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by Joe Pane

Joe Pane is a skilled advantage blackjack player and an experienced tournament player who has won over a million dollars in blackjack tournaments. Joe has continued his overall tournament accomplishments with a recent 2nd place finish in the Las Vegas Hilton $100,000 Dice Tournament, and his multiple recent cashes in poker tournaments in the 2009 Wildhorse Resort and Casino Spring Poker Round Up held in Pendleton, Oregon, and also at Binions and Treasure Island in Las Vegas. His peers consider him to be one of the strongest and most feared blackjack tournament players on the circuit.

There are multiple sins committed every day in Las Vegas, and you may be shocked to find out that some of them are committed every second of the day without a day off for forgiveness.

There is no church that can cleanse you of these sins. So if you are one of the millions of Las Vegas visitors that commit these sins every time you arrive in Sin City, Iím here to help cleanse your soul and point you in the right direction of eternal forgiveness; and, along the way, help keep your bankroll from eroding at such an alarming pace that it will only be a matter of time before the casino (aka the DEVIL) will have your soul and wallet.

Living here in Las Vegas, you get to see many things that, at first, will just knock your socks off, and then you start to realize that these events are the ones that help build these mega resorts and keep the neon lights burning so bright that even the Luxorís fixed-position spotlight on the tip of their pyramid can be seen by our astronauts from outer space.

The sins Iím speaking about are those made by most recreational blackjack players, and some of the players that believe they know perfect basic strategy.

If a player is a perfect basic strategy player, he is playing with about, or very close to, a Ĺ of 1% disadvantage, and we all know that that number is based upon million of hands. Anything can happen short term, but when you have a vast sample of hands played, the house percentage edge over a basic strategy player should fall somewhere near the expected Ĺ of 1%. Well, if this is the case, tell me why is it that with millions of hands played every month in Las Vegas, the casinoís win far exceeds the Ĺ of 1% of all the money wagered in blackjack? This money flows into the casinoís (i.e., the DEVILíS) coiffeurs every month. You are paying for your sins at a premium and you need to stop committing these sins forthwith.

Here, in my opinion, are some of the hands that almost all recreational players are misplaying, along with a good deal of players who claim to have mastered basic strategy. If you have misplayed any of these hands, you need to seriously review your knowledge of basic strategy.

Hand 1

A-7 vs. Dealers 9-10-A

This is the hand I see most often that players seem to lose their focus on. In the game of blackjack, a hard 18 is an overall losing hand in blackjack because the only way your 18 will get paid is if the dealer breaks or makes 17. So when you are dealt an A-7(soft 18) vs. a dealerís 9, 10, or Ace, you must attempt to improve your hand by hitting it. Too many players stand on this hand thinking that their soft 18 is a potential winning hand. WRONG. (Note: The above strategy also holds if you have any other hand combination that totals 18 with an ace that counts as 11, such as A-4-3 or 2-5-A.)

Hand 2

A-7 vs. Dealers 2

Again, the A-7 hand appears as a hand that seems to pose a problem for recreational players. This time itís against a dealer up card of 2.

This hand is played differently according to what type of game you are playing and this is where a lot of basic strategy players make their mistake. Different games and rules make playing this hand differently from one game to another.

In a one deck game, you will stand on your A-7 vs. 2.

In a double-deck game where the dealer hits soft 17, you will double down on this hand.

In a double-deck game where the dealer stands on all 17s, you will stand on this hand.

You should also double down soft 17 vs. dealers up card of 3 thru 6.

In a double-deck game where the dealer stands on all 17s, you will stand on youíre A-7 but double down on it with a dealers up card of 3-6.

With your A-7 vs. 2 in a multi-deck game (4 to 8 decks), if the dealer is hitting soft 17 you will double down when the dealerís up card is 2 thru 6.

In a 4- to 8-deck game, if the dealer is standing on all 17s then you are also standing on youíre A-7.

Hand # 3

2-2 and 3-3 vs. dealers up card of 2 or 3

If you are in a game that allows you to double down after you split, then you should always split your 2-2 and 3-3 vs. a dealer 2 or 3 upcard. If you are in a one-deck game that does not allow double downs after splits, then you should only split 2-2 vs. 3. In any multi-deck game that doesnít allow doubling after splitting, then just hitting these hands out since starting hands that total 4 or 6 is the better play.

Hand # 4

7-7 vs. Dealers up card of 8 in a double-deck game.

This particular play always gets strange looks my way even from solid basic strategy players who do not adjust their play for the double-deck game that they are playing.

In a double-deck or one-deck game, splitting 7-7 vs. dealers up card of 8 is the right play if doubling down after a split is allowed.

In a multi-deck 4- to 8-deck game, you would just hit this hand.

Hand #5

6-6 vs. Dealers up card of 7 in a double deck game.

This is another hand that gets you some strange looks from fellow players if their knowledge of basic strategy is lacking for these tricky hands. But the right play here in a one-deck or double-deck games is to split your 6-6 if you are allowed to double down after splitting.

In a multi-deck 4- to 8-deck, you would just hit this hand.

Hand #6

7-7 vs. dealers up card of 10 in a one-deck game.

This is another play that seems to be wrong, but, standing on this hand is by far the correct play. The major reason is that you already posses two of the cards in a one-deck game that will make you a winner. Standing here is correct and this can work two ways with you, and also your relationship with the floor person. If he knows his stuff, he probably will label you as an "Advantage Player;" however, if he is not in the know, like most floor people watching blackjack games in Las Vegas are, you were just booked as a "Sucker" and you longevity at this casino was just extended.

Hand #7

12 vs. Dealers up card of 2 or 3.

The old evil 12 is the hand that most players just donít understand, and Iíve heard them say the following just about every time Iím out playing: "Why would I want to break my hand when the dealer has to hit their hand and possibly break behind me?"

The reason you want to hit your 12 vs. a dealerís 2 is that if you stand on that hand you will lose 29 cents of every dollar wagered; however, if you were to hit your 12, you would lose 25 cents for every dollar wagered. Donít think that sounds like a big difference? Trust me that over the course of your playing time you will play millions of these hands and saving four cents every time you play this hand correctly, will cause a positive effect on your bankroll.

With the hand of 12 vs. dealers up card of 3, the numbers work out to be the following: standing will cause you to lose 25 cents for every dollar, but hitting the hand will reduce it to losing 23 cents, saving you 2 cents.

Hand # 8

8-8 vs. Dealers up card of 10.

Most players will argue with you for the rest of their lives over this hand and itís almost a lost cause trying to show them that splitting the 8-8 is the right play because it actually saves you money, whereas most players believe it makes you lose more. This hand is a losing hand right from the go but by splitting the 8-8 you will lose less. Itís the classic defensive split that reduces your lost from 54 cents on the dollar to 48 cents per dollar wagered.

This hand is one that causes card counters the most grief with the casino "suits." If they are playing in a game that offers surrender, counters will surrender this hand in a plus count but in a minus count they will split (and if they are playing in a game that does not offer surrender and they have a large bet out in a plus count they will have no other option but to stand on this hand). Playing the same hand in many different ways is a red flag to casino "suits" that are watching for this kind of variation in play that coincides with the size of the suspected counterís bet.

Hand #9

Hard 16 (10-6) or (9-7) vs. Dealers 10.

This hand is another one that is difficult to traverse since in most count systems if the count is at zero or higher you will stand on 16 vs. a 10, or surrender if that is an option for the rules of the game that you are playing. If you hit your hand to a hard 16 and your hit cards contain a 4 or 5, you will be correct to stand on a multi-hard 16 with any 4 or 5 in your hand since you have removed one or two of the cards that can greatly improve your hand.

Hitting your hard 16 vs. dealerís 10 will cause you to lose 0.5398 cents on the dollar.

Standing on your hard 16 vs. dealerís 10 will cause you to lose 0.5404 cents on the dollar.

Itís a real close call and I always recommend to my students that have not learned how to count to play this hand the same way all the time, either way you are splitting hairs as there is only a .006 difference. Just be consistent on this hand and you wonít drive yourself crazy.

Hand #10

Youíre Blackjack vs. Dealers Ace.

Many dealers will suggest to you that taking even money on your blackjack is the only thing in the casino that is a sure thing. Think again because passing up on a 3 to 2 payout vs. the dealers suggestion of even money is really a bad choice for you and your bankroll. Since only 30.8% of the cards in the deck will give the dealer the card to complete his hand for a blackjack, and you already posses one of the cards in your hand, that reduces the dealerís chance of having a blackjack to only a 28.8%. Lose the urge to say "Even Money" when you have a blackjack vs. a Dealers Ace and youíll be putting more money in your pocket.

Hand 11

A-6 vs. Anything.

This hand drives me completely nuts when I see players standing on it. After I have finally taken a deep breath, I will ask them why they are standing on that hand and I almost always hear them say to me, "I have 17, and why would I hit 17?"

No, you have 7, not 17, because the only way youíre A-6 gets paid is if the dealer breaks, so why not hit the hand and try to improve on your 7 that you insist is a 17ÖÖ.UGH.

Itís confession time, so I ask you: Have you ever committed any of the above 11 sins of blackjack? If you have, donít fret, it will be our secret. I promise not to tell a soul as long as you promise to repent and save your blackjack soul (and bankroll) and start playing smart (let the other unskilled players continue their sinning ways in Las Vegas). The casinos are big enough and bright enough without you giving them more than Ĺ of 1% that they deserve for offering the game to the public.

Then again you could learn how to count a deck down and play with a 1% to 2 % advantage over the casino. But take some baby steps first Ė learn your basic strategy, and then learn how to play like a pro. Promise?

Until next time may all your aces have a little paint on them.

The House of Pane

Joe Pane


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