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Blackjack Basic Strategy - Part 3

15 June 2004

Anytime you say "always," you run the risk of being confronted by someone who knows an exception. So it was in the mid-1990s when I wrote in this column that blackjack players always should split Aces.

That brought a letter from a reader who pointed out a few situations when splitting Aces is not the best play. One, he wrote, is when the dealer's hole card is known to the players. If you've seen both dealer cards, and know the dealer has a 20, for instance, it's not worth the extra bet to split Aces. Other exceptions come when the dealer takes no hole card, and takes all bets on dealer blackjacks instead of returning split and double-down bets to the players. And for card counters, some unusually high counts may change the best play.

Now most of us aren't spying the dealer's hole card, the "no hole card for the dealer" situation occurs mainly overseas and on some cruise ships, most of us aren't card counters and even if we were, we wouldn't often encounter a count so extreme as to shift the play on a pair of Aces.

So for most of us, the best play when dealt a pair of Aces is to split 'em. Basic strategy tells us to split Aces, no matter what face-up card the dealer shows. Even though we only get one card on each Ace when we split, the 11 we start with on a single Ace is a stronger building block than the 2 or 12 we start with on two Aces.

Similarly, those of us who are basic-strategy players split 8s no matter what the dealer shows. An 8 is not as strong a start to a hand as an 11, but it's a darn sight stronger than starting with 16.

Sometimes splitting 8s is a defensive measure. When the dealer shows a 10, we split the 8s not because we expect to win. We split because in the long run we lose less money than if we played the hand as a 16. We know splitting 8s is going to set us up for some double losses, and we know we'll still lose more hands than we win. But we'll lose less money overall by splitting than by playing the hand as 16.

Other times, we split 8s as a moneymaking opportunity. When the dealer shows a 6, we turn a losing situation into a winner by splitting 8s. If we stand on 16, we lose the 58 percent of hands that a dealer starting with 6 makes 17 or better. If we hit instead, we lose the 62 percent of the times we bust when starting with 16. By splitting the 8s, we create two hands that win more often than they lose, giving us a chance at profit.

On the opposite end of the pair-splitting spectrum, basic-strategy players don't split pairs of 5s or 10s. With a pair of 5s, you're starting with 10, a strong building block and a double-down opportunity if the dealer has a 9 or lower. With a pair of 10s, you have a 20 - a profitable hand in itself. Don't break it up.

Basic strategy for other pairs depends on the dealer's up card, as well as on house rules. Some casinos allow players to double down after splitting pairs, and that makes a difference.

If we split a pair of 4s and are dealt a 7 to make one hand a two-card 11, we want the option to double down. If we have that option, we split the pair. If not, we just play the hand as an 8.

Offense and defense, dealer's up card and house rules all are taken into account in these basic-strategy rules for splitting pairs in a multiple-deck game:

Pair of 2s or pair of 3s: If we can double after splits, we split 2s or 3s whenever the dealer's up card is a 2 through 7. If doubling after splits is not permitted, we skip splitting against 2s or 3s. Then we split only when the dealer shows 4, 5, 6 or 7.

Pair of 4s: If we can't double after splitting the pair, it's not worth splitting 4s. But if doubling after splits is permitted, we have an opportunity to maximize profits when the dealer shows a 5 or 6. That's when we split.

Pair of 5s: Never split.

Pair of 6s: Split against 3, 4, 5 or 6 in any game, and split against 2 if permitted to double after splits.

Pair of 7s: Split whenever the dealer shows a 2 through 7. Splitting against a 7 sometimes is a stumbling block for players who fear creating two losing hands, but we're far better off starting 7 against a 7 than 14 against a 7.

Pair of 8s: Always split.

Pair of 9s: This is the trickiest pair-splitting hand. Split when the dealer shows 2 through 6, as well as when the dealer's up card is 8 or 9. Stand when the dealer shows a 7, 10 or Ace.

Pair of 10s: Never split.

Pair of Aces: Always split.

If you're a card counter or playing in a game with obscure house rules, you'll find some exceptions. But for most players, basic strategy is . . . basic.

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski