Blackjack is the most popular table game played in casinos around the world. I love it because there are options and decisions to make every hand. It’s not a static game. When you bring your best game to the table, you can expect to do well every night. That’s a very cool thing. I love choices, but it’s important to choose correctly, especially with money on the line.
Aside from when you are dealt a big two-card hand like blackjack (21) or a hard 17 through 20, you may want to tempt fate by hitting your hand. Or you can stand. Your choice. But you can also double down or split your pairs in many cases.
A double-down takes place when a player options to double their original wager in exchange for hitting their hand with a single card. The upside is that you can get more money on what’s likely to be a winning hand when the dealer shows a bad up-card like a five or six.
The downside is that you can’t get another hit. You traded out a doubled bet for a single card. It’s frustrating to double down with a total of nine and get a deuce. It would be cool to hit that 11 you now have, but again, you traded that option.
Overall, players can get themselves into trouble doubling down at the wrong time. That’s why it is important to know when to double and when just to hit your hand.
Players also have the option to split their pairs, like when you hold a pair of aces; I’ll get into that a bit later. For now, the only pair we are interested in is a pair of fives. You don’t want to split them, ever! Instead, take a hit or double down with your total of 10.
Why a Double-Down Is a Good Thing
Double-down hands are important for beating the game of blackjack. Some players don’t want to risk more money and just hit their 10s and 11s. That’s a mistake. You are giving away money if you never double down.
Each casino has a set of rules for double-downs. In northern Nevada (Reno and Lake Tahoe), players are restricted to doubling down on a two-card total of 9, 10, and 11. Some clubs only allow a double-down on 10 or 11. That’s a bummer because when you can double on any two cards, you get to add money to a soft hand.
A soft hand is when you hold an ace that can be played as either a 1 or an 11 without going over 21. Typical soft doubles are like ace-six (which can be seven or seventeen) and ace-seven (which can be eight or eighteen). The either-or part trips players up from time to time.
However, the first thing you should always do before making a double-down decision is to look at the dealer’s up-card. Then, double only when the dealer is likely to bust.
With those figures in mind, here is the best computer-proven advice for when to take a double-down at blackjack.
Double Down on Hard Hands
When you have a hard hand (no ace) two-card total of 9, double down only when the dealer’s up-card is a 3, 4, 5, or 6. Not only will the dealer bust about 41% of the time, but when they do make a hand, you’ll often beat them. In fact, you’ll win more than half the time and push another 6% of the time.
Why wouldn’t you want to bet more money when you know you’ll only lose about 40% of the time? Do it!
When you have a hard hand of 10, double down against a dealer up-card of 2 through 9. You can hit if the dealer has a 10 or ace showing.
When you have a hard hand of 11, double down against a dealer up-card of 2 through 10. Just hit against an ace showing.
Soft hands, those pesky ace ones, are tougher. Use the following rules to double down if your online or land-based casino allows soft doubling.
Double Down on Soft Hands
If you hold an ace-2 or ace-3, double down when the dealer’s up-card is a 5 or 6. Just hit against any other cards.
When you hold an ace-4 or ace-5, double down when the dealer’s up-card is a 4, 5, or 6. Hit against anything else.
If you hold an ace-6, your best option is to double against a 3, 4, 5, or 6 and hit against other up-cards.
And finally, if you hold an ace-7, double when the up-card showing is a 3, 4, 5, or 6, and stand against a 2, 7, or 8. Go ahead and hit against a 9, 10, or ace. That’s right; you’ve got an 18, but you still want to hit against a dealer up-card of 9, 10, or ace. Really!
Keep in mind that it’s always your decision when you hit, double, or split on any hand. Don’t let the other players influence your play. If you know to stand on any hard hand of 12 or higher against a dealer’s up-card of 2 through 6 and hit until you get at least 17 against other up-cards, you’ll do fine.
When you decide to double down, you must match at least part of your original wager before taking a card. It’s best to tell the dealer you want to double down and then slide your extra bet up next to your first bet. They’ll take it from there.
And it’s best to match your original wager in full. It’s bad not to double down at an appropriate time, but it’s even worse to only match part of your original wager. Then you’d be giving up your right to take additional cards, AND you’d get less than full value for doing it. That’s a bad move.
If you decide to split a pair, you will have to match your original wager in full. When should you split pairs? I’m glad you asked!
When to Split Pairs
The good news is that nearly every casino lets you split pairs. The conventional wisdom is that you should always split aces and eights. And there are reasons for that.
Splitting aces is a very good play, even if you don’t get paid 3 to 2 if you draw a 10-card. Some clubs allow you to re-split aces, so if you draw another ace, you get to make a third and even a fourth bet and draw a new card to each one.
Splitting eights won’t win nearly as many hands as aces, but if you don’t split, you’ve got the worst two-card hand of all: a sixteen. The dealer can only be counted on to bust 28% of the time if you stay on 16, and you’ll bust 62% of the time if you hit! What to do? Split!
You’ll still lose much of the time, but even with doubling your wager, your average overall loss will be lower than hitting or standing. Trust me, it’s true.
Here’s a breakdown of when to split your pairs in blackjack.
- Your first two cards are 2-2 — Split against an up-card of 2 through 7
- Your first two cards are 3-3 — Split against an up-card of 2 through 7
- Your first two cards are 4-4 — Don’t hit, split
- Your first two cards are 5-5 — Don’t hit, play as a ten
- Your first two cards are 6-6 — Split against an up-card of 2 through 6
- Your first two cards are 7-7 — Split against an up-card of 7 through 7
- Your first two cards are 8-8 — Always split
- Your first two cards are 9-9 — Split against all up-cards except 7, 10, and ace
- Your first two cards are 10-10 — Don’t split and ruin your beautiful 20!
- Your first two cards are A-A — Always split
A Few Parting Words
The chances are good that if you’ve just learned to play blackjack, you didn’t know you could improve your odds of winning by doubling down and splitting pairs at the right time. But now you do.
I’ve also heard players say their bankroll isn’t big enough to double and split, but they are wrong. Unless you have the last of your money wagered, taking a double-down or split is always a better use of your bankroll than saving some chips to make a bet on the next hand. The odds prove this, and you are losing money by not taking advantage of the options the casino offers you in blackjack.
So, follow this best advice for double-downs and split pairs, and you’ll do great at blackjack!