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Blackjack: Mistakes & Missed Opportunities

21 July 2003

From time to time if an author or writer has some relevant information to share, I'll ask them to write a guest column. This blackjack column by Daniel Sejzer, a gambling and computer expert, is very pertinent and I thought that it would help your game.

You pull into a gas station and find two pumps selling the same gas. One pump sells a gallon for $1.49 and the other sells for $1.69. Which do you buy? Of course, we'd buy the $1.49-a-gallon gas, saving $4 on a 20-gallon purchase. Who in their right mind would choose to pay more? We have the same simple decision to make at the blackjack table. The only difference is that the obvious "price" of making each decision isn't placed in front of us.

In 1987 Bill Brown, a good friend of mine in Las Vegas, decided to prove to himself that blackjack's basic strategy was sound from a statistical point of view. Up to then, savvy players knew that the way to play any hand in blackjack had one, and only one, possible action in every case. Using a PC, Bill programmed an algorithm to simulate millions of hands and every combination of action. The results clearly showed the validity of basic strategy. Bill collated the numbers and in 1989 he published what became the definitive statistical proof of the strategy, 190,000,000 Hands of Blackjack, a scientific work now out of print. Most serious players have referenced it again and again, and many other authors have used it as a resource.

Recently, I re-read Bill's book looking for the types of hands that are often misplayed, even by the professionals. From my review I selected four types of situations that stump the average player, and sometimes the pro as well. Almost everyone who plays, even casually, knows you split aces and eights, and that you always double down on an 11. Not many know exactly what the percentages are that demand these actions, we simply trust that someone proved it somewhere along the line.

Playing the following hands properly over the long run can make a difference. The statistics shown are taken directly from Bill's book. A common mistake by new players is not hitting a 16 against the dealer's 7 through ace.

Chart A shows why we should, regardless of how many cards we already have. Soft hands are not included and have their own strategy. Remember to always hit a 16 (split if you have an 8-8) against a 7 through ace. There is never a reason not to do so, as proven in Chart A.

 A 

YOU HAVE 16, DEALER HAS:

7

8

9

10

A

HIT VS. STAND ADVANTAGE:

7.57%

7.97%

3.75%

0.43%

14.71%

Chart B shows an often missed opportunity, doubling down on an Ace-Seven, when the dealer shows 3 through 6. Against the 5 and 6, you improve your chances greatly over standing or hitting.

 B 

YOU HAVE A-7, DEALER HAS:

3

4

5

6

DOUBLE DOWN ADVANTAGE:

.47%

5.60%

8.77%

9.05%

The circumstance shown in Chart C is not well known, and I have seldom seen others use it. Of course it is rare, but does happen. You can pick up over 4 percent advantage by splitting the 9s over standing on them. The calculation includes the extra wager cost of the split and any further splits that may ensue.

 C 

YOU HAVE 9-9, DEALER HAS:

8

9

SPLITTING ADVANTAGE:

4.42%

4.28%

And finally, Chart D shows both an opportunity and a mistake many players make. If your first two cards add up to 9 and do not include an ace, double down as shown, but never against any other card. I have seen many inexperienced players double down on a 9 against a dealer's 2, 7, or 8, thinking it is the proper play. It is not!

 D 

YOU HAVE 9, DEALER HAS:

3

4

5

6

DOUBLE DOWN ADVANTAGE:

2.25%

5.64%

9.47%

12.94%

In casino gaming, statistics are everything. By giving away additional percentages in the form of mistakes or missed opportunities we lessen the chance of making money when luck runs our way. Read up on blackjack, memorize the basic strategy so well proven by Bill Brown. Even if you don't win at the tables, at least you can have the satisfaction of knowing you played the game as well as it could be played.

Daniel Sejzer is the former president of Villa Crespo Software, a gambling software company that pioneered many products for the gambling enthusiast. You can contact him at cribully@yahoo.com.

As always… good luck!

Larry Grossman

Larry Grossman is host and producer of Las Vegas' most popular gaming and handicapping radio show, "You Can Bet On It." Since 1989 he has interviewed World Champion poker players that include Amarillo Slim, Puggy Pearson, and Tom McEvoy. Regular guests during the football season include Lem Banker, Mike Lee, Mort Olshan, and Andy Iskoe.

During the 1997 and 1998 season, Grossman hosted a nationally televised show that featured many of the nations' top handicappers.

Larry Grossman is the author of two books, "You Can Bet On It" Volume 1 - Casino Games and Volume 2 - Sports Betting. He is a regular columnist for many gaming publications. Larry has hosted and produced handicapping seminars in Las Vegas. Visit AudioVegas.com to listen to archives of his "You Can Bet On it" radio show.

Larry Grossman Websites:

www.AudioVegas.com

Books by Larry Grossman:

You Can Bet On It! -- Volume 1: Casino Games
Larry Grossman
Larry Grossman is host and producer of Las Vegas' most popular gaming and handicapping radio show, "You Can Bet On It." Since 1989 he has interviewed World Champion poker players that include Amarillo Slim, Puggy Pearson, and Tom McEvoy. Regular guests during the football season include Lem Banker, Mike Lee, Mort Olshan, and Andy Iskoe.

During the 1997 and 1998 season, Grossman hosted a nationally televised show that featured many of the nations' top handicappers.

Larry Grossman is the author of two books, "You Can Bet On It" Volume 1 - Casino Games and Volume 2 - Sports Betting. He is a regular columnist for many gaming publications. Larry has hosted and produced handicapping seminars in Las Vegas. Visit AudioVegas.com to listen to archives of his "You Can Bet On it" radio show.

Larry Grossman Websites:

www.AudioVegas.com

Books by Larry Grossman:

You Can Bet On It! -- Volume 1: Casino Games