Have you seen the movie 21? It’s a pretty entertaining movie starring some good actors, including Kevin Spacey, and is based on the famous MIT blackjack team. Though the movie is fun to watch, like most Hollywood films, it’s not incredibly accurate. There are many mistakes made in their card counting techniques and some mistakes that even violate blackjack basic strategy.
One such mistake is when it is said that splitting a pair of eights against a dealer ten or ace is for suckers. That’s kind of an odd thing to say, considering that you can glance at any basic strategy chart and learn that’s not the case. Not only is that not a sucker’s move, but basic strategy says to always split a pair of eights against any dealer hand, including a ten or ace.
In the movie, the thinking is that if the dealer has an ace or a ten, he has a good hand and you don’t want to double your bet. However, if you have a pair of eights and decide to hit, you will most likely bust but if you decide to stand, you will only win if the dealer busts, since you have a stiff hand of 16. Trading in a hand of 16 for a chance of two hands of 18 is a bet that you should take every time.
If the dealer shows a ten, there is a 4/13 chance of him having a ten in the hole to have a hand of 20. In most cases, the dealer would have already checked for an ace. However, there is a 9/13 chance the dealer has a hand that beats your hand of 16. If you split you have better odds, though your odds still aren’t good.
Starting two hands with an eight gives you a 4/13 chance, for each hand, of turning that hand into an 18. Even if you don’t draw a ten, though, 8 is a much better way to start a hand than with a stiff 16. Without going into all of that math and statistics, just let me say that if you split eights against a dealer’s ten or ace, you will still lose money in the long run, but you will lose about half as much as if you don’t split. That is because in many cases you’ll have at least one of your hands beat the dealer.
So despite what Kevin Spacey’s character would have you believe, splitting eights against a dealer ten or ace is not a sucker’s bet.