I’ve got a hunch!

January 14, 2008 3:55 AM


When I play Blackjack, I like to occupy the third base position.

This is the one that acts just before the Dealer. I probably do this because I’m part egomaniac. I trust myself to be the one to take the card just before the Dealer draws. That said, I fully understand that you can have the absolute worst player on the planet there and it will not affect the overall outcome of the game.

I don’t like to play there simply because I work according to proper strategy. I like to play there because I also have some ability to do some light-duty card counting. I don’t profess to be an expert at card counting or have some incredible system. But, I do keep tabs on whether there seems to have been an inordinate amount of little cards that have already come out.

So, I guess in this case, it could be said that I sometimes play a hunch.

But, this hunch is not based on some gut feeling. It is based on closely observing the cards that have already been dealt and determining if there is a greater likelihood than normal that my hunch will be right. This system will only work in games in which you get to see a large portion of the cards in the deck/shoe.

It also only adds up to a relatively minute advantage, and only affects a small number of decisions. I’m not going to decide to hit a ”˜16’ into a ”˜6’ even if I think a lot of small cards are on the way. I may, however, decide to stick on a ”˜16’ looking into a ”˜10’ if I simply feel that the odds of a 5 or less has been greatly diminished based on the cards already dealt.

The problem comes in when people advocate playing hunches in games like Video Poker. You’re dealt 4-5-5-6-7, and someone tells you it is okay to play the 4-card Straight if you ”˜feel’ that the draw card will be a 3 or 8. What is this hunch based on? There are 47 additional cards in the deck. Eight of them will be a 3 or an 8. What have they seen to believe that the odds of this occurring are anything more than the calculated value based on complete randomness?

In my Blackjack hunch, I essentially recalculated the expected value of hitting vs. sticking based on my belief that the odds of any particular card is no long the same as any other card. Obviously, the probability of any one of the cards remaining in the deck/shoe is the same as any other. However, based on my observations of cards dealt, I determine that the odds of an Ace-5 (for the case where I have a ”˜16’) are below what it would be for a completely fresh random deck. Thus, a strategy change.

I am still being true to my beliefs that I play the hand so as to maximize my expected value. I am adjusting the expected value (albeit, very roughly) at the exact point in time that I must make my decision.

Again, this is not the case for the video poker scenario. Nothing has occurred that would allow anyone to believe that a 3 or an 8 is going to come up more often than 8 in 47. This probability has been factored into the equation to determine the expected value of a 4-Card Straight.

In similar fashion, every outcome has been factored into the equation to determine the expected value of the Low Pair. Unless we have a reason to believe something should adjust the values, these are the actual expected values. This is why the proper play is to hold the Low Pair, no matter how much you ”˜feel’ that the draw card will be a 3 or an 8.

Playing hunches in a game like Video Poker is a dream come true for the casino. Unless you really have the ability to predict the future (in which case, I recommend you use your skill on lotteries and forget video poker), you cannot be any more accurate than the laws of probability will allow you to be. It is these laws that go into the calculation of expected values that should dictate your strategy. Otherwise, I have a hunch, you’ll be heading to the ATM more often than you would like.