Not long ago, I wrote about splitting 8s. Sometimes we’re playing offense and trying to maximize wins. Sometimes we’re playing defense and trying to minimize losses.
Either way, basic strategy players always split 8s unless surrender is offered. Surrender is not common, but if it’s available, the better play is to surrender 8-8 against Ace.
That led a blackjack-playing reader to go up the card ranks a notch and ask about splitting 9s.
“I just learned basic strategy in the last year,” the player wrote. “I noticed with 9s there’s no clear cutoff point like with 7s, where you always split if the dealer has 7 or less and always hit if the dealer has 8 or more.
“With 9s, there’s a stop and start. You always split 9s against 6s or under, then stand against 8, then split against 8s or 9s, then stand again against 10s and Aces.
“I just accepted that when I was learning the chart. Standing on 18 against a 7 instead of splitting 9s just makes sense. But now I’m wondering about this whole offense and defense thing. Are you playing offense against dealer low cards and defense against high cards?”
To answer that, let’s look at the possibilities. We’ll assume a six-deck game in which the dealer hits soft 17, the player may double down on any first two cards including after splits, and pairs may be split up to three times to make a total of four hands.
That’s a common game. More of us play blackjack under those rules than under any other set. If I’m in an area that has better sets of rules, then I’ll seek out the better games, but to many players, better isn’t available.
Given those conditions, let’s look at the average wind or losses for 9-9 against each possible dealer up card. A “+” sign denotes average profit and a “-” sign average loss in cents per $1 of your original wager.
9-9 vs. 2: Stand, +11.3. Hit, -62.4. Split, +19.5.
9-9 vs. 3: Stand, +13.5. Hit, -62.4. Split, +24.9.
9-9 vs. 4: Stand, +16.4. Hit, -61.5. Split, +31.9.
9-9 vs. 5: Stand, +19.5. Hit, -61.1. Split, +39.27.
9-9 vs. 6: Stand, +22.0. Hit, -61.0. Split, +45.20.
9-9 vs. 7: Stand, +39.9. Hit, -58.7. Split, +36.4.
9-9 vs. 8: Stand, +9.9. Hit, -58.7. Split, +23.0.
9-9 vs. 9: Stand, -18.5. Hit, -61.3. Split,-8.2.
9-9 vs. 10: Stand, -17.1. Hit, -64.4. Split, -31.0.
9-9 vs. Ace: Stand, -22.0. Hit, -63.8. Split, -24.2.
A few things of note:
Hitting 9-9 is out of the question. Any card from 4 through the 10 values will bust you. That’s reflected in the average losses that hover around 60 cents per $1 of your original wager if you hit against any dealer up card.
Standing on 9-9 is profitable against any dealer up card of 8 or less. However, profits are bigger if you take the plunge and split the 9s against 2 through 6 and 8.
There’s a big rise in the average profit for standing when the dealer has a 7. That’s because 10 values, the most common cards, will give the dealer a hard 17 that loses to your 18. When the dealer has lower up cards and a 10 face down, there remains a chance the draw will bring a total that beats 18.
The only time splitting is a defensive move is against a dealer’s 9. Then the average result for a 9-9 is a loss no matter what you do, but average losses are smallest when you splot.