Being Dealt Two Aces in Blackjack

There is some debate among novice blackjack players about what happens when you are dealt two Aces. Some say split and some say stand for a hand total of 12. But if you were at the blackjack table, what would you do if you were dealt a pair of Aces?

There are two things for a blackjack player to do when being dealt two Aces straight off in a round: split and then smile because you know the house would rather you not have two Aces.

But back to the splitting part. Yes, the best statistical play is to split and start two hands with 11 apiece rather than working with only one hand that is essentially going to be played out as a hard 12. True you could hit a 12 made up of two Aces, but the odds on splitting are better than playing out two Aces in one hand.

The thing with splitting a pair of Aces is that you have two hands to work with on the blackjack table, and already having one card worth 11 is a good start to building not one, but two strong hands. Of all of the pairs that a blackjack player could split, Aces are the best to have.

There is one more thing with a splitting a pair of dealt Aces that novice blackjack players wonder about: if the pair of Aces is split and a card valued at 10 is dealt to both Aces, do you have two blackjacks or only two hands each worth 21?

As much as I would love to tell you that you are receiving two 3-2 payouts, a blackjack is only considered to be one if the very first two cards dealt add up to 21. Receiving a two hand totals worth 21 on a pair of split Aces does not count as a natural blackjack, either of them.

So now we all have an understanding to split a pair of Aces when dealt one, and that two hands of 21 from a split pair of Aces does not mean two 3-2 payouts will happen.

Money on Splitting vs. Standing with a Pair of 10s

When being dealt a pair of 10s in blackjack there are really only two options for plays: splitting or standing. You cannot hit, not with a hand total of 20. The rule of thumb with a pair of 10s in a game of blackjack is to stand—no splitting! This is because a pat 20 is a strong hand.

But you will find that some blackjack players would rather split a pair of 10s when faced with a dealer 5 or 6. They are the two cards with the highest probability of ending in a bust for the dealer. The thought process is that if the dealer is more likely to bust with those two up cards, why not split the pair of 10s and try to make the most off of the round.

Odds on winning when splitting a pair of 10s against a 5 or 6 is not too shabby: 63% and 64% respectively. Best case scenario, meaning splitting against a 6, you stand to win $56. And that is $56 total; each hand would have a profit of $28, and together that is $56. All in all, the odds and profit are not too shabby.

But I think you might change your mind when you look at the odds and potential profit for standing on a pair of 10s against a dealer’s 5 or 6.

The odds of winning against a dealer’s 5 or 6 when standing on a pair of 10s is 84% and 85%, respectively of course. Already the money bells in your head should be beginning to go off. Again, looking at the best case scenario of facing a dealer’s 6, 85% is a better odd than 64%. That also means that the potential profit is higher too.

Now I know the money bells are going off.

So if you stand to win 85% of the time by standing on a pair of 10s in blackjack, that means you stand to lose only 15% of the time. Subtract 15 from 85 and you get 70, and $70 is the profit per $100 if you stand on a pair of 10s in blackjack against a dealer’s 6; profit on standing against a dealer’s 5 with a pair of 10s is $68 per $100. Still not bad. And certainly more profitable.

And profit is the point behind strategy in blackjack. Strategy is there to improve your odds at winning in blackjack, and winning means more opportunities to make a profit. Knowing the difference in odds between plays helps. In this case, you know that standing on a pair of 10s against a 5 or 6 will give you around $14 more per $100.

Strategy for Pairs in Blackjack

Pairs are another type of hand in blackjack that are played differently than the more basic hard hands. Or at least they should be played differently. However, a good many blackjack players will play them like hard hands. And while some pairs should be played like hard hands, some need to take advantage of a pair’s option for splitting.

A pair is any hand in blackjack in which the two starting cards are worth the same amount. Because each card has the same value, the player has the option in blackjack to put forth another wager that is equal to their original wager and split the pair. The two cards are separated and each one receives a new second card.

Some casinos and some blackjack variations will allow for continued pair splitting on top of other pair splitting.

I mentioned that for some pairs it is okay to play them like a hard hand in blackjack. A pair of 10s is one such pair. However, some players will get caught up in the notion that they can split pairs, and will split a pair of 10s just because they can.

A pair of 10s should not be split, and here is why. You have to look at their value as number, rather than the fact that they are a pair: 10 + 10 = 20. A pair of 10s is another way of saying hard 20. And the only thing that can beat a hard 20 is a dealer with a natural blackjack or a dealer who hits to 21. There is no reason to throw away a perfectly good hard 20 just because it is a pair.

On the other side a pair of 8s should always be split. Again, look at the value of each card added together: 8 + 8 = 16. So a pair of 8s that are not split are in fact a hard 16, one of the hardest hands to play in blackjack. It is too high to really hit because you stand a pretty good chances of busting. But it is also low enough that it is not likely to beat the dealer unless the dealer busts.

So why hang on to a hard 16 when you can double your wager and start over with two mostly new hands? At least with splitting you stand the shot of building up one if not both of the new hands.

The easiest way to tell what the best statistical play for a pair in blackjack is to play according to a basic strategy card. Basic strategy will tell you whether you should split a pair in blackjack or leave the pair together, unsplit.

Face Up Blackjack Variation

As we are all well aware, I’m not a big fan of blackjack variations. They usually have a rule or two that is to the player’s disadvantage. But I’ve found one that is worse than the rest: Face Up Blackjack, also known as Double Exposure Blackjack.

Under either name this variation can be found in brick-and-mortar casinos and in online casinos.

In Face Up Blackjack, both of the dealer’s cards are dealt face up. You would think that this makes the game so much easier, regardless of whether you’re playing in a casino or online. But you would be a tad wrong.

For one thing you would have to re think your whole basic strategy. Basic strategy is built around seeing only one of the dealer’s cards, not both. How you play against one card, such as a six would vary if faced with a two hand total. On the upside if you have a hard hand you know what you’re up against and don’t have to wonder whether to hit or stand. If you have a hard 16 and the dealer has a hard 17, you know you have to hit or you will definitely lose.

But the loss of a key piece of blackjack strategy isn’t enough for this game.

If the dealer’s hand is higher in point value, you have to hit until you win or until you bust. There’s no way out of that one. So you can add to the reasons not to play this game you lose some player control, a big reason why many people play blackjack.

As for doubling and splitting you are limited to doubling on hard 9, 10 and 11. That’s it. That eats away at the power double downs have in lowering the housed edge. Although splitting is pretty basic. You can split any pair and keep hitting, except with Aces. With Aces you can only have one more card.

Also against blackjack players is that the dealer can hit a soft 17. And we know that actually increases the house edge by 0.2%. This is because it gives the dealer a chance to rebuild their hands and possible winding up with a hand total that’s better than 17. Hitting on a soft 17 let’s a dealer win more than if he would have to stand on the soft 17.

But then to top it all off a natural blackjack only pays even money. Forget how bad a 6-5 payout is. An even money payout is worse than a 6-5.

With all the rules about this game—the loss of basic strategy and player control, the limits on doubling down, the hitting on a soft 17 and the even money—this is, in my eyes, one of the worst blackjack variations that I have seen. Any shrewd blackjack player should avoid this variation if they see it. Even with the better payout percentage offered by online blackjack, this game is still to be avoided.