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Splitting pairs in blackjack19 February 2015
I had a run of some of each recently, an odd little session where I was dealt pairs of 9s several times within a couple of hours. It was a six-deck game, dealer hits soft 17, with double downs after splitting pairs permitted.
Early on, I was dealt two 9s, and the dealer had a 7. I signaled to stand. That’s a situation where you’re hoping the dealer has a 10 face-down for a standing hand of 17 that will lose to an 18.
The dealer having a 10 value down is the most frequent occurrence, since there are four 10-value cards – 10, Jack, Queen and King – and one of those will be face down 30.1 percent of the time.
Not this time. The dealer turned up an Ace for a total of 18, and I had to settle for a push.
“Maybe if you’d have split …,” a 35-ish man sitting toward the middle of the table started.
“Maybe,” I replied, and left it at that. I don’t get into deep strategy discussions during play.
A while later, I had a pair of 9s, and the dealer showed a 9. This time I split, and the cards weren’t overly kind to me. On my first hand, I drew a 7, then hit the resulting 16 and draw a 6 for 22. Busted. The second hand brought an 8 for a 17 total that lost when the dealer turned up a Queen for 19.
“Guessed wrong that time,” the other players said, and I just shook my head and chuckled.
A third player jumped in. “He was right both times,” he said. “It didn’t work, but he made the right plays.”
My second-guesser wasn’t so sure. “It was 9s both times,” he said. “He played them different, but neither one won.”
I looked at my defender, and just smiled. He nodded, and looked for his next hand.
Finally, I was dealt another pair of 9s, and the dealer showed a 5. I split again, and this time draw a 10 on each. Finally, I was in a strong position. It didn’t turn out perfectly – the dealer drew 8-10 to bust one hand, but strung out 4-6-4 to push my 19 on the other.
The second-guesser asked, “Was he right there, too?” And the other player said, “Yes, he was.”
The upshot was that I was playing offense when the dealer had a 5 up. I had the advantage, and wanted to try to push it home with an extra bet on the table. I was playing defense when the dealer had the 9 up. Standing on 18 is at a disadvantage against a dealer’s 9, but you lose a little less money when you split to start two hands with 9 each. And when the dealer had the 7 up, my 18 was a hand that wins more often than it loses, so I stood.
That’s the way it is with pairs of 9s, with as big a collection of back-and-forth moves between splitting and standing as you’ll find on a basic strategy table. Bottom line: Split when the dealer shows 2 through 6, and also against 8 or 9. Keep your edge and stand when the dealer shows 7, and also stand against 10 or 11 when splitting the pair would just give you two bets with large disadvantages vs. the dealer.
Look for John Grochowski at www.casinoanswerman.com, on Facebook (http://tinyurl.com/7lzdt44) and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).
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