TEXAS HOLD’EM STRATEGY

Only because of watching poker on TV, do I believe there is Texas Hold’em Strategy.  Even then, I only believe it because the hosts say some sort of strategy is being employed by the players.  Okay, if they say so…it seems there’s an awful lot of luck happening in my eyes!

Strategy Rules

First, when thinking about strategy in doing anything, it’s about planning for the long run. When thinking about basic blackjack strategy, it is based on interpretation of statistical data from playing millions of hands.  There is definitely a blackjack strategy, a correct way to play blackjack.

Unfortunately, poker strategy is not that straight forward.  Depending on who you talk to, or learn from, strategy may vary because there is psychology involved with poker strategy.  Also, strategy is different when you play in a “cash” game, as opposed to playing in a tournament setting.

Poker strategy is more about understanding the odds of ending up with the winning hand at the end of play. 

Hold’em Strategy for Novices

If you try to find basic Texas Hold’em strategy for beginners, what you end up getting is “tips” beginners should follow.  Said in different ways by different people, the best tips boil down to these:

  • Open with a hand that can make money in any situation
  • Correctly size your bet
  • Avoid limping in, it hardly ever works for a novice!
  • Fold appropriately to increase profits
  • Be in the right position for betting

Opening Hands

When deciding to open, not only are the cards you hold important (hand strength), but your position at the table must be taken into consideration.  The closer you are to the Button, the wider the range of hands you can have to open.

The number of players in the hand should also be considered.  Hand value is  less when playing against 1 player, as opposed to 6 players. On the other hand, against 1 player, hands have a better bluffing value.

When deciding whether or not to open with a hand, you need to think if you’ll be able to make money after the flop.  If you can’t see a way that you may make money with those 2 cards, don’t open!

Correct Bet Sizing

Be aware of how the table is playing.  If the pre-flop raise has been 2.5x the BB, don’t try to be clever and raise an unusual amount.  As a novice, it’s best to stay in line with the play of the table.  Odd pre-flop raises will only make players think more about what you may have.  Odd post-flop raises are expected, and won’t draw more than the normal attention.

The size of your bet helps define the strength of your hand.  Your goal is to have your opponents think you have them beat.

NO Limping

If action has been folded to you, it’s better to either raise or fold.  With a raise, you can take control of the pot, and put callers on the defense.  The experienced players can usually smell a limp and will challenge you, so it’s better to fold.

Know When to Fold

Like the Kenny Rogers song, know when to fold’em! Trying to play every hand is a big signal of you being a novice! A vital part of winning poker strategy is to know when to fold!  If you fold when you should, you save your money so you can make bigger bets in more profitable situations. It’s better to play tight, but aggressive.

Bet in the Right Position

Having position over your opponent is a huge advantage in poker. What that means is that they have to make the first move.  Obviously, seeing your opponent’s action first, allows you to react appropriately.  It will allow you to bluff better, value bet more accurately, and basically make better decisions overall.

If you can learn these tips and incorporate them into your playing style, you should definitely see your poker sessions become more profitable.

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BURN 20 BLACKJACK

This variant was first developed in 2011 in downtown Las Vegas.  Burn 20 Blackjack quickly became the “hottest” blackjack game around.  It is of course based on standard blackjack with a few fascinating twists.

The name comes from the fact that the dealer will discard, or “burn,” any 2-card, 10-value, hand that totals 20.  The dealer also burns suited blackjacks. This leaves the player stress-free about having to play against a dealer’s hard 20 (or suited blackjack). The give-back on that is that if the dealer busts with a 22 total, all remaining players push, instead of win.

RULES OF THE GAME

Burn 20 Blackjack follows standard blackjack rules, with the following exceptions or additions:

  • Six 52-card decks are used
  • Blackjack pays 3-2
  • Insurance pays 2-1
  • No surrender
  • Dealer hits soft 17
  • Can split pairs
  • Split aces get only 1 card each
  • Can double on any number of cards, except after splitting aces
  • If dealer has a 10 up, he will check the hole card and if it is a 10, he will discard both cards and take two new cards
  • If dealer has a 10 up, he will check the hole card and if it is a suited-Ace, he will discard both cards and take two new cards
  • If the dealer busts with a total of 22, all remaining players push, instead of win

PLAY OF THE GAME

When the dealer discards a suited blackjack, and the replacement cards form a blackjack (suited or not) those cards are discarded as well.

After discarding, the dealer will continue to draw cards until he doesn’t have a hard 20 or blackjack.

STRATEGY

Fortunately, you should be able to use basic blackjack strategy when playing Burn 20 Blackjack.  However, because you know the dealer won’t have a 20 with 2 cards, you should split 2’s, 3’s, 7’s, and 9’s, against a 10 up.

FINAL THOUGHTS

It is understandable how this became a hot variant to standard blackjack.  The rule changes are not that hard to grasp, as a matter of fact, the changes make it seem that the game is more favorable to the player.  While the house edge is slightly higher in this variant, it creates a fun atmosphere and challenge for players looking for a change.  If you’re a bit bored with standard blackjack, this can be a fun break from that!

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BLACKJACK CARD COUNTING

Team Card Counting

As an individual player, you are limited to the number of hands you can play at one time.  However, if you have a group of players looking to beat the house, your odds will go up dramatically.

Probably the most famous blackjack team to be discovered, was the M.I.T. blackjack students, who became the inspiration for the movie “21.”

Common team card counting strategies consist of having different players in the group, playing at different tables, or signaling the team players when to move in with the bigger bets. One advantage with team play is that it allows you to move in with a big bet only when the table is extremely favorable to the player.  As a team player, you can hold back the big bets every now and then, although the table is favorable, because you know your other team players should be making money.

Of course, there are also downfalls to team play.  With many players involved, there is a risk of getting caught, and winnings have to be split many ways.

CLASSIC TEAM STRUCTURE

The Back-Spotter

This is the person who isn’t necessarily seated at a table.  This person watches the tables from a distance and then will signal “The Gorilla” when to sit down at a table.

The Spotter

This person will actually be a player at a table, responsible for keeping an accurate card count at that table.  Because the casinos are constantly looking for betting irregularities, The Spotter maintains minimum betting, but looks to signal The Gorilla or team manager when the deck becomes favorable.

The Gorilla

This person moves from table to table, making maximum bets when the tables are extremely favorable for the player.  Often The Gorilla will be quite boisterous and loud, acting like a high-roller who is willy-nilly throwing his money around.

The Big Player

This person has the job of keeping the rest of the team from getting detected.  He will be a high roller, seated at a table, displaying expert blackjack strategy.  This will attract casino personnel attention. Though it’s not illegal to employ perfect blackjack strategy, a person with a hefty bankroll (like The Gorilla) and game knowledge, will hopefully pull attention away from the rest of the team.

KEYS TO A SUCCESSFUL TEAM

  1. Dedication – Each member should be quite proficient in the art of card counting.  One weak link can destroy a whole hour’s worth of profit. 
  2. Trust – You want to be able to trust each member you’re working with. You want to know they won’t steal from you, as well as trust that they will play the game correctly.
  3. Sufficient Bankroll – Pooled resources allow you to generate more profits in a shorter period of time.
  4. Strong Management/Leadership –  Any size team needs leadership people to make the many decisions and to keep the records.
  5. Fairness – As with almost any team, there will be times of divisiveness where fairness will be questioned.  With a blackjack team, questions about how the bankroll will be split, how often each member will play, how profits will be split and so on.  You don’t have to worry about fairness when you play by yourself, you get exactly what you played for.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Card counting as a team is not easy per se, it takes a lot of practice and dedication. However, if done correctly, as your team starts beating the house, it becomes worth it! 

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BLACKJACK INSURANCE – BET OR NOT

The insurance bet in blackjack is easily the biggest sucker bet in blackjack.  In fact, most blackjack books and instructors will tell you that this bet should almost never be taken.

The insurance bet is a side bet that the dealer has blackjack, after seeing that his upcard is an ace.  It usually pays 2-1 odds.

Based on mathematical theory and projections, the dealer will have a blackjack only about 4 times in every 13 times he shows an Ace.  So, if you were to make a $5 insurance bet on 13 different hands, you would win 4 bets, for a total of $40, but lose 9 bets for a total of $45!  In the long run, you’d be losing money with the insurance bet. Think about it, why would a casino offer a bet that they would not have the odds in their favor?

Novice players make the bet because they want to “protect” their blackjack that they have hit.  What they don’t think about is that they will win or lose their hand, with no difference, whether they take insurance or not.  There is nothing to protect!  If you try to protect your 21, and the dealer does have twenty-one, you’ve broken even because you’ve made that second bet of insurance.

A blackjack usually pays 3:2 odds and insurance pays 2:1 odds.  So, let’s say you’re betting $5 and get a 21, but want to make the insurance bet (usually half the original bet) of $2.50. If the dealer does have 21, you win $5 on the insurance bet and push on your original bet. So, you’ve bet a total of $7.50 and got back a total of $10 (original $5 bet and $5 insurance bet win), winning $2.50. Now, let’s say you make the insurance bet and the dealer doesn’t have 21.  You lose $2.50 on the insurance bet, but win $7.50 on the original bet.  You bet a total of $7.50 and got back $12.50, (original $5 and $7.50 win) winning a total of $5.

Why waste the half-bet when it will only win 4 out of 13 times?  If you have 21 and the dealer doesn’t (which is most of the time), you’ve given back half a bet.  Why throw away half a bet? Don’t take insurance!

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Blackjack Plus

This is a variant said to be found only in New Zealand and Australia.  The versions are slightly different, so there are variances in the variant!

The basic rule changes, followed in both versions, that make this variant interesting are:

  • Five-card Charlie (non-busted 5 card hand, automatic win)
  • Blackjack and 21-point hands automatically win
  • Dealer receives one card, until all players actions have been completed (known as European style dealing)
  • Six standard decks are used
  • If dealer totals 22, it is a push for all players with cards remaining
  • Blackjack pays even money

RULES DIFFERENCES

New Zealand Rules

  1. Dealer hits on soft 17
  2. Player can double on any two-card hard total
  3. Player can double after splitting
  4. Player cannot re-split
  5. Split Aces receive only 1 card

Australian Rules

  1. Dealer stands on soft 17
  2. Player can double on any 2 or 3 card hand, totaling less than 21
  3. Player can double after splitting
  4. Player can re-split only once
  5. Player cannot re-split Aces
  6. Blackjacks pay 3-2

STRATEGY & HOUSE EDGE

Fortunately, the use of basic Blackjack strategy is suggested when playing Blackjack Plus.

Unfortunately, the rules changes in this version actually give “the house” a greater advantage. The house edge in a standard Blackjack game is said to be about 1.5%.  However, because of the rules variations in Blackjack Plus (mainly the dealer “pushing” with 22), the house edges jumps to as much as 6.36%!

Obviously, this makes Blackjack Plus one of the worst variants ever created for a player.

FINAL THOUGHTS

On the surface, the differences appear to be intriguing enough to take the challenge of playing.  However, this variant was created by casinos to fool the uninformed player. The best strategy for a player in this game is to NOT play the game!  I would bet that you would have a lot more fun playing the boring traditional Blackjack and winning, than playing this version and losing quickly!

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Elimination Blackjack

Elimination Blackjack was invented by Russ Hamilton, the main event champion of the 1994 World Series of Poker.  It is a tournament style of blackjack and is the format used by many casinos today for blackjack tournaments.

BASICS

The game is played like regular blackjack.  There is a dealer, representing the house, who deals using a six or eight deck shoe.  The difference for players is that they are competing against each other, as opposed to just trying to beat the dealer or house, in order to win a guaranteed prize amount.

Players pay a “buy-in” amount for the tournament (similar to a poker tournament) and are given a set dollar amount of chips.  Every player is given the same amount in starting chips.  The players then work to increase their amount of chips, hoping to have the most chips at the end of the tournament, so they’ll be declared the winner.

Dealer and player options, such as hit, stand, double, split, are the same as in regular blackjack.  Depending on the tournament, dealer may have to hit on a soft 17.

STANDARD RULES OF ELIMINATION BLACKJACK

The following list of rules can vary by casino, but most casinos do abide by these for tournament play:

  • The house must hit 16 or less, and stand on 17 or more.  Some houses do hit soft 17’s
  • A player can split pairs up to four times, with the exception of aces.  Aces can only be split once and only receive one additional card. Ten-value cards may be limited to splitting only identical pairs
  • A six or eight deck shoe may used, though usually six deck
  • A player’s bet must be within the table minimum-maximum, and if unable to make the minimum bet, the player is eliminated from the tournament
  • Surrender is allowed for half the bet
  • Insurance is allowed if the dealer shows an Ace
  • Double down is allowed on any two cards
  • A maximum of seven players per table is allowed
  • A player has 25 seconds to make a decision in a normal hand, and 45 seconds to make a decision in an elimination hand

ORDER OF PLAY

Once a player has bought in, they are given a random assigned seat at the table.  Cards are dealt in the same manner as regular blackjack.

There is a pre-determined specific number of hands dealt.  The number will vary depending on the casino, however, it’s usually at least 30 hands.

After the last hand is dealt, the remaining players chips are tallied and the player with the most, is declared the winner.

THE ELIMINATIONS

Players are eliminated through the following:

  • If they lose all their chips
  • If they don’t have enough chips to make the required minimum bet
  • If they have the fewest chips after an elimination hand

Elimination hand:  A pre-determined hand, by number, where at the end, player chips are counted and the player with the fewest chips is eliminated.  As stated, they are pre-determined and usually in a 30-hand tournament, the elimination hands are numbers 8, 16 and 25.

Of course, the elimination hands are a key part of the game.  Betting strategy can definitely be affected and used deftly with elimination a possibility.

SECRET BET

Usually only in professional tour tournaments and high-profile games, players are allowed one secret bet during the course of the tournament.  As in the name, the bet is not revealed to the other players at the table, and it can be of strategic importance.  A player can elect to make a secret bet in order to force a smaller or larger bet from another player close in chip count.

PLAYING STRATEGY

Most important to remember is that you are competing against the other players, not the house.  You may need to make moves in an effort to cause your table opponents to bust when they make a big bet.

You also need to be aware of the approximate number of chips your table mates have, so you can stay close or get ahead.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Elimination blackjack became popular due to the popularity of Texas Hold ‘Em tournaments and casinos realized the possibility of doing something similar with blackjack.  As with poker, this gives the player an opportunity to win a large amount of money with a relatively small “buy-in” amount.

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Multiple Action Blackjack

Multiple Action Blackjack has been around since 1992, being developed and patented by The Four Queens Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. It is probably more prominent at online casinos now. The difference in this version is that the player has one hand that is played against 3 different dealer hands.

First, you will notice a different table layout in this version compared with regular blackjack.  There are three betting circles for the player and three rectangular spots marked 1,2 and 3 in front of the dealer. The rectangle spots are where the dealer will play his/her 3 different hands.

HOW TO PLAY

The player is dealt two face up cards and the dealer is dealt one face up card.  For online versions, the same face up card of the dealer is shown in all three rectangles.

The play proceeds the same as regular blackjack at this point.  The player can hit, stand, double down or split, depending on casino rules.  As rules permit, the player can surrender or take insurance.  If a player decides to split, the bet must be double the original bet. If a player decides to double down, it can be done on 1 or all three bets.  If the player does go over 21 and busts, all bets are lost.

Once the player stands with a total of 21 or less, the dealer plays his first hand in rectangle 1.  If he busts, the player receives an even money payout on his first bet. If the dealer does not bust and the player wins, the player receives an even money payout.  If the player loses, the first bet is lost. If the player does get blackjack, it is paid at 3 to 2, unless the dealer also has blackjack, which results in a push and the player’s bet is returned. 

After discarding all cards, except the original face up card, the dealer plays out hand number 2, with the same rules as above.  Once hand number 2 is completed, all cards except the original face up card are discarded and hand number 3 is played out, with the same rules.

STRATEGY

Strategy for Multiple Action Blackjack should be the same as in regular blackjack because all the rules are the same.  What changes with this version is that games are completed quicker because the player plays only once in every three games.  So, it’s preferred by players who like a quicker paced game play.

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Three Card Blackjack

This is a very simple version of Blackjack that was started at casinos in the state of Washington in 2010.  You can find it at many online casinos now.

RULES

  • Played with a single deck of cards
  • Cards are shuffled after every hand
  • No drawing rounds and players do not have the option to hit, double down or split
  • Players only decide to play or fold
  • Hands are scored based on the best blackjack hand derived from any 2 or 3 cards
  • Dealer must have at least 17 points to open
  • Aces can count as 1 or 11
  • Possible Ace Plus optional side bet

HOW TO PLAY

Play begins with the players making their Ante bet in the assigned Ante betting circles on the table.  Once all players have made their bets, the dealer deals three cards to each player and then three cards to him/herself.  All the player’s cards are dealt face down, but the dealer is dealt two face down and one face up.

The players then look at their hands and decide how to form their hands. They decide which two or three cards will give them the best blackjack hand, closest to 21 without going over.  Therefore, it’s impossible for the player to bust, because they can choose their best 2 or 3 cards.

The first player to the dealer’s left starts by deciding to raise their ante by placing an additional bet, equal in size to the original ante, in the “play” betting area.  If they choose not to “play,” they must fold.  If the player opts to “fold,” the ante is lost.  In order to play against the dealer, a raise must be made.

Once all players have decided to play or fold, the dealer then reveals his/her face down cards and looks to form the best blackjack hand possible.  However, the dealer’s hand must total at least 17 to “qualify” to play.  If the dealer does not have 17, the active players win, regardless of their total.

WIN DETERMINATION

There are only three ways for a hand to end, once the dealer has formed a hand.  First, if a player has a 2-card blackjack, both the player’s ante bet and the raise (play) bet are paid even money.  The player wins no matter what the dealer has, even if the dealer has blackjack.

Second, if the dealer does not qualify, all players’ ante bets are paid even money, but their play bet is considered a push and that bet is returned.

Third, if the dealer does qualify, the best hand wins. If the player beats the dealer, all bets are paid even money.  If the dealer wins, the player loses all bets.  If there is tie, except for blackjack, it’s considered a push and all bets are returned.

ACE PLUS OPTIONAL BET

Pays only based on the player’s hand.  The bonus of at least an even money payout is paid if the player’s hand contains an ace.  This bet must be at least one unit and is placed in the Ace Plus betting circle before the hand is dealt.

ACE PLUS BONUS PAYOUTS

  • 3-to-1 payout for Ace plus any card 10 through King
  • 5-to-1 payout for Ace plus any pair of 10’s through Kings
  • 15-to-1 payout for any Ace pair
  • 25-to-1 payout for any Ace pair plus any card 10 through King
  • 100-to-1 payout for 3 Aces

STRATEGY

The game is said to be simple because to play, you either raise or fold.  Since you can’t bust, you might think you would try to play almost every hand.  However, to truly make your playing session profitable, a best strategy for raising has been determined, as follows:

  • Raise (Play) With a player’s hand of:

16 or less: Never

17, against Dealer 2

18, against Dealer 2-8

19, against Dealer 2-9

20-21, against Dealer anything (Always play)

It is best strategy to only bet the Ante, to minimize loss, but many players feel making the Ace Plus bet is “where the money is.”  The bonus payouts are enticing, but once again, as in most side bets in any game, it really is a sucker bet because of the true rarity of hitting it.

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POKER TERMINOLOGY

While you can certainly sit down at a poker table and start playing without knowing all the terminology you’ll hear, it would probably be a good idea to be aware of what you might hear.

Betting Round Actions

BET – When a player makes a wager

CALL – When a player pays the same amount of the previous bet

RAISE – When a player bets higher than the previous bet (call plus an additional amount)

RE-RAISE – When a player makes a third bet, higher than the raise amount, after a bet and a                                                                                          raise

FOLD – When a player tosses in his hand without making a bet

CHECK – When a player passes the action to the next player without making a bet

3-BET – The third bet in a betting round, also a re-raise

CAP – The last possible raise in a betting round, in a fixed-limit game.  Players usually can raise up to 4 times in a single betting round and then the action is “capped.” Once a player has capper, the remaining players can only call or fold, no raising is allowed until the next round.

CHECK BEHIND – When a player checks after the previous player checks

Made Hands

BOTTOM PAIR – When you pair the lowest card on the board

MIDDLE PAIR – When you pair a middle card on the board

TOP PAIR – When you pair the highest card on the board

OVER PAIR – A player’s pair that is higher than any card on the board

BOTTOM TWO PAIR – When you pair your cards with the lowest two cards on the board

TOP TWO PAIR – When you pair your two cards with the highest two cards on the board

TWO PAIR -When you pair your two cards with any two cards on the board

SET – 3 of a kind

STRAIGHT – 5 cards in numerical order

FLUSH – 5 cards of the same suit

FULL HOUSE – a pair and a set together, 2 of 1 number and 3 of another

Incomplete or “Draw” Hands

This is when you don’t have a made hand, but can end up with a strong made hand, if the right cards come up on the board.

BACKDOOR DRAW – A drawing hand that needs help from the turn and river.  Hitting on the turn opens a backdoor to hitting again on the river.

OVERCARDS = Cards that are higher than cards on the board

GUTSHOT – When you are missing a card in the middle of a sequence

OESD – Open Ended Straight Draw.  When you have 4 cards in numerical sequence, that will end up in a straight with the 5th card added to either end

FLUSH DRAW – When you have 4 cards of the same suit

Additional Terms

POCKET PAIR – When you are dealt a completed pair

UNRAISED POT – When no one raises before the flop

RAISED POT – When there is a raise before the flop

PRE-FLOP – Refers to everything that happens before the flop is dealt

POST-FLOP – Refers to everything that happens after the flop is dealt

UNIMPROVED – When your hand doesn’t improve with the next card dealt

CONCLUSION

These are the most common poker terms.  Don’t be afraid to ask about a term if you can’t remember or don’t understand when playing. 

All players were beginners at one time and didn’t know the terms either.  They might be happy to answer a question because it will signify that you are a novice and therefore, they might be able to easily take your money!  Play responsibly!

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Why Hit a Soft 18

Novice players will stand with a soft 18, against a dealer’s 9, 10 or Ace, because they figure that there are only 3 cards that will help the hand, 4 card will keep it the same and the remaining 6 cards will make it worse.

Unfortunately, though it is logically correct in that thought, it is flawed because it is only thinking in terms of one additional hit!  Statistically, when you hit a soft 18, you’ll improve your hand with the first hit only 23 out of 100 times.

In that same vein, you’ll make 38 stiffs (12 thru 16), which you will continue to hit!  With the continued hitting, you’ll improve your hand, to 19 or better, 10 more times out of the 38. So, you’ll improve your hand almost 33 out of 100 times.

Statistically it’s been shown that based on 100 hands, 34 times you’ll hit a hard 18, 32.5 times you’ll hit a 17 or bust, and 33.5 times you’ll hit a 19 thru 21.  So, you can figure only 32.5 times out of a hundred, you’ll lose against a dealer’s 9, 10, or Ace.

If you hit a soft 18, you will improve your hand a little more often than not hitting it.  It is a slightly improved chance, but by hitting a soft 18, against a dealer’s 9, 10 or Ace, your chance to win goes up more than it goes down, when you don’t.

For example: If you stand with a soft 18 against an Ace, you’ll win 5 out of 13 hands.  If you hit all 13 hands and turn them into 17’s, you’ll win only 3 hands. However, if you hit and make all 19’s, you win 8 out of 13 hands.   So, you’ll have more wins by taking the chance to improve your hand, than by sticking with it.

It’s been figured out that when a dealer has a 9, 10, or Ace, and has to hit a soft 17, if you stand on a soft 18, your win percentage is 39-41%.  If the dealer has to stand on a soft 17, and you stand on a soft 18, your win percentage goes to 41-45%.

If you hit a soft 18, when the dealer has an 9, 10 or Ace and must hit a soft 17, your win percentage is 42-45%.  If you hit a soft 18 and the dealer has a 9, 10 or Ace and must stand on a soft 17, your win percentage is 43-45.5%.

As the basic strategy charts tell you, you should hit a soft 18 against a dealer’s 9, 10 or Ace, because testing proves it to result in slightly more wins.  Trust the charts and you’ll win more in the long run!

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