If you belong to the category of players who have the discipline and brains never to deviate from basic strategy because of hunches, chances are you often end up being appalled by the decisions less skilled players make at the table. If not, we suggest you continue reading this article because it will prevent you from making one of the worse possible blackjack plays in the future.
We are talking about misplaying a pair of 5s, of course, which is one of the costliest mistakes one can make at the blackjack table. This is actually a very good hand, one of the best you can start a round of play with, to be honest.
Because of this, you should always make the mathematically correct moves for paired 5s as recommended by basic strategy. If you don’t, you will only end up wasting money you can otherwise spend on something more worthwhile than gambling. What follows are the optimal basic strategy plays for this pair along with an explanation on why 5s should never be split in blackjack.
Basic Strategy Players Should Never Split 5s
Every now and then, you will encounter players whose gut tells them splitting 5s is a good idea. It never is. Pull out your basic strategy card and take a look at the section with the optimal decisions for pairs. Notice something? The plays for all pairs but those consisting of 5s and 10s are listed in the chart, only those two hands are omitted. And there is a very good reason why.
Basic strategy players should never split paired 5s no matter what card the dealer exposes. Splitting is always a bad idea with this pair, even against a dealer who is in trouble with upcards like 5 and 6. As a matter of fact, the optimal play is pretty much intuitive with 5s because they give you a very good head-start against the dealer. This pair results in a nice starting total of 10 and the only thing you are achieving by splitting it against 5s and 6s is ruining your chances at maximizing your long-term profits.
After all, basic strategy is based on pure math and where numbers are concerned, there is never room for doubt. By splitting this pair, you create two separate hands with much weaker starting totals of 5 each. Do you want to start two hands with a 5 or one hand with a 10?
Some blackjack authors who we choose not to name make the bold suggestion that players are better off splitting their 5s against vulnerable dealers with a 6. The explanation provided is that the dealer is the most susceptible to busting with this card and players should up the ante, so to speak, by raising their action through splitting.
Basic Strategy Additional TipsThis is a terrible idea despite the fact you indeed have an edge against a dealer whose upcard is a 6. And yes, you should maximize your profits but not through splitting the 5s. The correct decision is to double down against the 6 which earns you roughly $0.59 per every dollar bet over the long haul.
Meanwhile, if lack of discipline or intuition (both are equally bad when you are a gambler) cause you to deviate from basic strategy and you choose to hit your 5s against the 6, your long-term profit per dollar wagered drops to $0.29. But what happens when you consistently split the 5s against a 6 as the aforementioned “experts” suggest? You end up winning less money in the long term, that’s what.
The thing is you still have an advantage over the dealer’s 6 because you can stop drawing cards if the split 5s leave you with weak hand totals that bear no further improvement but are highly susceptible to busting.
Meanwhile, a dealer with a 6 does not have the option to refuse drawing more cards, they must hit until they arrive at a standing position or bust. The second is very likely to occur with a 6. Yet, consistently splitting 5-5 against the dealer 6 leads to long-term profit decline to $0.10 per every dollar you invest in this bad play. Now, ask yourself this question – “Do I want to win $0.59 per every dollar I invest in my 5s or do I want to win only $0.29 and $0.10 per dollar bet?”. The answer is clear, we believe.
Playing Pairs of 5s Optimally
So how should players approach pairs of 5s if splitting is not an option? There are only two decisions to be made here since standing and surrendering are obviously not the correct plays for this particular hand. You either choose to up your action through doubling down or you hit. What you choose depends exclusively on the dealer’s upcard, no other variables have an influence on this play.
There are no changes in the moves, these remain the same whether you are playing pitched or multiple-deck blackjack under the H17 and the S17 rules. Better yet, the strategy is the same for no-hole-card games if you happen to have a taste for blackjack variations with a higher house edge.
So the bottom line is you must treat your pair of 5s the same way you treat any other two-card holding that gives you a total of 10. Therefore, the optimal basic strategy plays for this pair are the following:
- Double down on the pair of 5s against a dealer with 2 through 9
- Hit the pair of 5s against a dealer with stronger upcards 10 or Ace
It is worth keeping in mind the value doubling on this pair gives you is closely linked to what card the dealer shows. As we already told you, your average profits per dollar against a 6 are quite impressive at $0.59. Below are the profits you can expect to generate in the long run when you double on your 5-5 against the other eight dealer upcards that justify this move:
|Dealer Upcard||Average Long-Term Profit per Dollar when Doubling on a Pair of 5s|
Playing Pairs of 5s Optimally Additional TipsDoubling on 5s becomes a negative-expectation move against 10s and Aces. There is no other correct way to approach this card holding. Hitting is recommended against 10s and Aces instead of doubling because these two cards put the dealer in a very favorable position. Their chances of beating you with these upcards are better which does not justify investing more money in doubling.
Hitting is a much safer move to make against 10s/Aces because it gives you the option to draw several cards instead of only one and spares you the unpleasant sensation of getting stuck with low and beatable totals like hard 15 or hard 16. You can find further information on this subject if you go back in the guide and read the article on hard hands 10 and 11.