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Best of John Grochowski

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Odd Blackjack Plays

5 August 2003

Sitting at a blackjack table recently, I watched as a fellow customer played solid basic strategy, with one little idiosyncrasy. Every time he had hard 16 and the dealer had 7, he stood.

I keep quiet when I see others making basic strategy mistakes--they bet their money, they can make their own decisions. Other players' mistakes will help me as often as they hurt me.

Of course, not everyone sees it that way. A couple of players were giving the business to Mr. Stand on 16 vs. 7.

"You know you should hit that," was the first, gentle prod.

Several hands later, when the dealer had a 9 down, then drew a 5 for a 21 that cleared all the bets off the table, the barbs got sharper.

"Have you ever played this game before?"

"Your (expletive) mistakes are costing me money!"

Interchanges like that are among the reasons that slot machines dwarf the popularity of table games in modern casinos. Some players just don't want to take the guff handed out by others. But our not-quite-basic-strategy-player wasn't intimidated. He played the cards his way, and finally snapped back.

"Look," he said during a shuffle. "I know the book says I should hit 16 when the dealer has a 7, but I don't buy it. If I hit, I'm probably going to bust, right? I lose the hand without ever seeing what the dealer has. When he has a 7, there's at least a chance he'll bust. When he does, I don't want to lose because I've already busted.

"I'll hit against an 8, 9 or 10, but when he has 7, I'm standing."

I've heard many players give the same explanation--although this fellow explained it better than most. However, the strategy is misguided on a couple of fronts:

"If I hit, I'm probably going to bust, right?"

If by "probably," he meant a little less than 62 percent of the time, he was right, but many players think the odds are a little more daunting than that. More than 38 percent of the time, the player will draw an Ace, 2, 3, 4 or 5 and make a hand of 17 or better. That's not an ideal situation, but it's not hopeless.

"When [the dealer] has a 7, there's at least a chance he'll bust."

There's a chance, all right, but it's not a great chance. A dealer who has a 7 as the face-up card will bust only 26 percent of the time. That's much more akin to the 24 percent of the time the dealer will bust with 8, 23 percent with 9 or 21 percent with 10 than the 42 percent of hands the dealer will bust with 6 face up or 43 percent with 5.

Seventy-four times out of 100, the dealer who starts with 7 is going to make 17 or better. The player who stands on 16 is going to lose all 74 of those hands and win only 26. There's far more opportunity to improve the hand to 17 or better than there is by waiting for the dealer to go bust.

In fact, it's actually more important to hit 16 vs. 7 than it is to hit 16 vs. 10. Why? Because the 38 percent of the time that you improve your 16 to 17 or better puts you in far better position when the dealer has a 7 up than when the dealer has a 10 up. If the dealer starts with 7, what's the most common result going to be? A 10, Jack, Queen or King down for 17. If you've hit without busting, that's not going to beat you. But a dealer who starts with 10 has many more chances. Anything from an 8 on up face down could mean the dealer takes your money without having to draw another card.

The fellow at my table had it reasoned out backward. There's much more to gain by hitting hard 16 vs. 7 than there is with 16 vs. 10. It takes only a small positive count--meaning more low cards have been played than high cards--for a card counter to alter strategies and stand on 16 vs. 10. But 16 vs. 7 is not a close call. That's a hand to hit.

ANOTHER ODD PLAY: I've seen it happen before, but I still was amazed at the same session when another player stood on Ace-3. The dealer had a 10 up, but it didn't really matter. There's never a situation in which the player should stand on Ace-3. Counting the Ace as an 11, that hand is a soft 14, and it can't win unless the dealer busts. Hitting the hand, no matter what card is drawn, can't make the player go bust. Draw a 10, and it's not 24--it's just hard 14 as the Ace is counted as 1.

There is nothing to lose in hitting soft 14, and quite a lot of potential gain. Several players and the dealer tried to explain that, to no avail. The soft 14 lost as the dealer turned up an 8.

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:

> More Books By John Grochowski