Being Dealt Two Aces in Blackjack

There is some debate among novice blackjack players about what happens when you are dealt two Aces. Some say split and some say stand for a hand total of 12. But if you were at the blackjack table, what would you do if you were dealt a pair of Aces?

There are two things for a blackjack player to do when being dealt two Aces straight off in a round: split and then smile because you know the house would rather you not have two Aces.

But back to the splitting part. Yes, the best statistical play is to split and start two hands with 11 apiece rather than working with only one hand that is essentially going to be played out as a hard 12. True you could hit a 12 made up of two Aces, but the odds on splitting are better than playing out two Aces in one hand.

The thing with splitting a pair of Aces is that you have two hands to work with on the blackjack table, and already having one card worth 11 is a good start to building not one, but two strong hands. Of all of the pairs that a blackjack player could split, Aces are the best to have.

There is one more thing with a splitting a pair of dealt Aces that novice blackjack players wonder about: if the pair of Aces is split and a card valued at 10 is dealt to both Aces, do you have two blackjacks or only two hands each worth 21?

As much as I would love to tell you that you are receiving two 3-2 payouts, a blackjack is only considered to be one if the very first two cards dealt add up to 21. Receiving a two hand totals worth 21 on a pair of split Aces does not count as a natural blackjack, either of them.

So now we all have an understanding to split a pair of Aces when dealt one, and that two hands of 21 from a split pair of Aces does not mean two 3-2 payouts will happen.

Determining Your Play in a Blackjack Tournament

When playing blackjack at a normal table or even when playing blackjack online, it is best to follow basic strategy. But this strategy is based on what the dealer has. And this does not always work when playing in a blackjack tournament.

Let’s say that in a normal game of blackjack you were dealt a 12. Since this is not tournament play you do not need to be concerned with what the other players at your table are doing with their hands. If they win and you lose it has no impact on you as a player. You would lose your chips and that would be the end of the round. Move on to the next and hope for better cards.

But in a tournament, while you should consider basic strategy, you sometimes need to make adjustments to how you are playing it, especially if you are the leader and the chaser–the next closest player–is not too far behind you. Sometimes to keep your lead you need to play how the chaser plays so that the same outcome is likely. Meaning if he wins, you win, and this will allow you to hang on to your lead even if he wins. We call this blackjack tournament strategy.

We will take that same hand, a hard 12, and put that back in your hand. Only this time you are in the lead at a blackjack tournament. The chaser is only $100 behind you. As the leaser you are going to be betting last so pay attention to how the chaser bets and plays. He bets $450. This means that you beat $450 since you lead is not a huge lead. He is dealt not a hard 12, but another hard hand, we will say a hard 16. And the dealer has a 7 showing.

With that 3 showing the chaser is going to stand, which is according to basic strategy. According to basic strategy you should hit your hard 12 against a dealer 3. If you were to hit though you will most definitely not generate the same play and potential outcome, which is the whole point to this bit of blackjack tournament strategy.

You want to make the same play as the chaser. So in this instance you would stand because he stood. This way if the dealer busts you both will win and you did not put your hand in jeopardy of hitting and busting.

There will be times in tournament play that you have to make decisions based on what the other players make. Just like in the above case, this sometimes means adapting your strategy when in a blackjack tournament. You do want to hang on to your lead do you not?

Bad Blackjack Strategies: Mimic the Dealer

Are blackjack players mockingbirds? No, really this is a real question not some random thought. The answer is no, blackjack players are not mockingbirds. I only ask this because there is a so-called strategy out there in the blackjack world that tells players that the best way to play is to mimic the dealer.

But as players are not mockingbirds this strategy is a bad idea. And not only because we are not birds. The odds on following this so-called strategy are awful.

You cannot really say that players can even follow basic strategy and mimic the dealer at the same time. The reason for this is that the dealer does not double down or split pairs. The odds that a player can knock off the house’s edge through successful doubling down and pair splitting is 1.6% and 0.06% respectively. A player mimicking the dealer will also hit all 16s because that is what the dealer does; the dealer does not start standing until he has a 17. According to basic strategy, a player will stand on many hands below a 17.

Because of abstaining from doubling down and splitting pairs and hitting hands that players should stand on, the house gains quite a bit in odds, which brings the house edge up to 5.48%. Considering that basic strategy would normally bring the house edge down to 0.5%, a house edge of 5.48% is pretty ridiculous for blackjack.

This is why a blackjack player does not want to be a mockingbird and mimic the dealer. The consequences to a player’s blackjack odds, and therefore their bankroll, are not player friendly.

Players should always research a new blackjack strategy they hear tell of before using it. Mimicking the dealer is not a new so-called blackjack strategy, but many novice players will use it because they do not take the time to research it and see just how bad it really is for them.

Bad Blackjack Strategies: Dealer Has a 10 Hole Card

There are some so-called blackjack strategies out there that players no in the know will swear by. Assuming that the dealer has a card worth 10 for a hole card is one such strategy.

Sure on the surface it might sound like an okay strategy to use in blackjack, almost like it is a safety net based on the player assuming the worse. But the statistics do not add up on this one. And it is those statistics that show it as the bad blackjack strategy that it is.

To begin with, and to make the math simple at first, we are going to look at a single deck. In a single suit there are thirteen cards. All of those cards have their face value applied in blackjack except for the three face cards and the Ace which has the ability to be played as a 1 or an 11; the three face cards (Jack, Queen and King) are each worth 10. So out of thirteen cards in a single suit, only four (10, Jack, Queen and King) are worth 10; obviously the other nine cards are not worth 10.

So let’s break that down into percentages. Because there are only four cards in a suit worth 10, it means there is only a 30% chance of one being the hole card, and a 70% chance that the hole card will be a card that does not have a value of 10.

Even when you add more suits and in turn add more decks, the percentage of the hole card being worth 10 is still going to stick pretty close to 30%. So if the odds are in favor of the hole card being something other than a 10, why use a blackjack strategy that is based on poor odds? Because to me a 30% chance on the hole card being worth 10 is a pretty poor odds.

Considering that the odds are against the hole card being worth 10, it gives blackjack a house edge of 10.03 to assume the dealer’s hole card is worth 10. And that is an extremely bad house edge for blackjack. Never assume the dealer’s hole card is worth 10.

Jump Starting Your Blackjack Strategy

Strategy often brings to mind super hard formulas and tricks and things that will make your brain hurt. Strategy, especially for casino games where money is involved, seems particularly hard. Perhaps this is because money is on the line—money always complicates things.

But blackjack strategy does not have to be all that hard. In fact, blackjack strategy is remarkably easy. Yes, there are strategies for blackjack, such as card counting, that can take a little more mental application to learn, bring together and execute. But there is strategy for blackjack that anyone can use.

And I do mean everyone, even someone who has never played blackjack, is just in Vegas for a vacation and actually may not ever gamble again—even they can use blackjack strategy.

The key to this kind of strategy is the basic strategy chart.

All basic strategy is made up of are rows for each hand that a player could be dealt, and columns for each of the dealer up cards. Where each row and column intersects there can be found the best statistical play for that player hand and dealer up card combination. Here is the step by step for using basic strategy:

First determine what your starting hand is—do you have an Ace or is your hand a pair? If so make sure to look in the section of the chart with starting hands that have Aces (soft hands) or that show the pairs.

Next check to see what the dealer’s up card.

After you have found the row with your starting hand and the column with the dealer’s up card look to see where the row and column intersect. The play that is featured where the two meet is the best play for you to make.

Basic strategy does not mean that you will win every single hand, but because you are playing the best statistical play that you can make, you will increase your chances of winning.

And that is the easiest way to make the most of blackjack strategy—using basic strategy. All of the math and formulas and calculating has been done for you. All you need to do is make the play that is recommended.

Multiple Hands per Round is Not Blackjack Strategy

I have heard of this. Players playing two or three hands per round and calling it blackjack strategy. The way I have heard it explained to me is that playing more hands per round is good blackjack strategy that increases one’s blackjack odds of winning.

Not true, and I am going straight to the math on this one. And this is not hard math so follow along.

Your blackjack odds of winning a round, not including pushes, are 48% as opposed to the house’s 52% chance of winning. So if you play one hand you have a 52% shot of losing.

Now if you were playing two hands per round, each hand has a 48% chance of winning and a 52% chance of losing. So each hand still only has a 48% of winning. Three hands per round? Yes, each one still only has a 48% chance of winning.

Notice that the odds of winning do not increase with the number hands being played per round.

However, your potential to lose money goes up.

Blackjack, even with basic strategy, is a casino game in which the house still has the edge. Yes, card counting can even out the odds and even possibly tip the odds in favor of you. But the average blackjack player will be facing blackjack odds that lean towards the house.

The 48% chance of winning and 52% chance of losing does not change no matter how many hands you are playing per round. But playing more hands per round open up more opportunities to lose and that means money lost. Remember, your blackjack odds are based on your opportunity to make money. So if you open yourself up for more opportunities to lose money you are only hurting yourself. Stick with one hand per round.

Unless you are playing Blackjack Switch, in which case you have to play two hands, but it has a slightly different strategy.

Blackjack Strategy Specifics: Your 11 vs. the Dealer’s Ace

How do you play your 11 if the dealer has an Ace showing? We are going to say that you are playing Vegas Strip Blackjack and the dealer has checked for a natural blackjack and does not have it. Which 11 is stronger, yours or his? And how do you play an 11 versus an Ace?

If you look at your basic strategy chart because I know you have one, you will see that you do not double down on a hard 11 against Ace despite doubling down on against all other dealer up cards. And there is a very good reason for this.

As a player you would think that your 11 is stronger than the dealer’s Ace because the dealer does not have blackjack. For starters, that does not mean that the dealer cannot win; he could still, with his hole card or through hitting, wind up with a strong soft hand. And furthermore, that Ace is a lot more flexible than your 11, and it is that flexibility that makes the dealer’s Ace stronger than your hard 11.

Even with showing an Ace you cannot expect the dealer to bust simply because of that flexibility. If need be necessary, the Ace can be reduced to a 1—the same reason why players like Aces and why Aces are the strongest cards a player can hold.

In all reality, the dealer will only bust 17% of the time. Otherwise here is the run down on hands of 17 or more and the dealer’s chances of winding up with one of those hands:

A hand of 17 or more: 83%
A hand of 18 or more: 65%
A hand of 19 or more: 46%
A hand of 20 or more: 27%
A hand of 21: 8%
Busting: 17%

From the start of the round the dealer has the upper hand. This is all because that Ace gives him more room to wiggle. And because he has more Flexibility, you need to keep doubling down against an Ace out of your blackjack strategy.

Doubling down will actually hurt your odds here because the dealer has the slightly stronger hand. Blackjack strategy is meant to increase your odds in opportune moments, and is meant to preserve your wager as best possible if you do not have the upper hand. This is one of those non-upper hand times and your blackjack strategy needs to reflect that. So now doubling down.

Introducing Blackjack Strategy to New Players

After you have learned how to play blackjack and have taken some time to practice and become familiar with the feel of the game and are comfortable playing, it is time to introduce blackjack strategy into your game.

New blackjack players should be very thankful. Blackjack offers one of the easiest to use strategies that also happens to be the most effective. This is called basic strategy. And it is so basic to use that even players that are brand new to the game can use it and be successful with it.

Basic strategy’s most common form is a chart. This makes it easy for players to take it along to the casinos. And basic strategy is legal to use in casinos, so take a chart with you to play with.

What this chart gives you is the best statistical play for every single hand in the game against any dealer up card: hard hands, soft hands and pairs. All the player needs to do is look at where the row of their starting hand intersects with the column of the dealer’s up card. Where the two intersect is the best statistical play for that situation. All the player needs to do is make that play. It is that easy.

If players play every one of their hands according to basic strategy they can lower the house edge to 0.5%, which is the lowest house edge of the casino games.

So if basic strategy is that easy to use and if it lowers the house edge so much, how could it possibly be legal to use in casinos?

Basic strategy has a misplaced idea attached to it that it will beat the house and allow players to win every hand. Casinos are more than happy to allow players to believe this; in fact, there are some casinos that will give out basic strategy charts. What happens is a player will lose a few rounds and toss the chart away, going back to playing without strategy. Playing without strategy is where casinos can make their money.

Other players will only play according to basic strategy part of the time. And it is only effective if every hand is played according to it.

As a result not every player is successful with basic strategy. So in order to lower the house edge to 0.5% you must play every hand according to it. Thankfully basic strategy makes it easy for a new player to not only play an effective game and lower the house edge, but it also teaches them more about the game, especially if study the chart and think on why each play is what it is.

Basic strategy allows new players to have an impact on their odds at an early stage in their learning of blackjack. Now the only thing left is to practice using basic strategy.

What is Blackjack Basic Strategy?

This morning I started in on how it is time to go back to the basics of blackjack. Basics are important. Think of them as the foundation for your blackjack strategy. And basic strategy should be the basis of all of your blackjack strategy.

Also this morning I talked about basic strategy. I said that it was only effective in lowering the house edge to 0.5% if you played it perfectly. But I never said why.

Basic strategy is usually shown in a chart. All of the dealer’s up card run across the top, each one assigned to a column. And all of the player’s possible starting hands run down the left hand side, one hand assigned to each row.

At the beginning of a round, you would find the row with your starting hand and the column with the dealer’s up card. Where the row and column meet the best statistical play will be shown.

Note that I said ‘best statistical play.’ This does not mean that you will win the round from using that play. What it means is that play has the best chance of causing you to win the round. But it is not a guarantee.

That, by the way, is why casinos are just fine with players using basic strategy. There is a belief that basic strategy will allow the player to win every round. Casinos do not discourage this belief, and players will often toss away their basic strategy charts and go back to playing blackjack based on whims.

But if you make the best statistical play for each round, over time you can drop the house’s edge to that wonderful 0.5%. And a decrease in the house’s edge is an increase to your own blackjack odds. And making the best statistical play is playing exactly how the basic strategy chart tells you to.

Basic strategy is not going to win every single round for you, but it will cause you to win more rounds. And winning more rounds in blackjack is exactly what a player wants. So winning more rounds with the best mathematically calculated plays is exactly why you want to play basic strategy perfectly.

Basics for Blackjack Strategy

Between the news, the blackjack apps and my thoughts on blackjack misconceptions, I have been rather neglectful of blackjack strategy. And we cannot have that now can we?

I figured the best way to jump back into blackjack strategy was to look at the basics again. Even experienced blackjack players should go back and look at the basics. For one thing it never hurts to see where you came from. Who knows, maybe you forgot something. And keeping firm on the basics helps to keep your more advanced strategies solid.

In other life, as I like to put it, I worked in retail and a lot of our training was “Back to Basics.” So either they could not think of any new sales strategies or there really is something to looking back to basic skills. I am putting my money on the latter—it just sounds smarter.

When it comes to the basics for blackjack strategy, the place to start is always with basic strategy. I know, I know, I can hear you saying, “Basic strategy? Again? Really?”

Yes, really.

No blackjack player worth their chips can afford to turn their noses up at such an easy to use strategy that also happens to be one of the most effective in the game. In fact, basic strategy is the single most effective strategy out of all the strategies available to casino games.

Playing perfect basic strategy can lower the house edge to 0.5%, making blackjack the casino game with the lowest house edge. And this strategy is legal to use in casinos and online casinos. You can sit at the table with your little basic strategy chart out playing according to it and not get slapped on the wrist—or worse—by the pit boss.

But that is the beauty about looking back at basics—they can remind us of what the basics of blackjack strategy can do for you and what it continues to do for you.

Oh, and by perfect basic strategy I mean that you have to play every single round according to what the basic strategy chart says. So if it says to double down, you had better double down.