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When Should You Split 10s in Blackjack?

Zachary Gleason
Splitting 10s in Blackjack

Typically, you should not split 10s in blackjack; standing on 20 is usually the safer bet. However, there are exceptions:

  • Card Counters: Consider splitting in ten-rich decks.
  • Tournament Play: Split to increase bets strategically in crucial rounds. Knowing when to apply these exceptions is key for advanced blackjack strategies.

Splitting 10s in blackjack often sparks debate. Most advice suggests keeping a 20, as it’s a strong hand. However, there are important exceptions to this rule.

Mark Pilarski, with 18 years of experience in casinos and now a gambling journalist, shares insights into when splitting 10s might make sense.

General Strategy:

  • Typical Rule: It’s usually best not to split 10s. Staying with a 20 offers a high chance of winning.
  • Exceptions: There are times when splitting 10s is smart, depending on the game and the situation:
    1. With a Ten-Rich Deck: If lots of 10s are still in play, splitting could work in your favor.
    2. In Tournaments: When you need a big win to beat others, splitting might be your best bet.

Understanding the Exceptions:

  • For Card Counters: If you count cards and know the deck is rich in 10s, consider splitting.
  • During Tournaments: Splitting could be strategic if you’re in the final hand and need more chips to win.

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Odds Of Winning When Splitting 10s – Should You Split?

Last week, Mark Pilarski tackled a tough subject when one of his readers, Herb C. asked the following question:

I am aware that you never – ever – ever split 10s against a dealer’s 5 or 6. However, I have been tempted to do so when no one else is at the Blackjack table. My question is what is the percentage odds of winning (or losing) by doing so?

Mark first addressed the blackjack strategy of John Scarne, who published ‘Scarne on Cards’ in 1949. Scarne felt that splitting 10s was a good strategy, but that was 65 years ago, before computers were able to analyze hand statistics.

In 1962, Edward O. Thorp used an IBM 704 to analyze blackjack hands, and when he published his results in ‘Beat the Dealer’, the theory of splitting 10s was abolished.

“Since then,” wrote Mark, “I can’t think of any blackjack authors that recommend splitting 10s in most, if not all, cases.” He said that he ran his own 20-million hand simulation on a program called BJ Trainer.

The results “clearly favored leaving those 10s unaided versus splitting them, even against a 5 or a 6.” Pilarski reasoned, “I favor taking computer results over advice written in 1949 every time.”

Tips For Splitting 10s In Blackjack – The Exceptions

Historically, the advice has been to avoid splitting 10s. Edward Thorpe’s analysis in “Beat the Dealer” supports this with data. However, Mark Pilarski’s own study of 20 million hands shows when exceptions apply.

Detailed Guidance

  • Face-Up 21 Game: If the dealer shows cards between 13 and 16, splitting your 10s might be wise.
  • When the Count is High: Split your 10s against a dealer’s 6 if there are many high cards left in the deck.

The blackjack strategist went on to describe a few very rare occasions when he himself felt it was in his best interest to split 10s in a blackjack game. The first is during a game of Face-Up 21, a blackjack variant in which both of the dealer’s cards are exposed.

  • Mark said splitting 10s is a good strategy so long as the dealer’s confirmed total is “13, 14, 15 or 16.”
  • Pilarski also noted that, for an experienced card counter, it is a good idea to split 10s against a dealer’s 6 if the count favors a lot of high cards left in the deck, such as a count of 6 or above.

Mark said that there is only “one other scenario where splitting 10s can be the better play than standing.” He described a situation which himself experienced.

It was the final hand of a blackjack tournament, and Pilarski had been dealt a 20. Although he knew the most probable way to win the hand was to stand, doing so “wouldn’t have won enough money to overtake” the dealer. So he chose to split the 10s and got lucky, winning enough chips to move on to the next round of the blackjack tournament.

Odds Of Winning Or Losing

  • Standing on 20: This wins about 85% of the time.
  • Splitting 10s: Wins less often, but it can increase your overall profit in the right circumstances.

As for Herb C’s original question, pertaining to the “percentage odds of winning or losing”, Mark said, “the statistical data on how often you will win when you split a pair of 10s against a dealer showing a 6 is 64% of the time.” Thus the expected profit would be just $56 for every $100 wagered on such a hand.

Mark then examined the odds of “standing pat on your 20”. The blackjack analyst said that, “by standing, you will win around 85 percent of the time, and will make about $14 more per $100 wagered than splitting.”

“Your fair share of being dealt a 20 is approximately 9.2% of the time, and I just don’t want you putting that stellar hand in unwarranted jeopardy”, Pilarski wrote.

Split 10s And Win!

Generally, stand on 20. But understanding when to split 10s can enhance your strategy and increase winnings in specific situations. The Golden Rule is still to never split 10s when playing blackjack.

However, as you’ve seen, there are a few very specific exceptions that could make splitting a sound choice.

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