Blackjack: Total Dependent/Composition Dependent Hands . January 2001

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Blackjack: Total Dependent/Composition Dependent Hands

by Ralph Stricker

There are two types of basic strategy hands. They are what is referred to as "Total" dependent or "Composition" dependent hands. When we play basic strategy as it is outlined in Thorpe's original basic strategy it is based on "Total" dependent hands. For example, in single-deck basic strategy we would hit a hard total of 16 against the dealer's 10. Strategy says to go to 17. In "Composition" dependent hands, if we had a total of 16 in three or more cards, we would STAND on this hand

In the "Theory of Blackjack" by Peter A. Griffin (every blackjack player should have a copy -- it is the "bible" of serious blackjack players), he refers to these hands in this way:

"By definition, the description of the basic strategy is 'composition' dependent rather than 'total' dependent in that some card combinations which have the same total, but unlike compositions, require a DIFFERENT action to optimize expectation."

16 versus 10

The question of 16 vs. 10 is a bit more subtle. For single-deck (where the removal of even one card has meaning), there are actually two forms of basic strategy. "Total dependent" and "Composition dependent." The former means that, regardless of the cards that your total comprises, you play the hand in identical fashion (i.e., hit vs. dealer's 10).

In "composition dependent" basic strategy, we take into account the actual way the 16 was attained. In this scenario, it is actually correct to *stand* on 3-card sixteens (or more than 3 cards).

The strategy departure for 16 vs. 10 is one of the closest plays in the game.  When we count, any count of zero or greater causes us to stand. In virtually all counting systems, if we have attained our 16 in 3 cards or more, vs. the dealer's 10, the count would be zero or positive. As a result, we can be sure that standing would be the correct play off the top of the deck.

For example: dealer shuffles a fresh deck and deals you 9,3 vs. his 10. You hit with a 4. Composition dependent strategy says you should *stand*, and that would also be the play a counter would make at that moment. Total dependent strategy would tell you to hit because, generically, we hit all 16s vs. dealer's 10; but in this occassion, it would be, technically, the wrong play.

The many "composition" dependent exceptions which certainly can be taxing to the memory. They actually cost the player at most .04%. Therefore if you play basic strategy only, you can sleep better at night knowing you do not have to be concerned with these differences in strategy.

Ralph Stricker, also known as the Silver Fox, is an expert gambler selling books and tapes called the Silver Fox Blackjack System.