Splitting a Pair of 5’s

Blackjack is different from many of the casino games due to the fact that besides luck, players also need to have discipline, money management skills and solid knowledge how the game functions. If they aim at winning the game in the long run, they should have an appropriate strategy and make every choice according to it.

It is recommended before playing to check whether they have remembered everything that’s needed as every wrong decision on the table will cost them dear. It is extremely beneficial when players know what a particular hand offers them and what can be the possible outcomes of it. This way they can take advantage of every situation and avoid ruining good hands with irrational moves.

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Splitting pairs of two cards of the same rank has always been rather tricky, even though many players act according to the well-known unwritten rule – whenever they have such cards, they split them. However, the fact that this method is practised by many of them, doesn’t make it reliable and trustworthy.

In fact, in many cases, this strategy has proven wrong as it leaves players in a much more unfavourable position than their initial one. In this chapter, we will consider the cases when they have a pair of 5s and what their best move is with this card holding.

When Players Have a Pair of 5s

Whenever players have a pair of 5’s even though the first thing that comes to mind is to split them, this situation is a bit more complicated and it will be best to be tackled by using a different approach. The best strategy in such cases is not to split them as this will only result in an unfavourable position for the players.

The strategy for a pair of 5s is beyond straightforward. There is no need for players to memorise any deviations when switching from one blackjack variation to another since house rules have absolutely no influence on how this card holding is played.

A pair of 5s is never split no matter how many decks one plays against and what total the dealer must hit to. Depending on the value of the exposed card of the dealer, players who hold a pair of 5s face only two adequate strategy decisions – they can either hit or double down on their hard 10.

Providing that the dealer’s upcard is from 2 through 9, it will be best to double down. This way players will be able to take advantage of the dealer’s weak position and increase their bet. Moreover, doubling down gives players the opportunity to improve their hand and make better use of this situation.

Player is dealt a pair of 5’s. Dealer’s Up card is a 7. Player should Double Down.

Hard 10 is a great total to start a hand with no matter what the dealer is holding. It provides you with plenty of opportunities to win twice as much money through doubling with a single-card draw. Basic strategy recommends doubling down against most upcards because this move enables players to maximise their returns when starting with a healthy total of 10.

This becomes particularly apparent when we compare the expected value of the possible playing decisions for paired 5s in shoe-dealt blackjack with a dealer who stands on soft 17. Let’s use a £1 wager for this benchmark to simplify things as much as possible. Standing on 5-5 versus the dealer’s 9, as ludicrous as it sounds, naturally results in negative expected value, costing you £0.54 per pound wagered.

Hitting is better as it at least produces a positive long-term expected value for the player. If you draw to your paired 5s, you will earn £0.12 or so per every £1 you originally wagered. Some misguided players choose to split against the 9 (another ludicrous decision) and start two brand new hands with a 5 each.

This is a bad play that completely destroys their positive expectation, costing them £0.63 on average per every pound they invest in splitting this pair. Out of all possible strategy plays, doubling on the 5s versus the 9 is the real moneymaker, generating an expected return of £0.14.

Bear in mind these are long-term averages. You should not expect to earn exactly this amount with a £1 bet each time you double on your 5s against a 9. Consistent play is required for long-term expectation to begin to manifest itself. The following table summarizes the expectation of hitting versus doubling on 5s against the dealer’s upcards deuce through 9.

Expected Return per £1 Bet for Hitting and Doubling on 5-5 in Shoe-Dealt Blackjack
Dealer Upcard Expected Return for Hitting Expected Return for Doubling Cost for Misplaying 5-5
2 +£0.18 +£0.36 -£0.18
3 +£0.21 +£0.41 -£0.20
4 +£0.23 +£0.46 -£0.23
5 +£0.26 +£0.51 -£0.25
6 +£0.29 +£0.57 -£0.28
7 +£0.26 +£0.39 -£0.13
8 +£0.20 +£0.29 -£0.09
9 +£0.12 +£0.14 -£0.02

Players should not forget doubling was incorporated as a means of reducing the house edge and allowing players to maximise their returns. The above-listed figures further demonstrate that hitting instead of doubling on 5-5 against 2 through 9 reduces the profits you can extract from this great hand.

For the rest of the card combinations – when the upcard of the dealer is either 10 or ace, players should hit. The strategy favours hitting over doubling against ten-value cards and aces since these are the dealer’s most powerful cards.

Increasing one’s wager is unjustified here as the dealer is more likely to draw to a winning total when starting with an ace, K, Q, J, or 10. Doubling becomes a negative-expectation play against these strong upcards, with hitting being the only positive-EV move in such situations. This is because you have the option to draw again if you happen to pull out a small card on your hard 10. By contrast, you receive only one card when you double down, with no opportunity for further improving the hand if necessary.

Expected Return with £1 Bet for Hitting and Doubling on 5-5 vs. 10 and Ace
Dealer Upcard Expected Return for Hitting Expected Return for Doubling Cost of Misplaying 5-5 vs. 10 and Ace
K, Q, J, 10 +£0.02 -£0.008 -£0.01
Ace +£0.08 -£0.01 -£0.07

Reasons Not to Split a Pair of 5s

A pair of 5s should be viewed as any other card combination which totals 10 and therefore, it shouldn’t be split. The reason why is that having a total value of 10 from the first two cards is not a bad way to start the round.

However, if this pair is split, the chances that players can get two decent hands are very low. Starting two hands with a 5 translates into lower earnings for the player even when they are facing dealers with weak upcards. This move is simply inappropriate because a pair of 5s is initially a good total. By splitting, players sacrifice one decent hand and the chances of getting something better out of it are extremely low.

If players decide to split and draw a 2, 3, or a 4, their hand’s total will be very weak and if they get a 6 or above, there is a chance they will bust on the next hit.

By having a pair of 5s in their hand, they have the chance to reach 21 with one more hit and moreover, it deprives them of going bust. Splitting this pair will certainly place players in a worse position than the one they have started from, which is why this move should be avoided.

Player is dealt a pair of 5’s. Dealer’s Up card is a 10. Player should Hit.

What if a Pair of 5s is Split

As already mentioned, dealing with a pair of 5s is a difficult situation which has provoked many discussions among casual players throughout the years.

Many of them continue to adhere to the well-known statement and split this pair. It is important for players to know the motive that lies behind each move as this will give them a better understanding of the game and will allow them to decide which play is best for them.

Moreover, this way they will be able to grasp why the rest of the players at the table proceed in a certain way. This is a good indicator of their knowledge and understanding of blackjack. On a side note, the moves of fellow patrons, regardless of whether they are basic strategists, advantage players, or completely clueless individuals, have no impact on your odds of winning and losing.

The reason why some gamblers split their pair of 5s against a 5 or a 6 as the dealer’s upcard, is that in this case they see an opportunity to increase their bet and they don’t hope to improve their hand. They usually make this move in games where the casino allows doubling down after splitting as this is their main objective.

There are indeed self-proclaimed blackjack experts who advise players to split their paired 5s when the dealer holds low-value cards 5 or 6 in hopes of catching another 5 or 6 for a potential double down on 10 or 11.

This play is nonsensical, first and foremost, because you and the dealer have already drawn some of the small cards from the shoe/deck that can help you. This alone reduces your probability of pulling out another 5 or 6 for a successful double down on your split 5s.

If you want to double, doing it on your hard 10 is a better idea against the dealer’s 6 – you stand better chances of winning this way. Hard 10 is a solid enough starting hand to hold against the weak 6. It yields an edge for the player, which is why basic strategy recommends a double in this case. The player will register an average of 57 pence in profit per pound wagered when they double.

It is worth mentioning that starting two hands with a 5 against the 6 is still a profitable situation for the player. This is due to the fact the player, unlike the dealer, has the option to stop drawing provided that the next couple of hits result in a breaking total.

The dealer, on the other hand, must draw to at least 17, which increases their likelihood of busting, especially when their starting card is a 6. The earnings of the player are significantly smaller at around 5 pence per every wagered pound, i.e. around 10 pence for both splits. In other words, a person who splits 5-5 against a 6 gives up nearly half a pound from their expected return.

Then again, some players are reluctant or afraid to invest more money into any given single hand, including a solid total of hard 10. Such people commonly favour hitting their 5s over doubling and splitting. Although it is not as bad as splitting expectation-wise, hitting against a 6 still produces lower expected value, cutting players’ profits by nearly 30 pence.

Some players would argue they have been splitting 5s for years without suffering any detrimental effects on their bankrolls. With that in mind, players must remember it is not impossible to see extraordinary results even for prolonged periods, especially if one is not keeping good track of their plays and earnings.

Many people tend to remember only the instances when bad plays, like splitting 5s, have resulted in short-term wins. This leads them to believe such poor moves work. However, this is nothing but a fine case of confirmation bias that would cost you dear in the long run.

At the end of the day, players have the power to decide which move is the best for them in every situation. The most used strategy in blackjack is the basic strategy which suggests that players should never split a pair of 5s under any circumstances.

5-5 Basic Strategy for Single-, Double-, and Multiple-Deck Blackjack
Player’s Hand Dealer’s Upcard
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Ace
5-5 D D D D D D D D H H
H = Hit, D = Double Down

How Tracking the 5s Helps Players Press Home Their Edge

One of the easiest ways for less experienced players to press home their edge and overturn the casino’s advantage is by keeping track of the dealt 5s and aces. The method is effective because, in blackjack, an excess of remaining 5s and other low cards favours the house whereas an excess of aces and tens helps the player.

This approach is known as the Ace Five Count and was devised by blackjack expert Michael Shackleford, better-known under the alias Wizard of Odds. It is mostly suitable for multiple-deck blackjack with liberal rules like DAS, S17, LS, and 3-to-2 payouts for naturals.

For this to work, you need to determine your minimum and maximum wager beforehand. The player starts with a neutral count of zero and places their minimum wager each time the dealer reshuffles the shoe. The player then adds +1 to their count each time a 5 is removed from play and subtracts -1 for each dealt ace.

There is no need to convert a running count into a true count which further simplifies things for less-versed players. Once two 5s are dealt and the count escalates to positive 2 or higher, the player must raise their wager. Whenever the count drops below 2, the player bets the minimum. This is really all there is to it.

Another benefit that results from using this simplified system is that there is no need to make any strategy deviations, i.e. use indices. You stick to basic strategy throughout your entire session, only sizing your bets based on the ratio of 5s and aces that remain to be dealt.

The Ace Five Count yields a considerably lower expected value when compared to more advanced counting systems, such as the Hi-Lo. Nonetheless, it is simple enough for basic strategists to follow and still enables them to overturn the casino’s edge.

The exact percentage you gain in advantage with this system depends on what bet spread you are using. The steeper your spread, the greater the advantage the Ace Five Count produces. Keep in mind you will need a huge bankroll to be able to withstand the game’s variance when implementing this system. Other than that, this approach is also deemed suitable for basic strategists who are looking to exploit casino promotions to their benefit.

Conclusion

Splitting is a move that allows players to increase the amount of the money they bet and should be made when the dealer’s in a weak position. However, as mentioned above, the case with splitting 5s is different from the rest of the possible pairs players can get as it leaves them in a rather disadvantageous position and thus, this move is best to be avoided. In such situations it is crucial to remember what is the best way to proceed in order to take advantage of every hand and make the most of it.

Many players whenever they have second thoughts about a particular move, decide to seek an advice from the dealer. It is really important in such cases to bear in mind that he is not to be trusted most of the times. The same goes for the rest of the players on the table and this is also the reason why discipline is so important as it will prevent players from doubting their strategy and their chosen move.