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Notes on Doubling; When To Do It and Why

25 August 2006

I can't begin to tell you how many times I see blackjack players doubling incorrectly! They're not doubling when they should, doubling when they shouldn't, or doubling for less. I can't stand it any longer, so I'm getting up on my soapbox. Get ready for a sermon.

One of the reasons blackjack is such a good game to learn is that it's a game of skill. Mostly. There is, of course, some luck involved in the short term, but blackjack offers the player a chance against the house. That's more than most other games can say about themselves.

One of the biggest advantages is that you're paid 3 to 2 when you're dealt a natural, a 21 on your first two cards.

But the other great advantage to blackjack is that you make your playing decision after you see your first two cards and the dealer's up card. And you have such a wide array of decisions: hit, stand, split, double, surrender.

But the decision we're talking about today is about doubling. To double after you've seen your first two cards, simply place a second bet next to your original wager. In return, the dealer will deal you one, and only one, additional card.

Doubling is considered an offensive, rather than defensive, move. You're getting more money out on the table, and you do it only when you have a high expectation of winning. But remember, you're going to get only one additional card.

So, you want to double when you have the edge over the dealer. For example, when your first two cards total 11, double whenever the dealer's up card is under that total, like a 2 through 10. Double a 10 against a dealer's 2 through 9, and if your cards total 9, double if the dealer has a 3 through 6.

There are also times to double when you have a soft hand. If you have an A/2 or A/3, and the dealer is showing a 5 or 6, then double. You should also double on an A/4 or A/5 against a dealer's 4, 5 or 6, and with an A/6 or A/7 against a 3 through 6. We're talking about six-deck shoes where the dealer stands on a soft 17. If the dealer has to take a hit when he has a soft 17, then you also double when you have an A/8 against a dealer's 6.

And here comes the preaching part. Never ever double for less. Yes, the casinos will allow you to put up an additional wager that is less than your original bet, but you should never, never do that. I see it done all the time and wish that I weren't seeing it. I hear excuses like, "I've been losing, and I'm afraid I'll lose this one, too." Or, "I've already got more out on the table than I usually do, and I just can't afford a double wager." Or, "What if I get just an ace on my 11, then where will I be?"

Okay, first of all, past wins and losses are not a prediction of future wins and losses. Second, if you're betting so much that you're not comfortable with doubling or splitting, then you need to drop back to a lower bet.

And third, remember what I said about exchanging the opportunity to take more than one additional card for the opportunity to get more money on the table? If you're willing to give up the right to take extra hits when you need them (like an 11 catching an ace), then you should give up that right in exchange for full value, not for 10 or 25 or 50 percent of value. If you double for less every time you double, then you're giving up too much when you do win.

Doubling is a great way to win more money while playing blackjack, but only under the right conditions. If you can spot the right situation and if you're disciplined enough to ante up the full amount, you've got it made. So far, we've been discussing some of those favorable situations for a six-deck shoe game.

If you're playing at a single-deck or double-deck table, you'll want to double more often, when you have 9 against a dealer's up card of 2, an 11 versus a dealer's ace, and an A/3 against a 4.

If the dealer hits his soft 17, then you'll double an A/8 against his 6. How many times have you seen someone have a fit when another player at the table does such a thing? Well, believe it or not, it's the correct play, but only when the table rules say the dealer must hit his soft 17.

The thought of doubling still make you go weak-kneed? Here are a few facts that may steel your resolve. This one from Henry Tamburin: you'll win 47 percent of your hands; the dealer will win 53 percent of the time. Doubling is one blackjack option that narrows the edge.

Of course, you won't win every time you double, but the times that you do double, your money will outweigh the times you lose and will outdistance money won from simply hitting. Drawing a 10 or ace, and adding it to your doubled 9 or 10 will give you a 19 through 21 enough times to narrow the house's edge to about half a percent.

That's why you want to search for the best table rules, the ones that allow you to double as often as possible: on any first two cards and after splitting.

When the dealer has up cards of 2 through 6, he'll bust between 35 to 43 percent of the time. That means he won't bust 57 to 65 percent of his hands, but those are still pretty good odds.

Here's one I gleaned from Fred Renzey's Daily Herald column quite some time ago. When you have a 9 against a dealer's 4, you're a 3-to-2 favorite. Renzey once saw a player decline to double in such a situation. The player asked for a hit, drew a 10 and won a single wager. Then, because he won that hand, he pressed on the next hand, thereby doubling his wager before the cards were even dealt.

Why would he not double when he could see his cards and know that he was favored to win, and then double his bet on unknown cards? Beats me.

And casinos make a lot of money off people who double down when they shouldn't; so there are definitely times when you don't want to take advantage of the option.

Never double when there's a chance of busting. I've seen it a bunch - someone doubles when he or she has a 12. You need to take a hit if you have a 12 against a 7 through ace, but that's a defensive move. It's certainly not a situation where you want to go on the offense and double your wager.

Also, something you don't want to do is to double your soft 13 against a dealer's 3. According to Renzey, with an ace/2, you'll end up with a stiff (a hard hand from 12 through 16) five times out of eight. And with a 3, the dealer will usually make his hand.

So, be careful. Doubling is supposed to help you make money, not lose it.

Until next week, aces and faces to you.

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, or her web site
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, or her web site