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How Important Are Small Details at the Blackjack Table?

9 March 2003

There are many small details to observe at the blackjack table, but most players fixate on things that can't really help their game. Want an example? The other night, three of us were sitting at the blackjack table watching the dealer shuffle. At the completion, she called out "rolling" to the floor and offered the six-deck pack for a cut. I sliced it about in the middle, the dealer placed the cards in the shoe, she "burned" the first card and waited for us to make our bets.

First base then pointed to the discard tray and said, "Can I see the card?" "Showing the burn card", the dealer announced as she displayed the 8 of hearts for everybody to see. First base seemed satisfied with that and placed a \$50 bet.

This is a common request at the blackjack tables, yet I doubt that any of the requesters know what to do with that information.

Here's another typical scenario. One player has A/3 against the dealer's 8 up and the next player has 6/4. The person with the 6/4 immediately gets a second bet ready for doubling down which is the proper play for his hand. But first, the A/3 takes a hit which is a 10 to give him a hard 14. With that, he takes another hit and busts with the second straight 10. Now the player with the 6/4 reconsiders and figures that a small card must be "due", so he just hits rather than doubles. Does he understand what he's doing? Most likely not!

Let's discuss the value of seeing the burn card first.

Why do some players ask to see the burn card in the first place? Some say they just want to know what their first card would've been if that card hadn't been burned. Others say they'll bet smaller if the burn card is a little one because the cards tend to run in streaks -- and they figure they're more likely to be dealt a small card. Still others say they'll bet bigger when the burn card is a little one because that leaves more big cards in the shoe for them to receive.

The only view that makes any sense is the last one, but not enough sense to bother with. If the burn card was a 5, then knowing that 5 couldn't come out would reduce the house edge from 0.5% down to 0.4% on your first hand of a six-deck shoe. But you'd still have a disadvantage, so there's be no reason to make a bigger bet. If the burn card was an Ace, your disadvantage would grow from 0.5% up to 0.6%. That's slightly bad, but a whole lot more cards are about to come out and the significance of that one burn card will quickly erode to almost nothing.

Now if there were say, eight burn cards and you could see them all, then you might have something. If all eight were little ones (2 thru 6) you'd actually have a 0.25% advantage on your first hand. Then you'd be right to make a bigger bet. But fixating on one card out of a 312-card shoe is much ado about nothing.

What about playing your hand differently because of the last couple of cards that came out? In a shoe game there are only seven hands out of 340 which are so marginal that they might want to be played differently because of the last few dealt cards. These are known as the Magnificent 7 Hands. The hand in the above example (10 against an 8), however, isn't one of them. If you don't know some bona fide "advanced basic strategy," you'll just shoot yourself in the foot when you take it upon yourself to adjust the play of your hands on your own accord.

And if you think that two 10s in a row means a little card is now due, think about this. When you have 10 against an 8, there are 167 cards out of 309 that will give you an 18 or better. If the last two hits were both 10s, there are still 165. That's not nearly enough to make a difference in your decision with this hand.

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Best of Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send \$9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

Books by Fred Renzey:

Blackjack Bluebook II
Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send \$9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

Books by Fred Renzey:

Blackjack Bluebook II