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16 Isn't So Sweet at the Blackjack Table

25 March 2009

There's something about being dealt a hard (no ace) two-card 16 (10/6, 9/7) that makes me feel uneasy at the blackjack table. It's the hand I'm most uncomfortable with, no matter what the dealer is showing for an up-card.

Basic strategy dictates that you stand when the dealer's card is a deuce through 6, and hit when it's a 7 or higher. But in either scenario I always feel as if I'm playing my hand from a position of weakness.

When the dealer is showing a weak card, mathematical probability is really in the players' favor because of the rules of game: The house always hits 16 and stands on hard 17, even soft 17 (Ace-6), in some casinos.

But that 17 is going to beat you if you're holding 16. When the dealer's hole card is a 10 or a face, his chances of busting (going over 21) increase. If there's another low value card in the hole, however, his chances of drawing to a hand that'll beat your 16 can increase.

When the dealer is showing a 7 or higher, that's when a 16 is blackjack no man's land. The only cards that will help you are ace through five, but you still have to take a hit according to basic strategy. The math says it's the best percentage play.

The real frustrating scenario is when you're holding a 16 against a dealer's 10, you draw a card that keeps you in the game, then he flips over another 10 for a 20 to beat you at worst or tie you at best. Only a 5 on a player 16 can salvage a win against a dealer 20.

There are other forms of 16 that aren't as difficult to handle. For example, when the dealer is showing a 4, 5 or 6, and you're holding a "soft" 16 (Ace-5), basic strategy recommends that you double down. Merely hitting is the best advice against a deuce-trey and 7 through Ace.

Doubling down means you double your bet and take one card. Of course you're hoping for a five, but no matter what card you get you can't bust on a "soft" hand. You're just playing the percentages in hopes the dealer will bust with a weak up-card showing.

The other variation is a pair of 8s. Basic strategy advises that you always split them, except versus an Ace when surrender is available.

Splitting 8s is a pure defensive maneuver; it isn't something that players relish doing when the dealer is showing a strong up-card. It's the only 16 that allows you to take one crummy hand and try to make two good hands. The price, of course, is an additional wager equal in value to your original bet.

If, for example, the dealer is showing a 7, rather than having to risk taking a hit on your pair of 8s, you split them with the hope of a drawing a 10, Ace or Face on each one. That's where the defense comes into play.

Splitting 8s against a weak dealer's up-card is an offensive maneuver. You're always hoping to capitalize on a favorable situation, especially if one or both of your split hands gives you a double down opportunity. Draw another 8 and you can re-split.

Splitting and doubling down are player perks that can make the difference between a winning and a losing session. Being able to get more money on the table when the dealer's back is against the wall is one of the joys of the game.

Recent Articles
Best of John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.