Splitting a Pair of 8s

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

Why to Split 8sPairs 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.

Surrendering Instead of Splitting 8s against a 10 – Yes or No?

Surrendering Instead of SplittingSome 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 the 8s against an Ace

surrenderWe 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
Insurance -$0.07
Surrender -$0.50
Stand -$0.59
Hit -$0.54
Double Down -$1.08
Split -$0.51

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?

Resplitting 8sUnlike 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

How to Play Pairs of 8sFurther 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