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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

Don't Even Think About Not Splitting Aces in Blackjack

16 September 2006

A blackjack player was recently referred to me who believes that splitting a pair of Aces is usually a bad play. I hope this player's condensed letter and my reply to it eradicates all doubt for anyone who might ever hesitate to split Ace/Ace.

Greetings;

Although experts claim blackjack players should always split Aces, logic seems to conflict with this argument.

Say the dealer has a 10 up, and you're dealt two Aces. If you split, your best hope for winning both hands is to catch "runner/runner" face-cards, thereby making two 21s. However, the true odds of drawing a 10 are only 4 out of 13, or about 30%. The odds for catching two consecutive 10s (one on each ace) fall much lower.

With a 10 up, there's a strong chance the dealer's hand will reach 20, beating one if not both of your hands. Even if the dealer's hole card is lower, like a 2, the dealer still holds an advantage that you willingly gave up at the beginning of the hand -- the right to draw extra cards.

So by splitting Aces, you've doubled your investment, surrendered numerous player advantages, and reduced your odds. Even if you get a blackjack by splitting, the casino negates your bonus, and only pays even money on it.

So why on earth would I split Aces under these horrible conditions?

I'm sorry, but I must assume the basic strategy statistics are flawed here.

Wow! I must say your take on the advantages and disadvantages of splitting Aces is misunderstood. First, recognize your alternatives. Whenever you're dealt a pair of Aces, you can either:

  1. hit a soft 12 to your heart's content,
  2. take one hit to 11 on two separate hands.

HITTING: Considering every dealer's up-card, of all the times you hit a soft 12, you'll win 53% and lose 47% after adjusting for ties. Actually, you win 59% against a 6 up, and only 46% against a dealer's 10 – but 53% is your across-the-board average. Admittedly, because you're 12 is "soft" and you can "go around twice" with it, hitting does turn a modest overall profit.

SPLITTING: Now, whenever you take just one hit to a single Ace, its properties are identical to doubling down with 11. Overall, you'll win 60% and lose 40% after adjusting for ties. To boot -- you get to do this twice as many times!

Against a feared dealer's face-card, you'll win 54%. Against a 6 up, you'll win 67%. There is no dealer's up-card against which you are not the favorite. And it's all because playing an 11, even with only one hit is always superior to a soft 12.

You commented that by splitting, you seldom win both hands. This is a typical observation, and it's true since winning both requires hitting a "parlay". But failing to sweep these two isolated hands doesn't make it a poor result. In fact, you'll win both hands 30% of the time but will lose both only 13% of the time. You'll break even 42% of the time, and the remaining 15% will be either win/tie, lose/tie or tie/tie. Don't measure the play's value by the outcome on any two coupled hands. What's important is the overall tally as the splits accumulate.

Also, like many players you feel it's so hard to catch a 10 on your Ace, yet believe the dealer probably has one in the hole. The 10s don't have eyes. You will catch a 10 on your Ace 93 times for every 100 times the dealer will have a 10 underneath her 10 up (the only reason they're different is because you can catch an Ace, but the dealer can't have one in the hole). Remember this main point: when you split Aces against a 10 -- he's starting out with 10 and you're starting off with 11 -- twice. That's a big edge. You'd love to double your investment every time in that spot, just as with 9/2 against a 10.

Splitting Aces does give up some latitude in the play of the hand, since it limits you to one hit per Ace. But two 11s are so much better than one soft 12 that it more than makes up for it. If you doubt this, shuffle a couple decks together and give your self Ace/Ace. Then give the dealer a medium card like, say, an 8 up. Just hit your Ace/Ace 200 times and play out the dealer's hand while recording the results. After that, split the Aces 200 more times and do the same. That should cure you.

Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send $9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

Books by Fred Renzey:

Blackjack Bluebook II

> More Books By Fred Renzey

Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send $9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

Books by Fred Renzey:

Blackjack Bluebook II

> More Books By Fred Renzey