To Stand Or Not To Stand: That Is The QuestionTo Stand Or Not To Stand: That Is The Question

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?

Ah, Hamlet. You have to love his existential meanderings about the nature of life, the pitfalls inherent in our experience of it, and how we try so desperately to make sense of it all through philosophy, through myth, through poetry, through narratives about self and others. Let's take Shakespeare's grand metaphysical question and narrow it down to a simple game of blackjack: to stand or not to stand. It's a vexing question- especially when you have an uncertain total like 15 or 16. You may be tempted to hit in order to increase the total value of your hand. But in equal measure you know that anything over 21 will put you out of the round by default without any consideration of what the dealer may or may not have.

Now, as any blackjack player worth his salt will tell you, a good strategy always takes careful cognizance of the dealer's hand when implementing a move. For instance, if you're sitting on 15 and the dealer has 10, you would be ill advised to stand. What's the reasoning? In brief: there is a high probability than the dealer's next card will be valued at more than 5 (either cards 6 through 10, an ace, or any of the face cards).

It's one of the many reasons why a carefully considered strategy is indispensable in "tak[ing] arms" against the "sea of troubles" in the casino. Unfortunately for the player, by rallying against chance (what Shakespeare calls "outrageous fortune"), by steeling yourself and doing battle against it, one doesn't really change it. This is Shakespeare's grand realization: the "thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to" is a symptom of the life we live everyday in every way. For the Ancient Greeks, this truth was borne out in the mythological interactions between men and gods, where men were merely pawns in a grand metaphysical chess game between deities of immense power. That these deities were fickle, prone to the range of human flaws and errors, and wont to enact their petty schemes on the lives of men was justification enough for the instability of the human of experience.

Let's return once more to blackjack. Like all other casino games, it's based on instability and chance. Strategy will gain you an advantage over the house but this is slight, albeit thoroughly worthwhile and important if earning money sounds good to you. But even with the most considered strategy and the most prudent implementation in the hands of the most rational player, the question of whether to stand or not to stand, and by extension the question of what effect human agency has against the infinite caprice of chance, is a question fraught with difficulty.
by Charles Flipper
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To stand or not to stand : Blackjack
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