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BLACKJACK ANSWER MAN

By John Grochowski

John Grochowski is a blackjack expert and a well-known and respected casino gambling columnist. His syndicated casino gambling column appears in the Chicago Sun Times, Denver Post, Casino City Times, and other newspapers and web sites. Grochowski has written six books on gambling including the "Answer Man" series of books (www.casinoanswerman.com). He offers one-minute gambling tips on radio station WSM-AM (890) and podcasts are available at http://www.wlsam.com/sectional.asp?id=38069. Send your question to Grochowski at casinoanswerman@casinoanswerman.com.

Q. I play basic strategy, but I have a buddy who counts, and he always stands on 16 against a 10. He said it's to disguise his play. I thought it would be better to pick another hand like 16 against 7, but he said 16 against 10 was really a closer call. Can you tell me why? Iíd think 16 vs. 7 would be closer, because the dealer busts more often.

A. Youíre friend isnít steering you wrong. A 16 vs. a dealersís 10 is a much closer call than 16 vs. 7. The dealer does bust a little more often with a 7 up - 26 percent of the time vs. 23 percent when starting with a 10. Itís what happens when he or she doesnít bust that makes the difference.

About 30.8 percent of the time, the down card is going to be a 10-value. When that happens, the dealer who starts with a 7 has 17, and the dealer who has a 10 up has 20. Thatís just part of the overall picture, but will more often wind up with a higher-ranking hand when starting with 10 than when starting with 7.

And what happens if we donít bust when hitting with 16? That means drawing an Ace, 2, 3, 4 or 5. One-fifth of the times we donít bust on 16 are hands in which we draw Aces, for a total of 17. That 17 has a chance to push if the dealer has a 10 down (i.e, hole card) to a 7, but loses when the dealer has a 10 down to a 10. If you draw a 2, you win if the dealer has 10 down to a 7, but lose if the dealer has 10 down to a 10. If you draw a 3, you win against 7-10, but lose to 10-10. On 4, you have 20, beating 7-10, but pushing 10-10. With 5, finally, you have 21, a winner either way.

So, if the dealer has 10 down and you donít bust, you push one-fifth of the time and win four-fifths if the dealer has 7 up, but lose three-fifths of the time, push one-fifth and win just one-fifth of the time when the dealer starts with 10.

Yes, there are more possibilities when the dealer has cards other than a 10 face down, but the bottom line is that we win more often if we donít bust when the dealer has 7 up than when he or she has 10. The potential for gain is much higher if weíre facing a dealerís 7 than if weíre facing a dealerís 10.

That shows up in card counting systems. A Hi-Lo counter will stand on 16 vs. 10 at a true count of plus 1, but will keep hitting 16 vs. 7. Wins are seldom enough that some counters, such as your friend, will stand on 16 vs. 10 just to throw the pit crew and surveillance off the scent. Itís a low-cost move that is counter to basic strategy and might help convince the crew that your friend is no threat.

Q. I was interested in hearing about the place where the supervisor said there were Kings missing. How big an effect would a deck with no Kings have?

A. Removing all the Kings would have the same effect as removing all the 10-spots in Spanish 21, and if youíre familiar with that game, you know the lengths they had to go to counter-balance taking a whole 10-denomination out of the deck, They include double down on any number of cards, surrender even after doubling down, player blackjacks always win, bonuses on 6-7-8 and 7-7-7, bonus payoffs on five-, six- or seven-card 21s --- a whole slew of positive rules were added.

On Michael Shackelfordís wizardofodds.com, thereís a handy-dandy chart on the effect of card removal in blackjack. Removing a 10-value card per deck from play, increases the house edge by nearly half a percent --- 0.4932 percent. That would be the effect of removing a single King from a single-deck game, or two Kings from double-deck, six Kings from six decks, and so on. Remove all four Kings from a single-deck game, or all 24 from a six-decker, and thatís nearly a 2 percent swing.

Thatís almost half again as bad as the 1.4 percent increase in house edge that comes with paying only 6-5 on blackjacks, and we know how tough that is on players.

If there really are 10-value cards missing from a deck, you donít want to play.

Q. Do you make the 21 + 3 bet?

A. No, the 3.3 percent house edge is too rich for my blood. Iíd rather play blackjack.

Q. I know you guys say itís right to hit 12 when the dealer shows a 2 or 3, so I try not to grumble too much, but I hate it when someone takes the dealerís bust card. But this one guy was even worse. He hit 12 when the dealer had a 4. Not every time, just sometimes. Canít players do anything to keep a guy from making hunch plays like that that wreck the game for others?

A. I can tell from the start that youíre not going to like this answer on a couple of levels. The player is betting his own money and has the right to make his own decisions. Treat his play as if it makes no difference to you. After all, in the long run it really doesnít --- another playerís bad play will help you as often as it hurts.

A 12 vs. 4 is a close call hand, one where Fred Renzeyís Blackjack Bluebook II tells us that even a non-counter gains a little by hitting if there are more 10-value cards on the table than there are 2s, 3s, 4s, and 5s.

It could well be that the other player was making good, advanced plays. Even if he was just playing hunches, itís nothing for you to sweat. If another playerís decisions bother you to the point itís affecting your concentration or enjoyment, change tables. The other guyís doing nothing wrong.

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