The most powerful (legal) means of overcoming the casino’s edge in Blackjack is to vary your bets according to the true count. Additional gains of .2 to .3% are available to those who also vary the play of their hands according to the true count. You undoubtedly have had situations where the count was sky-high and just knew that hitting that 12 against the dealer’s 3 was going to get you a face card. There is a point, as measured by true count, where standing with a 12 against a 3 is more profitable than hitting. This is called a ‘basic strategy variation’ and you’ll learn a lot of them in this series.
Modifying the play of your hand according to the true count will occur about 10% of the time. Should the count drop, you will double less, hit ‘stiff’ hands more and split pairs less often. As the count goes up, you will double more often, hit ‘stiffs’ less and split pairs more. For each basic strategy play, there is only one variation. For example, the variation for the hand 10, 6 versus 10 is to stand instead of hit; you would never double and you obviously may not split. Another example is 5,4 versus 2. Basic strategy says to hit, but if the count is high enough, you would double this hand. A good example on the minus side is A-2 versus 5; basic strategy says to double, but if the count is below 0, you should just hit. The easy way to remember something like that is “Double Ace-2 vs. 5 at 0 or higher.” Broken down into the ‘shorthand’ of a flashcard it is A-2 vs. 5 = 0. (Yes, we’ll be going back to our old friends, the flashcards.)
The value of any variation is determined by how often it will, on average, be used. If you play 100,000 hands of Blackjack a year ( about 20 hours a week, year round), you can expect to see a hand of 16 vs. 10 about 3500 times (3.5%). That’s actually the number 1 non-insurance situation. Any variation here has considerable value, simply because you’ll be using it relatively often. Conversely, you will receive 9,9 vs. 2 only 43 times in that 100,000-hand sample, so the variation here is of little value, because you’ll rarely use it. The frequency of hands allows us to prioritize the learning of basic strategy variations.
One of the most important variations from basic strategy is the insurance bet. Since the dealer will show an Ace as an up card about 7.5% of the time, knowing when it’s profitable to take insurance is very important. If you are playing at a six deck game, insurance is worthwhile when the true count is 3 or higher. You should always make the insurance bet at that point, regardless of what cards you’re holding, since it has no relationship with your hand. The High/Low counting system has an ‘Insurance Efficiency’ of 80% which means that 8 out of 10 times you’ll be doing the right thing when you make an insurance bet based on the true count.
As I mentioned earlier, considerable value is gained by learning those variations which involve starting hands of 12-16 vs. any up card, since those are the hands you’ll see most often. In fact, fully 54% of all your hands will be ‘stiff’ at some point in the playing. This is a good place to make an important point: basic strategy variations apply not just to your starting hands, but also to hands composed of 3 or more cards. You will stand on A, 2, 10, 3 versus 10 if the count is 0 or higher, as well as a hand of 10, 6. Doubling (or not doubling) is next in importance and splitting/not splitting pairs is least important.
It’s safe to say that utilizing these variations will increase your winnings by 10% in the six-deck game. But there’s a major side-benefit to them as well. By using these variations, you’ll look more like a ‘gambler’ in the casino. Hitting 16 against 10 some of the time and standing on it at other times is typical gambler behavior. For those casino supervisors who know proper basic strategy (damn few!), seeing you double A,7 versus 2 is crazy, just as standing with 15 against a 10 is ‘chicken’. Yet, all of those are — at certain counts — the correct play.
If you play at a single-deck game, the value of variations to basic strategy soars to 25% or more. If you spend any time at those games, you must learn them.
In the next lesson, I’ll show you how to learn these variations