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Best of John Grochowski

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Splitting 8s in blackjack

26 June 2012

It was just past 9 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, one of my favorite times to play. Crowds were small, tables were wide open, and I settled in for a little $10-a-hand blackjack.

It was a six-deck game, with the dealer standing on all 17s and doubling down after splitting pairs permitted. I was dealt a pair of 8s against a dealer's 10. That's one of the hands that make players groan. I pushed out a second $10 bet to split the pair, then drew a 10 on top of each one for two 18s.

"That didn't work out too bad for you," said a woman who was sitting toward the middle of the table.

My response: "We'll see."

What we saw was the dealer turn up a 10 for a 20 before he swept away both of my bets.

The woman sympathized. "Oh, that's too bad," she said. "Two pretty good hands."

A 30-ish man sitting at first base begged to differ. "That's why I never make that play," he said. "You have to assume the dealer has a 10 down."

I shrugged it off. Only 30.8% of the cards are 10-values, so if you assume the dealer has a 10 down, you're going to be wrong nearly 70% of the time. All possible dealer results, and all possible results for a player who starts with a pair of 8s, had to be taken into account when basic strategy was devised. And I made the correct basic strategy play by splitting the 8s.

About half an hour later, the same situation occurred. I split my 8s against the dealer's 10. The gentleman sitting at first base shook his head and said, "You're really going to make that play again?" I smiled, nodded and said, "Yep." He resumed shaking his head.

Splitting was the best percentage play. If I stood, I could win only if the dealer busted, and the dealer busts only a bit more than 21% of the time when starting with a 10-value card. If I hit, I'd lose any time I drew a 6 or higher to bust, and I even if I drew a low card I could lose to a better dealer's hand. Just on the busts, I'm set up to lose 61.5% of the time, since I'd bust with 8 of 13 card denominations -- 6, 7, 8, 9 and the four 10-value cards.

Hitting is the better of those two options. My average loss for hitting would be 53.4% of my bet for hitting, or 53.7% of my bet for standing. That's either $5.34 or $5.37 per $10 wagered.

When I split the pair, my average loss decreases to 47.5% of my initial wager. If doubling down after the split was not allowed, my average loss would be a little higher at 48.6% of my first wager, but still less than if I just made a hit/stand decision.

My table did not offer surrender, but when that option is available, you're still better off to split the pair. When you surrender, you give up half your bet after seeing your first two cards instead of finishing the hand. That makes your loss 50% of your wager -- better than either hitting or standing, but a weaker play than splitting the pair.

Throughout the basic strategy chart in blackjack, there are situations that call for us to play offense, and situations in which we're playing defense. When we double down, we're playing offense, trying to maximize profits by getting more money on the table when we're the favorites to win the hand. When we split 8s against a dealer's 6, we're also on the attack, creating two hands that are in stronger starting positions than the dealer. Those hands are bankroll builders for us, and the risk of double losses is outweighed by the potential for profit.

But when we split 8s against a 10, we're not playing offense, we're playing defense. We're trying to conserve bankroll in a bad situation, and the best way to do it is to make a second bet so our starting hands are better than that initial 16.

Sometimes it means losing two bets at once, as it did on my first attempt that morning. Less often, it means winning two at once. And sometimes the results fall in between, as they did on my second try.

After I split, I drew an ace on one 8 for a 19, then drew a 4 and a 9 for a 21 on the second hand. The dealer turned up a 9, and I had one win and one push. That's a result I'll take anytime.

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