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Smarter Bet Guide to Blackjack
by Basil Nestor
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Strategy is the key to success at the blackjack table; that's a mathematical fact, and you can count on these expert, easy-to-learn tactics to make you a victor. Here's the deal: everything begins with the basic rules, and they're laid out on these pages with smart little “factoid” tips. Go through blackjack economics, which explain why cards fall the way they do, and what makes a good (and a sucker) bet. Easy-to-follow tables suggest strategies for splitting pairs and soft hands and provide dozens of other statistics and card probabilities.

Blackjack Decisions: Insurance, Hit, Stand, Double, or Split

The question of the hole card becomes an even greater issue when the upcard is an ace because, of course, you lose if the dealer has a natural and you don’t.
The solution (for someBasil NestorBasil Nestor is the author of the new Playboy Complete Guide to Casino Gambling. This wonderful book teaches players how to avoid sucker bets and win more when playing gambling games.  He is also the author of The Smarter Bet Guide series for video poker, slots, craps, and many other books about gambling.  Basil's website is  players) is to take blackjack insurance against a dealer blackjack when the dealer is showing an ace. Insurance is an additional bet of typically one-half the value of the original bet, and it pays 2:1. In most casinos the dealer will then check the hole card for a 10 before continuing the hand. Let’s say you have a $10 original bet and a $5 insurance bet; you don’t have a natural but it turns out that the dealer does. She will take $10 and pay $10. The net effect is that zero dollars change hands. It’s a push. The hand is over.
If the dealer doesn’t have blackjack, you lose the insurance bet and the hand continues.
Insurance sounds like a wonderful thing, but it’s usually a bad bet.
Hit, Stand, Double, or Split
Most dealers’ hands aren’t naturals, so players have an opportunity to either request additional cards or refuse them. The dealer works from her left to her right.
Tapping or scratching the table with your index finger indicates your desire for an additional card. A small wave with one hand as if to say “stop” or “go away” indicates that you are standing. Another way to show a stand when cards are dealt face down is to push the edge of your cards a bit under the wager and move your hands away. Conversely, scratching the cards lightly on the felt signals a hit.
It’s very important for you to give the dealer clear visual cues such as tapping the table or waving your hand rather than saying “hit” or “stand” because the casino’s overhead cameras must be able to see the action. This is a security precaution that insures a visual record will be available in the event of a dispute.
One variation of a hit is called a double down. It requires an additional bet, usually an amount equal to your original wager. You put the extra chips next to your original chips. The dealer gives you exactly one more card and that is your hand. No additional hits are allowed. Doubling is usually restricted to first action on an original hand.
If your original hand has cards with an equal point value (A,A; 8,8; 9,9; and so on) you can split them for an additional wager equal to the first wager. You then have two hands. A second card is dealt to each hand, and you play the hands separately (hitting, doubling, splitting, or standing as necessary). Some casinos restrict resplitting and doubling on splits. Most require that split aces get only one extra card per ace.
Most casinos that deal cards face-up require that you never touch the cards. This includes splitting. In this case, simply put an additional wager next to the original bet (not on top of it). The dealer will separate the cards and hit or stand as you request.
The Dealer’s Hand
If you don’t bust, it’s up to the dealer to beat you. She turns over her hole card and draws according to the rules mentioned earlier. The only variation to this is that some casinos require a dealer to hit a soft 17 (ace and 6).
By the way, any hand with an ace counted as 11 is called a soft hand (because it cannot bust with a hit). A hard hand does not contain an ace, or the ace is counted as one. Hard hands between 12 and 16 are also sometimes called stiff hands.
The dealer completes her hand as required. Losing bets are taken, winners are paid, the cards are collected, and the process begins again.
Rule Variations
If your initial hand seems hopeless, some casinos will allow you to take back half your bet and forfeit the rest. This is called blackjack surrender. It’s usually restricted to situations when the dealer doesn’t have a natural, and in these circumstances it’s called late surrender. If the move is also allowed against an ace that turns out to be blackjack, then it’s called early surrender.
Other rule variations include different payouts on naturals, not checking the hole card on insurance bets, restrictions on splitting and doubling, and a cornucopia of side bets that usually offer worse odds than the basic game. Every casino has its own unique combination of rules, so you should always check the upright card on the table or ask the dealer before playing.
The preceding material is just a sample of what you'll find in Basil Nestor's Smarter Bet Guide to Blackjack.
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