Yesterday I talked about one of the ways that blackjack players come out on top in card counting when the deck is rich in high cards. While it is true that both the player’s chances and the dealer’s chances of being dealt a natural blackjack are increased when the deck is rich in high cards, the advantage belongs with the player because of the payout differences, which were discussed yesterday. But there is another advantage blackjack players have when the cards are rich in high cards.
That advantage is doubling down.
For starters, high cards or no high cards, this is a play that the dealer does not have in his arsenal no matter how much he might want them. Or how much the house may want them. The structure of blackjack gives those plays to the player.
Let’s look at the double down scenario. Let’s say you have been dealt a 9, 10 or 11. Through card counting you have discovered that the deck is rich in high cards. So the likelihood of you being dealt a high card on top of your 9, 10 or 11 to make a really strong hand is with you. So knowing that the odds are good for you to receive a high card it makes sense to double down. Heck, it makes sense to double down even if the cards are not rich in high cards, but it is especially profitable when the cards are rich in highs. There is a greater likelihood that you will turn a profit.
And on top of that the dealer in blackjack cannot double down. So that play is all yours.
Because the likelihood is greater the odds from card counting are increased for the player—just another reason why a deck rich in high cards favors the play more than 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.
Players often are not aware that the rules of blackjack give them a built boost to their odds. Seriously, it really is there. But in order to turn your blackjack odds and actually benefit from this little boost you have to not be afraid to use it.
I am talking about doubling down. This popular blackjack term gives rise to visions of daring blackjack players doubling their wagers for a one-card shot at beating the dealer. And really that is all that a double down is—a player doubling the amount of their wager and only receiving one more card. This play is often treated as the blackjack equivalent to going all-in in a game of poker after a battle of raises. However, doubling down is not as daring as a poker all-in—mostly because you are not putting all of your money on the line. But doubling your wager just feels more daring.
But because doubling down gives you the opportunity to win twice as much as you normally would in a single round of blackjack, it increases your blackjack odds. In fact, of all the plays that you can make, doubling down is the one that can increase your odds the most.
Doubling down at the right opportunities can increase your blackjack odds by 1.6%
The key is knowing when those opportunities are. And even that is not as hard as it sounds. All you need is a basic strategy chart. That chart will tell you when the best statistical times to double down are—usually with the hard hands 9, 10 and 11 against certain dealer up cards.
Making double downs at those opportune times is one of the best built in boosts a player has to their blackjack odds.
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%
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.
Being successful at blackjack is about strategy. You have to have one. The whole purpose of strategy in blackjack is to lower the house’s edge. Lowering the house’s edge decreases their chances of winning money from you; and the lower the house edge goes, the more your own blackjack odds go up.
Odds in blackjack are about opportunities to make money. If you have more opportunities to win money or opportunities to win more money than normal, your blackjack odds will increase. Strategy is supposed to decrease the house’s odds and increase your own.
The game of blackjack actually has a couple of parts built into the rules that can increase your blackjack odds and hit the house’s edge: doubling down and splitting pairs.
Doubling down is when you double the amount of your wager and only take one more card. This play can usually only be made at the beginning of your turn. If you win the round, you receive double what you would have made normally off of winning one hand.
Doubling down hits the house edge for 1.6%. This is because this play opens up the opportunity for you to make more money off of the house in one turn than normal.
Another play built into blackjack that will hit the house’s edge is pair splitting. This can happen when you are dealt two of the same card, such as two 3s. You can double your wager and the two cards will be split and each will receive a new second card. This gives you two hands to play in one round.
While not as advantageous—because you can win one hand and lose the other causing a draw—as doubling down, pair splitting can hit the house edge for 0.06%.
Both plays are useful when playing blackjack because of the increase in your chances to win money from the casino. Using them when playing blackjack is important to your blackjack strategy because of the opportunities they give you in terms of decreasing the houses edge.
Yes, blackjack has table manners. It is played at a table after all. Actually that is a more relaxed term for blackjack etiquette, and the things that make up blackjack etiquette are kind of like the unwritten rules for blackjack.
Fist off we are going to talk about the cards and touching.
In a face up game the cards are obviously dealt face up on the table by the dealer. He will then quickly calculate the totals. Player then make hand signals to show what play they would like to make: a two finger scratch on the felt for a hit; a palm-down wave over the cards to stand; doubling your amount of chips to signal a double down or a split depending on what cards you have. Hand signals are a part of blackjack etiquette and a tradition of the game. Oh, and they also can back you up if there is some discrepancy on what play you wanted to make since there is a camera above the table.
But above all in a face up blackjack game do NOT touch the cards.
Not touching cards in a face up game prevents players from cheating or marking the cards.
The only type of blackjack game in which you can touch the cards is a face down game. The dealer deals the cards face down and the player picks them up with one hand. Signals in a face down game are a bit different: to hit scrap the cards towards you on the felt to hit; to stand scoot your cards under your wagered chips; to double down or split, turn the cards face up and add the appropriate amount of chips to your wager.
Do NOT use more than one hand to handle your cards.
Handling the cards with one hand helps to cut down on switching or adding cards or marking them for cheating purposes.
You have the etiquette for how to handle your cards down now, and are all set to grab your clip-on tie and head to your favorite casino.
This morning I talked about a house rule to work into your blackjack strategy in which the house rule actually favors the player. Well, there is another one. This particular house rules allows players to double down after they have they have split a pair.
The step by step breakdown of how this house rule works goes like this:
First you have to be dealt a pair. You then choose to split that pair and up your wager accordingly. Let’s say that you split a pair of 8s—which you are supposed to be splitting no matter what. Once those two 8s have been broken into new hands they then receive new second cards. We are going to say that one of those 8s receives a 2, making it a hard 10 against a dealer’s 6.
According to basic strategy you would double down on a hard 10 against a dealer’s 6. Normally you would not be allowed to double down after splitting a pair. But if you are playing in a blackjack game that does allow for doubling after splitting this would be the time to do so.
Doubling after splitting at advantageous times can lower the house edge by 0.14%, which is a nice hit to their edge. This is because doubling after splitting allows you to win more money from the house than you would if you were not allowed to double after splitting. But you have to do so only when it is advantageous.
How do you know if it is advantageous to double after splitting?
It is surprisingly easy. After splitting and receiving your new second cards for each of your new hands, check those new hands against a basic strategy chart as if each hand were the first two cards you had been dealt at the beginning of the round.
Using the above example, when I wound up with a hard 10 after splitting, I would check how to play a hard 10 against a dealer’s up card of 6 just as if I had been dealt that hard 10 from the beginning of the round.
Because of the 0.14% hit to the house’s edge, doubling after splitting is a good play to add to your blackjack strategy.
Every now and then when you are wandering around the casino floor of a brick and mortar casino somewhere you might notice some extra little blackjack house rules. Most players see addition house rules as a threat from the house: ‘Oh no! They are coming to take more of my money!’
Sure there are house rules that are aimed at taking your money faster. But they are often found in blackjack variations along with the side bets—which you should be staying away from, by the way.
What needs to be done when an out of the ordinary house rule is spotted is to check it out, see what it is and then think about whether it is to your benefit or theirs. If it is for theirs, keep walking. If it is for yours then sit down and play a few rounds.
One such rule is doubling down on three or more cards. It is not a common house rule, but every now and then it will pop up in casinos.
This house rules does not require a lot of thought as to whether it is good for you blackjack strategy or not.
In general, the double down play is in the player’s favor. For those players who do not do their blackjack strategy homework, doubling down at advantageous times will knock 1.6% off of the house edge. And that is only when you can double on your first two cards.
So logically it follows that if you can double on three or more cards that your opportunities to double down increase. So your odds of making more off the house increase because your opportunities increase.
Those extra opportunities to double down knock 0.2% off the house edge, which makes it a nice addition to your blackjack strategy. It does not knock as much off as a standard double down, but that is because there are not an excessive hands of three or more cards in which it is advantageous to double down on.
But I say that every little bit helps. Think about whether or not these extra house rules will help your blackjack strategy. If they do help, sit and play a few.
I was thinking some more about commonly made blackjack mistakes, and I got to thinking more about pair splitting and blackjack strategy. I know I mentioned how some pairs should be split and some should not, that is just how blackjack strategy is supposed to be.
Blackjack players just do not seem to apply any blackjack strategy to their game when it comes to pairs. They can usually be divided into two ways of dealing with pairs: they either split everything just for the sake of splitting a pair, or they play their pairs like hard hands. And both ways are wrong and not good blackjack strategy. Not to mention it hurts a player’s blackjack odds.
Some pairs are meant to be split and other are meant to not be split. Two pairs that are not meant to be split is a pair of 5s and a pair of 10s.
Do not get hung up on the fact that you have a pair. Look instead at what the hand total is. A pair of 5s totals in at 10, and a pair of 10s total in at 20. With either pair you are holding a hard 10 or a hard 20.
Both of those hands are good hands to have in blackjack.
A hard 10 is one of the hands that offers the most opportunities to double down. And we all know that doubling down will hit the house edge for 1.6% when done at advantageous times. The chance to win more and to hit the house edge should not be thrown away just to split a pair for the sake of splitting.
And a hard 20 is one of the strongest hands in blackjack! The only way the dealer can beat that hand is to have a natural blackjack or to hit to 21. So your chances of winning are a lot stronger with a pair of 10s than if you were to split them.
The point is that pair should not be played like hard hands or split just for the sake of splitting. The best thing for a player to do is grab a basic strategy chart and use that for their blackjack strategy. It will tell players what pairs to split when.
No, I am not talking about that so-called sandwich. A friend of mine tried it once and could not eat for two days his stomach was so upset.
I am talking about the double down play that players can make in blackjack. This handy little play packs quite a punch against the house. And we all know that when the house’s edge is hit, the player’s blackjack odds go up. So it is important to include doubling down in your blackjack strategy.
Doubling down is when a player doubles his original wager and only receives one more card before standing.
As you can probably tell, this is not a play that you make any old time in blackjack. It is a play that must be used at advantageous times. And this is where strategy comes in.
It is well-known that one of the best tools for blackjack strategy is basic strategy. This little chart will tell players when the most advantageous times to double down are. Doubling down when it is not advantageous is a quick way to lose money since your wager, once you have doubled down, is twice what you started with.
Casinos lean on the fear players have of losing their money to keep them from doubling down. But players need to take a deep breath, swallow the fear and double down when strategy calls for it to happen. Otherwise players will not knock 1.6% off of the house’s edge.
Did I forget to mention that earlier? I did? Well, it is true, doubling down when it is advantageous hits the house’s edge for 1.6%.
That is a fairly big hit to their edge, which means that players make a gain to their blackjack odds because they are gaining money. And not just the regular amount won off of a normal hand; players win twice the amount of their double down wager. In fact, it is the extra amount won that makes for such a hit to the house’s edge.
Because of the gain in blackjack odds and in money, players need to add doubling down to their blackjack strategy—but only when it is advantageous.