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Blackjack Strategy

Splitting Pairs

An essential element for successful blackjack play is knowing when to split and, just as importantly, when not to split. When used properly pair splitting is a very powerful weapon in the player’s arsenal. In fact, when played in accordance with the basic strategy, this option is worth almost a full .5% to the player. Unfortunately, when played in accordance with the basic type of play found in most casino play, pair splitting is worth little, if anything, to the player and may, for some unfortunate players, even add to the casino’s edge.

Pair splitting is mishandled poorly because most players have little, if any, real understanding of what pair splitting is meant to accomplish. These players just merrily split their checks all over the layout as they eagerly split almost every pair that comes their way. So, before you get down to the nitty-gritty of memorizing the table below, let’s take a look at the ideas behind this valuable strategy.

Basically, there are two types of pair splitting. The first type is offensive splitting and the second type is defensive splitting. A player will want to consider splitting as an offensive play when they are presented with a pair that if split would result in an advantage. This advantage of course, must be greater than that afforded by any other available playing option. The great advantage of an offensive split is that the player is able to double their bet in a favorable situation. Defensive splitting occurs when we receive a pair and no matter how the hand is played, the house will have the edge. In spite of the fact that the bet must be doubled, the expected loss will be minimized.

A good example of offensive splitting is the common hand of a pair of 8s. If splitting were not allowed and say the dealer was showing a 5, the best play would be to stand and hop that the dealer busts. This results in a house edge of almost 17%. The house edge increases and the up card value increase until the up card is a ten. At that point the house edge is a whopping 51%.

Fortunately splitting allows the player to play with better odds. With the dealer showing an up card in the range of 2 through 7, the player by offensive splitting can turn this big lose into a big winner. Again we will look at the pair of 8s vs. the dealers 5. Instead of a house edge of 17%, splitting give the player the edge, a 31% edge. This is offensive splitting at its very best.

Unfortunately if the dealer is showing an upcard between 8 and the ace things are not so peachy. No matter what the player attempts to do, the house will always have the best of it. In this case our goal is not to win money but to minimize the amount of money we will lose. Thus we enter the realm of defensive splitting. In this example splitting our 8s against a dealer’s 10 reduces the house edge from 51% to 45%.

This may not sound like much of a savings, but money saved is money earned and it is just such defensive plays as this that will keep your losses on bad hands small enough so that your wins on good hands will put you at least even (for now) with the house.

Player’s Hand Dealer’s up Card
  2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Ace
A, A Sp Sp Sp Sp Sp Sp Sp Sp Sp Sp
10,10 S S S S S S S S S S
9,9 Sp Sp Sp Sp Sp S Sp Sp S S
8,8 Sp Sp Sp Sp Sp S Sp Sp Sp Sp
7,7 Sp Sp Sp Sp Sp Sp H H S H
6,6 Sp Sp Sp Sp Sp H H H H H
5,5 D D D D D D D D H H
4,4 H H H D D H H H H H
3,3 H H Sp Sp Sp Sp H H H H
2,2 H Sp Sp Sp Sp Sp H H H H

Sp Split
D Double
H Hit
S Stand

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