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Columnist
Take your blackjack game up a notch with these inside tips
By Fred Renzey | Daily Herald Correspondent
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Published: 9/7/2007 12:45 AM

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I truly want to help you learn to play better blackjack. I see you in the casinos day after day, watching fervently as the cards are dealt. I observe quietly while you make your playing and betting decisions.

You may not notice me, but I'm there when you misplay a hand; when you bet more money at the wrong time; and when you leave the table, just when you should stay. At times like these, I want to tell you how wrong you are, and why. But I know you wouldn't listen. As far as you're concerned, I'm just another bust-out with a smart-butt opinion.

You want me to tell you why 99 percent of you are losers at blackjack -- when it is actually a beatable game? Here's why. Most blackjack players adapt their initial game plan from a basic strategy chart. That part's fine.

Then they mix in some plays from the other players in the trenches next to them. To this, they usually add some homespun behaviors based upon gambling folklore. By the time their done, they have a blackjack strategy that is guaranteed to lose -- and the casinos love them!

Pit bosses empathize with you when you lose a hand saying, "Tough beat Mr. X. How about dinner Mr. X? Do you need a room for the night Mr. X?" They know you're a valuable asset to them, and that long term, you've got no shot.

Do you sincerely want to improve your game? Then here are a few good tips to help you do that.

1. First and foremost, learn your basic strategy -- all of it. This is your foundation. Your game can't go anywhere good without it. That means hitting your 12s against a 3, hitting your soft 18s against a 9, 10 or Ace, and doubling that soft 18 against a 3, 4, 5 or 6 -- among other things.

2. Try to spend most of your playing time at casinos with the better rules. The dealer hitting soft 17 is bad. Being able to re-split your pair of Aces when you catch a third Ace is good. Surrender is good. The house edge can be twice as big if you're on the wrong side of all three of those rules, as opposed to being on the right side. Over time, it'll grind away at your chip stack.

3. Contrary to popular belief, 16 against a 10 should not always be hit. Anytime your 16 contains a 4 or a 5, such as with 9/4/3 or 8/5/3, you should actually stand -- but only against a 10. That's because you have fewer key hit cards to win with. It's analogous to drawing to your 7/8/9/10 in poker when you see that a couple of 6s and Jacks are dead. Not drawing becomes the right play -- so don't draw!

4. Don't play right into the casino's hands by taking even money on your blackjack against a dealer's Ace. Go for full value. Seven times out of 10 you'll get it, and you'll do better overall.

5. If basic strategy says to double down, it means you'll win that hand more often than you'll lose it. Yet, many players don't double down in scary, but correct doubling situations -- even though they'll take only one hit regardless of what card they catch. Some examples are when they have 9 against a 4, or Ace/6 against a 5. When you notice somebody just hitting these hands, offer to put up your own chips to double with. You'll be coming in with a known advantage.

6. The very foundation of truly winning blackjack is knowing when high cards are likely to come out. Haven't you ever seen everybody dealt small cards, then take multiple hits only to lose to a dealer's five card 20 or 21? This is no time to storm away in disgust! You'll probably have an advantage for the next few rounds. Stay put, and raise your bets for now.