Most blackjack players have a love/hate relationship with the ace. They love it when they get an ace but they hate it when the dealer shows the ace. Overall, the ace is our best friend and it’s important to know why.
First, let’s look at why we hate the ace; namely, when the dealer gets it as his upcard. When this happens, we are in big trouble because the dealer rarely breaks when he shows an ace. According to the table of dealer probabilities (Appendix 2 on the blackjack page at wizardofodds.com), the dealer will bust with an ace upcard only 16.9% of the time (this assumes he doesn’t have a blackjack). The rest of the time, he will make a 17 through 20 with almost precisely the same frequencies (18.9% for each total), and he’ll get a non-blackjack 21 hand 7.5% of the time.
These stats might be great for the dealer but grim for players. In fact, according to blackjack author Arnold Snyder (The Big Book of Blackjack), when the dealer shows an ace, the house edge over the basic strategy player in most blackjack games zooms to 36%, which results in players’ winding up with only $64 for every $100 wagered on average, when they play against the dealer’s ace.
So what’s a player supposed to do when he is staring at that dreaded dealer ace? He knows the dealer’s chances of busting are slim and, more than likely, he will make a pat hand. The best you can do is to play your hands in a way that will minimize your losses, which includes the following strategies:
1. If the rules allow surrender, gladly give up half your bet if you have a hard 16 (you’ll save money compared to using any other strategy). Note: If the rules specify the dealer must hit soft 17 (i.e., h17), then also surrender hard 15.
2. Never, ever stand on a stiff (that’s a hand that could bust with one draw card). Always draw until you either get a pat hand or bust trying.
3. Don’t double down except if you have a two-card 11 in a single- or double-deck game, or in a six- and eight-deck game if the rules are h17.
4. Don’t stand with a soft 13-18 (always hit against the ace, with the goal to get to either a hard 17 to 21 or a soft 19 to 21).
5. Don’t split any pairs except aces and 8s (yes, you’ll lose less in the long run playing two single aces or 8s against a dealer’s ace vs. playing them as pairs).
Note: If you want to be sure you always make the right play when you play blackjack, bring along a strategy card and refer to it when in doubt. They are casino legal.
Henry Tamburin is the editor of the Blackjack Insider newsletter For a free copy of his Casino Gambling Catalog call toll free 1-888-353-3234, or visit the web store at smartgaming.com.
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