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A Few Refinements to Generic Basic Strategy

10 March 2006

Two weeks ago, I gave you a list of nine rules that I call "generic" basic strategy for playing blackjack. That generic basic strategy is certainly not perfect for every situation, but it will get you to within a one percent house advantage, which beats most other house edges.

So, I thought that this week we would start discussing some refinements to those nine rules. We'll start with hands with hard totals, that is, hands without an ace or where the ace is counted as a 1. Also, for purposes of this week's discussion, we'll stick with six-deck games. Single-deck and double-deck games need even more tweaking, so for now, we're talking about six-deck games only.

The first of those nine rules states: "If you have a hard 12 through 16, stand against a dealer's 2 through 6; hit against a 7 through ace." You get a sinking feeling whenever you have one of these 12 through 16 hands, don't you? They're called "stiff" hands. If you take a hit, there's a good possibility that you'll bust. And if you don't hit, there's a strong possibility that you'll still lose.

But the math says you'll lose less often if you stand against a 2 through 6 than if you hit. The exception is if you have a hard 12. The only card that will cause you to bust is a 10 or face card, and because there are only 4 of those cards out of 13, that means that approximately 9 out of 13 cards will not cause you to bust. Because of that, the correct strategy is to hit a 12 against a small card only; so, you'll take a hit when you have a 12 against a dealer's 2 or 3.

And you want to hit a 12 through 16 whenever the dealer shows a 7 or higher. With a 7, the dealer will make a hand of 17 or better 74 percent of the time. If he shows any card higher than a 7, then that percentage increases. With those odds, you can't afford to not hit. You've got to go for it and try to get to 17 or higher yourself.

So, Rule No. 1 should now read, "If you have a hard 12 through 16, stand against a dealer's 2 through 6, except hit a 12 against a 2 or 3; hit a 12 through 16 against a 7 through ace."

The second rule, "if you have a hard 17 through 21, stand against anything a dealer has," has no exceptions.

The above two rules don't cover situations where some pairs are involved. For example, a pair of 6s, 7s, 8s or 9s. Pair splitting is covered by its own set of rules, and we'll get to those later.

When you have a starting hand of less than 12, there is no danger of busting, so you will at least hit. And some hands are so good that you will want to double. That brings us to our third generic rule: "If you have a 10 or 11, double against a dealer's 2 through 9; otherwise hit." Actually, this one is a little conservative; you do want to double more often. For example, when you have an 11, you also want to double against a dealer's 10, and when you have a 9, you should double against a dealer's 3 through 6.

So, the rule about doubling with a hard total should now read: If you have a 9, double against a 3 through 6; if you have a 10, double against a 2 through 9; and if you have an 11, double against a 2 through 10; otherwise hit.

Think of an 11 as the best of hands; you can double against almost anything. With a 10, your doubling opportunities decrease by one, and doubling with a 9 is restricted even further.

And, again, these are six-deck situations. We'll cover single and double decks later.

Next week, we'll talk about soft hands, or hands with an ace that counts as either a 1 or 11. Until then, aces and faces to you.

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Linda Mabry

Low Roller Linda Mabry lives and gambles on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. She writes a weekly, general gambling advice column for the Biloxi Sun Herald, and may be contacted through her e-mail address, lnmabry@cableone.net or her web site www.thelowroller.com
Linda Mabry
Low Roller Linda Mabry lives and gambles on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. She writes a weekly, general gambling advice column for the Biloxi Sun Herald, and may be contacted through her e-mail address, lnmabry@cableone.net or her web site www.thelowroller.com