3 or a 4) with your kicker (the side-card next to your Ace). If the two add up to 9 or more, double down. If they?re less, just hit.?
So if you have a hand that is Ace-5 and the dealer is showing a 3, what do you do? Rule of Nine says to just hit because 5 and 3 equals 8! But if you have a hand that is Ace-5 and the dealer is showing a four, then you double! Renzey sums up his soft doubling thusly:
?To even think about soft doubling, you must have Ace/2 through Ace/7 and the dealer must have a 3, 4, 5 or 6 up. Against a 5 or a 6, you?ll always pull the trigger, and against a 3 or a 4 you?ll play by the Rule of Nine.?
There you have it, an easy way to remember what to do on those soft hands. As the Beatles? song so aptly put it, the key number is ?number 9, number 9, number 9....? Are you listening, Mr. Robison?
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