THE DEALER’S ONLY ADVANTAGE
Before we examine the correct strategies of play, it would be instructive to look at a losing strategy. In this strategy, the player will mimic the dealer; he’ll draw on all totals 16 or less, and stand on all totals 17-21. * The player doing this figures that since this strategy wins for the dealer, it must be effective for the player as well. After all, the dealer and the player will get the same number of good hands and the same number of poor hands. And if we draw just as the dealer draws, we must come out even, mustn’t we? No. As a matter of fact, the player will be playing at about a 5½% disadvantage to the house. The “Mimic the Dealer” strategy overlooks one important thing: The player must act upon his hand first.
OVERCOMING THE DISADVANTAGE OF ACTING FIRST
In the “Mimic the Dealer” strategy we played our hands as if our goal was to get as close to 21 as reasonably possible by using 17 as a cutoff point for drawing. But this losing strategy misstates the goal of the player. In blackjack, the object is to beat the dealer. Our chances of winning are not determined by how close our total approaches 21 as the other strategy assumed, but on how good our total is compared to the dealer’s total.
We can overcome the disadvantage of having to act first by making judicious use of the options available to us as a player. Not only should we double down, split pairs, hit, stand and surrender (if allowed), but we can use our knowledge of the dealer’s exposed upcard to fully capitalize on these options. Needless to say, adjusting our strategy according to this knowledge of the dealer’s upcard will vastly improve on the “Get as Close to 21—Mimic the Dealer” strategy, and completely eliminate the house edge.
TO BEAT THE DEALER
There are two factors that affect our chances of winning; the strength of our total and the strength of the dealer’s total. To beat the dealer, we must know how strong our total is compared to the dealer’s total so that we know if drawing additional cards or exercising a player option is a viable consideration. In addition, we must be aware of the factors that influence the final outcome of these totals so that we can determine the optimal strategy.
- Do we have the expectancy of winning by standing?
- If so, can we increase this expectancy by drawing additional cards or by exercising a doubling or splitting option when applicable?
- If we do not have the expectancy of winning by standing, will the drawing of additional cards or the employment of the doubling or splitting option increase our chance of winning?
Since our object is to beat the dealer, to answer the question, “How strong is our total?” we need to ask ourselves if the dealer’s expectancy, judged by the information we get from his exposed card, is greater than our total.
UNDERSTANDING THE DEALER’S UPCARD
Being able to see the dealer’s upcard is of great value to us for there are two factors—the rules governing the dealer’s play of his hand, and the number of tens in a deck of cards (ten factor)—that tell us a great deal about the potential strength of the dealer’s hands, and the frequency with which those hands will bust.
THE DEALER’S RULES AND THE TEN FACTOR
Our strategy is based on the fact that the dealer must play by prescribed guidelines from which he cannot deviate. He must draw to all totals 16 or below, and stand on all totals 17-21 (except in casinos that require the dealer to draw to soft 17). All hard totals that exceed hard 21 are automatic dealer losses. The combination of the ten factor with the dealer’s rigid drawing and standing rules creates a natural separation of the dealer’s upcard into two distinct groupings: 2s through 6s, the dealer stiff cards, and 7s through aces, the dealer pat cards. We’ll base our strategies accordingly
UNDERSTANDING THE PLAYER’S HAND-HARD TOTALS
The player’s totals can be divided into three distinct groupings: 11 or less, 17-21 and 12-16. We will look at each in turn to see how they affect our strategy, but first, let’s examine the player’s pat hand totals to get a better feel for the reasoning behind the strategy plays we’ll make.
With these hands the bulk of our decision making will be exercised, for on these hard totals there are no automatic decisions as on the other player totals. Our hand is not an obvious draw (such as the 11 or less grouping) for the risk of drawing a 10 or other high card and busting is substantial. Our hand is not an obvious stand decision either (such as the 17-21 grouping), for the only times we will win with these weak totals of 12-16 are the times that the dealer busts. We discuss this grouping in the following chapter, the Optimal Basic Strategies, where we show you the correct way to play every hand dealt in blackjack, and later, in The Winning Edge chapter, show you how to use this information to be a winner at blackjack.
For the Cardoza Non-Counter winning strategies to be effective (or any other strategy for that matter) and for you to be a winner at blackjack, you must first know the correct way to play all your hands, so read the following chapters carefully. Let’s get to it!