When we split pairs in blackjack, sometimes we’re playing offense and sometimes we’re playing defense.
Aggressively trying to get an edge on a hand is a worthy goal. So is trying to cut losses.
Basic strategy addresses both issues. We can see how that works by running numbers on pairs of 8s.
Among the maxims of blackjack is “Always split 8s and Aces. Never split 5s or 10s.” There’s a rare exception for 8s in a multiple-deck game in the dealer hits soft 17 which surrender is offered. Then, the charts tell us to surrender 8s against a dealer Ace.
Surrender is not at all common, so that exception is one you might never put in practice.
Let’s examine some numbers for 8-8 against each possible dealer up card. The numbers given are average profit or loss in cents per $1 of your original wager.
No strategy will work every time. You can win both hands, lose both, win one and lose the other, have a push or two. But over time, the plays you make will drive results toward these averages, assuming a common modern game with six decks where the dealer hits soft 17, you can double down on any first two cards, double after splits and resplit non-Ace pairs up to three times to make a maximum of four hands, but split Aces only once.
8-8 vs. dealer’s 2: Stand, 28.4-cent loss. Hit, 47.1-cent loss. Split, 7.4-cent profit.
8-8 vs. dealer’s 3: Stand, 24.3-cent loss. Hit, 46.4-cent loss. Split, 14.8-cent profit.
8-8 vs. dealer’s 4: Stand, 20.1-cent loss. Hit, 40.6-cent loss. Split, 21.7-cent profit.
8-8 vs. dealer’s 5: Stand, 16.4-cent loss. Hit, 45.1-cent loss. Split, 30.1-cent profit.
8-8 vs. dealer’s 6: Stand, 12.5-cent loss. Hit, 43.8-cent loss. Split, 38.3-cent profit.
8-8 vs. dealer’s 7: Stand, 48.0-cent loss. Hit, 40.8-cent loss. Split, 31.8-cent profit.
8-8 vs. dealer’s 8: Stand, 51.8-cent loss. Hit, 45.3-cent loss. Split, 3.0-cent loss.
8-8 vs. dealer’s 9: Stand, 53.9-cent loss. Hit, 50.1-cent loss. Split, 39.0-cent loss.
8-8 vs. dealer’s 2: Stand, 53.7-cent loss. Hit, 53.5-cent loss. Split, 47.6-cent loss.
8-8 vs. dealer’s 2: Stand, 59.5-cent loss. Hit, 53.9-cent loss. Split, 51.4-cent loss.
There are a few items of note on that list.
Sixteen is not a winning hand. Even against the weakest dealer up cards, the dealer doesn’t bust often enough that the hand is profitable for the player. Player risk of busting is too great to make hitting a winning play. Splitting 8s is always a better option than hitting or standing.
We’re playing offense by splitting whenever the dealer’s up card is 7 or lower. In each of those cases, splitting the pair turns the hand from a losing hand to one in which the average result is a profit. That includes splitting 8s against 7. An 8 is a much stronger starting point than playing the hand as 16, and the turnaround from an average 40.8-cent loss when hitting to a 31.8-cent profit when splitting is well worth your while.
We’re playing defense by splitting whenever the dealer’s up card is 8 or higher. You won’t win enough to turn a profit, but you will win often enough that average losses are smaller when you make the extra bet.
About that surrender exception: The average loss on surrender is always 50 cents per $1 wagered. The only hand on the list above with an average loss of higher than 50 cents when splitting is 8-8 vs. Ace, so we surrender when that option is offered.
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