An easy mistake for a rookie blackjack player to make is that their number-one target in any given hand is to reach a total as close to 21 as possible.
This doesn’t mean they would make nonsensical moves such as hitting a 19 or 20, but they certainly do not take all of the knowledge at their disposal into account before deciding how to play their hand.
Instead, what needs to be remembered is that to win a hand of blackjack, a player simply has to beat the dealer. This is regardless of whether the total of their hand is 21, 12 or even four.
Not that a player would ever stand on a hand of 11 or less because any extra card would bring definite improvement.
The easiest way for a player to guarantee winning a hand is by watching a dealer bust. After all, the main advantage a casino has is that the dealer always plays their hand last.
This rule means that in numerous hands a dealer won’t get the chance to bust, as all of the players present in the hand have already spoiled their prospects of winning by seeing their hand total exceed 21.
After all, if a player is holding any hand with a value of 14 or more, they are more likely to bust by taking another card than if deciding to stand. Whereas, they are only 39% likely to bust if hitting on 13.
But, more importantly for a player is having some knowledge of the probability of a dealer busting. In fact, a player should use the dealer’s visible upcard as the leading factor into how they play their own hand.
On a basic level, a dealer will bust 28% of the time on average, but this number can increase or decrease depending on their upcard.
The difference between a dealer six and seven
Obviously, if a dealer’s hand totals 17 or more, blackjack rules force them to stick and, because of this, it is no surprise that they are least likely to end up busting when showing an upcard of a seven or higher.
However, what may be a surprise is the considerable percentage shift of a dealer busting when their upcard is a seven in comparison to when they are showing a six.
These are the chances of a dealer busting if holding the following high cards – 10 (23%), nine (23%), eight (24%) and seven (26%).
Yet this 26% for a seven increases substantially to 42% for a six. It is no blackjack secret that a six is the worst card a dealer can be dealt, primarily because they have to hit on 16.
Significantly, what this also shows is that there is no hand total that a dealer can hold which gives them a greater chance of busting, over improving their hand. This is something that should always be remembered.
This must be taken into account when a player is deciding how to best play their hand. For example, some players may decide that it could be profitable to split a pair of 10s if facing a dealer six.
However, sacrificing a hand of 20 to potentially get two weaker hands against a dealer that is only 42% likely to bust is a decision likely to end in disappointment more often than not.
You still have to play the cards on show
It is not just the dealer’s upcard that should be used as knowledge when deciding how to play a hand. The cards of other players should additionally be taken into account.
The 16% swing in the likelihood of a dealer busting depending on whether their face card is a six or seven is one reason why strategy suggests a player should stand on 12 against a six, but then hit on 16 when going up against a seven.
But now imagine a six-player game with the following scenario:
Again, blackjack strategy would advise players to stand on 12 against a dealer six. But in this situation, half of the 10s in a deck that would cause them to bust are already in play. Therefore, of the unknown 39 cards, only eight would make their hand of 12 surpass 21.
This means that they would only have a one in five chance of busting.
What’s more, the vast number of 10s and other high cards already on the table reduce the chances of the dealer busting from their six.
So, assessing the whole table is still vital for players in working out whether a dealer is likely to bust from the upcard they are showing.