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Best of John Grochowski

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Splitting 8s in blackjack

22 June 2010

My friend Ralph has played blackjack for decades, probably longer than I have. He'd never really studied the game, but absorbed enough through all that play that he was zeroed in on basic strategy, as long as we were talking only about hard totals. If he had a hard 16, he was going to hit if the dealer had a 7 or higher and stand if a dealer had a 6 or lower.

Where it all got fuzzy was on pair splitting and on soft totals. He had his own ideas on when to double down on a soft 16 or when to split a pair of 9s, but they weren't always strictly in accordance with basic strategy. Truth be told, they weren't always in accordance with his strategy the last time he played. He wavered.

One night we were out to dinner, and he took a piece of paper from his shirt pocket and unfolded it. Our wives rolled their eyes. It was a basic strategy chart.

"I've decided to do this right," he said. "Should have done it years ago. I bought a book on blackjack, bought some software to practice on, and I'm trying to do everything it says here.

"I'm having a problem, though. It says to split 8s no matter what a dealer has face up. I've never split 8s when the dealer has a 10 or a face. Now the book says to split 8s against a 10. The software tells me I'm wrong if I don't split 8s against a 10. This chart says to split 8s against a 10.

"What do you think?"

I told him I think the best play is to split 8s, no matter what the dealer has.

"But why? Even if I get 10s on both 8s for two 18s, those are just two losing hands if the dealer has a 10 down for a 20."

True. That'll happen sometimes.

"And still you tell me to split."

Right. Sometimes blackjack is about playing offense, and sometimes it's about playing defense. When you have 8s against a 10, it's time for a little defense.

"Making an extra bet in a losing situation seems pretty offensive to me. But go ahead. Tell me about offense and defense."

Sometimes we split pairs to turn a losing situation into a winner — that's playing offense. When we split 8s against a dealer's 6, that's just what we're doing. If we don't split the pair, we have two options. We can stand, and hope the dealer busts. But the dealer busts when showing a 6 only about 42% of the time. The other 58%, the dealer makes a 17 or better and beats our 16.

If we play the pair of 8s as a 16 and hit, then we bust a little less than 62% of the time. We lose even more often than we would by standing on the 16.

By playing offense, making the extra bet and splitting the 8s, we create a situation where we have an edge. Each of our 8s is a stronger building block than the dealer's 6.

"OK, but so far you've been talking about offense. What about defense? Why should I split my 8s when the dealer has a 10?"

Because you'll lose less money that way. When we play offense, it's because we want to win more. When we play defense, it's because we're caught in a losing situation and we want to lose less.

"I'd rather try to win, thanks."

So would I. Unfortunately, there are times in blackjack when we're dealt a losing hand, and it's up to us to make the best of it. A pair of 8s against a dealer's 10 is one of those times. If we play it as 16 and hit, we're going to bust a little under 62% of the time. If we stand, we're going to lose the 77% of the time that the dealer makes 17 or better.

"Just like any other 16 against a 10. Rock and a hard place."

Right. But when that 16 is a pair of 8s, we have an option. We can make a second bet, and split the pair, and start two hands with 8 against 10. That's not a great position. The dealer still has an advantage. But it's a far sight better than 16 against 10.

"How much better?"

If you hit, as we would on other hard 16s, your expected losses are about $54 per $100 wagered. If you split, the expected losses drop to $49 per $100 in initial wagers. Even though you're doubling your wagers and now really betting $200 instead of $100, your average losses drop to $49. By playing defense, you save yourself a little money.

"So you're telling me I should split the 8s, even though sometimes I'll lose two hands instead of just one."

Yep. Not all blackjack plays can make money for you, but it's worth playing a little defense sometimes. Losing less is a better deal than losing more.

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:

The Craps Answer Book

> More Books By John Grochowski