I WAS PLAYING BLACKJACK when a young woman took a seat next to me. It was obvious after a few rounds that she didnâ??t have a clue about blackjack playing strategy, so she boldly asked the young dealer for â??adviceâ? on how to play her hands…
I sat there in amazement as the dealer was instructing her on how to play her hands. What disturbed me most was that more than half the advice that he gave her was wrong. Her bankroll rapidly evaporated as she continued to make terrible plays at the advice of the â??expert dealer.â?
I have no grudges to bear against casino dealers. They have a very tough and demanding job. However, dealers are trained to deal the cards and the vast majority of them have no knowledge of winning blackjack play.
The policy in most casinos forbids dealers from advising players on what strategy they should use to play their hands. This is for security reasons, to prevent any possibility of a dealer and a playing confederate from taking advantage of the casino. However, when novice players openly ask the dealer for advice, they usually respond with a suggested strategy. (Unfortunately, itâ??s usually an incorrect strategy.)
Dealers arenâ??t the only ones giving misinformation about blackjack playing strategies. I once picked up a newsletter that was in the racks of a casino that offered â??helpful hints for table game players from the grand institute of fun and games professor.â? On blackjack, the advice was:
1. Split eights unless the dealer shows a ten value card
2. Always split aces
3. Double down on two card combinations of 9, 10 and 11
4. Donâ??t take a hit on a possible bust hand (12 or higher) if the dealerâ??s upcard is a 6 or less
5. If you lose more than five times in a row, move to a different table, donâ??t fight the cards
The first piece of advice is wrong. For every $100 you bet holding a pair of 8s vs. a dealer ten upcard, you will on average, gain $5 more by splitting rather than hitting. Standing on a pair of 8s vs. a dealer ten-value card is an even worse strategy. The bottom line is that a pair of 8s is a bad hand. You should always split 8s against any dealer upcard to get a fair chance at winning some hands. Against a dealerâ??s upcard of 3 to 7, you will usually convert a losing hand into a winning hand by splitting the 8s. In the case of a dealerâ??s upcard of 2, 8, 9, 10 or ace, you will probably lose by splitting, but you lose less in the long run compared to any other strategy.
Always splitting aces is sound advice; however, to double down on two card combinations of 9, 10 and 11 is nonsense unless you specify against which dealerâ??s upcard. The fact of the matter is that you should only double down on two-card combinations of 9 if the dealerâ??s upcard is 3, 4, 5 or 6 (typical multiple-deck game). If the dealer has any other upcard, you should never double down. Likewise, you should only double down on two-card combinations of 10 if the dealerâ??s upcard is 2-9, and only double down on 11 against dealerâ??s upcard of 2-10. The above is the mathematically correct doubling strategies for 4, 6 or 8 deck games (with single- or double-deck games, the doubling strategy is slightly different).
The casino newsletter advises not to take a hit on a possible bust hand (12 or higher) if the dealerâ??s upcard is a 6 or less. The mathematically correct play when you hold a 12 against a dealerâ??s upcard of 2 or 3 is to hit. Although this is a close play, the percentages are still in favor of hitting 12 on a dealerâ??s 2 or 3 (vs. standing), and standing on 12 against dealer 4, 5 or 6.
Players should not rely on casino-generated publications or the advice of dealers to learn blackjack-playing strategies. If you have to ask a dealer how to play your hand, then you donâ??t belong at a blackjack table. There are plenty of good books, instructional videos, even hand-held basic strategy cards that you can take with you to the tables that contain the correct strategies (check out my recommendations at
smartgaming.com, or read the blackjack page on wizardofodds.com). This is the smart way to play blackjack.
BY HENRY TAMBURIN
Henry Tamburin is a blackjack and video poker expert. He is the host of smartgaming.com and the editor of the Blackjack Insider newsletter (for a free three-month subscription, visit bjinsider.com/freetrial). For a free copy of his Casino Gambling Catalog, which contains books, strategy cards and software for casino players, call 1.888.353.3234, or visit smartgaming.com.