By Charles Jay

When the dealer has a 5 or 6 showing, the player has, basically, a very easy decision to make. If, let’s say, you’re the player, and you’ve got a bad hand, you stand, banking on the hope that the dealer will bust. If you’ve got a good hand, depending on the nature of the hand, you will stand (if you are pat), double, or split. The 5 and 6 are the worst upcards the dealer can have, and if the opportunity presents itself, you have to get as much money on the table as possible to take advantage of your position.

But how do you approach the situation if the dealer has a two showing? Standard rules of the Basic Strategy (i.e., the set of playing rules that outline what to do in every player vs. dealer situation) dictate that there are two sides to the hitting/standing decision chart – the “low” cards (2 through 6) and the “high” cards (7 through Ace). An imaginary line is drawn between these two groups; for example, with those hands commonly known as “stiff” hands (12 through 16) you would usually hit against the high cards, and stand against the low cards. There is also no soft doubling against the high upcards.

There is one notable exception, however, and that is when the dealer is holding a two on top. The two is indeed in the “low card” group, but because it is the lowest of the low, it is the hardest to play against. A dealer with a five showing will bust 43% of the time, and with a six it will happen only 42% of the time. When a dealer has a two as his upcard, he will bust only 35% of his hands. Now the difference may not seem like a lot, but it really is when taken in this context – when we conceive theory in the game we speak in terms of how much each strategy decision will work out in the LONG run, since, of course, anything can happen in the SHORT run. Looking at it this way, the seven or eight less breaks per hundred hands add up big time over the course of a great many hands. It is a plain fact (and a pain fact too, as we allow for the validity of that typo) that the dealer with a two on top will usually have to draw two ten-value cards to bust out; anything less and the chances are considerable that his hand will be pat.

The strongest dealer upcards, in order, are the Ace, ten-value cards, nine, eight, and seven. Next in line is the two, and it is in fact such a respected and feared upcard that many count systems do not even include the two as a low card for the purposes of determining the plus-minus value of cards, preferring to leave it neutral instead, along with the 7,8, and often times, the 9 (“neutral” meaning, of course, that it is of equal value to both player and dealer).

To deal with the relative strength of the two, some subtle exceptions in the Basic Strategy are, of course, in order. For instance, when presented with a 12 against the dealer’s two, the player will always take one hit. This play is also appropriate when the player has a three, by the way. Remember to take ONLY ONE HIT in this situation, though. Any denomination, even the lowest value (an Ace) would add up to at least 13, and, when this three-card is plugged into the Basic Strategy, the correct move is to stand against stiff upcards.

Also, the player’s nine is doubled on the 3 through 6 upcards, but not against the two, however, because the nine is simply not a strong enough hand to make it mathematically feasible. And please – never, EVER double any soft hand against the dealer’s two. Let a signal go off in your head when this situation arises.

Practice and learn how to deal with a dealer’s upcard of two. It may be a small card, but can figure BIG in some important decisions if not played correctly.

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