Interpreting blackjack hands, Vol. 1: Splitting fives

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.

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19 Replies to “Interpreting blackjack hands, Vol. 1: Splitting fives”

  1. Pingback: Interpreting blackjack hands, Vol. 1: Splitting fives, Outdoors | BallHyped Sports Blogs

  2. Until that dummy on 3rd base takes the dealer’s break card 😉 I’ve taken the bus down on a few Saturdays and am doing ok on the $10 tables myself. Tough to find a seat open sometimes. My take is that even if your play does not match “the book,” do it the same way every time. Example: I always double those 5s unless a 10s showing, then I just hit. Or my 12 against dealer’s 2 or 3, I always stand. Yeah, what’s up with those ppl doubling with 12, I thought I’d seen it all! It’s great to finally be able to play blackjack on terra firma in FL!

  3. Yazoo…

    When I saw the guy on the other side of the table double down on that 12, I winced. I don’t think I had ever seen that before.

    I have a feeling I’m going to be in the minority on this play here but I was just trying to talk things out. I see your point about playing it the same way all the time. Makes good sense.

    Let me know the next time you’re down. We’ll muscle our way onto the table.

  4. I say keep building the bank roll and a win is a win!! Like if I were to tell you before the cards are dealt that you are going to have “a winning hand” you would be thrilled. What if you split,get 2 10’s and the dealer pulls his hand out the HARD WAY. But it is a tough call.

  5. Aer…

    No wonder you’re a Sportschump frequent flyer.

    Have a great weekend and if you’re not doing anything for the NBA All-Star Game Sunday, I may be holding a live chat.

    Swing on by.

  6. It’s sad that I play blackjack the “right” way and usually lose still. I guess I can blame the other tards playing for their first time messing up the dealers cards he would’ve drawn. Anyways, I’d agree with you that you split the fives and take your chance at having another hand to double down on. I guess it depends on how much you want to risk and how the table has been going. A relatively hot table I’d definitely go your route. If the Dealer was getting hooked up every hand, I’d go with Pancho’s method…

  7. Nothing wrong with doubling on 12…. if you’ve watched a lot of face cards go by recently, and if the dealer’s showing a low card.

    It’s no weirder than splitting 5’s…. That, I’ve never seen anyone do.

    Daytona 500 on Sunday!

  8. Chap…

    Perhaps you’re not wagering properly.

    I might switch to doubling on fives in certain situations, but on a hot table, I think I’m still gonna split.

  9. Han…

    I just can’t justify doubling on a bustable hand, regardless if nothing but low cards are coming out.

    I would have to think that’s more of a sin than splitting fives.

    Let me know if the Lugnuts are hosting a chat for Sunday.

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