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Those queasy hands at blackjack

29 January 2017

A few weeks ago I wrote about playing blackjack with a fellow who took a queasy turn every time he had an 11 when the dealer had a 10-value face up.

The correct basic strategy is to double down, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it.
That column brought several responses from players who have their own queasiness about different parts of the basic strategy player. They centered on a few hands, summed up in one message I received via Facebook.

“Can you provide expected return on hitting as opposed to standing on 12 vs. dealer 2 or 3 and standing on 9-9 as opposed to splitting vs. dealer 7? Those always made me squeamish.”

I’ve touched on these hands before, but let’s use the blackjack hand calculator at wizardofodds.com for a by-the-numbers look to ease the squeamishness over doing what must be done. We’ll assume a six-deck game in which the dealer hits soft 17 – the most common situation in American casinos.

When you have hard 12 against a dealer’s 2 or 3, you’re in a less than ideal situation. You can bust with a one-card hit; the dealer can’t. If you don’t hit, you can’t make 17 or better, while the dealer will make a standing hand nearly 65% of the time with a 2 up and more than 62% with 3 up.

Let’s look at 12 vs. 2 first. Assuming your 12 is 10-2, then vs. you lose 28.9 cents per dollar wagered by standing or 25.2 cents by hitting. Other compositions vary slightly: Your average loss is 25.6 cents with 9-3, and 25.4 cents with either 8-4 or 7-5.

With 12 vs. 3, it's closer. You lose 24.9 cents per dollar wagered by standing. As with 12 vs. 2, you lose less when you hit, but here the range is so narrow we need to go to an extra decimal to compare different hand compositions. Average losses per $1 wagered are 23.16 cents with 10-2, 23.73 with 9-3, 23.33 with 8-4 and 23.22 with 7-5.

Card counters sometimes will make the opposite play. If the true count in a Hi-Lo count is plus-2 – meaning two more low cards than high cards per deck already have been played – it’s better to stand on 12 vs. 3. If the true count reaches plus-3, it’s better to stand on 12 vs. 2.

But non-counters don’t know the composition of the remaining deck. More often than not, the best play is to hit 12 vs. either 2 or 3, so that’s the play basic strategy tells us to make.

As for standing on a pair of 9s when the dealer has a 7 face up, you have a leg up because the dealer will have a 10 value face down 30.7% of the time. On those hands, your 18 beats the dealer’s 17.

It’s a strong position for the player, and if you stand your average profit is 39.96 cents per $1 wagered.

Players are tempted to split the 9s and try for a double profit. But 9 is not a strong a start as 18. On 46.2% of hands, you’ll draw a 2 through 9 that leaves you needing another draw, and if you draw another 9 to get back to 18, you face the stand/split decision again.

You’ll wind up with enough weak hands that splitting the pair actually decreases your profit to 36.42 cents per $1 of your original wager.

By splitting, you double your risk but slightly decrease your profit. That’s why the basic strategy chart says to stand on 9-9 vs. 7.


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:

> More Books By John Grochowski