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Best of John Grochowski

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Blackjack Options

6 May 2003

In blackjack, any rule that increases player options is good, provided the player knows how to use the options.

Permitting the player to resplit Aces decreases the house edge. The surrender rule cuts the house edge IF the player knows when to surrender. Some players surrender too much, increasing the house edge.

On the other hand, restrictions on player options raise the house edge. We want to double down on any situation in our favor, and casinos that restrict double downs to totals of 9, 10 and 11 make the game that much tougher on us.

So beyond basic hitting and standing, how do we best use the options we'll sometimes encounter? Let's check it out:

RESPLITTING ACES: You're dealt a pair of Aces, so you split the pair to make two hands. Atop one Ace, you receive another. Now what? At most casinos, you're just stuck with a 12 that wins only if the dealer busts. If your casino gives you the option of splitting again, to make three hands, do so.

RESPLITTING OTHER PAIRS: Most casinos will allow us not only to split all pairs, but to resplit pairs other than Aces once more for a total of three hands, or twice more for a total of four hands. A few allow no resplits. If you're dealt a pair of 8s, split and receive another 8, you must play the hand as a 16, with the options to hit or stand.

We're better off if the casino allows resplits--the more, the merrier. For non-card counters, figure that if it's the right play to split the initial pair, it's right to resplit subsequent pairs, too.

In a multiple-deck game in which the player is permitted to double down after splitting pairs, that means always splitting Aces and 8s, and never splitting 5s and 10s. Split 4s only if the dealer shows a 5 or 6. Split 2s, 3s, 6s and 7s if the dealer shows a 2 through 6, and split 9s if the dealer shows 2 through 6, 8 or 9.

If doubling down after splits is not allowed, do not split 4s at all, do not split 2s or 3s against a dealer's 2 or 3, or 6s against a dealer's 2.

LATE SURRENDER: Some casinos allow players to surrender half their bets instead of playing out the hand and risking losing the full wager. If the surrender is allowed before the dealer checks to see if he has a blackjack, it's called "early surrender." If the dealer checks for blackjack first, and collects losing bets if he does, it's "late surrender."

Early surrender is so favorable to the player that it's rarely seen. I know of no casino in the United States that currently offers early surrender. Late surrender is another matter. It's not exactly common, but it can be found.

The idea when using surrender is to cut your losses on hands in which you are at an extreme disadvantage. In a multiple-deck game in which the dealer stands on all 17s, we surrender with hard 16 if the dealer's face-up card is a 9, 10-value or Ace, and we surrender with hard 15 if the dealer's up card is a 10-value.

If the dealer hits soft 17, we surrender just slightly more often. We still surrender hard 16 against a 9, 10-value or Ace, but we surrender on hard 15 if the dealer has either a 10-value or an Ace.

Don't overdo surrender. I've seen players surrender all "stiff" hands of hard 12 through 16 anytime the dealer had a 10 or Ace. That's going down without a fight too often. Such plays cost the player more money than if surrender wasn't offered at all.

You may never encounter early surrender, but if you do, it's to your advantage to surrender more often. If early surrender is offered, we surrender vs. a dealer 10-value if we have hard 14, 15 or 16, a pair of 7s or a pair of 8s. We surrender vs. a dealer's Ace if we have hard 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 or 17, or pairs of 3s, 6s, 7s or 8s.

INSURANCE: Players "insure" their bets by wagering half the initial amount that a dealer who has an Ace face up will have a 10-value down for a blackjack. Insurance pays 2-1, so that a player who loses the initial bet to a dealer blackjack will break even, and a player who has a blackjack against a dealer blackjack will win "even money," profiting by the amount of the original wager.

Insurance is a bad bet, one that non-card counters should never take, not even if they have a blackjack.

RESTRICTED DOUBLE DOWNS: Players usually are allowed to double down on any two-card total, doubling their bets while receiving only one more card. If doubling down is restricted to totals of 10 and 11, or 9, 10 or 11, the first thing you should do is eliminate the idea of doubling on soft totals. Better to play Ace-8 as 19 or Ace-9 as 20 than to double. In a multideck game, just double on hard 11 vs. a dealer's 2 through 10 or hard 10 vs. a dealer's 2 through 9. In a single-deck game, also double hard 11 against a dealer's Ace.

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:

Winning Tips for Casino Games

> 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:

> More Books By John Grochowski