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Split Those 4s; Here's Why

21 July 2006

It always surprises me when someone who usually plays blackjack by basic strategy wants to pick out one or two playing strategies to disagree with and to discard.

About three or four months ago, I wrote a short series about blackjack. It didn't involve any advanced or complicated theories; it was just about why blackjack offers the player an almost even playing field against the casino, why the casino has an edge at all, and which table rules give back to the player some of that advantage.

Then I discussed simple basic strategy and how the player can squeeze out a fraction of advantage by refining playing strategy for both soft hands and pairs. Now, pair splitting can be a little tricky, and the reason is because there are two different strategy charts: one is for the game where doubling after splitting is not allowed, and the other chart you follow when DAS is allowed.

To be perfectly honest, it's okay to use non-DAS basic strategy even at a table where doubling after splitting is allowed. It's considered generic basic strategy, and it works fine. But if you're interested in squeezing out every little bit of profit that you can, then you will use the more refined DAS basic strategy.

Now, of course, some people walk into a casino, sit down at a blackjack table and plunk down big bucks without ever consulting a strategy chart. They play either the way their friends have always taught them to play or by some inner "seat-of-the-pants" intuition, which is usually incorrect. Or sometimes, they're simply using a simplified basic strategy that reduces the house edge from 5 percent to 2 percent. They're happy; they're relaxed and they're playing just for the fun of it. And it's certainly okay by me; I can usually spot these players within two or three hands, but I've learned to keep my mouth shut unless I'm asked for advice.

I received an e-mail from a gentleman that I have since met and have a great deal of respect for. He started out saying that although he agrees with much of my advice, some is a little weak on logic. "NEVER split 4s," he says. "Eight is eight and you are only placing your hand at double the risk if you split them."

Let's back up and let me tell you why I believe in the charts so much. There are two steps in arriving at modern-day, computer-derived basic strategy. First, you remove the three cards that make up the player's first two cards and the dealer's up card. Then you calculate and compare every combination of cards that can be drawn for each way to play that hand. The second step is to run billions of computer-simulated hands, a step which verifies the earlier calculations.

These refinements have actually been accomplished in the last 35 to 40 years, and anyone relying on strategies that predate the early 1960s is probably not relying on the most sophisticated strategies. I have a couple of books that are full of mathematical formulas that I absolutely cannot understand, but I did find a concise non-Greek-symbol reasoning. It's from Fred Renzey, columnist for the Chicago Daily Herald and author of Blackjack Bluebook and Blackjack Bluebook II. His explanation goes like this:

"Now the only reason to split up a reasonable total like 8 into two lousy totals of 4 each is because you're looking to pick up a good double down. Think about it. When you split two 4s against a dealer's 6, what happens if you catch a 5, 6, 7 or ace on either 4? You'll have 9, 10, 11 or ace/4 against a 6 - and what do you do then? Double down! Why? Because you're anywhere from a 55 percent to 67 percent shot with each of them! Without that doubling potential, you wouldn't split 4s in the first place."

He goes on to say that in your choices to split, hit or double, all three will make you money. Splitting will make the most, then hitting, then doubling makes the least of the three. So there you have it - it's a close call. But I know what choice I'll make.

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