Posts Tagged ‘blackjack decisions’

Blackjack Mistakes: Going With Your Gut

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

Nothing will get you in bigger trouble at the blackjack table than your gut. And no, I don’t mean that eating or drinking too much will make your wife hate you. I don’t mean you won’t fit in the chair or anything like that. I’m talking about playing hunches.

Hunches are important and a lot of great things have come from playing them. Listening to your gut can give you the edge in sports like baseball, in creative activities like writing or painting, or when taking a test (remember that advice of going with your first guess?). However, it doesn’t work in blackjack.

Here’s how it plays out. You’re thinking, Okay, I have 16, which is pretty high, and the dealer is showing a 7. I don’t want to bust. I think I will if I hit, so I’ll stand. I have a feeling on this one. Blackjack isn’t a game of hunches. It’s a game of odds and percentages. In poker, for instance, you can play a hunch on whether or not your cards beat your opponent’s cards, because you’re basing your decision not only on your odds, but on the behavior of the other player. With blackjack, however, you are playing against nothing but the odds. You have to make a decision about whether to hit or stand before the dealer even draws any cards. You don’t know what hole card the dealer has and you don’t know what card is next in the deck. Therefore, playing a hunch can’t help you.

What card is next in line to be dealt is next regardless of whether or not you’re feeling lucky. Blackjack basic strategy, however, has been tested time and again my statisticians and other people a lot smarter than me. Those people have found that following basic strategy gives you the best odds of winning. Following the strategy may not help you win that hand, but in the long run it will give you the best chance for success.

Looking at the above example, the player’s gut said to stand because hitting a 16 gives you a good chance of busting. That’s true. However, standing gives you an even bigger chance of being outdrawn by the dealer if he shows a 7. Blackjack basic strategy takes into account that there are more cards with a value of 10 than any other value (4 out of 13). Because of that, the strategy recognizes that you or the dealer are more likely to draw a 10 card and the dealer’s hole card is most likely to be a 10. Now let’s go back to that example.

If the dealer shows a 7 and his hole card is most likely to be a 10, then the odds say his hand is a hard 17. The dealer would stand on a hard 17, so he wouldn’t draw another card and risk busting. Since you stood on a 16, you would lose by being outdrawn. Of course, if you hit you are also most likely to draw a 10 card, which would cause you to bust, but the odds say you are more likely to draw a card of 5 or more than to outdraw a dealer who shows a 7.

In that particular example, there is no good choice. Any hand of 12-16 is a stiff hand, and the odds are against you whether you hit or stand. However, in the long run, hitting in that situation will cause you to win more often than when you stand.

Another problem with playing a hunch is that you can get caught up in streaks. If you are winning a lot then you might play more aggressive and if you’re losing you might be more cautious. However, the game of blackjack doesn’t care what kind of a streak you’re on. The cards are dealt at random, so each hand is unique. Deviating from basic strategy because you’re on a winning streak is the easiest way to put that streak to an end. Instead of letting emotions dictate your decisions, you should always play the odds, which means to stick to basic strategy.

The only exception to that rule is if you’re counting cards. If you are counting cards and feel that there is either an exceptionally large or small amount of 10 cards remaining in the deck, then you may want to deviate from basic strategy. Card counters employ a strategy that takes the odds of basic strategy and alters them by adjusting the likelihood of a 10 card being drawn.

Your gut may be good for a lot of things, such as telling whether a movie starring Adam Sandler will be any good (it won’t), whether you should wear a suit to that job interview even though the workplace is business casual (you should), and deciding whether it’s worth it to get 3 tacos from Taco Bell for only $0.99 (it’s not). However, your gut does you no good in blackjack. Stick to the chart.

Blackjack Strategy: Hard 13-16

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Well, it has been a long road so far, but I’m almost done detailing strategy for hard hands in blackjack. Earlier today I covered strategy for a hard 12, which is the first hand you will encounter where you might want to stand. Likewise, with a hard 13, 14, 15 or 16, it is sometimes the best strategy to stand pat and hope to beat the dealer with your current hand.

It should be noted that a hard 13-16 is a stiff hand, which are the worst hands in blackjack. The reason is that the odds are stacked against you no matter what. If you take a hit, you have a good chance of busting, which would cause you to lose. If you stand, you have a good chance of being outdrawn by the dealer, which would cause you to lose.

Stiff hands are the ultimate “damned if you don’t, damned if you do” situation. Anytime you have a stiff hand, you are likely to lose. Following the below strategy does not help you have frequent success in these situations. Instead, it reduces how often you lose, which, in the long run can mean a lot.

If you have a hard 13-16, you should stand if the dealer has an upcard of 2-6. If the dealer shows any other card, you should take a hit. You should never double down, because your odds are bad no matter what.

As I mentioned, in this scenario you have a bad hand that is likely to bust if you draw another card. However, if the dealer shows a 2-6, he also is likely to have a stiff hand (because of the likelihood of having a 10 in the hole). Therefore, in this situation the best strategy is to stand pat and hope the dealer goes bust. If he does, then you win no matter what your hand is (as long as you don’t also bust).

If the dealer has a 7 or better, though, the dealer has reduced odds of busting. In addition, assuming a 10 in the hole, the dealer would have cards that are higher than yours. For that reason, your best chance at winning is to try to improve your hand. Take a hit and hope you don’t draw a card that causes you to bust.

If you follow the above strategy, you will lose a lot. However, you will lose less often than if you use some other strategy. Unfortunately, when you have a stiff hand the odds are stacked against you. So when you have one, follow this strategy, cross your fingers, and hope you have a better hand next time.

Stiff Hands

Friday, January 8th, 2010

In the game of blackjack, a hand that totals between 12 and 16 is called a “stiff hand.” Why that phrase was coined, I don’t know, but I guess the blackjack community didn’t want to go with “sh*tty hands,” “sucky hands” or “hands that make me want to quiet playing blackjack.”

As you may have guessed from the above, stiff hands are not good hands. The reason for that is that they are only good enough to beat a dealer’s hand if they bust (since they draw up to 17), but if you decide to hit them, you have a good chance of busting yourself. In other words, if you stand you are likely to lose and if you hit you are likely to lose. Stiff hands are no fun. From time to time, though, you will get stiff hands, so you need to know what to do. Following blackjack basic strategy, here is what you do with stiff hands.

If you have a hard 12, stand if the dealer has a 4, 5 or 6 as an upcard. If he shows anything else, hit. The reason for this is that if the dealer shows a 4, 5 or 6, he has a good chance of having a stiff hand as well. You don’t want to risk busting your hand when the dealer has a good chance of busting, because if you both bust, you lose. With any other upcard, it’s worth the risk to try and upgrade your hand.

If you have a hard 13 through 16, stand if the dealer shows a 2 through 6. If the dealer has anything else as an upcard, take a hit. Like a hard 12, a hard 13, 14, 15 or 16 is a stiff hand, where you have a good chance of busting if you hit. If the dealer shows a 2 through a 6, though, he has a good chance of having a stiff hand as well, which means the dealer has a good chance of busting. In this situation, it is best to stand and hope the dealer busts. If the dealer has a 7 or better, though, there is a good chance that the dealer has a card that would beat your hand (17-21) without busting, so your best chance is to take a hit and see if you can get a better hand.

Keep in mind that any time you have a stiff hand, your odds aren’t good. Following this strategy won’t help you win; it will help you lose less often. Stiff hands are hated for a reason. Whatever decision you make will make you lose a high percentage of time. Following this strategy, however, will reduce your losses and help you save some money.