Split 10’s in blackjack — we’re gone!

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Over the past few weeks, I’ve discussed the cost of making mistakes while playing in the casino.

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I compared the impact of the occasional ‘oops’ you missed something to repeatedly playing the same hand the same wrong way. One of the examples I gave was splitting 10’s in Blackjack. The result is to reduce the payback from about 99.5 percent to 93.5.

In other words, this may be the worst possible play you can make in a casino, short of throwing away a sure winner. This is probably because a 20 is pretty close to being that sure winner.

To know this is a bad play is to watch the reaction of the other players or the dealer. Not even if you hit bust hands (12-16) against a dealer’s 6 will there be a call out to the pit boss regarding what you’re doing. Split 10’s and there’s a good chance the pit boss will know about it.

Very quickly the casino will want to know if you’re just a really bad player (which makes them very happy), or if perhaps you’re counting cards or cheating (because there is no other reason to split 10’s).

Here are some stats on why this is such a bad play. A 20 (with two 10’s) is a fairly common hand. I may regret telling some of you this, but you’re allowed to split any 10’s (i.e. 10’s or face cards), they don’t have to be a pair. That is, if you wanted to split a Jack and a Queen, the casino will not stop you. In fact, they’re likely to give you a free room if you do it often enough.

Roughly speaking, about 1 in 11 hands should be a Pair of 10’s. I know that it may not seem this often, and frequently it will seem like the dealer is getting one every third hand. Still, this is what it will be in the long run. So, these hands make up just over 9 percent of all hands.

When you sit back and enjoy your 20, you’ll find these hands win nearly 70 percent of the time. You’re pushing about 18 percent. This leaves a mere 12 percent for losses. The overall payback of this hand is a whopping 157 percent!

When you split 10’s, the win frequency drops to 44.5 percent. The pushes get cut in half as well to about 9. This results in a 98.3 percent payback. Payback is not necessarily the critical element when dealing with wagers of unequal sizes such as splitting or doubling down in blackjack.

That said, there is no way a payback of below 100 percent can compare to one of over 100. Had the payback of splitting been 140 percent and the average wager nearly double that of sticking, it would actually have proven to be a better play. Reason being that we’ll have 140 percent of a much larger wager returned to us, which would be better than 157 of a smaller bet.

Unfortunately, this concept works against us even more given that the payback is so much less (and below 100 percent). The average wager per initial deal when splitting is about 2.7 units per hand. This is because under this scenario, we not only split the initial hand, but we keep splitting every time we get two 10’s.

After all, if it is such a good play, why stop after only one split? Those who claim it is worthwhile to split only once will find the payback considerably higher (most likely over 100 percent). Yet, this still falls well short of the payback (and coin win) of just sitting happily with your 20.

In the end, because the average wager is about 2.7 units, we find that the player will lose about 4.7 cents for every $1 wagered on the initial deal by splitting, and resplitting 10’s. This compares to winning 57 cents for every $1 wagered by simply smiling and enjoying your 20.

It’s no wonder the other players groan when they see someone split a pair of 10’s. It might just be the Worst Play of the Day!

About the Author

Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome’s roots run deep into gaming theory and analysis. His father, Lenny, was a pioneer in developing video poker strategy in the 1980s and is credited with raising its popularity to dizzying heights. Elliot is a second generation gaming author and analyst with nearly 20 years of programming experience.

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