If you are a blackjack buff who likes to play 21 for real money online or offline, you most definitely should acquaint yourself with basic strategy. This is a tiny color-coded chart that tells you the optimal plays for any possible card holding against any of the 13 upcard denominations the dealer can get.
It is based on pure mathematics and computer simulations of millions of hands so you can have the peace of mind these are, in fact, the best moves you can make while playing the beautiful game of 21. This can help you particularly with certain non-intuitive hands like the pair of 9s we shall discuss today.
We regret to say it, but this is one of the most frequently misplayed hands by rookie blackjack players. Some people split this pair at random which inevitably causes them to part with their bankrolls in the long term. Others never split their 9s which is just as bad. This way, they miss out on all the lucrative opportunities to maximize their profits when the dealer is in trouble.
The strategy moves for this pair may be confusing to some because there are small differences in the correct plays when the number of decks and the table conditions differ. Today, we present you with the correct moves for a pair of 9s for both single-deck and multiple-deck games so pay attention.
Playing a Pair of 9s in Single-Deck Blackjack
When we receive a pair of 9s, which makes for a hard total of 18, we have a choice from two correct playing decisions. We either stand on our hard 18 or split the pair to create two hands, each one with a starting point of 9.
The correct decision is based on what upcard the dealer shows and may vary slightly when you play single-deck and multiple-deck blackjack. In games that use only one full deck of cards, basic strategy dictates we should abide by the rules outlined below:
- The pair of 9s should be split when the dealer shows upcards 2 through 6, 8 and 9
- Players should stay on their hard 18 if the dealer is stronger with upcards 7, 10 (10, K, Q, J), and Ace
These moves are considered optimal for this pair when one plays single-deck blackjack variations where the dealers must stand on soft totals of 17. The strategy changes a tiny notch in games where the house rules require the dealer to hit soft 17.
These changes affect primarily the decision for 9s against the dealer’s Ace – the pair should be split in this case but only on condition doubling after the split is permitted (DAS). If this is not an option, you are supposed to stand on your hard 18 against the dealer’s Ace.
Playing a Pair of 9s in Double-Deck and Multiple-Deck Games
In blackjack variations that utilize anywhere between two and eight decks, the strategy for 9s is much easier to remember because there are no discrepancies based on the dealer’s fixed rules and the presence or absence of DAS. What you need to do here are the following moves:
- Split your pair of 9s against dealer upcards 1 through 6, 8 and 9
- Stand on your pair of 9s when the dealer is in a stronger starting position with 7, 10, or Ace
Note that if you happen to draw another 9 following the split, you are supposed to resplit the pair. Resplit the 9s as many times as the table conditions allow you. If splitting was the correct move against a specific upcard the first time, resplitting is also optimal.
What makes these plays the best ones? The moves are considered player-favorable with pairs of 9s because they help you achieve two important goals in the long run. One of the reasons you make these moves is that they enable basic strategy players to generate more profits over the course of time.
Such is the case when the dealer is placed in a weaker position with upcards deuce through 6. Splitting the pair of 9s enables you to pour more money into action when you hold the advantage over the house.
This, in turn, causes you to win more money than you would if you choose to stand on the hard 18. You can see the expected returns from your pair of 9s against a dealer 6 and 5 below. These are based on applying this move in a six-deck game with liberal rules like S17, DAS, resplitting to up to four hands (but no RSA and hitting Aces), doubling on any two-card hand, and the option for a late surrender (LS).
|Playing Decision for 9s
|Average Expected Value against 5s and 6s
|$0.20 and $0.28
|-$0.61 and -$0.60
|-$1.22 and -$1.21
|$0.39 and $0.46
It is obvious that splitting is the optimal move against those weak dealer upcards because it generates the most EV for the player. Next in line is the decision to stand whereas the other playing options are all negative-expectation ones, especially doubling, which would be a ludicrous move in this instance.
A hand that totals hard 18 obviously does not bear much of improvement so the second reason why these moves are recommended is because they help you cut down on your losses when the dealer has the upper hand (no pun intended) with cards like Aces or 10s.
There is a higher chance the dealer would reach their standing position of 17 or above and possibly outdraw you if you take a plunge and split your 9s. Observe what returns staying on your 18 yields against a dealer 10 and Ace under the playing conditions we specified earlier:
|Playing Decision for 9s
|Average Expected Value against 10s and Aces
|-$0.17 and -$0.09
|-$0.64 and -$0.63
|-$1.29 and -$1.25
|-$0.31 and -$0.13
Pair of 9s in Double-Deck and Multiple-Deck Games Additional TipsYou can see splitting the pair of 9s becomes a negative-expectation bet against these two dealer upcards in a six-deck game with more liberal playing conditions. Standing is recommended by basic strategy in this instance because it leads to the smallest losses for the player.
We shall not discuss the effect of accepting insurance against the Ace here. As you know, this is always a negative-EV bet and as such, it should never be made. In this instance, it causes you to incur long-term losses of nearly $0.07 per every dollar you sacrifice.
Mistakes to Avoid with a Card Holding of 9s
We mentioned in the intro that the pair of 9s is a big trouble-maker at the blackjack tables because many recreational players end up misplaying it. One of the worst mistakes players make with this pair happens when they face a dealer who shows a 9. This is a non-intuitive situation which partially explains their confusion.
Some players are left with the impression, a 9 puts the dealer at big enough advantage not to justify an increase in their action through splitting the pair. It does not. No matter how many decks are in play, no matter what house rules the dealer abides by, splitting your 9s is the best course of action when facing a dealer with an exposed 9. But they decide to play it safe and stand on their hard 18 instead.
What they do not know is that their 18 will prevail over the dealer’s 9 only eight times per every twenty hands on average. Therefore, the right approach is to be more aggressive and split your 9s. Moreover, if DAS is allowed, you should proceed to resplit when you draw another 9.
If you happen to catch a 2 on the draw, this two-card total of 11 gives you a great opportunity to continue the assault and double down successfully. Now let’s observe the EV numbers for a holding of 9-9 against a 9:
|Playing Decision for 9s
|Average Expected Value against a 9
ConclusionThe conclusion we can draw is that splitting the 9s against the 9 almost brings to you a break-even point with this hand since you end up losing only $0.08 per every dollar you wager. In all cases, you are in a negative-expectation situation again but standing causes you to incur much bigger losses than splitting, which is why the latter is the best decision here.
Make sure you memorize the moves for this pair so that you never misplay your 9s again. And remember you cannot go wrong by following the perfect basic strategy for this pair. This way, you inevitably end up winning more and losing less in the long run.