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Playing "Heads Up" vs. "Full Table" Blackjack

by Fred Renzey


Fred Renzey is an "advantage" blackjack player, and author of the highly rated "Blackjack Bluebook II Ė The Simplest Winning Strategies Ever Published", a vividly detailed 217 page handbook for casino "21". BJI readers can purchase the book at 10% discount in our store by clicking here.

Nearly all blackjack players, novices and pros alike, seem to be sensitive to how many other players are at the table. Most novices hate to play alone because they tend to feel "overpowered" by the dealer. More customers at the table provide them with a feeling of "reinforcement."

On the other hand, advantage players donít like full tables mostly because the game becomes just too slow to be profitable. So letís have a look at crowded vs. empty blackjack tables from both the recreational and professional points of view.

Basic Strategy Player

If you donít play blackjack with an outright advantage, then the more crowded the table is - the better off you are, period. There are a number of reasons why this is so. The first and biggest reason is:

Game Speed: A seven-handed blackjack game moves along at an average pace of about 55 rounds per hour. By contrast, if youíre playing all alone with the dealer, itís not hard to get in 200 to 250 hands during that same time period. Since even a perfect basic strategy player has an overall disadvantage in the game, the slower the game, the less money he loses Ė pure and simple.

A $25-a-hand basic strategist loses an average of about 12 cents per hand, long term. At a full table, thatís maybe $7 per hour. Playing heads up, itís about 28 bucks!

Comps: The moneysaving benefits of slowing down the game donít end there. Thatís because a comp is a comp - is a comp. Theyíre awarded to you mostly on your average bet, multiplied by your length of play at the table. Two hours of quarter-a-hand blackjack will generally get you a couple of buffet passes from the floorperson. Those two buffets will have cost you an average of $14 in blackjack losses playing in a ring game Ė or 56 bucks if you were heads up.

Coupons: Lots of home town casinos also mail out "cashback" coupons to their regular customers that can be cashed in at the cage on their next visit. The action described above might well get you a $5 or $10 cashback coupon in the mail. I canít swear to it, but I doubt that the value of the coupon varies with how many players were at your table.

Hand Interaction: But wait Ė thereís still more benefit to playing blackjack at a crowded table if youíre just a basic strategy player. This time, itís because of Hand Interaction opportunities. Hand Interaction consists mainly of capping off other playersí double downs when they double for less than the max, or taking part of their advantageous splits when they feel insecure about doing it all themselves. Scavenging these plays brings an outright advantage to you, usually between 5% and 10% of the money you put up. Combined, double down hands and pair splits come to each player about once every nine hands.

If youíre playing heads up with the dealer, Hand Interaction is not an option. But if there are six other players with you at the table, somebody else will have a doubling hand or a pair split every round-and-a-half, on average! Itís surprising how many of them you can get a piece of if you keep your focus leaned in that direction.

Hand Interaction is of the greatest overall value to a basic strategy player when he is the smallest bettor at the table. This keeps his own personal losses to a minimum, while allowing him to gain healthy advantages on bets larger than his own.

High/Low Layouts: Finally, thereís one more thing that can help a basic strategy playerís game most when the table is crowded. Even though he doesnít keep count of the cards played throughout the shoe, he certainly should be able to recognize an occasional barrage of high or low cards lying right there on the table.

If heís playing heads up, heíll see only five or six cards in a round. That doesnít mean much to a 300 card shoe. But at a full table, heíll see 20 or more cards laid out in plain view on the board. They can swing his chances on the following hands either way by as much as a full percentage point.

Joe Basic Strategy should ask for a lammer on his spot, and disappear for the rest of the shoe when a genuine flock of aces and faces hits the board at a full, or nearly full table. He should also triple his bet whenever he sees a board that contains at least 8 more low cards (2ís thru 6ís) than high ones (10ís and aces).


So letís see. How much can a $25 basic strategy player help his game at a crowded $25 minimum table?

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