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Best of John Grochowski

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Bonehead Blackjack

1 April 2003

In my time playing blackjack in casinos, I thought I'd seen just about every ill-conceived strategy imaginable.

I've seen players stand on Ace-4--a soft 15. Doesn't matter what the dealer's up card is, there's never any reason to stand on a soft total of 17 or less.

I've seen players double down on hard 6 when the dealer showed a 6, thinking the dealer was nearly certain to bust. Actually, the dealer makes 17 or better 58 percent of the time when the up card is a 6.

I've seen loads of players make more common mistakes, such as splitting 5s, splitting 10s and standing on 16 when the dealer shows a 7.

Despite all the strange plays I've seen, I was taken aback not long ago when a fellow in his 30s signaled to hit his hard 17--a 9 and an 8--with the dealer showing a 10.

The dealer certainly wasn't expecting it. "You have 17," he pointed out to the player, who insisted he wanted another card.

Other players at the table groaned. One woman tried to tell the man he should never hit hard 17. He wouldn't budge. The dealer called out "Hitting hard 17!" and a pit supervisor strolled over to watch the strange play.

Out of the shoe came a 6--the player busted, the dealer rolled his eyes, the supervisor shrugged and walked way. And, as it happened, the dealer had a 3 face down, drew a 9 and busted. The last draw before the dealer was a 10, so he'd have busted regardless of whether the fellow with the 17 had decided to hit or stand. Nevertheless, that the dealer did bust and the rest of the table won probably saved one poor player from a tongue-lashing from the less tolerant folks at the game.

That would have been that had it been an isolated case of poor judgement. It wasn't. A few minutes later, he hit hard 18 against a 10. And a few hands after that, he hit hard 17 against a 9.

By now the table was restless, the dealer was puzzled and the pit supervisor was half piqued, half curious as to why he was being called over so often for these odd decisions.

Pressed to explain, the player detailed a method behind all this madness.

"You have to assume the dealer has a 10 down, right? That's what he'll have most of the time," he said. "When he has a 10 up, then that's a 20, and I'd better hit 17, or I'm going to lose it most of the time."

At that point, the others at the table did get on his case, trying to explain that he was costing himself a lot of money. The dealer told him the face down card wasn't a 10 as often as he thought, and the pit boss said there was a lot of good advice at the table, and the fellow would do well to follow it.

I kept silent through the episode. The last thing the guy needed was one more voice telling him his plays were awful. But if he'd come to me later on, I'd have explained that there was a fault in his basic assumption. It is more likely that the dealer will have a 10-value card face down than a card of any other denomination. After all, there are four 10-values--King, Queen, Jack and 10--for every card of any other denomination.

But it's quite a leap to say the dealer will have a 10 down "most of the time." There are nine denominations of cards that are not 10-values, and only four that are. The dealer will have a 10 face down 4/13--or 30.8 percent--of the time. That's nowhere near enough to base a strategy on the assumption that the dealer will have a 10 down.

One of the basics of basic strategy in blackjack is that we stand on hard totals of 17 or higher, regardless of what the dealer has face up. And those who play basic strategy face a house edge of only about half a percent in a six-deck game, a few tenths more or less, depending on house rules.

What about a player who assumes the dealer always has a 10 down, and bets accordingly? I connected to Michael Shackelford's outstanding Web site, www.wizardofodds.com, and found that he listed a 10.03 percent house edge against a player who assumes the dealer has a 10 in the hole.

Think about that. If you play basic strategy, your average loss is 50 cents for every $100 wagered. Assume a 10 down and play accordingly, and the average loss soars to $10 per $100 wagered.

That's even worse than the average $5.50 in losses per $100 wagered if you follow the dealer's rules of always hitting 16 and below, and always standing on 17 or above, with no double downs or pair splits. It's more than three times as bad as playing a never-bust strategy, with average losses of about $3.90 per $100.

It's natural enough to be wary that the dealer might have a 10 down. But there's a 69.2 percent chance it will be something else. Make no assumptions.

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:

The Craps Answer Book

> More Books By John Grochowski