John Grochowski

John Grochowski John Grochowski John Grochowski John Grochowski

Just about a year ago, I answered a reader’s question about strategy adjustments for cruise-ship blackjack in which the dealer takes no hole card, waits until all player decisions to take a second card and more.

Most Americans don’t encounter that situation often, although some European casinos as well as some cruise ships have such games. However, a reader contacted me this month to say he’d been playing at a semi-automated game in which a live dealer dealt just one player hand in addition to a dealer hand from a single deck, reshuffled for each hand.

As many as 40 players bet at remote terminals, each receiving a video feed of the cards being dealt. The dealer took no hole card.

“I've been pondering a specific basic strategy change in a game where the dealer doesn't take his second card until the player has completed his turn,” the player wrote. “If you are playing heads up with the dealer, it seems intuitive that 13 against a dealer 2 should now be a hit.

“The additional bust card of a 9 (as opposed to hitting a 12 vs. 2) would give the dealer an 11 if the player stayed; 13 vs. 11 would be a losing proposition for sure so it seems like hitting to improve your 13 would be the better play. What do you think?”

There are two issues to approach here: The absence of a dealer hole card and the heads-up, fresh deck nature of the game.

Let’s start with the hole card issue. There is nothing in the no-hole card game that would necessitate a strategy change for any decision that does not involve splitting pairs and doubling down.

The house has a larger edge in no-hole games because the absence of a hole card means the dealer who has an Ace or a 10-value card face up has no opportunity to check for blackjack and stop play before any double downs or pair splits. The house takes all splits and doubles if the dealer then gets blackjack.

On run-of-the mill hit/stand decisions, there are no extra bets at risk. You base decisions on your cards vs. a dealer hand that includes an up card plus an unknown second card. It makes no difference whether that unknown card has already been dealt or will come later.

What about playing head-to-head with the dealer with a fresh shuffle? Does that require a strategy adjustment?

No, it does not. Heads-up with a fresh shuffle is when basic strategy is at its most accurate, not its least.

All your possible draws, all the dealer’s possible draws, all the effects of your possible draws on the dealer’s possible draws are taken into account in basic strategy, which calls for us to stand on 13 when the dealer has a 2 up.

Advanced strategy makes adjustments when more cards are known. A 13 vs. 2 is a fairly close call hand, but a Hi-Lo card counter doesn’t adjust to hit unless the count is -2 or lower, meaning at least two more high cards than low cards per deck have been played. At -1 or higher, the best play is to stand.

Head to head vs. the dealer after a fresh shuffle, there is no way for hard 13 vs. 2 to take you into a negative count.

Neither the absence of a hole card nor the heads-up, fresh deck nature of the game yield any reason to alter basic strategy on non-split, non-double hands. Stand on that 13 vs. 2.

Look for John Grochowski on Facebook ( and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).

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