Blackjack: Playing 16
One of the most frustrating hands in blackjack is a 16 against a dealer’s 10 upcard. How you play this hand depends upon the composition of the cards that make up your 16 and the playing rules. Here are some examples of different hands that total 16, and how you should play them against a dealer’s 10 upcard.
10♣ and 6♥
How you play this hand depends on the rules. If the casino allows you to surrender your hand, you should surrender the 10-6 against a dealer’s 10 over hitting or standing. (The surrender rule means you can forfeit playing your hand and automatically lose half your wager.) You lose 50% of your wager when you surrender; however, you would lose greater than 50%, on average, if you were to hit or stand, which is why surrender is the better play.
If the casino rules do not allow surrender, then you should always hit a two-card 16, like 10-6.
For skeptics that don’t believe surrender is better than hitting (which in turn is better than standing), look at the data in the following table. It shows the expectation (percentage) of surrendering, standing and hitting a 10-6 against a 10 in a 6-deck game where the dealer stands on soft 17.
Action Expectation (%)
For example, if you wagered $25 and were dealt a 10-6 against a dealer 10, your expectation is to lose exactly $12.50 if you surrendered (i.e., 50% of your initial wager). If you stood instead, you can expect to lose $13.53 on average ($25 times -54.1%). The amount you will lose on average when you hit is $13.38 ($25 times -53.5%). Therefore, the math says that you will lose money in the long run no matter how you play the hand but you’ll lose less if you surrender (followed by hitting).
4♣ and 8♦ with 4♠
This hard 16 hand consists of three cards (4-8-4). When you hold a multi-card 16, the best strategy is to stand. The reason standing is slightly better than hitting, is because you’ve removed two small cards from the decks (the two 4s in your hand), making it more likely you would break if you hit. The percentages are close between standing and hitting, but the slight edge is in favor of standing. (You can’t surrender this hand because you can only surrender your initial two-card hand. Once you draw a third card, the surrender option is no longer available.)
8♦ and 8♠
This 16 consists of a pair of 8s, which brings into play the option of splitting. Your choice is, therefore, to surrender, hit, stand, or split. First off, you should never surrender a pair of 8s so let’s rule out that option. Your best play is to split the 8s. I realize that many players do not like to split 8s against a strong dealer’s upcard like 10. However, the reality of this hand is this: starting with two hands of 8 is better than starting with one hand of 16. You will lose less money in the long run when you split the 8s than if you stood or hit with 16. Yes, sometimes you will split the 8s, draw 10s to each split 8 for two pat 18s, and lose to a dealer 20. (Been there, done that.) However, in the long run, you will lose less money by splitting vs. standing or hitting.
A♦ and 5♠
This 16 is a soft 16, consisting of an ace counted as 11. You should never stand on a soft 16 because you can’t bust with a one-card draw. The correct way to play this hand against a dealer’s 10 is to hit.
Is there ever any situation where you wouldn’t follow the above basic playing strategy for 16 against a 10? The answer is, yes, when you play in a blackjack tournament.
Let me give you two tips on how to play a hard 16 (like 10-6) against a dealer 10 in a blackjack tournament environment. (Remember, in a blackjack tournament, the table winner is the player that has the most chips after the last hand is played.)
If you are the table leader, it’s important to avoid being “swung.” This means you lose your hand while the chaser wins his hand, and if he bet enough chips, he could overtake you in chip count. Expert tournament players will often stand on hard 16 against a dealer 10 to minimize a swing from occurring. A second scenario involves doubling down. We are talking about tournament blackjack and there are situations, especially on the last hand, where doubling a hard 16 may be the only way for you to overtake a leader. If you are behind a leader by more than a max bet on the last hand, one way to overtake the leader is to make a max bet and then double down with enough chips so that if you both win the last hand, you will end up with more chips than the leader. (For more information on these tournament strategies, I recommend that you read Kenneth Smith’s books How to Win More Blackjack Tournaments, Vol. I and II. (To read sample chapters, go to www.bjinsider.com.)
Henry Tamburin is a blackjack and video poker expert. For a free copy of his Casino Gambling Catalog containing books, strategy cards, DVDs, and software for blackjack, video poker, and other casino games, call toll free 1-888-353-3234 (or view the catalog online at www.smartgaming.com). For a free three-month subscription to his monthly Blackjack Insider newsletter, go to www.bjinsider.com/free trial. Tamburin’s websites are www.smartgaming.com and www.bjinsider.com. He is available as a guest speaker at conventions. Contact him at HTamburin@aol.com.
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