Basic rules of Blackjack
Forgive the cryptic title. I couldn’t resist. So, what does it mean? 16vT is shorthand for the player hand of sixteen against a dealer upcard of Ten. “RS” is a strategy abbreviation. “R” means SuRRender, and “S” means Stand. So, “RS” means Surrender if you can, otherwise Stand.
And of course, WTF is an abbreviation of the message I often get via email when someone thinks they have found a mistake in the strategy provided by my Blackjack Basic Strategy Engine.
It’s not a mistake. And while the explanation is not rocket science, it can admittedly get a little confusing.
Let’s start by looking at the issue directly on the charts. If you visit the Strategy Engine and request a chart for a 6-deck game with No Surrender, your chart will look something like this:
Notice that if you have a hand of sixteen against a dealer Ten, the advice is “H” for Hit.
Now the advice for 16vT is “RS”: Surrender if you can, otherwise Stand. How can it possibly be correct to Stand here when the other chart said to Hit?
This particular decision is a very close call. In fact, one recommended extension to regular basic strategy is this: “Hit 16 vs a dealer ten, unless your hand is composed of three or more cards. In that case, stand.”
Why would you hit a 2-card 16 but stand with a 3-card 16?
Any 3-card 16 that you hold is guaranteed to include at least one small card. For example, let’s look at (Ten, 2, 4). That version includes two small cards. If you are hitting a 16, you would love to have either that 2 or that 4 available as the next card out of the shoe. But those cards have already been used up, and they are sitting there on the table in your hand. The 16vT is such a close call that even one extra small card missing from the shoe is enough to swing the appropriate strategy from “Hit” being the best play to “Stand” becoming the better play.
Now, let’s look at the Strategy Engine’s seemingly conflicting advice on this hand.
If you are playing a game that offers surrender, you should surrender any hard sixteen hand if the dealer is showing a ten-valued card up. So all of your two-card 16s are surrendered. What’s left? Only your multiple card 16s with 3 or more cards in the hand. And all of those hands will use up some of those key small cards that swing the best strategy for the hand.
So the Engine is quite accurate: 16vT “RS”. Surrender your 16 if you can. If you can’t (because you’ve already hit your hand at least once), then the best play is now “Stand”.
In a game where surrender is not allowed at all, the correct basic strategy is to hit 16 vs a dealer ten. If you want to gain a small extra edge you can use the more complicated rule: Hit two-card 16vT, but stand on all others.
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