Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Basic Strategy And Doubling Down

There's a sad fact about playing in a casino, whether real or virtual. The operators have worked out how to play the games on offer and set the odds to favor themselves. After all, if the majority did not lose, there would be no money to pay out all the money you win. Needless to say, the casinos have invested time and money into working out every possible variation on the rules and the ways to play under them. So, if you are going to take on the House edge, you have to become as big an expert on the rules as the operators. So let's start with one of the more interesting rules which decides when you are allowed to double down. This applies when you have received your two cards. If you decide you are going to draw only one more card, the casino rules can allow you to double your initial bet. The different possibilities are to double:

  • on any card combination;

  • only when the two cards total 9, 10 or 11; or

  • after splitting.

Why should you double your bet? The answer is deceptively simple. You double the bet when you think you are going to beat the Dealer. That really does make sense. But because you are suddenly investing more money in playing the game and have more to lose, you need to get on board with the math. You need to know the frequency with which the Dealer is likely to go bust based on the card you can see. If the Dealer's card suggests a bust is probable, i.e. the Dealer's hand is weak, you double the bet when you have a strong hand. You are maximizing the chance of making a good profit on the hand. If you build the doubling rule into your basic strategy, you reduce the House edge. If you refuse to play the doubling rule, the House edge actually increases. This is not to claim you will win every hand when you double down. If you are on a losing streak, you could lose every doubled bet for the session. But, in the long term, you will win more than you lose if you double. If you hesitate to double the bet, it suggests you are outside your comfort zone and already playing for higher stakes than you can afford.

At the blackjack table, the Dealer is weakest when showing a card in the range 2 through 6. With a 2, the bust percentage is 35%. It rises to a 42% chance of busting with a 5 or 6. Your hand is strongest if the two card total is less than 11. Do not be thrown off the basic strategy by the casinos that allow you to add less than the original bet. Blackjack is a game for winners. Never give up the chance to double and take the maximum win against the Dealer. Adding a few dollars to the original bet but not doubling is half-hearted and cowardly.