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Casino Answer Man: Some basic strategy blackjack questions

Casino Answer Man: Some basic strategy blackjack questions

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John Grochowski

John Grochowski

A shuffle through the gaming mailbag:

Q: I’ve been able to play blackjack for money online during the shutdown, and it’s been really helpful to have a basic strategy card right there while I play. No more mistakes! It’s helping me learn, too. On the hands that have always seemed like close calls to me, I remember the right play before I look a lot more often than I used to.

Some of the plays still seem unnatural to me. When I have hard 16 and the dealer has 7, I know I’m going to lose more than I win regardless of hitting or standing. It seems like the dealer would bust pretty often with 7 and that maybe I should leave the risk to the dealer, but basic strategy says I should hit just like I should hit against 10, when the dealer would bust less often.

Am I really that far off base?

A: Hard 16 vs. a dealer’s 7 is not a close call, but many players think it is, so I have to revisit the topic from time to time.

The best play is to hit, and that play is even more important with 16 vs. 7 than with 16 vs. 10.

Dealers do bust when starting with 7 more often than starting with 10. In a six-deck game in which the dealer hits soft 17, the dealer busts about 26% of the time when starting with 7 and 23% when starting with 10.

However, when you hit 16 and get a draw that doesn’t bust you, you’re more likely to have a total that beats the dealer when the dealer starts with 7 than with 10.

The most frequent finishing total for a dealer who starts with 7 is 17 at 36.9% of all hands. Only 13.9% are 20 or 21.

If the dealer starts with 10, the most frequent finish is 20 at 36.8%, and 20 and 21 account for 40.6% of all hands.

Assume you start with 10-6. If the dealer has 7 and you hit, your average loss per dollar wagered is 40.9 cents. If you stand, the average loss is 47.6 cents.

If the dealer has 10, your average losses are 53.5 cents if you hit and 54.1 cents if you stand.

The close call is hard 16 vs. 10, and some compositions of hard 16, such as 7-5-4, actually favor standing.

The potential gain in hitting hard 16 vs. 7 isn’t nearly enough to make the hand profitable, but it makes hitting a lot better than standing.

Q: Slot machines have changed so much. If you tried to put an old mechanical game like the Liberty Bell out there now, it would just be a museum piece. Low payouts, one payline, no bonuses.

What’s the oldest slot machine that you think realistically could hold a place in casinos today?

A: Perhaps Blazing 7s, which debuted in the 1970s. It’s still played today, though in reduced numbers.

A Bally Gaming creation, Blazing 7s is a one-line, three-reel slot with no bonuses. But it has a frequent-hit progressive jackpot that starts at $1,000 for dollar players or $250 for quarter players.

That’s been an attractive enough proposition that it’s held players’ attention for nearly 50 years.

Three-reel players are a minority of slot players today, but they’re a loyal lot. IGT’s Double Diamond has been around since the early 1990s, retains a strong player following and is frequently used as a base game for big-money progressives. Certainly, the most enduring slots have been three-reel progressives.

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