Blackjack Theory: How To Know When To Split

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A blackjack game in progress.
BetMGM Nov 04, 2022, 4:04 AM

When playing live dealer blackjack, there are a number of strategies players use to try to tilt the odds in their favor. Often forgotten, splitting in blackjack remains one of the mysterious techniques in a player’s arsenal – even to experienced players. If used effectively, it can be beneficial to your game. Read on as we talk about how to know when to split in blackjack.

What is splitting in blackjack?

Splitting in blackjack occurs when a player holds two cards of the same value, such as a 9–9. This gives individuals the option to split their current hand into two separate hands. If approved, the dealer will provide you with additional cards. In order to proceed, the player must stake an extra bet that holds the same value as their original bet. In essence, if you want to split when dealt a pair, place the same amount of chips again and the dealer will go ahead. When playing online, there will be a button featured on your screen.

If you’re playing blackjack online, be sure to read the casino’s rules on splitting, as they vary between sites. The same applies to land-based casinos. Some allow splitting on certain pairs, while others allocate a certain number of times you are allowed to split. Generally, casinos will allow players to split three times.

Why should I split in blackjack?

As far as your blackjack basic strategy goes, splitting is one of the most beneficial methods for the longevity of your game. Statistically, the dealer will start with a 2% house edge. For example, for every $50 you stake, you’ll lose $1. How do you reduce that? By implementing blackjack strategies.

Splitting in blackjack can give the player a 0.4% edge over the house, therefore increasing your chances of success. If not used, it can add 0.4% to the house’s edge. So, if the timing is right, you have the chance to tip the odds in your favor and put pressure on the dealer.

In a game scenario – whether land-based or online – there are typically two situations when splitting should be called upon. One is for defensive purposes and the other is for attacking.

Defensively, it allows players to break up a bad value pair into a better scoring opportunity. For example, if you’re holding 7–7 and the dealer has two picture cards, it means you’re holding 14 in comparison to the dealer’s 20. This puts the player in a tricky scenario due to the high probability that they will bust if they call for another card. By splitting up the pairs, you’re increasing your chances of a winning combination.  

Attacking-wise, it’s a great method to get more money on the table against a weak hand. If you’re holding a 4–4 against a dealer’s 8, it suggests that the dealer is more likely to bust on the following card. By splitting, you have the chance to create better hands and increase the round’s profitability. If you’re dealt a pair and the dealer is on the back foot, it’s usually a good indicator to utilize a split strategy.

However, it’s important to remember that risks are involved regardless of the cards shown. In gambling, nothing is certain, so you should only stake what you’re able to lose. If you don’t succeed, remember that it happens to everyone (experienced and beginners alike) so try not to let it mentally affect you. If you’re dealt a pair, it doesn’t mean you should automatically split. We will discuss below what pairs you should and shouldn’t split.

Pairs to split

  • Aces: The advantage of aces is that they double up as an 11 or 1. This means a pair of aces gives you ample opportunity to create a winning combination.
  • Eights: Experienced players regard 16 as the worst hand in the game due to it not being a strong enough value, combined with its high chance of busting on the next hit. It only takes a 5 to bust a pair of 8s. By splitting the pair, you’re giving yourself a better chance for success.

Pairs not to split

  • Fours: With a pair of 4s, the most you can get is 19, a high total. Moreover, if you’re holding a 4–4, there’s no chance you will bust on the next hit. So, you may as well play out the round with a pair of 4s, as your chances of going over 21 are slim.
  • Fives: Just like a pair of 4s, holding a 5–5 means you cannot go bust on the next hit. Holding an accumulation of 10 from your first two cards is the best start to a round. This means it takes an ace, 9, 10 or any picture card to put you in a strong position – a lot more possibilities than other hands.
  • Tens: If you’re dealt a pair of 10s, you should remain in that position. Having 20 is the second-strongest number in the game, so why change that?

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.