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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

Squeeze Something Extra Out of Your Blackjack Pair Splits

13 September 2003

My friend Easy Eddie has his basic strategy down cold. He hits when he's supposed to, he doubles when he's supposed to, and he splits all the right pairs. I guess he's taken his game as far as it can go without becoming a card counter. Or has he?

Actually, plain vanilla basic strategy players can still do a few more little things to chop away at that last half percent of house advantage without taking that quantum leap into card counting. One of them is to truly optimize all their pair splits.

Now wait a minute. If a guy splits according to perfect basic strategy, isn't that optimal? Well, no it's not—if you can think outside the box.

You see, pair splits are a funny thing. Some pairs should be split because they make more money that way. But other pairs should be split simply because they lose less money than by not splitting, such as when you have a pair of 8s against the dreaded face-card showing. As much as you hate it, splitting here loses less money on average than hitting.

But there are other pairs in this exact same category that don't look like losers, yet they are. One of them is shown below.

DEALER
3/?

YOU
7/7

Now, basic strategy says to split those puppies, but do you know why? It's because if you stand with 14, you'll win the hand just 9 times out of 25. But if you split, you'll win each of your two new hands 12 times out of 25. You're still a loser, but a much smaller loser than by not splitting.

So, what else can you do? Here's what. Offer one of your 7s to the guy next to you. That's right. Just say, "I got enough money out there already; you wanna' play one of my 7s?" He'll probably look at your hand and think to himself, "H'mm, what do I do when I have a pair of 7s against a 3? I split'em."

The hand looks more like a winner than a loser, so don't be surprised if he takes you up on it. So if he does, you've unloaded a little more of your negative liability from a bad hand by losing just one bet 13 times out of 25 rather than two.

How many pairs can you do this with? Technically, there are quite a few, but not too many will look very attractive to somebody else. Below is a list of pair splits that are all losers, but don't look too bad. You'll save further money beyond basic strategy if the guy next to you is nice enough to take one of them off your hands.

2/2 vs. 2 or 3
3/3 vs. 2 or 3
6/6 vs. 2 or 3
7/7 vs. 2 or 3

You can also gain something extra from pair splits by going the other way around. Suppose the player next to you has 3/3 against a 6 and splits them. On his first 3 he catches an 8 and doubles down, buying an ugly deuce. On his other 3 he catches a third 3, and now seems hesitant to stick yet a fourth bet out there. Since one 3 against a dealer's 6 is an outright moneymaker, you should quickly toss a bet over there and offer to absorb the cost of splitting that third 3! In fact, you should do this whenever somebody seems hesitant to split with the following pairs that all win more often than they lose.

2/2 vs. 5 or 6
3/3 vs. 5 or 6
7/7 vs. 6
9/9 vs. 7 or 8

Notice that one of the splits listed above goes against basic strategy—namely, 9/9 against a 7. Splitting would be wrong here because just standing with 18 against a 7 makes more money than splitting. But the point is, both plays make money! So if another player seems willing to turn himself into a smaller favorite by splitting this hand, jump in there with him—you're still a favorite to win your end! There are other more obvious splits that you'd want a piece of if you could get it, but nobody's likely to give them up, such as 8/8 against a 7.

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