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.

Money on Splitting vs. Standing with a Pair of 10s

When being dealt a pair of 10s in blackjack there are really only two options for plays: splitting or standing. You cannot hit, not with a hand total of 20. The rule of thumb with a pair of 10s in a game of blackjack is to stand—no splitting! This is because a pat 20 is a strong hand.

But you will find that some blackjack players would rather split a pair of 10s when faced with a dealer 5 or 6. They are the two cards with the highest probability of ending in a bust for the dealer. The thought process is that if the dealer is more likely to bust with those two up cards, why not split the pair of 10s and try to make the most off of the round.

Odds on winning when splitting a pair of 10s against a 5 or 6 is not too shabby: 63% and 64% respectively. Best case scenario, meaning splitting against a 6, you stand to win $56. And that is $56 total; each hand would have a profit of $28, and together that is $56. All in all, the odds and profit are not too shabby.

But I think you might change your mind when you look at the odds and potential profit for standing on a pair of 10s against a dealer’s 5 or 6.

The odds of winning against a dealer’s 5 or 6 when standing on a pair of 10s is 84% and 85%, respectively of course. Already the money bells in your head should be beginning to go off. Again, looking at the best case scenario of facing a dealer’s 6, 85% is a better odd than 64%. That also means that the potential profit is higher too.

Now I know the money bells are going off.

So if you stand to win 85% of the time by standing on a pair of 10s in blackjack, that means you stand to lose only 15% of the time. Subtract 15 from 85 and you get 70, and $70 is the profit per $100 if you stand on a pair of 10s in blackjack against a dealer’s 6; profit on standing against a dealer’s 5 with a pair of 10s is $68 per $100. Still not bad. And certainly more profitable.

And profit is the point behind strategy in blackjack. Strategy is there to improve your odds at winning in blackjack, and winning means more opportunities to make a profit. Knowing the difference in odds between plays helps. In this case, you know that standing on a pair of 10s against a 5 or 6 will give you around $14 more per $100.

70% Off of Blackjack Insurance

Before you get all excited, this is not a sale. If you are in a blackjack game where you are wagering $20 per hand and an insurance wager costs you $10, this does not mean that for a limited time insurance will only cost $3. Sorry, if casinos are going to try to hang on to their house edge they are not about to put a sale on insurance.

When I say 70% off of insurance I am talking about the odds of a dealer’s hole card being worth ten when the dealer has an Ace showing.

Start with 100%, then you look at the probability of that hole card being worth ten. There are thirteen cards in a suit and only four are worth ten. That gives you a roughly 30% chance that the hole card is worth ten. This also means that there is a 70% chance that the hole card will not be worth ten.

So take that 100% chance that a blackjack player has of hoping that insurance will work out in his favor and that he will at least receive that payout if the dealer does in fact have a natural blackjack, and subtract 70%. This gives you a roughly 30% chance of making anything off of an insurance wager.

Now if you knew that you had less than a 50% chance of a bet working out in your favor, would you wager on it? If you knew that a lizard almost always ran to the left, would you wager on it running to the right? No, you would not because you are smart enough to know that the odds are on the lizard running to the left, and that wagering on it running right would be most unwise.

So why would you wager on insurance when you know that the odds are against you? The house likes and encourages blackjack players to feel as if the dealer showing an Ace is more threatening than it really is. They are hoping that you will take the insurance wager even though there is only a 30% chance of you making anything off it.

While insurance will never have an actual discount, the blackjack odds on insurance panning out for a blackjack play are always 70%. While supplies last.

You Busting vs. the Dealer Busting

I am not sure how many blackjack players out there think about this, but have you ever thought about what happens when you bust as opposed to when the dealer busts? If you have not, you just did. I am willing to bet on it.

A blackjack player busting has a different effect than when the dealer busts. And that difference is one of the contributing factors of how the house gets its edge in blackjack over your blackjack odds.

When a blackjack player busts, that is it, you are done. You have lost and you are out of the round and out the money you wagered on the round.

But when a dealer busts he is not losing a wager because he never had to make a wager. But even more of a kick in the pants to your blackjack odds is that if you bust and then the dealer busts, you still lose. This is a result of the fact that the dealer plays last. Imagine that he played first for a moment; say he busted—at that point everyone would win.

But because blackjack players play first there is the chance that a player will bust him or herself, thusly removing themselves from possibly benefiting if the dealer busts. The more players that are removed from the possibility of benefiting from the dealer losing, the more money the house makes. Hence, why players play first in blackjack. It has nothing to do with the house being polite and saying, “No, you play first.”

Unfortunately there is nothing for a player to do in terms of blackjack strategy to overcome this one. This is just how blackjack works. The only thing a blackjack player can do to overcome an odds-hitter like this is to bone up on the rest of their blackjack strategy and hit the house in other areas.

Some players who play in brick and mortar casinos teach themselves to count cards. Basic strategy is always a popular means of hitting the house’s edge over time because it gives the best statistical play for every hand, and will lower the house edge over time to 0.5%.

Gambler’s Ruin and Blackjack

Have you ever heard of the principle called Gambler’s Ruin?

It is pretty common in casino gambling, both in brick and mortar casinos and in online casinos. This is the principle that sums up the idea that a player will keep playing their chosen games, say blackjack, until he has lost all of his bankroll. He plays like this because he believes he will win his money back.

While it is possible to recover a few lost dollars from the house, losing a larch chunk of money is generally not recoverable. The cause behind large chunks of money not being recoverable is because the house has the edge.

Granted, a skilled card counter could tip the odds in his favor and win his money back. But blackjack players who are that skilled are not as common as we would all like to think.

The reason behind the house having the edge over the blackjack player in this instance is because of the house’s bankroll. I bet you did not think of the house as having a bankroll. But it does. After all, it has to pay you your winnings out of something. But the trouble with the house’s bankroll is that it is essentially infinite so long as the casino does not lose all its money. The dealer will keep handing out chips. Add to the fact that the house takes in more chips than it pays out.

Now compare this to the fact that a blackjack player’s bankroll is not seemingly infinite. With the house’s edge against the player, it is more likely for the blackjack player to lose his money than for the house to. But this is why we have blackjack strategy right? We use that to help boost our odds and narrow them down as best we can by controlling how we play blackjack.

Understanding Card Counting

Card counting can be a very useful skill when playing blackjack. But it is a skill that requires time, practice and patience to learn to the point of effectiveness. A good many novice players do not have the correct perception of what card counting is and what it does.

So we will start there, with what card counting is. Card counting is a skill in which the player mentally tracks the flow of cards. This is not an exact count; the purpose of card counting is to give players an idea of when there are more high cards left in the unplayed deck. This is discovered when the count a player is keeping has reached the point that more low cards have been played than high cards.

Once a player has the knowledge that more low cards have been played, leaving a greater number, and therefore likelihood, of high card being dealt, the player can begin raising their bets. Bets are raised at this point because there is a greater chance of being dealt a strong hand if not an outright natural blackjack. When the remaining deck is rich in high cards, there is a greater chance of the player winning, which is why bets are increased at this point.

To sum it up, counting cards in blackjack can give players a long-term advantage over the house by knowing when they are more likely to win, and raising their wagers accordingly.

Now. What card counting is not.

Card counting is not a short cut that will allow players to beat the house. Yes, it will allow players to tilt the odds in their favor, but it is not an instantaneous happening. It is not a flashy skill to be thrown around the casino.

To be successful with card counting in blackjack, time and patience must be applied while learning the counting system of your choice. Players who utilize card counting when playing blackjack also have to understand that they are not going to win every single hand, but that they will win more over the long run.

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.

Dealer Standing on Soft 17 Better than a Dealer Who Hits a Soft 17

The astute blackjack player pays attention to the house rules set by the casino or online casino for their blackjack games. This is why you do not see professional blackjack players playing variations of the game or at blackjack tables with poor house rules.

One such house rule that is of poor quality is allowing a dealer to hit a soft 17.

While on the surface this house rule does not like it would be all that damaging to a player’s blackjack odds. Many players assume that the dealer will just hit to busting. They make the mistake of assuming the dealer will still bust because he is starting at 17.

But what these unknowing players forget is that an Ace is just as flexible to a dealer as it is to a player. This means that if the dealer hits his soft 17 and receives a card that would normally bust a hard 17, he can reduce that Ace from being worth 11 to being worth 1, just as would happen for a player. Reducing the value of the Ace makes what was a soft 17 into a hard 6, which the dealer can then safely hit again and again with the possibility of stringing out a multi-card strong hand.

Because of that possibility, a dealer who is allowed under house rules to hit a soft 17 decreases a player’s blackjack odds. The hit to the player’s odd is for 0.22%, which is about half the value that basic strategy reduces the house edge to. So even with basic strategy reducing the house edge to 0.5%, a dealer hitting a soft 17 alone can raises the house’s edge back up to 0.77%–half the work of basic strategy is undone!

Now you see why blackjack professionals will avoid playing in blackjack variations and at tables that allow the dealer to hit a soft 17—they value their blackjack odds too much to throw away 0.22% of them.

Blackjack Games: Pontoon

Of late I have mentioned Pontoon a fair bit. But I have realized that I have never really explained Pontoon.

Pontoon is a blackjack version that is said to hail from England, although it seems to crop up most from Australia. But then Australia was essentially founded by England so there you go.

Pontoon is played with four to eight decks, with the 10s removed from each deck. So the only cards worth 10 in game are the face cards. This has the same effect as removing cards from deck in regular blackjack—it favors the house of course. And while, yes, the dealer can hit a soft 17, there are other rules that give odds back to the player.

For starters, a player natural blackjack or 21 wins automatically. One of my favorite rules.

As for the rest of those rules, players are allowed to double after splitting a pair, but players can only double on 9s, 10s and 11s; doubling down on a soft hand forces the Ace to be counted as 1 regardless of what the double down card is.

You could say that both types of surrender—early and late—are found in Pontoon. Players can make a late surrender if the dealer is showing a face card or an Ace. If the player wishes to surrender, the dealer will place a ‘surrender’ disc on top of that player’s chips; just like in a late surrender in a regular game of blackjack, the player will lose their wager if the dealer winds up with a blackjack.

The effective early surrender in also known as a double down rescue because the player can only make an early surrender after they have doubled down. If the player chooses to do this he gives up gives up an amount equal to his original wager. In other words, half of the wager is still lost, but it is half of the doubled wager.

There are also some special little payouts or bonuses on certain hands:

Five card 21 = 3-2 payout
Six card 21 = 2-1 payout
Seven or more card 21 = 3-1 payout
6-7-8 or 7-7-7 mixed suit = 3-2 payout
6-7-8 or 7-7-7 same suit = 2-1 payout
6-7-8 or 7-7-7 spades = 3-1 payout

Those bonuses are only paid as long as the dealer has not doubled down. If the dealer has doubled he receives the regular payout.

A suited 7-7-7 when the dealer has a 7 up has a different bonus payout based on the amount of the player’s wager:

$5-$24 wager = $1,000
$15 or more wager = $5,000

Do those payouts have you already green with envy? That is just fine because the other players at the table receive a $50 Envy Bonus when a player receives a suited 7-7-7, dealer 7 up bonus payout.

While Pontoon is not my favorite form of blackjack, it is by far one of the best variations out there—surpasses Perfect Pairs and those in the side bet camp at any rate. I will always say to stick with good old standard blackjack—why mess with a good thing after all?