Interpreting blackjack hands, Vol. 1: Splitting fives
February 18th, 2011 by Chris Humpherys
I’m slowly becoming a fixture at the $10 blackjack tables at my local Hard Rock.
Of course, the risks of playing a (relatively) low-stakes blackjack table means you see things you wouldn’t ordinarily see at a more experienced table… like splitting tens, doubling down on 12s and people hitting on 14 when the dealer shows a six. I try to take these misplays in stride, knowing that my bankroll can’t fund a higher table and trusting that I’m disciplined enough to walk away when things get too zany.
I generally finish ahead on my blackjack excursions, except for the nights when a little too much liquid courage affects my common sense.
There was one hand the other night, however, that bears mention.
Blackjack is not like poker. In poker, every single hand is unique, offering an infinite number of ways to play and bet. Comparably, blackjack is relatively mindless. There are set rules. If the dealer has x, you do y. This allows for very little deviation, unless of course you don’t know what the hell you’re doing, which happens quite frequently at the $10 tables.*
* I spent five minutes explaining to the guy to my left why hitting on a 14 when the dealer showed a 5 was a bad move… and this was AFTER the guy had busted.
But back to the hand in question. The player to my right, let’s call him Pancho, seemed to know what he was doing. After sitting next to him for about twenty minutes, I noticed that Pancho was making very few mistakes. His chip stack showed it, even though he probably should have been up higher considering his hot streaks.
Then came his two 5s. The dealer dealt himself a four.
Without hesitation, Pancho doubled down (doubling his original bet, only to receive one card). His next card was a 7, giving him 17. After doling out cards to the rest of the table, the dealer eventually busted and Pancho doubled his money.
My first instinct would have been to split those 5s, given the dealer showed a four. After the hand was over, I questioned Pancho on his move, my logic being that splitting fives (when the dealer shows a crappy card) gives me the opportunity to take advantage of a good situation and put even MORE money on the table. By splitting those fives, I can play two hands, giving myself the opportunity to be dealt another 5 (and split again) or a 6 (and the chance to double), offering a return of three, or perhaps even four, times my original bet. If I land two face cards, so be it. I would hold anyway and hope the dealer busts. By doubling, I only get one card and even if it’s a ten, I limit my winning potential.
Pancho insisted doubling was the right play, as did the dealer when I asked him. After researching the hand online, doubling in that situation is, in fact, the right move. I’m still not convinced, however, and will probably continue to split my fives when the dealer shows a four, five or six unless someone can convince me otherwise.
I guess over time, the difference is minimal and I’m just splitting hairs (and fives), but on a hot streak, with a manageable bet on the table, why not try to maximize my earnings? After all, isn’t that the way to beat the house?
When it’s all said and done, I guess blackjack allows for more interpretation than I thought. Or maybe I’m just a small reason these places stay in business.