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Blackjack Strategy

Standing vs. Drawing (Hard Hands)

Knowing when to draw and when to stand accounts for most of the gain that can be achieved through proper playing strategy. This is true for both the count strategies as well as for basic strategy. You may think that it must be difficult or complicated to understand given the errors most players make when deciding to hit or stand. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. Actually it is so simple and logical that it is easily laid out in a table like the one below. It is amazing that experienced players don’t come close just by instinct alone.

If like most players, you may find it easier to memorize the strategy tables if you understand the reasons behind why different plays are made. Of course the exact reasons are often hidden in the arcane recesses of probability theory and may not be readily apparent, but reasonable indications can often be made that will help you gain insight and develop a better understanding of the game.

As you look at the table laid out below, the first important thing to note is that you never stand with a total less than a hard 12. This of course is reasonable; if a hand totals less than 12, it may be helped by drawing a card, but it cannot be hurt or busted. The next important thing to notice is that the player stands with much lower totals if the dealer is showing a “bust” card (which are 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6) than if the dealer is showing a strong card ( which are 7, 8, 9, 10 valued, and Ace). Here the reasoning very simple and can best be understood by assuming the dealer always has a 10 (10, J, Q, K) in the hole. Of course with only 16 10 valued cards in a complete single deck, the dealer won’t always have a 10 in the hole, but the dealer will have a 10 in the hole four times as often as he will have any other given card. So, with an assumed 10 in the hole and bust card showing, the dealer is a good bet to break the hand. So if the player is holding a hard (12, 13, 14, 15, or 16), it seems reasonable that the player should stand and hope the dealer bust when he draws to complete his hand.

Now when the dealer is showing power (7, 8, 9, 10, Ace), the situation changes completely. Now we still presumed that the dealer has that 10 in the hole, which means that the dealer is likely to be “pat: with total of at least 17 and perhaps as much as 20 or 21. The player can forget about this hand unless they are pat as well. Holding hard 12 through 16, the player is faced with three disagreeable options.

No this last option may have the best chance of saving the bet is most likely going to end up with the player sitting in a casino back-room for a “talk”. Given the choice between standing, drawing, and possible bloodshed, computer studies have conclusively shown the best thing to do is to avoid the bloodshed. To avoid the bloodshed the best option is to draw and keep on drawing until the hand is either busted or totals at least hard 17. This will result in a savings for the player of between three and twenty-five percent, depending on the player’s total and the dealer’s up card. With the player holding a (10, 3) hand vs. 10, the player’s disadvantage if he draws is 39%. But if the player stands against the same hand, his disadvantage rises to about 51%. So in this case hitting rather than standing saves the player about 12%.

You will notice in the table that there is one exception to the rule of always hitting a hard hand when the dealer is showing a strong card. Basic Strategy says to stand holding when the hand is a pair of 7s vs. 10.

The biggest wish of a player holding 14 is to hit with a 7 for a total of 21. Now normally the player has four chances (the four 7s) in 49 cards (52, minus the dealer’s up card and the player’s two hole cards) of doing this. This works out to a about an 8.2% probability. Now our 14 is made up of 7s which means that the likelihood of drawing a 7 drops to only 2 chances in 49 cards, which is a mere 4.1% a long shot.

The second thing to realize is that when drawing to a pair of 7s the player is more likely to bust than he is with any other two-card 14. The reason for this is as follows: there are four different two-card hands that can total a hard 14. These hands are (10, 4), (9, 5), (8, 6) and of course our (7, 7). Now for the player to bust a 14 they must draw at least an 8. Now every two-card 14, except the pair of 7s removes from the undealt deck one of these bust cards. In the case of (10, 4) it is the 10. Since (7, 7) does not deplete the undealt pack of any bust cards, it follows that the player’s chance of busting increases significantly.

So the player drawing to (7, 7) has a greater chance of busting than they would with any other two-carded 14, and even if the hand doesn’t bust the chances of drawing to 21 are vastly reduced. Even after averaging these two factors with all the other considerations to take into account, it has conclusively demonstrated by direct probability analysis that the player holding (7, 7) vs. 10 should stand. And praying can’t hurt.

As always there are exceptions to the rules and this rule is not an exception. When the game is dealt with more than one deck the correct play is to hit that pair of 7s when facing a dealer’s 10.

Playing Blackjack in a casino for really money, your money, is hairy business. The stresses and distractions are countless. Noise, fatigue, losing, winning(!), fast dealers, bad players, and paranoid pit bosses are just a few of the disruptive influences you’re going to have to deal with. Add to this the burden of keeping an accurate count, adding up your hand correctly, verifying the dealer’s total, and recalling instantly any one of hundreds of different strategy decisions. Being able to reduce everything possible to an automatic, non-thinking reflex; will free up your mind for the important decisions that have to be made. And the more you understand about the game and the better your feel for the various plays, the easier this process will be and the more accurate and enjoyable your play will become. So the time invested now will pay big dividends later on.

Basic Strategy

Player’s Hand Dealer’s Up Card
  2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Ace
17 S S S S S S S S S S
16 S S S S S H H H H H
15 S S S S S H H H H H
14 S S S S S H H H H1 H
13 S S S S S H H H H H
12 H H S S S H H H H H

S Stand
H Hit
H1 Stand (7,7) vs. 10

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