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Best of John Grochowski

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Basic strategy, and then some!

22 September 2016

Basic strategy in blackjack is a great guideline, something every player should learn.

It is not an end point. There are hidden subtleties that are glossed over for the sake of making the strategy easily understandable and playable. When the basic strategy table tells you to hit hard 16 when the dealer has a 10, it’s because with all permutations of the hand considered, your average losses will be lower if you hit than if you stand.

But not all 16s are the same, beyond the distinction that 8-8 is a pair to be split rather than a hit/stand decision.

A hand consisting of 10-6 is a different situation than one consisting of 7-5-4. The composition of the remaining deck available for your draw is different, and that affects the odds of the game.

I recently received an email from a $50-a-hand blackjack player who surrenders 16 vs. 10 when surrender is offered. However, that’s not an option at most tables, so he asked, “Are there times when it might be preferable to stand on 16 against face or ace, rather than take a hit, assuming no card counting is being used?”

There are a couple of ways to approach that problem, as Fred Renzey pointed out in his “Blackjack Bluebook” in the 1990s.

  • It can be the better play to stand if you see enough low cards on the table.

  • It can be the better play to stand if your 16 consists of three or more cards and includes a 4 or 5.

At the heart of the issue is that hitting vs. standing on hard 16 is a very close call. For card counters, the turning point comes when just one more low card than high card has been dealt out of a six-deck shoe.

That is so close that some card counters routinely stand on 16 vs. 10 as a camouflage play, trying to make it appear they don’t even know basic strategy, let alone more advanced play.

For the vast majority who don’t count cards, you can let the cards dealt on a single hand be your guide. Look around the table and see what the other players have face up, while also taking into consideration that dealer’s 10. Count the 2s, 3s, 4s and 5s, and if the total is one more than the number of 10 values showing, then you’ve reached the turning point where it’s better to stand than hit.

This isn’t a big moneymaking play. You’ll still lose more often than you win. It’s just that at this point, you’re just a tiny bit less likely to lose by standing than by hitting.

The same applies to certain combinations of three or more cards that total 16.

If your 16 includes at least one 4 or one 5, then the odds turn in favor of standing on 16 vs. 10.

With 10-6 or 9-7, you’d follow the basic strategy card and hit. Same deal with a combination such as 9-6-Ace, with no 4 or 5. But with 9-5-2, 8-4-4, 7-5-4 and other hard 16s that include at least one 4 or 5, the better play is to stand.

Any 4 or 5 that already is in your hand is not available to be dealt to you to turn that hard 16 into a 20 or 21. With 16 vs. 10 already being such a close call, that’s enough to shift the odds away from basic strategy in favor of standing.

The gain is tiny, and it doesn’t cost much to stick with basic strategy. But for players looking for any incremental gain, here’s one beyond basic.


Look for John Grochowski on Facebook (http://tinyurl.com/7lzdt44) and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).
Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

Winning Tips for Casino Games

> More Books By John Grochowski