In the game of 21, when players are dealt a starting hand of two cards of equal numerical rank, they are allowed to split them into two separate hands by posting an additional bet to cover the second hand. If players split pairs of Aces, they are dealt only one additional card per Ace and are generally not permitted to take a hit or resplit afterward. They are allowed to play all other pairs however they like, though.
There are several reasons for players to split. They do it to improve their hand, to increase their profits when the dealer is at disadvantage, and cut their losses when the dealer holds the edge with stronger upcards.
This brings us to the subject of today’s article – splitting pairs that consist of 8s. Those who are new to blackjack are taught early on to always split this pair but do you know why? If the answer is no, we urge you to continue reading to find out and learn about the few exceptions to this basic strategy rule.
Why Basic Strategy Recommends Us to Split 8s
Pairs of 8s give players the worst hand total they can possibly get at the blackjack table, hard 16. This is not a strong enough hand to stand on because if we do, the dealer ends up outdrawing us by arriving at their standing total of 17 or above. Meanwhile, hard 16 is a high enough total to cause us to bust most of the time when we take a hit.
Needless to say, doubling down on one such terrible hand is a preposterous idea but when it consists of paired 8s, players have more flexibility. Here we have the option to split and play two separate hands, each with a much better starting point of 8. In fact, splitting 8s is recommended by basic strategy most of the time with very few exceptions. This applies to most blackjack variations regardless of deck number, the dealer’s standing rules, and other playing conditions.
But as is the case with all rules, there are exceptions to be made. Players are recommended to surrender their pairs of 8s but only against an Ace in double-deck and multiple-deck games where the dealer hits soft 17.
Why Basic Strategy Recommends Us to Split 8sIt is important to warn you that no matter what you do with this pair, it gives you negative expectation over the course of time. This is a losing hand by default but splitting makes it better – it helps us lose less money in the long run, especially if we face a powerful dealer whose upcard is a 10.
Sure, sometimes the dealer will flip over another 10 for a total of 20 and we will lose two hands instead of one. This is just something you should come to terms with as splitting the 8s inevitably saves you money in the long term. Then again, when the dealer is in a weaker position with upcards 5 or 6, for example, splitting the 8s gives us an edge over the house.
Surrendering Instead of Splitting 8s against a 10 – Yes or No?
Some blackjack authors would recommend surrendering this pair against a dealer who shows a ten-value card. They argue that you risk ending up with two inferior hands instead of one when the house has an edge over you with the dealer’s 10. On the surface, their line of reasoning appears to be sound but in fact, this is a very poor piece of advice. If you follow it consistently, you will end up poorer, too.
It is obvious the dealer always holds an edge over your 8s with their 10. As a matter of fact, they will reach their standing total of 17 or higher around 77% of the time (excluding the cases when they beat you with a blackjack). The likelihood of them busting in this case is rather low – they end up busting on 23 out of every hundred hands on average, which makes you the obvious underdog no matter what you choose to do with your 8s.
You will lose money regardless of whether you stand, hit, split or throw in the towel by surrendering. So why does basic strategy recommend us splitting the 8s against the 10 as the optimal play? We can answer this question by comparing the long-term losses we incur with each possible move.
Surrendering Instead of Splitting 8s against a 10 Additional TipsWhen we hit and stand on a hard total of 16 against a dealer who shows a ten-value card, we can expect to win this hand roughly 23% of the time. In fact, there is a very thin margin with hitting and standing in this case. These two playing decisions yield almost the same expected losses. Doubling down on this hand is obviously out of the question. And we lose half of our initial wager on each pair of 8s we surrender against the 10.
Our only chance is to split the pair and start two new hands with an 8 each, in which case we improve our long-term winning rate to 38% whereas our loss rate drops from 77% to 62%. You may be investing more money into this play but you still end up incurring smaller losses when splitting the 8s against the 10. What these percentages tell us is the following:
- If we flat bet with a base unit of $1, we lose $77 – $23 = $54 on average every hundred rounds when we hit or stand on our paired 8s.
- If we surrender the 8s against the 10, we incur net losses of $50 every hundred hands on average when we bet in increments of $1 per hand.
- When we split the 8s against the 10, our average net losses per dollar over the course of one hundred hands are equal to $62 – $38 = $24 * 2 = $48.
The conclusions these figures lead us to are as follows: we lose $6 less when we split the 8s instead of hitting or standing on them. Splitting the 8s is also cheaper than surrendering as you end up saving $2 on average every hundred hands. Obviously, we are still dealing with a negative-expectation bet here but splitting helps us lose the least money on average which makes it the optimal decision in this case.
Surrendering the 8s against an Ace
We already told you there are exceptions where double-deck and multiple-deck H17 games are concerned. You are supposed to surrender your pair of 8s in these games but only on condition the dealer has an Ace.
The Ace puts the dealer in a very powerful position because they stand a good chance of beating you with a starting point of 11. Take a quick peek at the table below to see what returns you can expect from each possible playing decision. It is accurate for six-deck H17 games with DAS, late surrender (LS) and no RSA.
|Playing Decision for 8s vs. an Ace||Average Expected Losses|
As you can see yourself, everything is in the negative again, which is to say a pair of 8s against an Ace is a sure loser in the long-term. What we should not forget, however, is that basic strategy helps us minimize our losses in such unfavorable situations which is what we achieve when we surrender the pair.
This decision is considered optimal here because it causes you to incur the smallest losses when compared to the rest of the moves in multiple-deck H17 games. If late surrender is altogether unavailable, you should split the 8s as obviously, this is the second-best play.
What about Resplitting 8s?
Unlike pairs of Aces, which players are generally not allowed to resplit or hit, resplitting is a viable option when you receive a starting hand consisting of 8s. Some casual players frown at the thought of resplitting because they hate the idea of investing more money into a single round of play.
The thing is if splitting a pair, especially one like 8s, is a good idea so is resplitting it if you happen to catch another 8 on the draw. Depending on the table conditions, players may be allowed to double down after they split the pair.
Doubling after the split gives them the opportunity to further increase their action against dealers who are vulnerable to busting with small upcards. For instance, when you split your 8s and pull a 2 or a 3, you end up with totals 10 and 11, which are very good for doubling down. Provided that DAS is permitted at the table, the option to split the 8s becomes all the more appealing, so you should use this play more often with your pairs.
How to Play Pairs of 8s in No-Hole-Card Games
Further exceptions can be made for splitting pairs of 8s when one is playing blackjack variations under the European rules. At many blackjack tables across Europe and the United Kingdom, the dealers receive only one upcard and do not draw a hole card, which naturally boosts the casinos’ edge.
The fact these games are often played under rules that are far from being liberal does not help players much either. Understandably, players must approach some of their hands in a different manner under such table conditions, including their pairs of 8s. In games without hole cards, the correct strategy is to:
- Split a pair of 8s against upcards 2 through 9
- Hit the pair of 8s against upcards 10 and Ace
Pairs of 8s in No-Hole-Card Games Additional TipsAs was noted, European blackjack variations typically offer poorer playing conditions. The strategy recommended above is accurate for S17 games where you can double only on 9, 10, and 11, double after splitting, and the dealer does not peek for blackjack (which is impossible so and so due to the absence of hole cards). Hitting is recommended against the 10 and the Ace because it is again the cheapest playing decision in the long term.
All in all, you will inevitably find yourself in negative-expectation situations while at the blackjack table. This certainly is the case with pairs of 8s which always end up costing you money in the long run. The main idea behind applying the basic strategy plays here is not to help you win – there is no winning with this hand over the long haul. Here you stick to the optimal moves merely for the purpose of loss reduction.