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# Basic strategy for splitting and doubling down

8 May 2007

Beating casinos at their own games are tough enough without using all the weapons you have to cut the house edge.

That's why I was flabbergasted at the system I described last week, a printout of which was handed to a friend. That system advised players NEVER to split pairs or double down.

If you're going to get the most out of blackjack, you HAVE to take advantage of opportunities to split and double. But you have to do it when the math favors you, and avoid doing it in situations that are going to cost you money.

The following plays are basic strategy for splitting and doubling down in common multiple-deck games.

SPLITTING PAIRS

• Pair of 2s or pair of 3s: If we can double after splits, we split 2s or 3s whenever the dealer's up card is a 2 through 7. If doubling after splits is not permitted, we skip splitting against 2s or 3s. Then we split only when the dealer shows 4, 5, 6 or 7.
• Pair of 4s: If we can't double after splitting the pair, it's not worth splitting 4s. But if doubling after splits is permitted, we have an opportunity to maximize profits when the dealer shows a 5 or 6. That's when we split.
• Pair of 5s: Never split. A starting had of 10 is A LOT stronger than two starting hands of 5.
• Pair of 6s: Split against 3, 4, 5 or 6 in any game, and split against 2 if permitted to double after splits.
• Pair of 7s: Split whenever the dealer shows a 2 through 7. Splitting against a 7 sometimes is a stumbling block for players who fear creating two losing hands, but we're far better off starting 7 against a 7 than 14 against a 7.
• Pair of 8s: Always split. Exception: If the dealer hits soft 17, and the casino offers surrender, in which you give up half your bet in exchange for not having to play out the hand, surrender the pair of 8s if the dealer shows an Ace. That's a rare circumstance, though. Figure on splitting your 8s.
• Pair of 9s: This is the trickiest pair-splitting hand. Split when the dealer shows 2 through 6, as well as when the dealer's up card is 8 or 9. When the dealer has a 7, your two-card 18 has an edge, so stand. Also stand when the dealer shows a 10 or Ace, because in that situation splitting the 9s would give you two hands at a disadvantage. We don't want that.
• Pair of 10s: Never split. A 10 is a good building block, but a 20 is a ready-made hand. Stand on the 20.
• Pair of Aces: Always split. You'll be happiest when you draw a 10 value on top of each Ace for a pair of 21s. That'll happen only 9 percent of the time, and sometimes you'll wind up with a pair of losers, but the best play is always to split.

One final note about pair splitting: If it's the proper basic strategy play to split the first time, then it's also the proper play to resplit if you're dealt another card of the same denomination. If you split a pair of 8s, and another 8 is dealt, then your best play is to make a third bet, leaving you with three hands starting with 8. Yes, even if the dealer has a 10 up, no matter how much it makes you grimace.

DOUBLING DOWN --- HARD TOTALS

You have an 11. The dealer has a 10-value card face up. What do you do?

Your 11 is at an advantage against a dealer's 10, narrow though that edge might be. And when you have an edge, you want to maximize your profits. So you double down.

That's what it comes down to --- maximizing profits when you have an edge. Here's the rundown:

• Double down on 11 if the dealer's up card is anything but an Ace. Just hit against an Ace.
• Double down on 10 if the dealer's up card is anything but an Ace or a 10-value card. Just hit against an Ace or 10-value.
• Double down on 9 if the dealer's up card is 3, 4, 5 or 6. Otherwise, hit.
• Just hit totals of 8 or less.

DOUBLING DOWN --- SOFT TOTALS

Most players find doubling on soft hands a little trickier than on hard totals. But there really are only three sets of plays to remember. We make the same plays with Ace-2 as with Ace-3, the same plays with Ace-4 as with Ace-5, and the same with Ace-6 as Ace-7. We double more often with higher totals:

• With Ace-6 or Ace-7, double down if the dealer shows a 3, 4, 5 or 6.
• With Ace-4 or Ace-5, double down if the dealer shows a 4, 5 or 6.
• With Ace-2 or Ace-3, double down if the dealer shows a 5 or 6.

Easy enough, right? And not only easy, but plays that are a must if you want the best blackjack has to offer.

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John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.