Taking just your cards alone, there are 33 different starting hands you can be dealt in the game of blackjack. Now factor in any one of 10 possible dealer up-cards, and that's 330 hands you need to know how to play.
I've noticed that the most troublesome up-card for most players is when the dealer shows a 3. That's where the wheels seem to come off the most. Let's talk some specifics.
9 against a 3: This one's not that complicated. The long and short of it is, you'll win the hand more often than not whether you just hit or double down. But when you double down, it's for twice the money! It's true, if you double and catch a deuce - or even a 3 - you'll wish you could take a second hit. But that occasional misfire isn't enough to erase your overall edge on the hand. You still make more money total by doubling down with this hand.
12 against a 3: Conventional table wisdom says "Don't hit your stiff when the dealer's showing a bust card." The problem is, a dealer's 3 is no bust card. Five times out of 8, the dealer will make a completed hand out of that 3. Besides that, if you hit you'll make a completed hand with five cards (5, 6, 7, 8 and 9), but only four cards (a 10, Jack, Queen or King) will bust you. Crunch all the math together and you do better by hitting this hand.
4/4 against a 3: Far too many people develop their own blackjack strategy by watching other players. Maybe you saw somebody split their pair of 4s against a dealer's 6-up; that's fine. So now it seems like a good idea to split your own 4s against the dealer's 3; not fine! A dealer's 6-up and a 3-up are two very different things. You should split 4/4 against a dealer's 5 or 6 only because you could catch so many cards (a 5, 6, 7 or Ace) that would give you a solid double down. Besides that, the dealer breaks more often with a 5 or 6 up than with a 3. Just hit those 4s and for Pete's sake, don't double down with your total of 8.
Ace/2 vs. 3: Most blackjack players tend to soft double with a categorical hand of "Ace/tiny" against "tiny," but not with "Ace/medium." This is all backwards.It's a downright shame to double-down with a hand like Ace/2 against a 3. Why? Because if you just hit it, you'll win it 7 times for every 6 times you lose. But when you double, you drop down to 50-50 due to all the times you'll catch an Ace, deuce, 3, 4 or 9 - and can't hit again. Never give away your edge like that.
Ace/7 vs. 3: Now here's the flip-side of the situation above. It's true, you've already got 18 against a moderately weak dealer's up-card. However, you'll still win 6 times out of 11 even when you double down. That's because you'll end up with 18 or better more than half the time (by catching any Ace, 2, 3 or 10) - and for double the amount.
Ace/6 and Ace/7 are the hands you should be doubling against a dealer's 3-up because taking one card will give you 17 or better over 60% of the time. But doubling down with "Ace/tiny," you'll make way too many bad hands.
So when the dealer turns that 3 up, don't let your wheels come off the way most players do.
• For a signed copy of Fred's handbook, send $16 to "Blackjack Bluebook," P.O. box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL 60009.