It’s a fact of life for most blackjack players that some hands will leave them feeling a little squeamish.
I’ve often heard from players who hate hitting hard 16, even though they know hitting gives them the best chance to win whenever the dealer shows a 7 or higher. Splitophobia runs rampant with a pair of 8s against a dealer’s 10 — splitting is the right play, but do you really feel comfortable with the extra bet?
To that list you can add doubling down on 11 when the dealer shows a 10-value card. On a mid-December casino jaunt, I sat next to a gent who just couldn’t pull the trigger.
The first time he faced the decision with a $25 bet on the table, he said, “Oh, I hate this hand. I never know what to do.”
Not being one to offer unsolicited advice at the tables, I just nodded. The third baseman wasn’t so reticent. “That’s not so tough,” he said. “That’s a good hand for you. The book says double.”
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The first player wasn’t convinced: “Whoever wrote the book isn’t being asked to throw in an extra 25 bucks when Bill (the dealer) probably has 20.”
At least twice more before I left my neighbor had 11 when the dealer had a 10 value. Every time, he would end up just hitting the hand and skipping the double opportunity.
Each time, I said nothing. The third baseman didn’t elaborate any more, but he did ask, “Are you sure you don’t want to double this time?”
If they’d been my hands, I’d have doubled every time. One of the rites of passage for those who are serious about blackjack is to decide to make the best percentage play every time and accept that sometimes you’re going to lose anyway.
In the case of 11 vs. a dealer’s 10, the best percentage play is to double down.
There is a possibility that the dealer will turn up a 10 and have a solid 20. But it’s not a case of the dealer will “probably” have a 20, as my neighbor thought. That second 10-value will be face down about 30.7 percent of the time.
That’s the same likelihood that your next card will be a 10 value. That’s a plus for the player. When the next card is a 10 for you, it turns your 11 into a 21, beating the 20 that second 10 gives the dealer.
A two-card 11 is a stronger building block than a 10. We can see that in the expected wins and losses for the hand.
If you start with 6-5 and the dealer has a 10 up, then per $100 wagered you would expect to win $11.86 if you hit. If you double down, that expected profit increases to $17.85, even factoring in that on losing hands you’d lose two bets instead of one.
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The expectations change only slightly with different two-card 11s. Staying with a base of $100 in original wagers, your expected profits when you hit are $11.79 with 7-4 or 8-3 and 11.70 with 9-2. Double down and those profits increase to $17.84 with 7-4, $17.69 with 8-3 and $17.39 with 9-2.
The hands where basic strategy calls for us to double are situations in which we as players have the edge, and we want to drive that edge home with a bigger bet. With 11 vs. 10, we have the edge, and we increase our average profit by doubling. The good times more than make up for the bad times of double losses.
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