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How To Win EVEN MORE Blackjack Tournaments - Volume II
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by Basil Nestor

Basil Nestor is author of "The Smarter Bet Guide to Craps," "The Smarter Bet Guide to Blackjack," and other comprehensive gambling guides. Got a question? Visit and drop him a line.

How To Win More by Playing More Profitable Hands

Itís like eating a big slab of cherry pie and washing it down with a diet drink.

Way back in 1607, an English writer named Edward Topsell described it with the phrase "penny wise and pound foolish." History is littered with similar phrases. In the first century A.D., the New Testament talked about seeing a speck but missing a log. Itís an ancient truth about human nature; people have a natural tendency to focus on minutia, sometimes missing the big picture.

This is particularly true when playing blackjack. Basic strategy covers hundreds of moves laid out with clear precision (if A then B), and some of them seem downright amazing, perhaps because theyíre so counterintuitive. For example, you should surrender 16 against a dealerís 10 (if possible), but you should split the hand when the 16 is 8-8. In other words, you put more money on the table when itís a pair.

But while itís true that one move loses marginally less than the other, there is a greater truthÖ Both moves are huge long-term losers. It costs half your bet to surrender. Compare that to splitting which generally loses you 48% of your base bet over time. And even though a savings of 2% has theoretical value, remember that it comes on the negative side and with much extra volatility. Lose a couple of decisions at $100 per hand, and it may be a long while before you win enough to actually reach $2 in savings.

The point here is that, technically, you should always play this hand correctly. But far too many players get lost in these weeds of minutia. They pour over the small-dollar intricacies of basic strategy, rather than focusing on larger opportunities for profits.

Aim at the Big Chunks

Everything, everything, everything begins with game selection. That is where profit starts. And this is where you should start when applying an optimal strategy. If you mess this up, then even if you make moves like a champion, youíll still be at a huge disadvantage. Always begin with thisÖ Itís hard to overstate the importance of games that pay 3:2 for naturals. Iíve written about this before (just last month), so Iíll only touch on this briefly with some hard practical numbers. You win less when the game pays 6:5. It works out to about 1.4% of all your action. So if you bet $100 per hand, you win about $90 less at the end of an hour of play, assuming you draw an average of three naturals. That dwarfs $2 moves like splitting 8-8.

If youíre going to mess up one of those two decisions (game selection or splitting 8-8 vs. 10), which one should it be?

Ideally, it should be neither, and you do everything perfectly. But the larger idea is that big decisions should get primary attention.

Likewise, you want liberal rules for doubling. Remember that doubling situations are always net profitable even if you donít win every hand. You could earn a tidy living just doubling if the casino didnít require you to play all the stiff and short hands. Again, letís focus on hard numbers. Letís say you have a 9 and the dealer shows 6. Doubling earns you an average $32 on your $100 bet while hitting only garners $20. Why take the lower payout? Donít choose games that restrict doubling.

All the Right Moves

Consider 3-3 against a 3. Optimal strategy says split. You lose $5.63 on a $100 bet when you split. But that calculation includes the positive value of drawing a 6, 7, or 8 and a possible double down after splitting. If doubling isnít possible, then optimal strategy says donít split; you hit the hand and lose an average of $10.73. So your best move in that situation is not necessarily only about playing the hand correctly, but the best move is choosing a game that allows doubles after splits.

Generally, hard doubling is tremendously valuable, but there are exceptions, mostly situations that involve 11 against an ace. Optimal strategy changes when the dealer hits soft 17; specifically, 8-3 or 9-2 vs. ace. Doubling wins $11.49 and $11.25 respectively on a base bet of $100. In contrast, hitting earns $10.62 and $10.59. So make the optimal move here, but understand that this is minor icing on the cake. Why? Because ideally, you should be playing a game where the dealer stands on soft 17. Oh, right! That makes it easier to beat the dealer across a wide range of hands. Is S17 hard to find in some places such as Las Vegas? Yes, but itís not impossible.

Always look for rules that add measurable ways to win. Good games deliver more profitable hands.

When you read a strategy book or an article like this, those rules seem like obvious choices, but the practical reality is that bad games are widely available and theyíre tempting. It takes a tremendous amount of discipline to pass up a game, to leave a beguiling casino, to go searching for a contest with a better set of rules. Itís particularly tough when youíre at a casino in the middle of nowhere, and itís the bad game or nothing. The world wonít end if you play bad blackjack, but when that happens, stick to the red chips and save your big action for better games. In these situations you win by not playing.

Sometimes itís better to choose the sorbet over the cherry pie.


© copyright 2013 Basil Nestor

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