Casino Scene: At Blackjack, there’s nothing sweet about 16

January 30, 2014 6:36 pm  •  John G. Brokopp

There probably isn’t a blackjack player around who looks forward to being dealt a 16. It’s a hand that is so uneasy to stand and so tempting to hit. Draw a card and only an ace through five will help you. Anything else and you bust.

What’s a player to do?

The best percentage play from the basic strategy standpoint is to stand on any 16 when the dealer is showing two through six. When the dealer is showing a seven through ace, the best percentage play is to take a hit.

There is an important exception. If the dealer is showing a ten and you happen to be holding a three-card 16, the best play is to stand.

To illustrate, say you are dealt a 10 and a six and the dealer is showing a 10. On this hand you’ll stand. If you are dealt a deuce and a four then take a hit and draw a 10 for a 16, the best strategy is to stand if the dealer is showing a 10.

If you happen to be holding a 16 in a casino that offers the surrender at its blackjack tables, basis strategy dictates that you exercise the option (surrendering half your bet in exchange for not playing out your hand) if the dealer is showing a nine, 10, or ace.

Variations of 16 calls for changes in strategy. For example, when the dealer is showing a four, a five, or a six, a player’s “soft” 16 (ace-five) is a prime opportunity to double down.

Taking a hit on a soft 16 can never hurt you because you can’t bust. Of course you’re always looking for a five because that’ll give you a 21. At the other end of the spectrum, draw a six on your soft 16 and you’re stuck with a hand of 12.

Doubling down is a great opportunity for players to make money. In exchange for doubling your bet you are dealt one card.

The variation of 16 that puzzles many players is a pair of eights. Basic strategy advises that you always split a pair of eights (except versus an ace when surrender is available).

When you split a pair, you make an additional bet for the privilege of playing two hands. Splitting is another opportunity to make money at the blackjack table, but caution is always advised.

Splitting eights is a pure defensive move. Depending upon the value of the dealer’s card you are playing against, the strategy sometimes is a recipe for disaster.

A pair of eights is the only 16 that gives you the opportunity to take one bad hand and attempt to make two good hands out of it. The price, of course, is an additional wager equal in value to your original bet.

Splitting eights against a weak dealer’s up card generally puts players in the driver’s seat. You are always hoping to capitalize on a favorable situation, especially if one or both of your split hands gives you a double down opportunity. If you happen to draw another eight you can re-split and set yourself up for a big pay day if the cards are right.

When you split eights against a strong dealer card (seven or higher), that’s where the defensive strategy comes into play.

Giving yourself a fighting chance to win is ultimately what it’s all about.

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