Friday, April 19, 2013

Faulty app leads blackjack player astray

Q. Here is a question about a murky corner of the basic strategy table for blackjack: Do you hit or stand on soft hands with three or more cards?

The only blackjack book I have at hand is Henry Tamburin's "Blackjack: Take the Money and Run." Tamburin says, "As a general rule, a player should never stand on a soft hand that totals 17 or less." I read this to include hands with three or more cards as well as hands with two cards.

I recently purchased an application that allows many ways of practicing blackjack. The application is a solid piece of work that takes into account most rules variations. Plenty of knowledge and care have gone into its creation. If I follow Tamburin's dictum with a soft hand of 17 or less, I get scored with an error. The default strategy table in the application follows the rules for hard hands with all hands of three or more cards.

Example: Dealer's upcard is a 3. You are dealt a 2, a 3 and an Ace. You have a total of either 6 or 16. The way I read Tamburin indicates that the best play is a hit. The application says I should stand.

Am I misinterpreting Tamburin's rule?

A. It seems your blackjack app is not quite as solid as you would like to think. It is leading you astray on soft hands.

You are not reading Tamburin wrong. He is correct and your application is in error. It seems to be defaulting to basic strategy for hard hands after you receive a third card. That's a serious bug, since you can't bust soft hands with a one-card draw.

Look at it this way. If you stand on soft 16, how can you win? The only way is if the dealer busts. If instead you hit, what's the worst that can happen? You can't bust the hand, so the worst you wind up with is another hand that can win only if the dealer busts. You could draw a standing hand, or you could draw one that's no worse than your starting point. There is no downside to taking a hit.

There is no downside to hitting the hand, and the upside is that you could draw a low card that will turn your hand into a winner.

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