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Quatloos! > Quatloosia! > Quatloosian Guide to Gambling > Blackjack > Splitting, Doubling...

Blackjack: Splitting,
Doubling Down and Surrender


After receiving your two cards, you may have four choices to make, in addition to hitting or staying, before proceeding to play your hand: split pairs, double down, surrender, and take insurance.


If you are dealt a "Pair", i.e., two "8" cards, almost every casino will allow you to "split" the hand by making two separate bets. To do this, you say "split" and put down an additional bet, equal to the original bet. With the two 8 cards, for example, you have a terrible hand at 16. However, you can split the two 8s and have a chance of having two good hands (or at least one good hand and one bad hand) as opposed to the terrible 16.

It's very important to know when to split pairs and when to leave them together. You should learn all the split plays on the basic strategy charts, but if you wish to truly become a better player you must learn the following as well:

Always split aces. This move has commonsense appeal. The split gives you two promising hands rather than a soft 12. (Remember, however, that you'll usually be able to take only one card on each ace.)

Never split 5s. Starting off with a hand of 5 is hardly exciting, and the total of 10 will give you plenty of opportunity to get smart money on the table by doubling down.

Never split 10s. Don't get greedy. Sure, a 10 is a nice base to work from, but it's not worth breaking up a powerful 20. Let the existing strong hand bring in the money. Some players think they're being clever by splitting 10s against a weak dealer card like a 6. That seems sensible: start with a 10, exploit the dealer's vulnerability. But, in this case, a bird in the hand is more valuable. Standing on 20 will make you a meaty $70 profit per $100 bet. The split will double your risk and drop your earnings down to $56.70.

Always split 8s. A lot of players, novice and veteran alike, are confused by the obligation to split 8s. It's particularly a mystery against a strong dealer upcard. In some instances we can provide a commonsense rationale for splitting, but in others (like this one) we have to defer to the all-knowing computer.

There are three reasons why we split cards: We do it to win more, lose less, and, best of all, turn a loss into a win. A quick perusal of the strategy charts will bring some non-shocking news: We're aggressive with our splitting when the dealer has a stiff card, especially 5 or 6. Even among those splits, some are defensive in nature (lose less) while others are offensive (win more). Here's a bevy of examples that reveal how splitting has a split personality.

8-8 vs. ace. Is splitting this the essence of insanity? Nope. We know 16 is an awful hand. That's part of the reason why we always split 8s. Still, starting out with an 8 against an ace may not seem like a preferable alternative. Neither scenario is good, but yes, splitting is better. And here are the numbers to prove it: Playing it as a 16 we'd expect to lose 51.4%, which is $51.40 lost for every $100 bet. Playing it as two hands we'd expect to lose 19.3% on each hand. Multiplied by two (for our two hands), we get a net loss of 38.6% of the original bet. So we can save $12.80 in this unsavory situation.

9-9 vs. 9: A pair of nines sure seems formidable and, in most cases, it's a money-maker. However, against a fellow 9, we split in order to lower our losses. Standing on 18 vs. 9 will cost us $18.50. The split knocks that down to $9.50.

9-9 vs. 6: A hand of 18 is perfectly fine against a 6. Stand on it and you'll make $28 for every $100 bet. But split it and you'll be making $38.70 (when you can't double after split) or $43.90 (when the double after split option is available). All splits of 9s and aces against dealer's 3 through 7 improve on already profitable hands. And, yes, you have to split 9s versus 8. Playing for the "tie" by assuming the dealer has 18 will win you $9.90. Going for the jugular will improve that to $21.20.

4-4 vs. 6: Fours are in need of a little boost to make them worth splitting. That boost comes in the ability to double down after you split. When a split 4 is blessed with a 5, 6, or 7, you need the ability to cash in with the double.

Knowing when to split pairs is critically important in playing the casino close. More on splitting is discussed on our Aces, Splitting, Doubling Down, and Surrender pages.

Doubling Down

After you and the dealer have each received two cards, you have the option of doubling your bet by placing more chips on the table equal to your original bet. The dealer will then deal you one more card (and only one more card -- you can't ask for more cards).

Some casinos allow you to double down only if your first two cards total 9, 10, or 11. Other casinos will allow you to double down on any total for your first two cards. The best way to find out the casino's rule is to ask the dealer (or read the online casinos' game rules section). Doubling down is adding to your initial wager. You may double the amount of your wager or you may "double down for less." The dealer then deals you a third card. You cannot stand on the two and you cannot take another hit. For example, let's say that you wager $25, you get an eight and a two (a total of ten), and the dealer has a six showing, so you decide to double down. You put a $25 chip next to your initial wager (doubling down) and you receive one card. By deciding to double down, you feel your hand has enough chance to beat the dealer's hand that you want to increase your potential winnings. By letting you double your bet, the house gives you only one single additional card, not the usual unlimited hits or the option to stand on two cards. Doubling down can be a very powerful tool for the players when used at the appropriate times and used according to basic strategy, doubling down will increase your profits in the long run.

Take a quick look back at the basic strategy charts. There are two things to note about double down decisions. First of all, we double on our strong hands of 10 and 11 because if we get a 10, we'll have a very powerful hand. In that way, we capitalize on our strength. But we're also focused on taking advantage of the dealer's weakness. We often double down against the dealer's weak cards-particularly the creampuff 5 and 6. We can't be timid about putting more money out on the table in a favorable situation. The right doubles are crucial to increasing your overall profit expectations.

It's important to note that some casinos restrict doubling down to hands of 10 and 11. This is an unfavorable rule, but it still leaves us with the bulk of doubling down opportunities. If you ever come across a game where you can't double at all, make sure you walk away on the double.

Interestingly, in terms of percentage, you often lose more when you double down than when you simply hit. Lose more? Didn't we just assure you that proper doubling down will increase your profits? Well, both statements are true. Let's say you make a $100 bet. You receive a 10 and the dealer gets a 7 up. If you simply hit (the wrong move), you'd have a 29% percent advantage, which means you'd expect to make a $29 profit on average. If you double down, you would only have a 23.5% advantage on your bet. Why the decrease? Because you're restricting yourself to only one card. In the case where you hit, you'd have the option to draw more cards if need be. However, the 23.5% double down advantage is on twice your bet. That means an average profit of $47($200 x 23.5%).

A smaller edge on more money means more money in your pocket, which is what we count up (not percentage points) at the end of the session.

Let's look at a few hands that may make you do a double take:

11 vs. 10: This is a costly way to wimp out. Yes, the dealer has a big card, but so do you. Sure you'll make $11.70 per $100 when you hit, but you'll turn that into $17.80 when you double down.

11 vs. 6: If you're afraid to put more money on the table for this hand, it's time to find another game. Just hitting will profit you $34. Doubling makes a mockery of that decision: it earns you $68 per $100 on average.


Some casinos will let you "surrender" after both you and the dealer have been dealt two cards, meaning that you get to take half your bet back off the table, and you lose the other half of your bet.

The proper strategy for "late surrender" in multiple-deck games is as follows:

  • Surrender 16 (but not a pair of 8s) against a dealer's upcard of 9, 10 or ace.

  • Surrender 15 against a dealer's upcard of 10.

For single-deck games the rules are the same with one exception-don't surrender your 16 against a 9.

What's the reasoning for when to surrender? It's rather simple. Since you're giving up half your bet, you should surrender only in situations where your expectation is less than 50%. As the limited strategy shows, this doesn't happen as often as you think. In fact, surrender can be very detrimental to fatalistic players who use it every time they have a possibility of busting.

Even a pair of 8s against a 10 isn't enough of a loser to warrant surrender. It's close-you'll lose about $49 on average-but it's still better than throwing in the towel. Here's another way to look at surrender: It applies only to hands that you win 25% of the time or less. This is just a different way of looking at the expectation. If you win 25% of the hands, the dealer wins 75%. Therefore, your net loss would be 50%, which is equal to the forfeit you make when surrendering.

It's highly unlikely that you'll find a casino that offers "early surrender," but if you manage to find a casino running a promotion offering this golden rule, add these moves to your basic strategy:

  • Surrender any hard hand and pair totaling 5 to 7 or 12 to 17, against an ace.

  • Surrender hard hands and pairs totaling 14 to 16 against a 10.

  • Surrender hard 16 against a 9


If the dealer is showing an ace, you will be asked if you desire "insurance". Insurance is sort of a side bet that the dealer's other card which is face down is not a face card or a 10.

Insurance is statistically a lousy bet (a/k/a a "Sucker Bet"), so don't ever buy insurance (unless you are counting cards and have kept a good "ace count").

Our Other Pages on Blackjack

Books on Blackjack

See our Gamblers' Reading Room for books on Blackjack.

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