PAUL'S POINTERS: THE ILLUSTRIOUS 18 (PART 2)
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.
In last month's Paul's Pointers I wrote about deviating from blackjack basic strategy based on deck composition. There are times when the "correct" play may not be to follow basic strategy and I described seven of those exceptions or instances taken from Blackjack Hall of Famer Don Schlesinger's Illustrious 18. This month we're going to continue that theme and I'll introduce the rest of the Illustrious 18. Together we'll find out what they mean and how they could help your game.
You may remember from last month's issue that the Illustrious 18 is a group of index numbers that defines playing situations for 18 specific hands when it is mathematically advantageous for a player to deviate from basic strategy. They first appeared in the September, 1986 issue of Blackjack Forum in an article titled "Attacking the Shoe." They should only be used when incorporating the Hi-Lo card counting strategy in six- and eight-deck shoe games. To derive these index numbers, the player must keep a running count (RC) of the cards as they are played and then convert this running card into a true count (TC). Remember that TC is the RC divided by the number of decks remaining to be played. The TC gives us a point of reference or index number. With the ability to establish an index number, and the understanding that previously played cards matter and will affect our results in subsequent hands, we can begin to understand basic strategy deviations. With a tip of the cap to its 30-year anniversary, let's continue with Part II of the Illustrious 18.
(Note: The index numbers and strategies below can be found in Schlesinger's Blackjack Attack: Playing the Pros' Way, page 213, Table 10.1).
UNLUCKY 13; OR THOSE PESKY LITTLE CARDS
This section introduces a pair of Illustrious 18 play variations that revolve around the player having a starting hand of 13 and the dealer showing a "bust" card in the form of a 2 or 3. If the dealer's up-card is 7 or greater it's a no-brainer to take a hit and hope you make a hand. If the dealer shows less than 7, basic strategy tells us to stay (and hope the dealer busts). However, have you noticed that the dealer seems to bust less and make a hand more often than not when their up-card is a 2 or 3? In Hi-Lo terms this is due in part to the fact the "neutral" cards (7, 8, and 9) actually help the dealer make a hand versus pushing them over a total of 21 in many cases. It may seem instinctively wrong to hit 13 in these instances and in fact we should stand if the dealer is showing a 2 and the TC is -1 or higher, but we should hit if the TC is less than -1. If the dealer is showing a 3 up-card, we stand if the TC is -2 or higher, but hit if the TC is less than -2. Remember that with a negative count, there are more low-value cards remaining to be played. By taking a hit, we are banking on not busting and taking one of these small or neutral count cards to make our hand or at least keep it away from the dealer. It's a tough play, but you'll salvage a few losing hands in the long-run.
YOUR (YOU'RE) 16; OR NOT SO FAST RINGO
Most of us can agree there's nothing "beautiful" about your 16, or mine for that matter. Basic strategy admits as much and tells us to take a hit if the dealer has a pat up-card (7 or greater). Yes, we'll bust that draw more times than not, but we'll win a few too and lose less than if we did nothing every time. Last month I covered 16 versus dealer 10 up-card, but what if the dealer is showing a 9 instead? The Illustrious 18 tells us to stand on 16 if the TC is +5 or higher. An index number that high means the number of 10-count cards remaining to be dealt greatly outnumbers the amount of low-value cards remaining. What that means for us is that if we take a hit, we have an increased likelihood of busting our hand by going over 21. We are better off tucking our cards and hoping the dealer doesn't already have us beat with a pat hand thanks to the hole card. If they don't, there's a good chance we've saved one of those 10s for the dealer and we win a hand thanks to our "hunch." Bring on the peaches, cream, and strawberry wine! Remember to proclaim, "I knew she didn't have it!" as you collect your chips.
NUMBER 9, NUMBER 9, NUMBER 9; OR HERE COMES THE SUN
In some schools of thought (think astrology, numerology, or tarot) 9 is the "sun number" and those under its influence tend to be objective thinkers and see things as they are without that pesky little thing called emotion getting in the way. So it is with the Illustrious 18 and these next two basic strategy deviations involving player hands totaling 9. In both of the following examples, we are trying to be aggressive and get more chips in the betting circle when the count is in our favor.
Double down with 9 against a dealer's 2 if the TC is +1 or higher. Per our previous discussions, a 2 isn't the worst card a dealer could have, but we have a slight edge in drawing one of the extra 10's or Aces the +1 TC represents to make a 19 or 20 out of our hand. Even if we don't get the big card, there's still about a 37% chance the dealer will bust making us a double winner.
Double down with 9 against a dealer's 7 if the TC is +4 or higher. This is another attacking play and is based on the large number of tens and Aces remaining. Personally, at +4 I'm conceding the dealer has a 10 in the hole and I'm trying to beat 17. I've got a "2-point" lead already and just need one of the big cards to land and I'm a double winner 19-17. Pretty simple huh? I often see people double-down on this hand when the TC is much lower. Don't be overly aggressive. Know why you are doubling (because the deck is rich in 10's at +4).
STROKER ACE WAS BORN TO RACE; BUT TO DOUBLE DOWN?
Burt Reynolds played the character Stroker Ace, a popular NASCAR driver from Georgia, in the 1983 movie by the same name. He was an aggressive race car driver and always won; if he didn't crash. He was arrogant, pompous, but oh so confident in his abilities behind the wheel (among other things). Remember Stoker Ace as we dive into these next two plays involving dealer Aces (If you haven't seen the movie, you've got another assignment after you finish reading Paul's Pointers; Netflix anyone?).
The dealer has an Ace showing and you have 11. Normally, after breathing a sigh of relief that the dealer didn't have a blackjack, we would just take a hit and hope for a large card. However, if the TC is -1 or higher in games where the dealer hits soft 17 (H17) or +1 or higher in games where the dealer stands on soft 17 (S17), you should double down. With index numbers on either side of 0, we're basically saying "my 11 is as good as yours" to the dealer. The key is that we know the dealer doesn't have 21 and we have about a 30% chance of drawing a ten and making 21 on the draw. The dealer will get another shot if they aren't pat with the hole card and they can draw for a while with a soft hand, however, the key is we've got a big head start on the way to 21 and probably only have to beat 20 or much less.
Much like the above play, there are situations where we should double down on our 10 versus the dealer's Ace. In a H17 game, double your 10 versus the Ace if the TC is +3 or higher; raise the TC to +4 (or higher) in S17 games. Sounds crazy doesn't it? Or just plain brash! Stroker Ace would love this play. The key is that we know the dealer doesn't have a ten in the hole or the hand would already be over. That's one more ten for us and with a TC of +3 or +4 there are plenty of 10's remaining. Let's face it; this is pretty much a "big boy" double-down. You better be sure on the TC and you better get a 10 or even one of the remaining Aces or you're probably gonna crash and burn on this hand. Just like ole Stroker, you're going to win if you don't crash; but in the long run, the odds are on your side with this play.
While we're on the Stroker Ace double-down theme, let's include one more similar play to the two above, even though it doesn't involve a dealer Ace. If the dealer's up-card is a 10 and the TC is +4 or higher, you should double down on your 10. This one is pretty much the same concept as the play above. You're looking for a ten or you just might be in big trouble. However, plenty of 10's still remain in the deck at +4 and if the dealer isn't already pat, he or she very well might bust on the next card drawn. You'll probably see your share of pushes at 20 apiece as well, but that's ok. At +4, put the petal to the metal and attack.
10's, 10's, GLORIOUS 10's; OR PARTY AT THE PLAYBOY MANSION
As you might have guessed these next basic strategy deviations involve 10's. Like the glory days of Hef's empire, more than one, lots more! The following two plays aren't for the faint of heart. They won't make you any friends and will cause other players to roll their eyes or even get up and leave the table after the hand. More importantly, these plays are liable to get yourself branded as a card counter (or village idiot if your act is good) by pit personnel. You've no doubt guessed by now that I'm talking about splitting 10's!
Basic strategy tells us to never split 10's. It's generally a winning hand. However, to maximize session profits, we should split 10's against dealer up-cards of 5 or 6 when the TC is +5 or higher. Notice I said "session" profits above. By splitting 10's you're begging for unwanted attention. Depending on the size of your bet and a few other factors, you might get yourself invited to leave if you make this play successfully too many times. Ah, but that's a topic for another day or a couple issues back (see Paul's Pointers, July 2016 issue of Blackjack Insider.)
The premise behind splitting 10's with a +5 or higher TC against a dealer's five or six is that just like at a Playboy Party, if you let one "10" get away, there's another one coming; and another one. All things being equal, the dealer should bust with an up-card of 5 or 6 about 42% of the time. With a TC of +5 or more, all things are not equal. By splitting your 10's, you've got a great chance to draw another 10 or two to make two very strong hands. Also, there's a good chance the dealer has a 10 in the hole and is already drawing on 15 or 16 with plenty of large cards remaining that will bust their hand. It's aggressive and will draw attention - for good or ill. Just like partying with Playboy Bunnies, the opportunity to split 10's against a 5 or 6 doesn't come around often for most of us. Take your best shot and never look back.
Surprise; there's no mention of ducks, pricing guns, hall of fame trophies, or agent teleportation for this one - just a single word. At the end of last month's column, I mentioned one of the Illustrious 18 that just might surprise you. Well, this is it. In retrospect, if you've read this far and realize the importance of + counts, you might have guessed it already.
Despite what many well-meaning dealers and fellow players might say, basic strategy tells us to never take insurance. Only 4 of every 13 cards (about 31%) are 10-count cards that the dealer needs to complete a blackjack when they have an Ace showing. That means about 7 out of 10 times they won't have a blackjack. However, there are exceptions. When the dealer has an Ace up and the TC is +3 or higher, we should deviate from basic strategy and take insurance. Your hand doesn't matter (remember to include your two cards and any others you can see into your RC and TC conversion before making your decision.). You won't be right every time, but at +3 or higher there are a lot of big cards remaining and the dealer's frequency of blackjacks will increase in these situations. By taking insurance in these situations, you'll save a few chips you can fire into those Playboy-like hands mentioned in the last section!
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
This month we concluded our discussion of basic strategy deviations and Don Schlesinger's Illustrious 18. This group of index numbers defines playing situations when it is mathematically advantageous for a player to deviate from basic strategy. The Illustrious 18 are generally accepted as the most profitable index numbers for card counters. The index numbers used in this piece should only be used when incorporating the Hi-Lo card counting strategy in six- and eight-deck shoe games.
The first three plays we examined in the Illustrious 18 index this month are primarily what I consider "defensive" plays where we don't have the best of it and are trying to lose less in our version of the long-run by making these deviations. They include the following:
We also discussed seven deviations where we want to go on offense and attack by doubling-down:
Finally, we addressed when to take insurance, regardless of your starting hand:
There you have it, denizens; Part II of the Illustrious 18. Handle with care and don't mess with this until you know basic strategy and are very accurate in keeping the running count and making true count conversions. When you're ready, dive in. I hope you find this column useful and a good reference going forward.
Note: The following table is from Chapter 10.7 in Henry Tamburin's book, Ultimate Guide to Blackjack, which is free to read athttp://www.888casino.com/blog/casino-guides/blackjack/
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