There’s logic to not splitting face cards

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It seemingly happens far less often than it used to, but occasionally you still see someone split 10’s/Faces when playing Blackjack.

If you’re even remotely proficient at Blackjack strategy, you know this is a bad idea. If you’re a novice at Blackjack, you may have heard of the concept of never splitting 10’s.

The question I’m going to answer today is why.

One answer that is based in math but doesn’t really provide the proof is what hand are you hoping for? You already have a 20. If you split this, what card do you want to get?

If you get an Ace, I guess you are happier, but you have only a 7+ percent chance to get one. You have a roughly 30 percent chance of drawing a 10/Face, but if you do, you’re just going to split it again, aren’t you? It’s a good thing that most casinos limit you to four split hands or when would you stop?

The odds of getting six more 10/Face to have four 20’s is about 1,200 to 1. So, that is not a good plan. Of course, you could also get a 2 and hit again and get an 8. But do you really want to rely on this as a means of getting you right back to the hand you started with?

Maybe the last two paragraphs just convinced some of you to not split 10’s. But, the real answer lies in the math.

Most likely you’re playing Blackjack hoping you will win money. To do this, you need to play every hand to maximize your chances of winning and/or minimize your chances of losing. 

When I say this, the yardstick is money, not hands. When we double down, we actually reduce our chances of winning the hand, but we double our wager. So, over the long run, we increase how much money we will win even if we will win a slightly less number of hands.

The concept of splitting follows the same logic. The goal is to win the most money, not the most hands. When we have a 20, our chances of winning money is tremendous. Against a Dealer’s 9, the expected value is about 1.75. We can expect to win $7.5 for every $10 we wager.

Splitting here would be disastrous as you can expect to lose $1.26 for every $10 wagered. Against a Dealer face card, the numbers are similar. You can expect to win about $5.50 by sticking and lose almost $3 if you split.

So, those of you who are inclined to split in these cases are now thinking that you want to respond that you only do it when the Dealer has a bust card. You want to have as many hands as you can when the Dealer busts! 

The bust rate simply is not high enough even with a Dealer’s 6 to make this the right play. If the Dealer has a 6 and you stand pat, the expected value of the hand is 1.68. You’ll win about $8.35 for every $10 wagered. 

If you split, you’ll knock this down to about 1.51 or $5 for every $10 wagered. Your win is based on only your initial wager, not each $10 wager you make as you split. 

It’s not as egregious as the other scenarios, but you’ll still be costing yourself money.

Many of you probably already knew that splitting 10’s is a bad mathematical idea. The point of going through all the details is to make you realize that every decision made in Blackjack or other games is based on the math. 

We don’t split 10’s because the math tells us. We hit at 12 vs. a 2 because the math tells us to. This is how we maximize our chances of winning when in the casino. 

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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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