When it’s time to walk away when playing table games

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Another week, another inspiration thanks to a Facebook post. This one comes from a friend who posted up a blog entry a friend of his had written.

The topic had to do with world events and the importance of knowing when to walk away. A phrase like this undoubtedly draws comparisons to gambling.

More important than knowing when to hit a 17 or bet on red is understanding when to walk away. I read it about a dozen times and finally could only utter, “Huh?”

You can always tell when someone with absolutely no knowledge of gambling attempts to use gambling terms to bring home a point. Let’s take a closer look – “when to bet on red?”

Is there a better time to bet on red vs. betting on black? If the roulette wheel just had 10 blacks is now a good time to bet on red? Are the odds any different than they were before the prior roll?

The odds of red are 18 out of 37 (or 38 if a double-zero wheel). Roulette doesn’t really have one of the lower house edges, so one could argue you should never make the wager. But, if you are playing roulette, the only time not to bet red is after the dealer has said, “No more wagers.”

Then there is the “when to hit a 17” part. Aside from a soft 17, the answer would be never. Is this really a question? If you try to hit a hard 17, the dealer is going to call over the pit boss because they will assume you are some sort of card counter. So, I guess the writer would’ve been better off saying “when to hit a 16.”

Then, I gave that some thought and realized while it was a lot better, it really wouldn’t be the expression you would want to use either. The rule is pretty straight forward. If the dealer has a bust card (2-6), you stick and let him do the busting. If the dealer has a good card (7-10/Face or Ace), then you can’t count on him busting and you have to take the risk and try to improve your hand.

So, you hit.

Many people hesitate hitting 16’s but only because they hate to bust and there is a strong chance you will. Put a 7 as the dealer upcard and the choice gets harder, but hitting is still the clear strategy.

The dealer will win outright with 5 out of 13 cards and still have many chances to win with any of the others. Yes, of course there will be times he will bust with a 7 up. But, as always, you are playing the probabilities.

If the writer of the blog really wanted to make his point of the importance of strategy he might have tried “when to hit a 12.” Far more players get this wrong. They erroneously think all but a 10 will improve the hand.

This really isn’t true. If you hit a 3 and get to 15, you haven’t improved your hand at all. You can’t win with a 15 unless the dealer busts. So, if you were willing to hit the 12, does this mean you should hit a 15? Of course not.

Players don’t have much problem with the notion of hitting a 12 vs. a 7 through Ace. These are strong dealer upcards and since there is less than a 1/3 chance of busting, hitting the 12 seems to make sense to most players.

The problem comes in with the dealer bust cards. There are many players who insist on hitting a 12 vs these bust cards. The driving force is the low probability of busting. But, there are only five cards that will truly improve the hand. And, getting to 17 or 18 does not guarantee a victory.

Dealer cards like 4, 5, and 6 are just too weak to take any chances of busting before the dealer does. If you both bust, the dealer wins. You need to let the dealer bust while you don’t!

That leaves the dealer 2 and 3. Here’s a little known secret, the 2 is not a weak card for the dealer. It is not as powerful as a 7 through Ace. Many players, simply assume you never bust if the dealer has a 2 through 6, but this is not true.

If the player has a 12 and the dealer has a 2 or a 3, the player should hit. The difference in expected value is not monumental, but it is clear.

Ironically, the overall message the writer of the aforementioned blog was trying to get across is that all of the strategy of play takes a back seat to knowing when to walk away. I can’t really argue that point. But, the details of that strategy I’ll have to leave for another day.

Elliot Frome is a second generation gaming analyst and author. His math credits include Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Mississippi Stud, House Money and many other games. His website is www.gambatria.com. Contact Elliot at [email protected].

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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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