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Blackjack Doubling Down

Doubling Down on Hard Hands

Doubling down on hard hands was at one point in time not part of the game of blackjack. It was introduced by the casinos as a way to stimulate play by making the game more interesting and surprisingly to reduce the house edge to a more acceptable level. Unfortunately many players, including some experts who should know better, believe that the double down option was introduced as just one more way of fleecing the player. Unfortunately the majority of players, who believe this, believe it because they handle doubling down on hard hands poorly. Most players do end up benefiting to some degree when using the doubling down on hard hands option. A very common strategy for doubling down on hard hands used by many unskilled players is to double down only on 10 or 11. Following this strategy the player can expect 1.3% which is not to bad but not as good as the 1.7% gain that can be achieved by using Basic Strategy. Most of the commonly seen doubling strategies do provide a significant gain.

As far as Basic Strategy is concerned, there is only one valid reason for doubling down on hard hands: if by doubling down you end up with results that provide a positive expectation for the hand and if that expectation, expressed as a percentage of the original bet, is larger than what could be achieved by following any other playing option (like hitting), then, and only then, should the player double down. So in simple terms, you only want to be doubling down on hard hands when it will get you the most money. That’s all there is to it. It is both a simple and a sound strategy.

Let’s assume that during a single deck game a player is holding a pair of 4’s and the dealer is showing a 6. Would you double down, split or hit? What would give you the best return? Well it turns out that all three options have very similar returns. If you have the player double down, they could expect his advantage to be around 19%. If you have them split their advantage falls to 18% and should you have them hit the player can expect 17% advantage on their bet. Playing with basic strategy it is barley worthwhile doubling down on a pair of 4’s.

As you look at the table below, you will notice that the closer the player’s first two cards are to 11 without going over, the more likely he is to double down. This is reasonable because, as we mentioned earlier, the player’s most likely draw is a 10. So starting with 11, the player has almost a 33% chance of drawing to an unbeatable 21 if he doubles down. Beginning with 10, he stands the same chance of achieving a powerful 20 and about an 8% chance of drawing an Ace for a total of 21. However as the player’s original total drops below 10, the opportunities for profitable doubling diminish rapidly. If you have a 9, then it is only smart to double if the dealer is showing a bust card. With an initial hand of 8, doubling is just barley profitable even with the dealer showing a 5 or 6. With totals below hard 8, you are throwing your money away if you double down. Nevertheless, you will on occasion see people in the casinos double down with hard totals of 7, 6, and yes even 5! The person making these plays is one of two types of players. A totally unskilled player that does not understand the game or you are watching an amateur counter making a play on a hand so bad that any gains will be outweighed by the attention it draws from the pit bosses. Further observation will quickly determine which is the case. 

Basic Strategy

Player Hand Dealer’s Up Card
  2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Ace
11 D D D D D D D D D D
10 D D D D D D D D H H
9 D D D D D H H H H H
8 H H H D1 D2 H H H H H

1 Except (6,2) vs. 5
2 Except (6,2) vs. 6

D Double
H Hit

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