Bad Blackjack Strategy: Splitting Tens

Memorizing blackjack basic strategy can seem a little daunting at first. There’s a lot to remember. For that reason, a lot of people learn it in stages. They learn hard hands first and then soft hands. After that, they worry about splitting pairs. Or they learn when to hit or stand first and then worry about splitting and doubling after that.

Whatever the case, some people like to do something that always drives me a little crazy when I see it: splitting a pair of tens. I get the thinking behind this strategy. Tens are the second most powerful card you can draw (behind an ace), so if you have two, why not split them and have two hands starting with a ten. It seems like a good strategy, especially considering your likelihood of drawing another 10-value card. If you do that on both, then you have two twenties instead of one. So it’s wise strategy, right?

Wrong. What if you don’t draw a ten? What if you draw a six? Now you have a stiff hand and are in deep trouble. With a 16 or any other stiff hand (12-16), you are likely to be outdrawn if you stand and you are likely to bust if you hit. Therefore, when you have a stiff hand you are usually going to lose. If you split two tens then you are taking the risk of turning one excellent hand into two bad hands.

Sometimes you can get caught up in the fact that you have two tens and forget to do the math. In that case, let me do it for you: 10 + 10 = 20. If you have two tens, there is only one hand that can beat you (21) and one that can tie (20). For that reason, with that hand you are going to win most of the time. If you split those tens then you are trading one hand with a high chance of success for two hands with a medium chance of success. It’s simply not worth the risk.

The issue here is greed. The old adage “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” comes to mind. Some people notice that they have a good chance of winning one hand with 20, but would rather risk that to double their bet for a chance to win two hands. Playing the odds, though, says to stand on 20. And if you don’t want to play the odds, to be perfectly honest, blackjack isn’t really the best game for you, because that is the essence of blackjack.

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