Tricky Pairs in Blackjack: a Pair of 4s

How do you know whether to split a pair of 4s or not? You can look at your basic strategy chart and you’ll find an answer but it may not be the best answer for once. The times to spit or not to split are actually determined by the house rules.

If you’re playing in a blackjack game where you are allowed to double down after splitting that is a time to split.

Okay, your blackjack basic strategy chart does have a role in how you play your pair of 4s. If you look at it, it will tell you to hit most of the time. But if you look at what plays to make when the dealer has an up card of 5 or 6, you will see that it will tell you to split.

And that is when you want to split, but only if you are allowed to double down after splitting. If you are dealt a 5, 6, 7 or Ace to one of your 4s when splitting you are in a very good place to double down. Yes, you are going to have to put more money on the table, but the point of having a strategy is to know when you’re in an advantageous position and how to play them. A pair of 4s in a blackjack game where you can double after splitting is one of those advantageous positions. So scoot those extra chips out there.

But if the house isn’t allowing players to double down after splitting then you will want to play those 4s as an 8 and hit.

Appreciate Your Pairs

It’s a shame to see novice blackjack players misplay their pairs. But then when first learning blackjack, many just focus on whether to hit or stand. It takes some time before they feel comfortable expanding their betting comfort zone with double downs and splits. But it’s the splits we’re going to look at today.

For one thing being dealt a pair is not only a chance to win on two hands; it offers an opportunity that dealers just don’t get. Players can split their pairs while dealers just have to stick it out as a hard hand.

Let’s look at one of our favorite pairs to be dealt: two Aces.

The beauty for players is that we can, and always should, split those Aces. This is where the novice player needs to take a deep breath and put out the extra money to split those Aces. The reason is that this is a strong split to makes is because you can start each new hand with an 11. You’re half way to winning. Or at least to a strong hand.

And if you’re in a land-based casino and counting cards you have a little extra advantage. You’ll know if the remaining deck is rich in high cards or not. And if it is, it is especially important to split Aces.

And if worse comes to worse and you hit too high, you can reduce the value of those Aces from 11 to 1. So in a sense each of these new hands has the potential of a second chance.

Now we’ll look at the dealer. If a dealer is dealt a pair of Aces he is stuck with a hard 12 because he can’t split pairs. And we all know what it’s like to play with a stiff hand. You are in a more advantageous position than he is.

This is why learning when to split pairs and double down is important. Those are the two plays that you can make that put you in a better place than the dealer. And because those are plays that the dealer can’t make it is those plays that contribute significantly to lowering the house edge to 0.5%.

Player Favorable Blackjack Rules—Part VI

After a bit of a break we’re now going to return to the player favorable blackjack rules.

Have you ever been in a game and the round hasn’t played out the way you would have liked it to? You just wish that you could’ve backed out of the round somehow.

If you were playing in a game that allows for late surrender then you could have.

Late surrender allows you to quit the round after seeing the dealer’s hole card for the cost of half of your wager. Let’s say you had bet $20 and then decided to make a late surrender. You would only lose $10 rather than the whole $20.

The only time you can’t make a late surrender is if the dealer turns out to have a natural blackjack. Automatic loss then.

But late surrender can come in handy for the approximate 43% of the time that you are dealt a stiff hand. If you’re dealt a stiff hand, make your play, and then feel that you don’t have a decent shot at winning after the dealer’s hole card is revealed, you can still surrender. This comes in handy with stiff hands because you tend lose more of those hands than win. Late surrender will help to minimalize your losses in those cases.

And because of that advantage you have in being able to bow out of the round, the house edge is lowered by 0.08%. But you must play it correctly. And that means abiding by basic strategy.

A good basic strategy chart will tell you when to surrender if the option is available. Most charts will tell you that the best time to surrender is when you have a hard 15 and are facing a dealer up card of 10. The other best times to make a late surrender is when you have a hard sixteen and the dealer’s up card is a 9, 10 or an Ace.

Keep an eye open for Player Favorable Blackjack Rules–Part VII

Player Favorable Blackjack Rules—Part II

In addition to single deck games, you blackjack players also want to keep an eye out for blackjack games that allow you to double down after splitting a pair.

You have a pair when the first two cards you are dealt are worth the same amount. This would be being dealt two 6s. It is also a pair when you are dealt a 10 and, say, a Queen. These cards make a pair because they’re both worth ten, but no real blackjack player would split a pair of 10s when it could be played as a hard 20—nice strong hand there.

Doubling down is when you double your original bet and receive only one more card before standing.

Not all casinos will allow you to double down after you split a pair. But when you can it lowers the house edge by about 0.14%. And it also the payout potential is pretty outstanding.

Let’s say that you are playing at a $10 minimum table. You place a $10 bet and are dealt a pair of nines against a dealer up card of three. Basic strategy for this situation is to split. So you put out another $10 and split your cards.

But let’s say that you want to double down on one of your newly split pairs. You put forth another $10—your total bet that’s on the line is now$30—and receive a 10. One of your hands is now worth 19, which is pretty strong. Let’s keep going and say that the dealer busts and you win. You just won $60!

You can see how some casinos might frown on doubling down after splitting pairs—it might cost them too much when they add up the lowered house edge and the payouts they would have to make.

But if you can find a blackjack game that will allow to double down after splitting play there. If you play there and use perfect basic strategy, you can look at a house edge that is a little lower than the 0.5% you would have at a regular blackjack game.

Keep an eye open for Player Favorable Blackjack Rules—Part III

How to Play a Hard 12 in Blackjack

When playing blackjack, you are bound to be dealt a stiff hand. These are the hardest hands to play in blackjack. They are difficult to win with.

You’ll be dealt a stiff hand around 43% of the time you play. This is because there are more stiff hands (12-16) than there are strong hands (18-20); and when you’re dealt a hand with a low total, you have a decent chance of hitting yourself into a stiff hand.

But off the stiff hands, according to basic strategy, hard 12 gives you the most room to work with…for a stiff hand.

With hard 13 through hard 16, you will need to stand against half of the dealer’s up cards. But with a hard 12 you’re hitting against seven of the ten cards a dealer could have.

We all know that all stiff hands will hit when facing a dealer’s 7 and higher. And you stand on a dealer 2 through 6. Except for the hard 12.

When you have a hard 12 against a dealer 2 or 3 it’s best to hit. You can actually win 37% of the time when hitting a hard 12 against the dealer’s 2 or 3. Yes, you can lose 63% of the time. But if you were to stand against the dealer’s 2 or 3 you will only win 35% of the time.

Now I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be making the play where I stand a 37% of winning than 35%.

While 37% isn’t that much higher than 35% it is still higher. And in this game you want to make the play that gives you the best chance of winning and minimizes your losses. And that is the case with a hard 12 against a dealer 2 or 3. By hitting you are increasing you chances of winning and minimizing you losses as best you can with the cards you’ve been dealt.

How to Learn Basic Strategy

Basic strategy is an awesome tool for blackjack players. Playing it perfectly can lower the house edge from 2-5% to 0.5%. But you must play it perfectly for the house edge to come down.

Playing perfect basic strategy means playing every single one of your hands according to what the chart says. No deviating no matter what your brain is telling you. And while it is perfectly legal to carry a basic strategy chart with you into a casino or use one online, the quality of your blackjack games can improve if you can play without the chart.

There are a few ways that you can learn basic strategy so that you don’t have to carry a chart around.

You can practice playing at online casinos in their free play mode. Just keep playing, trying to remember what play you’re supposed to make without looking at the chart. The repetitive nature of learning this way will allow you to learn while playing. This method tends to take longer.

Another method is to sit down and study the chart. Try memorizing a line a day. It’s even recommended to make flash cards. Put the dealer’s up card versus a player’s hand on one side; on the back side write down what the correct play is. Keep running through the flash cards until you can name the correct play to make without hesitation. Every so often take a blank sheet of paper and recreate the entire basic strategy chart—see how much of the chart you have memorized. Keep recreating the chart until you have the entire thing right.

Having the basic strategy chart memorized will help speed up the game when you play. You will also know that you are making the best play possible when at the blackjack table or online.

Know Your Winning Blackjack Hands

Remember the 10-10 that we discussed yesterday? You will have around 70% of you winnings between the 10-10 and the always loved Ace-10. So what hands make up the other 30% of your winnings? And how do you play them so that you win when dealt them?

There are five hands that will make up most of the other 30% of your winnings: 10-9, Ace-9, Ace-8, 11 and 10. And each of these hands has their own way of being played.

Ace-21

Do nothing and just take your winnings.

10-10
Just a quick recap. Even though this is a pair, this is one of those pairs that you never split when playing blackjack. Just play it out as a hard 20.

10-9
Even though this isn’t worth 20, this is still a decent hand; the dealer can only beat you if he has 20 or a natural blackjack. With this hand you will want to stand.

Ace-9
Although this is a soft hand, because of the Ace, you need to stand here, playing this hand as a hard 20. It might be tempting to reduce the Ace to 1 and hit on a hard 10, but why throw away a hand that can only be beaten by a dealer’s natural blackjack? If you hit there’s no guarantee that do better than the 20 you had. So your best bet is to stand on an Ace-9.

Ace-8
Again, like the Ace-9, you will want to play this hand as if it were a hard hand. Ignore the urge you may have to hit on what could be a hard 9. The principle here, and with the Ace-9, is not to ignore an opportunity like you have with most soft hands; what you are doing here is taking advantage of a strong hand that you most likely will not better if you choose to hit. Stand on a soft 19.

11
With hard 11 it’s best to just fork over the money to increase you original bet, and go ahead and double down, especially if the dealer is showing a 10 or less. Yes, you will only receive one more card, but you already have a good starting place. If you’re a card counter and the deck is rich in high grades, defiantly double down.

10
And you will want to double with a hard 10 as long as the dealer is showing 9 or less. Also for card counters, like with the hard 11, make sure to double down here if the remaining deck is rich in high cards.

How to Play with Soft Hands–Soft 18

Similar to soft 17, soft 18 is another hand that blackjack players tend to play timidly.

It always boils down to that feeling of relief: “I have 18. I’m good. I have a shot at winning. And I don’t have to worry about busting.”

If you’re choosing to stand on soft 18, you might as well have been dealt a hard 18 if you’re going to ignore the opportunity offered to you by having been dealt that Ace.

So if that’s the way you want to play then let’s take a moment to look at hard 18. Basic strategy says to stand on hard 18. And it’s obvious logic that you do since hitting will most likely bust you.

But soft 18 is not hard 18, ergo the difference in names and ergo the need to treat them differently.

Your best chance of winning happens when the dealer’s upcard is a 2 through an 8, so it’s good strategy to stand on a soft 18 when faced with those dealer up cards. Here’s why.

Always figuring that his hole card is a 10, that would mean he would have a 12 through 18. He would have to hit on his 12 through 16 and stands a pretty decent chance of busting. And he would stand on his 17 or 18; the 17 you would beat and the 18 you would push, so at least you wouldn’t lose money there. So stand on a soft 18 against a 2 through 8—same as you would if you had a hard hand.

Here’s where your blackjack strategy is different from how you would play a hard 18.

You need to hit if you are facing a dealer 9, 10 or Ace. Factoring that assumed 10 hole card, he has 19, 20 or blackjack. And you can’t beat that if you stand on a soft 18. This is knowing your opponent and trying to find the most advantageous play.

Hitting here reduces your soft 18 to a hard 8. You can hit for a combination of low cards that can add up to at least 19, if not 20 or 21.

If it is allowed and you are a card counter and the deck is rich in high cards, you should double down if facing a dealer’s 3 through 6. That would reduce your soft 18 to a hard 8, which you can hit and still have a shot at coming in close to 21 and stay under as long as the deck is rich in high cards. Yes, it’s a gamble, but this is blackjack, not Monopoly.

Always think of what that hole card is, imagine it as a 10. Your blackjack strategy for soft hands should reflect that flexibility of the Ace you’re holding. Remember that some hands will be played the same as a hard hand and others won’t. The best fall-back is to play according to basic strategy—that chart will give you the best plays for soft hands if you can’t remember.

How to Play with Soft Hands–Soft 17

Soft hands can be tricky to play with real success. It’s all because of that Ace. Some players will look for the easy way out when they have been dealt a soft hand.

Take, for example, being dealt a 6 and an Ace. Soft 17.

Many players will play this hand as they would a hard 17. That’s because they are so focused on that 17. And in some cases that’s an acceptable thing to do. But in many cases it isn’t the most advantageous play to make. ‘Isn’t the most advantageous’ as in you are going to lose more money in the long run if you always stand on soft 17.

Let’s go back to the basic principle of blackjack strategy, and that is assuming that the dealer’s hole card is worth ten. Once you assume that you can assume what the dealer’s total is versus what your total is.

Pretend that you have been dealt a soft 17 and the dealer has an upcard of either an 8, 9, 10 or Ace. If the dealer has any one of those for an upcard, and you assume that his hole card is a ten, then you need to play a defensive strategy.

And having a soft 17 gives you the ability to play defensively. You can turn that soft 17 into a hard seven and hit, which is what basic strategy tells you to do with a hard 7. This is giving your hand another chance at winning.

You can take even more advantage of a soft 17 by doubling down. It’s best to double down when the dealer is showing a 3, 4, 5 or 6. This is because the dealer has the best chances of busting against a soft 17, making you the winner.

You can use this blackjack strategy for a soft 17 both in casinos and online casinos.

A Little Something Extra for Your Basic Strategy

Basic strategy is already an awesome skill to have in your blackjack arsenal. But you can add to it, tweek at bit you might say.

Let’s look at this situation: you have just been dealt a 16 against a dealer’s 10.

Basic strategy dictates that you hit here. And for the most part that’s going to be the best thing for you to do for your overall blackjack game. But let’s look at the makeup of that 16 and think about tweeking how you play out this hand.

Your 16 could be made up of two cards, 10-6 or 9-7, or it could be made up with three cards, like a 4-5-7. And there’s a difference on how you play your hands depending on how your hand is constructed.

If your 16 is made up of three cards you are actually better off standing rather than hitting. The reason for this is because when you have three cards making up your 16, it means that you’re already holding smaller number cards. You would need more in order to stay below 21. And because you already have small cards in your hand, and you figure that other players have small cards as well, means that you don’t have very good odds of getting more.

Another hand you can apply this strategy to is a starting total of 12 versus a dealer who has a 4 up. Normally you would stand here, according to basic strategy. But what you need to consider is what your 12 is made up of. Most combinations of 12 (9-3, 8-4, 7-5) are fine for standing; they’re made up of low or neutral value cards, which increases your chances of busting if you hit.

But if your 12 is made up of 10-2 then you’re better off hitting. The only cards that can bust you are ten value cards. Everything else will just raise your total, possibly putting you near 21.

What you need to take from this posting is that while basic strategy is still the best way to play, to advance your blackjack strategy and finer tune your odds, consider the makeup of a stiff hand and how it reflects on the remaining deck.

If card counting is already a part of your blackjack strategy, you will already know whether the deck is rich in highs or lows. Take that into consideration when you are dealt a stiff hand. Look at the cards you have versus the cards that have already been played. At that point you can decide whether you should hit or stand.