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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Are there exceptions to Basic Strategy in blackjack for certain hand compositions?

28 January 2013

Question: Is it true there are exceptions to basic strategy for blackjack, in which players should make different decisions depending on the particular cards in their hands rather than just on their totals and on the dealer's upcard?

Answer: This is true. And it's possible to wring a tiny drop of blood out of the proverbial stone by using the exceptions. I'm aware of only three cases – there may be others – and the effect is quite small. Most players would be better off getting basic strategy down pat than worrying about these anomalies.

Here's what I mean. Assume a six-deck game, doubling allowed after splitting. Most experienced players would split pairs of sixes against dealer upcards of two through six, and stand on all other hard totals of 12. Under basic strategy, the splitting is correct but the player should hit versus two or three, and stand versus four through six. The exception occurs when the dealer has four-up. In this instance, it's correct to stand with 7-5, 8-4, and 9-3 but hit 10-2. How much better? Averaged over huge numbers of games, hitting is worth $7 per $1,000 wagered in this particular situation -- or $1 for every $20,000 bet in all.

The other cases I know involve dealer 10-up. a) Hit any 2-card 16 but stand on a 3-card 16. b) If late surrender is offered, use this option with 10-5 or 9-6 but hit 8-7. Statistically, in a six-deck game, the hit is worth $0.20 per $1,000 wagered under these circumstances -- or $1 for every $2.7 million bet in all.
Alan Krigman

Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.
Alan Krigman
Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.