No harm on ‘soft’ approach to double downs

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I’ve spent the last few weeks discussing some blackjack strategy. Blackjack strategies are developed the same way video poker strategies are. Using computers, we evaluate every option the player has and decide which will make the most or lose the least, as the case may be.

As in video poker, many decisions in blackjack are fairly obvious. It is the other hands, which are less obvious, that separate the beginners from the Expert Players.

One group of hands that falls in this category is the soft hands, where an Ace counts as an 11. Players have the option to double down, hit or stick on many of these hands. If you sit at a table for awhile, you’ll quickly find very few players play these hands correctly.

In regular blackjack, many of these hands create double down situations. This is because of the ability to improve the player’s hand AND the Ddaler’s likelihood of busting.

Last week, I showed how the strategy changes dramatically in Spanish 21 with the 10’s missing, and the reduced likelihood of the dealer busting. This week, I’ll take a look at what happens in Blackjack Switch where a Dealer 22 is a push.

In Blackjack Switch, the player must play two blackjack hands with equal wagers. The player then has the option to switch the second cards dealt to each hand. So, if dealt a 5-10 and a 10-6, you can turn that into a 5-6 and a 10-10 and greatly strengthen the hands. If dealt a 5-10 and a 6-10, then switching will do nothing.

The price the player pays for this option is if the dealer busts with a 22, all player hands still in action (except natural blackjacks) are pushed. This means a LARGE number of dealer busts wind up as pushes. Since we double down looking for dealer busts, this will alter our strategy greatly.

The strategy for soft hands in Blackjack Switch is rather simple. There are only FOUR times we double down. We double down on a soft 17 or soft 18 against a dealer 5 or 6. If we have a soft 17 or less and can’t double down (3-plus cards) then we hit. We stick on all soft 19’s or higher. For a soft 18, when we can’t double, we stick against an 8 or less and hit against a 9, 10 or Ace.

 Given how much doubling on soft hands adds to our payback in regular blackjack, how is it that in Blackjack Switch we can give up this benefit and still have a game that pays in the mid 99% range? It is the nature of the ability to switch that creates a bit of a paradox. We double down in far fewer situations in Blackjack Switch than regular blackjack because the Dealer Bust on 22 rule.

However, our starting hands (after the switch) are far stronger in Blackjack Switch than in regular Blackjack. In the case of soft hands, we will frequently perform a switch that will convert it from an ordinary soft hand into a 21 or a 20, leaving the other hand frequently in no worse shape.

So, while we lose the opportunity to double down on some of these soft hands, we instead gain stronger hands we don’t double down on. A 20 (hard or soft) is far preferable to a soft 17 – especially in Blackjack Switch.

While Blackjack Switch simplifies our soft hand strategy, it also adds an entire new layer of strategy by needing to know when to switch. This part of the strategy is far more important to achieving the theoretical payback than is the altered hit/stick strategy. However, I would strongly suggest you learn both!

Just as in video poker, when you change the payouts or the rules of the game, the strategy changes with it. While many of the switch decisions will be obvious, many will leave you scratching your head as to what is the better play.

Undoubtedly, there will also be times when you do the right thing and it backfires or you do the wrong thing and it works out. However, this doesn’t change what the right mathematical answer is. As the saying goes, even a broken clock is right two times a day!

To help you learn the right strategy, I’m continuing to offer our Buy 1 Get 1 Free special. Buy Expert Strategy for Blackjack Switch for $6.95 and get Expert Strategy for Spanish 21 for free. Both come with pocket-sized multi-color strategy cards to bring into the casino with you. If you’d like to order, please send a check or money order to Gambatria, P.O. Box 36474, Las Vegas, NV 89133.

 

About the Author

Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome’s roots run deep into gaming theory and analysis. His father, Lenny, was a pioneer in developing video poker strategy in the 1980s and is credited with raising its popularity to dizzying heights. Elliot is a second generation gaming author and analyst with nearly 20 years of programming experience.

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