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3 September 2015
By John Grochowski
It has seemed to me over the years that players have been getting better at blackjack strategy. This is strictly anecdotal in time spent at today’s common multideck games where the dealer hits soft 17, but I don’t see players stand on soft 17 anywhere near as often as I once did. Most of the players I encounter know to hit hard 16 when the dealer has a 7 or higher, and an increasing number, if not quite everyone yet, know to hit hard 12 when the dealer has a 2 or 3 up.
That doesn’t mean mistakes are never made. I recently played at the same table as a man who had most of basic strategy down cold. He even knew when to double down on the soft hands – hands in which aces are counted as 11 and therefore can’t be busted with a one-card hit. Those are trouble spots for many players, but he doubled his soft 17s when the dealer showed a 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6, and hit when the dealer had any other face-up card.
I just noticed two holes in his play, and they both involved splitting pairs. He split his 8s against most dealer cards, but hit the wall when the dealer showed a 10-value. Then, he played his 8s as a 16 and hit. He knew most of the ins and outs of splitting 9s, but on the one hand I saw where the dealer also had a 9, the player stood.
There was no conversation about this. I’m not shy about volunteering information in print or online, but I don’t talk strategy at the tables. Other players at the table just let him play his own hand, too.
Both plays involved situations that are difficult for players to come to grips with. Basic strategy calls for you to split 8s against a 10 and 9s against a 9 not to turn the hands into money-makers, but to decrease your average losses. There are going to be times that you lose two hands at once instead of just taking one loss, but overall you’ll lose less with the splits.
Let’s take 8-8 against a 10. If you hit, you’ll win an average of 23% of the time. If you’re betting $10 a hand and the situation occurs 100 times, your wagers total $1,000. You win $230 on the 23 wins, and lose $770 on the 77 losses, for a net loss of $540.
If you split the pair instead, betting a second $10 so you have two hands that each start with 8, your total wagers rise to $2,000 per 100 plays – which are split into 200 hands. But with 8 against 10, you win 38% of the time. Of your 200 hands, 76 are winners, for $760, and 124 are losers, for $1,240. Your net loss is $480. By splitting, you increase your total wagers, but decrease your net losses.
The same logic applies to splitting 9s against a 9. If you stand on the 18, you figure to lose about $180 per $1,000 wagered. If you split the 8s, you increase your wagers to $2,000, but trim the average losses to $80.
In any short session, you may not notice a difference. You win or you lose, or move on. But with repeated play, it’s healthier for your bankroll to consistently make the basic strategy plays, and those are to split 8s against all up cards, including 10-values, and to split 9s against everything except 7s, 10s and aces.
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