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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Bluffing's OK but strategy's better

22 March 2004

Dear Mark,
I enjoy your writing and just received your blackjack strategy card, but I am not sure how to read the Player's Hand portion. I assume the 8-16 means total value of my two cards, and I understand the 2s etc at the bottom. But, what is the A2-A9? Also, do I assume a hit on any total less than eight? As you can tell, I am a beginner. George B.

Thanks, George; glad you enjoy the column. And actually, beginner questions are the best ones, as the concept of this column from the start was, and still is today, Gambling 101: gaming education for the innocent and trusting among us.

Blackjack is a game that many play, but few play well. The solution for the rank-and-file is to go at all times armed with a basic strategy card, and
use it mercilessly.

Basic strategy is nothing more than the mathematically best way to play your hand against the dealer's "up card." Playing your hand correctly will bring the house advantage down to less than 1%. Since you cannot control how the cards fall (the luck factor), you must focus on what you can control — how to play them.

As for your lingo question, "A2-A9" represents an ace and a two, an ace and a three, an ace and a four, etc. through an ace and a nine. And on your second question: "Do I assume a hit of any total less than 8?" I gather you are asking whether you should elect HIT for any hand totaling less than 11. The answer to that, George, is YES. Always hit your hand to at least a 12, and then what do you do? You REFER TO YOUR BASIC STRATEGY CHART on what to do next.

Say for example, you have hit your eight, and caught a six for a total of 14, with the dealer showing a six. You would STAND. Another example would be if the dealer had a face card showing, and you hit your eight and got a seven. With a total of 15 against a face card, you would HIT again.

Dear Mark,
The announcers for the Travel Channel use the terms bluff and semi-bluff. Could you please explain the differences? Are they not really the same, or is a semi-bluff just a bluff but with less money? Melba H.

A bluff and a semi-bluff are only very distant cousins, Melba, not distinguished by the amount of money at risk.

In poker, Melba, there are generally two ways to win a hand. One is for your opponent to fold, conceding the pot; and the other is for your opponent to call your hand and then wince when you prevail in the showdown.

A bluff is a bet or raise when you have little chance of winning the pot if called. With a bluff, you have only one way to win: your opponent folds. A semi-bluff is a bet made when you have more cards to come, and although you might not have the best hand right now, you have some outs if you are called. An "out" is a possibility that cards can turn up on the next round that could turn your hand into a possible winner. For instance, you have two spades in the pocket (your hand) and two on the board. Here, you might semi-bluff hoping to catch another spade on the turn (Fourth Street) or the river (Fifth Street).

I've got to ask, Melba: with that lovely name, are you more frequently referred to as Peach or as Toast?

Gambling quote of the week: "Surely you have something better to do with your time than play poker. I suggest a walk outside, volunteering at a
homeless shelter, or listening to Bach. " - Chris Ferguson

Recent Articles
Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.