PAUL'S POINTERS: SEVEN: LUCKY, UNLUCKY, or JUST ANOTHER NUMBER?
by Paul Wilson
BJI contributing writer Paul Wilson is a quasi-Renaissance man and graduate of Millsaps College. Some of his interests and hobbies include finance, consulting, travel, photography, and rock music. He's an avid baseball fan. Paul has done freelance writing and editing for gaming publications and takes blackjack, video poker, and sports betting very seriously. As we learned in the November 2014 issue, he also might have a "thing" for Wonder Woman.
Are you superstitious? How about when it comes to your casino gambling? This month we're going to talk about the number 7. People generally associate the number 7 with good luck. Stick around Las Vegas or other gambling environs and you'll probably see 7's everywhere; from bar names to plumbing businesses and everything in between*, not to mention in the casinos. After all, 7 is a winner on the come out roll in craps and triple 7's often mean a big jackpot on a slot machine. For blackjack players its different though isn't it? Let's take a look at what "lucky 7" means in our world.
* It's also the number of scenes most adult film actresses perform in one day, according to one former industry source and UNLV grad. "It's not necessarily the number of orgasms they have in a day, however, for those of you scoring at home."
7: FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, ALWAYS HIT IT!
This should be obvious, but isn't always for new players. I've seen players sit on various card combos totaling 7. If questioned they'll inevitable say that they didn't want to take the dealer's bust card. I appreciate that sentiment; however, you can only improve your hand and the basic strategy of blackjack calls for us to always hit our 7's. This means all 2-card combinations such as 3-4, 2-5, and yes, Ace-6. Notice I said, "Hit." Not double-down (except in certain situations on the Ace-6 ... read further). If you have any combination of 7, the correct play is always to draw another card (even with a pair of 2's and 3 Aces); which leads us to our next section....
7: A VITAL PIECE OF GETTING PAT
A "Pat" hand refers to a total of 17 through 21. That's what the dealer stands on (excluding soft 17 in way too many games you'll encounter); you should too. It's rather common to draw a 10-count card when you hit your 7 per above. With 17, you're not going to be a long-term winner, but you have a better chance of winning any hand over time by stopping on a "hard 17" than by continuing to draw cards and risk going over a total of 21 or "busting" your hand. A big part of blackjack is "losing" less hands often versus "winning" more hands. There's a subtle difference. You want to be in the game with a reasonable chance of getting paid when the dealer reveals his/her hole-card. Tucking your cards when you have a hard 17 enables you to do that. Much of blackjack is defensive in nature. Perhaps I'll explore that concept further in a future column.
7-7-X: TO SPLIT OR NOT TO SPLIT?
That is the question when dealt a pair of 7's isn't it? Perhaps Shakespeare's Prince Hamlet was lamenting this very scenario in the Nunnery Scene when he lamented,
"Whether 'tis Nobler in the mind to suffer/The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune/Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles..."
Let's face it, an opening pair of 7's isn't anything to write home about and could lead to a "sea of troubles" if misplayed.
On a recent playing session, I saw a tablemate repeatedly split 7s. That's the correct play if the dealer's up-card is a 2-7 in most games*. In this situation it wasn't. Let's face it, 14 is a bad hand. So splitting it against a weak dealer up-card gives us the opportunity to improve our hand by drawing additional cards to build a pat hand. Also, in this situation the dealer has an increased likelihood of busting, allowing us to get paid twice ("Outrageous Fortune"). However, by splitting 7's against stronger dealer up-cards (those greater than 7), you're asking to get beat twice. That's what happened to my fellow player mentioned above. The first time he drew he ended up with 17 and 17 on both splits against the dealers Queen. She had a Jack in the hole and he never had a chance. Somehow, that didn't stop this particular player the next time the opportunity presented itself to drown in a "sea of woe."
*Exception: also split against dealer's 8 if SD with das, and DD with s17 and das.
Before I move on, here's a little-known situation regarding 7-7 that rarely presents itself, but you might accidently find it in your blackjack adventures one day. If you are playing single-deck and late surrender is available, the correct play is to surrender your 7-7 against a dealer's 10-value up-card*. Playable single-deck with surrender option you say? I know, but those games existed at one time, not quite as far back as Hamlet, but "back in the day."
*If SD with h17 also surrender against dealer's Ace.
SOFT 7: SHOULD I DOUBLE DOWN? OR JUST HIT IT?
Most people tend to think of Ace-6 as a soft 17; granted it is, but at the same time, that kind of thinking can be a bit misleading. After all, is it not also a 7? I stated above that you should unequivocally hit 7. That's a fact. No further questions, your honor.
Now on to the good stuff: Sometimes we should go on the offense and double-down on that Ace-6 hand. Only do this when you have a perceived advantage over the dealer. Can you guess when that is? You got it; when they have a "bust" card showing. However, we don't want to double Ace-6 against the dealer's 2 in most situations*. You should double-down with Ace-6 against the dealer's 3, 4, 5, or 6 only. Don't double against the dealer's 7. You don't have an advantage and actually put yourself at a disadvantage if you don't draw an Ace or 10-count card by forfeiting the right to draw again a potential 17.
* The situations where you would also double down A-6 against a dealer's 2 are DD and Multi-Deck games with h17.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
This month I asked if the number 7 was lucky, unlucky, or just another number. Like the answer to many of life's important questions, the answer begins with "it depends." That's certainly the case for blackjack players and 7.
Let's recap what we learned or already know. First, always hit card combinations totaling 7; even Ace-6. Remember, pat hands are comprised of cards totaling 17 or more. That's our goal each time the cards are dealt and the dealer's upcard is 7 through Ace, to make a hand totaling 17 through 21 (and have it beat the dealers total or, hopefully, she busts). Also, don't split 7's blindly. There's a time and a place. It's ok to hit your 14 against a dealer's 8 or greater and hope for the best. In that situation 38% of the cards will give you a pat hand (5/13). Only split against 2-7 up-cards (and against the 8 in some games). Lastly, the only 7 to double down on is Ace-6. Do it against 3-6 up-cards (and against 2-6 in DD/Multi-Deck games with h17) when the dealer has a higher probability of busting their hand.
Till next time, and may Santa bring you another 7 when you have to hit your 7-7 hand. Happy Holidays and thanks for reading!
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