ShareThis Page

Player's Advantage: Basic strategy make tough blackjack choices a little easier

| Sunday, May 4, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Life is filled with difficult questions: Should I stay or should I go? Who are you? Do you believe in magic?

Blackjack is much the same way. Despite being a simple game, it poses all sorts of questions for players: Doesn't this dealer ever bust? Why do I get so many 15s and 16s? What do I have to do to win a *#@% hand?

Unlike life, these questions have definitive answers. A dealer busts, on average, about 29 percent of the time, or roughly three hands out of 10. During any dealer shift, that will vary from what seems like never to almost every hand; over time, it will settle at 29 percent.

Players get dealt numerous “stiffs” ­— hands totaling 12 through 16 — because so many card combinations add up to those dreaded numbers. Only 34 starting hands are possible in blackjack, explains author Henry Tamburin. Of those, 15 are hands without an Ace that total anywhere from 5 through 19; nine are soft hands, combinations of an Ace with a deuce through a 10-point card; and 10 are pairs, ranging from two Aces to two 10-point cards such as King-Queen. Hard hands of 12 or 13 happen 8.1 percent of the time, he says; hard hands of 15 or 16, about 6 percent of the time.

As for the big question of how to win, the best answer is to learn and follow basic strategy. While adhering to basic strategy doesn't guarantee you'll win every hand, it does you give you the best play in any situation.

Here are five tough blackjack hands. How would you play them?

Ace-7 vs. dealer's 10

Knowing how to play Ace-7 correctly is a milestone in your blackjack development. First, you must recognize that 18 is not a strong hand, especially when the dealer is showing a nine or face card. Your best option in this situation is to hit. A face card keeps your hand at 18, and an Ace, 2 or 3 improves it. Of the 13 cards you can get, seven will do no harm or increase your total. According to, an encyclopedia of gambling strategy, the dealer's average hand, not including blackjacks or busts, is 18.84. A player's 18 just doesn't measure up most of the time.

9-9 vs. dealer's 9

Like a good hockey team, a good blackjack player knows how to play defense as well as offense. Your two-card total of 18 is not that good. If you stand in this case, you'll lose 18 cents of every dollar bet, according to the Wizard Of Odds; if you split your 9s, you'll lose 7.8 cents of every dollar — less than half the cost of standing. That's why the basic-strategy move is to split 9s against a dealer's 9.

10-4-2 vs. dealer's 10

Not all 16s are created equal. Because a three-card 16 has removed at least one of the cards that would improve your hand, it's better to stand than to hit. Of course, if you have a two-card 16 vs. a dealer's 10 in Pennsylvania, you should surrender.

Hard 12 vs. dealer's 3

This is an exception to the mantra of not hitting a stiff hand when the dealer shows a weak card. Basic strategy calls for you to hit. Of the 13 possible cards you can get, only four will bust you; five will give a total of 17 or more, and the other four will leave you praying for a dealer bust.

8-8 vs. dealer's 10

The basic-strategy approach is to always split 8s. Always means always. With Pennsylvania rules, you have three options for this hand: hit, split or surrender. By surrendering, you give up half your bet, for a loss of 50 cents of every dollar. By hitting, you will lose almost 54 cents of every dollar, according to Wizard of Odds. By splitting, you'll lose 48 cents of every dollar. Play good defense, and go for the smallest loss. Split 8s against a face card.

By following basic strategy, you always have an answer to another of life's questions: Did you ever have to make up your mind?

Court tax ruling favors casino

Parx Casino in Philadelphia doesn't have to pay tax on cars, gift cards and other prizes awarded to players, the state Supreme Court says. The ruling could set a precedent for casinos throughout the state, the Morning Call of Allentown reports.

With the decision, the casino is exempted from paying the 55 percent slot machine tax on about $600,000 worth of prizes given in 2006 and 2007. Parx sought a tax credit for the prizes, and the court agreed.

Revamped Meadows club opens

Meadows Casino in Washington County opened its Vibe club on May 2. The club, in the site formerly occupied by Pacers bar, is part of a $2 million enhancement of the casino's food and beverage areas. It features free live entertainment throughout the week, a new sound system and LED video wall.

Meadows also is kicking off a $1 million vehicle and free play promotion. A new car will be given away every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night in May and June.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.