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Best of John Grochowski
No hole card blackjack9 February 2010
Blackjack regulars know that the game has a mix-and-match set of rules. The dealer might stand on all 17s, or hit soft 17. You might or might not be permitted to double down after splitting pairs. You might be permitted to double down after any opening hand, or your double downs might be restricted to totals of 9, 10 or 11, or even just 10 or 11.
Those are common variations, but every now and then a rule takes you by surprise. So it went the first time I played on a cruise ship and found that the dealer took no hole card. The dealer dealt himself only one card, face up, until after all player cards were dealt. Then he completed his hand. It wasn't a very good game overall — eight decks and the dealer hit soft 17 — but a cruise ship audience is a captive audience. I played a little anyway, for stakes as low as they'd take.
I learned later that this isn't rare, that many European and Caribbean casinos use that rule. A reader e-mailed me recently that he'd encountered the no-hole-card rule in Antigua, and wanted to know if it was good or bad for the player.
The method of dealing has no overall impact on the dealer's final hand. He's getting different cards, so sometimes it'll be better than it would have been had he taken a hole card at the start, and sometimes it'll be worse. But his average hand will be the same.
Still, it's a negative rule for players if the house takes both bets in double down and pair splitting situations if the dealer completes a blackjack.
Let's say you have a two-card 11, and the dealer has 10-value card face up. In most games, the dealer checks to see if he has an ace face down. If he does, the dealer blackjack stops the hand. If not, basic strategy calls for you to double down on your 11, leaving you with two bets on the table.
If the dealer has no hole card, he can't check for blackjack, so there's nothing to stop you from making that second bet. After players have completed their hands, if the dealer then draws an Ace to complete a blackjack, you lose two bets instead of one.
It's the same deal when splitting pairs. If you have a pair of 8s and the dealer has a 10 face up, basic strategy calls for making a second bet to split the 8s. In most games, a dealer blackjack would stop you before you make the second bet. In a no-hole-card game, a dealer blackjack means you lose two bets.
That requires a little self-defense. In a multiple-deck, no-hole-card where the house takes both double down and split bets on a dealer blackjack, don't double down with an 11 against a dealer's 10, jack, queen or king. Don't split 8s if the dealer has a 10-value or an ace up, and don't split aces if the dealer has an ace up. In all those cases, just hit the hands instead of risking a second bet.
Such a rule is not something you're likely to see in Las Vegas or at your local casino. But if you're on a getaway such as my cruise all those years ago or my reader's Caribbean vacation, be prepared.
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I'm often asked which blackjack rules help players and which hurt them. The best answer I have is those that increase player options help us, and those that limit our plays hurt.
If you have choice among games, you want one that allows you to double down on any opening two-card hand, and not one that restricts double-down hands. If I have ace-5 and the dealer has a 6, I have an advantage and I want to be able to press it home by doubling down. I don't want to be in a game that says I can double only if I have a two-card total of 9, 10 or 11.
You also want a game that allows you to re-split pairs. If you start with a pair of 8s, then draw another 8, you want to be able to split again. And if you draw yet another 8, you want to be able to split once more. I've often played games that allow you to split up to three times for a total of four hands. If you can split twice for a total of three hands, that's not bad. But if you're limited to a single split, that's tough on the player.
As for rules that don't involve player options, you want a game where the dealer stands on all 17s, not one where the dealer hits soft 17 and can improve a hand that wins only if the player busts. And you want a game where blackjacks pay 3:2. If blackjacks pay only 6:5, do not play.
This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at email@example.com.
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