David Sklansky: Sklansky Talks Blackjack

Sklansky Talks Blackjack
A Book Excerpt by David Sklansky

From Sklansky Talks Blackjack, by David Sklansky. ©1999 by David Sklansky. This material appears with the express permission of the author and Two Plus Two Publishing.

A Total of 14


Hitting an

8s 6c

will not bust you as often as hitting a

Kh 5d

or a

9s 7h

however, you still bust often enough that you are better off hoping the dealer goes over when he shows a small card rather than taking the chance yourself. Thus, the basic strategy play remains the same as it does for the two aforementioned totals. Namely, you hit against a seven through ace and stand against a deuce through six.

What does change is the point at which you deviate from that strategy according to the count. For instance, against a deuce or a trey, you now need the deck to get only moderately negative for it to be right to hit that 14. The totals of 15 and 16 require highly negative counts. With a 14 a highly negative count would indicate a hit against everything, even a four, five, or six. On the other hand, 14 improves often enough by hitting that you would in fact hit against high cards regardless of the count. This is once again different than your strategy for a 15 or a 16 where you will sometimes stand against high cards when the deck is positive enough.

There is, however, one well known exception. It occurs when you have 14, the dealer has a ten showing, and there are little or no sevens left in the deck. When this happens it is right to stand even against an otherwise neutral count.  The reason has to do with my “key card concept,” explained earlier. In the case of 14 against a ten, the seven is the one non-schizophrenic card. Every other card has one effect if it is coming out to you and a different effect if it is in the dealer’s hole. The seven however, is a doubly good card to be in the deck if you do hit your hand. That is because the seven makes you 21 if you hit, while simultaneously making the dealer an easily beatable total of 17 if he has it in the hole.

On the other side of the coin, an absence of sevens in the deck makes hitting much less enticing. You won’t snag a 21, plus if you hit something like a trey or four you may still lose. Thus you are better off standing and hoping the dealer has a small card in the hole and goes on to bust. The effect of the seven in this particular situation is so strong that the basic strategy for one deck is to stand with two sevens against a ten simply because that particular 14 includes half the sevens in the deck. Still I only mention this for the sake of completeness. I do not expect that you will be keeping separate track of sevens, and even if you were it would be rare that a situation would arise where it would be right to stand with a 14 against a 10. We will get back to two sevens shortly when we discuss splitting strategy.

Ah 3d

is of course a total with which you would never stand. Thus, the only question is whether to hit or to double down (keeping in mind that there are many casinos that will not let you double down with this hand). If you do simply hit, the main thing to remember is that you revert to proper strategy for whatever new total you achieve. Thus if the dealer is showing a nine, you would hit a second time unless your first hit was a five, six, or seven. If the dealer was showing a deuce you would hit a second time if your first hit was an ace, deuce, trey, or eight. (Do you see why?) Of course, that might change based on the count.

As far as doubling down is concerned, you gain a little bit of expected value (even though you reduce your win chances somewhat) if you double down against a five or a six. If the deck is at all positive you should also double down against a four. On the other hand, you should not double down at all once the deck is mildly negative.

Now lets get back to

7s 7d

The proper strategy for this particular pair is very similar to the proper strategy for a pair of deuces, treys, and sixes. Basic strategy for two sevens is to split them when the dealer shows a deuce, trey, four, five, or six. This is true even if you cannot double down after splitting, even though the strategy for other pairs would change depending on that rule.

As far as counting is concerned, the correct splitting strategy for two sevens is once again not susceptible to changes in the count.  However the count might enter into things. For instance, if you split two sevens and caught a six against a trey showing, you would hit it again if the deck was slightly negative.

Bottom Line

Basic Strategy

Hard 14: Hit against seven through ace; otherwise stand.
Soft 14: Double against five or six.
Pair of sevens: Split against four through seven.

If You Are Counting

Hard 14: Surrender against a ten if the deck is moderately positive. Hit versus a deuce if the deck gets moderately negative. Hit versus trey or a four if the deck gets highly negative.
Soft 14: Double against a four when the deck gets moderately positive. Stop doubling at all when the deck is slightly negative Pair of sevens: Stick with basic strategy regardless of the count.

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