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Always Split Aces and Eights, But For Different Reasons

23 June 2006

When we were discussing blackjack basic strategy, I mentioned that one of the absolutes of pair splitting was to always split aces and 8s. Why? Because, I answered, they are horrible hands and splitting them is a defensive move that will help you lose less money than by leaving them intact.

Well, a reader took exception to my logic and stated that a pair of aces is actually not so bad. He agreed that they should always be split, but he didn't like my reasoning. And, yes, he's right. My first mistake was to lump the reasoning for always splitting aces with the reasoning for always splitting 8s. They're different and should remain different.

My second mistake was in the wording. I should have said that a 2 or a 12 is not a great hand and that a hard 16 is a horrible hand.

Okay, let's look at the pair of aces first; that's either a 2 or a 12. It's not really a horrible hand because roughly only 4 out of 13 cards, the 10s and face cards, will cause you to bust, and you'd have to draw two 10-valued cards in a row. But, let's face it, neither a 2 nor a 12 is a particularly strong hand.

However, a single ace by itself is powerful, and two aces are better. It's like turning a 12 into two 11s; it's like doubling down on an 11, even better. An ace will combine with a 10 about 32 percent of the time, with a 9 approximately 8 percent of the time or with an 8 about 8 percent of the time.

That means that 48 percent of the time, you'll end up with a 19, 20 or 21. Of course, a lot depends on the other 52 percent of the time that you don't draw an 8, 9 or 10, and a lot depends on what the dealer has and subsequently draws, but during the long haul, the basic strategist will win more or lose less if he always splits his aces.

Please remember, though, that if you do draw a 10 to either ace, it's not like you've been dealt a natural blackjack that pays 3 to 2. A "natural" applies only to your initial two cards, not to cards that are dealt to split aces.

Should you draw a third ace, some casinos will not allow you to resplit a second or third time, but many will. You should split and resplit aces as many times as the law allows.

What about a pair of 8s? That's a hard 16. No matter how you look at it, a 16 is a rotten hand. If you take a card, you'll bust over 60 percent of the time, but if you just stand there and do nothing, then the dealer has to bust for you to win. You'll lose around 70 percent of the time that way.

But look at a 16 as a pair of 8s and the scenery changes. Against a dealer's up card of 2 through 7, especially if you are allowed to double after splitting, you will win more money by splitting those 8s than by simply standing or hitting.

However, against a dealer's 8 through ace, you're not in such good shape. But, still, starting out with an 8 is better than starting with a 16, and, again, you'll lose less than by simply hitting.

For example, look at two 8s against a dealer's ace. If you just hit 25 times, statistics say that you'll win 6 and lose 19, excluding ties. That'll put you behind by 13 bets. If you split 25 times, you're playing 50 hands of 8 against ace. You'll win 20 hands and lose 30, so you're down only ten bets. You're losing, but you're losing less.

And losing less is what shaving that house edge down to 0.5 percent is about. Until next week, aces and faces to you.

Linda Mabry

Low Roller Linda Mabry lives and gambles on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. She writes a weekly, general gambling advice column for the Biloxi Sun Herald, and may be contacted through her e-mail address, lnmabry@cableone.net or her web site www.thelowroller.com
Linda Mabry
Low Roller Linda Mabry lives and gambles on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. She writes a weekly, general gambling advice column for the Biloxi Sun Herald, and may be contacted through her e-mail address, lnmabry@cableone.net or her web site www.thelowroller.com