CasinoCityTimes.com

Gurus
News
Newsletter
Author Home Author Archives Author Books Send to a Friend Search Articles Subscribe
Stay informed with the
NEW Casino City Times newsletter!
Newsletter Signup
Stay informed with the
NEW Casino City Times newsletter!
Recent Articles
Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

author's picture
 

How Bad Is It to Stand on 16 when the Book Says to Hit?

14 February 2000

Blackjack buffs really hate to look at their cards and see those nine-seven or 10-six totals of 16 staring back. They're not wild about pairs of eights, either, but that's a tale for another day.

A 16 is the player's weakest starting point. As-is, it can't win unless the dealer busts. But, drawing another card is risky since anything from six through 10 causes an immediate loss. And even a lucky pull of ace through five doesn't guarantee a win or push.

Contrary to what many bettors want badly to believe, 16 is an underdog even against upcards of two through six. The dealer will "make" a hand about 58 percent of the time with a five or six showing. This rises to around 65 percent for two-up. Still, the optimum strategy in these instances is to stand, hoping the house busts. The reason is that chances are better than surviving the eight out of 13 -- 61.5 percent -- threat of losing then and there, and still being beaten by the dealer.

The real Scylla and Charybdis -- folks less erudite than your average casino patron might say the rock and the hard place -- of gambling is 16 versus upcards of seven through ace. Now, the laws of chance ordain hitting as the lesser of the evils. However, legions of solid citizens are psychologically loath to take this action. They remember that hitting leads to busting so often it seems suicidal. Instead, they decide to stand, remaining in contention in case the dealer goes miraculously over 21.

It turns out that standing on 16 against a high card isn't always quite as awful as the friendly folks who fuss at you for altering the natural order of the universe assert. In fact, standing on 16 versus 10-up only costs an average of about $0.06 for every $10 at risk. If you're willing to sacrifice this trifle for whatever peace of mind you get by postponing the verdict, go ahead. This figure, by the way, is for hands in which the dealer doesn't have a blackjack -- since the decision would otherwise be irrelevant.

One area where the faint-hearted err is in their logic involving 16 against nines, eights, and sevens. The dealer is more apt to bust starting with these than with a 10. Some players therefore assume that standing becomes better as upcards decrease. If the mathematics of blackjack were this simple, I'd be out of work.

Standing on 16 actually gets worse as upcards drop from 10 to seven. The reason is that players who hit and finish from 17 to 21 have a greater chance of beating a dealer starting with a seven than an eight and so on up the line. When the dealer's chances of busting and of ending at various levels are tossed into the pot and stirred, the latter dominates. The penalty for standing accordingly rises as the dealer's upcard decreases. The theoretical cost to the player, per $10 bet, is roughly $0.38 for a dealer's nine, $0.60 facing eight-up, and $0.68 against seven.

Some bettors also stand on 16 against ace-up in games where the dealer doesn't check for blackjack before the round is completed. They reason that the four times out of 13 the dealer will have blackjack offsets the odds. This is the most potentially damaging of the high upcard violations. The theoretical cost of standing on 16 against ace, when the dealer doesn't have blackjack, is a whopping $1.49 per $10 at risk. The large penalty results mainly from the low 11.5 percent probability the dealer will bust.

Oh yes, about altering the natural order of the universe -- also known as the flow of the cards. Don't be intimidated by ladies wearing sequinned glasses or men smoking rum-soaked cigars who invoke this silly superstition. The cards aren't shuffled and cut into any particular sequence. Still, it's embarrassing when you stand on 16 and the following card is a five. More so when the five hurts the next player in line or helps the dealer make a hand that would otherwise have broken. It was moments like these that inspired the bettors' bard, Sumner A Ingmark, to write:

Doing what your teachers taught,
All those things you know you ought,
May be good, or maybe not,
But saves shame in case you're caught.

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.