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More Refinements to Blackjack Basic Strategy

19 May 2006

By Linda Mabry

A few months ago, we started refining some of the generic blackjack basic strategy rules that I had originally given you. We talked about doubling hands with "hard" totals and what to do with "soft" hands.

The next topic of discussion is when to split pairs. Two of the rules concerning pairs are absolute: never split 5s and 10s, and always splits 8s and aces.

Why not split 5s and 10s? Because they're already good hands. A pair of 5s, you treat as a 10 and double against a dealer's 2 through 9. A pair of 10s, you treat as a 20; sit back and reap the benefits.

Actually, splitting 10s is not a bad play; you will win money. But, and this is a very significant but, you will win more money over the long term leaving the 10s together. That is a very important concept in blackjack: winning money playing one way and winning more money playing another way.

Why always split 8s and aces? Because they're horrible hands that you don't want to leave intact. Against any dealer's up card. You will probably still lose by splitting them, but, and this is a very significant but, by splitting 8s and aces you will lose less money over the long term than by leaving them together. This is another important concept in blackjack: losing money playing one way and losing less money playing another way.

What to do with pairs of 2s, 3s, 4s, 6s, 7s or 9s is a little more complicated. Remember, we're discussing six-deck shoe games where doubling after splitting is allowed.

The simplified rule is to split a pair of 2s, 3s, 6s, 7s or 9s against a dealer's 2 through 7; otherwise hit, except stand with a pair of 9s against a dealer's 7, 10 or ace. The refined rule allows you to also split 9s against a dealer's 8 or 9 and to also split 4s against a 5 or 6. But limit your splitting of 6s to splitting against 2-6.

Okay, one last rule to go: Never take insurance. This one we're not going to change. It always applies for the basic strategy player, no matter how many decks are in play and no matter other table rule variations. The same goes for even money if you have a natural blackjack. Both are sucker bets and are to be avoided.

There are situations where some players do take insurance, but those exceptions do not affect the basic strategist.

There is certainly more to say about basic strategy. For example, we need to go over variations when you're playing a single-deck or double-deck game. There's even a strategy variation for those casinos that make the dealer take a hit when he has a soft 17. And we haven't talked about late surrender yet.

Some of you want a more detailed explanation of why we always split aces and 8s, and it wouldn't hurt to discuss why insurance and even money are sucker bets, but you probably feel like you've had enough for now. I know I have. We'll just come back to these discussions in smaller, separate installments in the future.

To re-cap, the following is the full set of ten rules that cover every situation for a six-deck shoe game where you may double after splitting and where the dealer must stand with a soft 17. By the way, this basic strategy also covers four and eight-deck tables.

  1. If you have a hard 12 through 16, stand against a dealer's 2 through 6, except hit a 12 against a 2 or 3; hit a 12 through 16 against a 7 through ace.
  2. If you have a hard 17 through 21, stand against anything a dealer has.
  3. If you have a 9, double against a 3 through 6; if you have a 10, double against a 2 through 9; and if you have an 11, double against a 2 through 10; otherwise hit.
  4. If you have an ace/2 or ace/3 double against a dealer's 5 and 6; double an ace/4 and ace/5 against 4 through 6; double an ace/6 against 3 through 6; otherwise, hit.
  5. If you have an ace/7, double against a 3 through 6; stand against a 2, 7 or 8; hit against a 9, 10 or ace. With a three-card soft 18, stand against a dealer's 2 through 8; hit against a 9, 10 or ace.
  6. If you have an ace/8 through ace/10, stand.
  7. If you have a pair of either 5s or 10s, never split them.
  8. If you have a pair of either 8s or aces, always split them.
  9. If you have a pair of 2s, 3s or 7s, split them against a dealer's 2 through 7; split 4s against a 5 or 6; split 6s against 2 through 6; split 9s against 2 through 9 except a 7; otherwise hit, except stand with a pair of 9s against a dealer's 7, 10 or ace.
  10. Never take insurance.

Well, that's it for now. 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