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# What on Earth Were These Blackjack Players Thinking?

25 October 2003

Day after day, I sit at the blackjack tables and watch players throw money away by making irrational mistakes. Many of these people appear to be quite experienced at the game and are playing for serious money. When they come out of the blue with some of these beauties I have to wonder to myself, "What were they thinking?"

Please understand that I'm not trying to be critical and demeaning here. I just want to point out for your benefit the flaws in so many players' logic -- perhaps yours. Here are some real-life examples that I observe over and over. See if you can figure out why these players did what they did. And, by the way, have you ever done these things?

The fellow next to me had 9 against the dealer's 4 up for \$25. He paused and thought about doubling down, but seemed afraid to put out the extra money on such an insecure gamble. Finally, he just motioned for a hit and caught a coveted 10. Winning with 19, he now put up \$50 on the next hand.

"How curious?" I thought. He didn't want to risk the extra \$25 when he was a 3-to-2 favorite (with 9 against a 4), but he's willing to put up that extra quarter now on a totally blind hand. The next time you have what seems like a risky but proper double, think about that -- because you'll win the extra bet on the double more often than you'll win the next random hand. That's part of why it's a correct double down.

Here's another curiosity that I see with surprising consistency. Most players will simply take a hit when they have 8 against a 5 or a 6, such as with 5/3 or 6/2 -- and that's the right basic play. But when they have 8 in the form of 4/4, they somehow seem to have this penchant for doubling down. Would somebody please explain to me how 4/4 can possibly be a better double than 5/3 or 6/2? The fact is, when you have 4/4 against a 5 or 6, the right play is to split (as long as the rules allow you to double on split pairs). That's because you will now have eight shots at an advantageous double down (by catching a 5, 6, 7 or Ace on either 4).

Next comes what should be a classic example of what never to do. The player on my left had \$100 bet and was dealt 11 against the dealer's 8 up. Being too conservative to double down all the way like he was supposed to, he slid a measly ten extra bucks out next to his hundred and doubled for less. Have you ever done anything like this?

Well, I shouldn't have to tell you that he caught an Ace and couldn't take a second hit with 12 against an 8. "Whew," he sighed in relief. "I'm glad I didn't double for the whole hundred." Would you have been relieved too, or do you see what he's actually done to himself? Whenever you double down, you're making a tradeoff with the house. In exchange for being able to increase your bet as an odds-on favorite on the hand, you're giving up the right to take multiple hits. That usually lowers your winning chances (in this case, you drop from an 8-to-5 favorite down to 7-to-5). But doubling is still the better play if you can get twice as much money out there. However, if all you can win is an extra 10% of your bet, then you're much better off being able to take extra hits when you need them and forget the other 10%. With most hands, doubling for less is a worse play than not doubling at all!

Here's one last common, self-defeating maneuver. A man who was playing two hands had a 12 and a 10 against the dealer's deuce. "I'd hit the 12," he said, "but I wanna save the 10 for my double." So he incorrectly stood with 12 against a deuce believing that the next card out of the shoe was more likely to be a 10 than the one after it. Fact is, every card in the shoe has the exact same chance to be a 10. If the shoe is full, then every next card has a 31% chance to be a 10. If it's been vastly depleted of small cards such that 40% of the cards are 10s, then every remaining card has a 40% chance to be that 10. So this fella' misplayed his 12 for no good reason. Don't you ever do that!

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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