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Why Ask Why?

Posted by Leroy Nimka on 26 July 2001, at 9:58 p.m., in response to Last Question - for this week!, posted by New Counter on 26 July 2001, at 8:18 p.m.

"Can someone clarify if I should ALWAYS split 8s and if so, why?"

Always split eights and aces.

Why? There's a fundamental problem that seems to crop up when people ask questions like this.

First of all, there's only one legitimate reason for the correctness of any basic strategy play: The mathematics reveal that the given play offers the maximum possible expected value.

Period.

Before blackjack was first seriously analyzed, blackjack "gurus" resorted to the sort of simplistic logic that you offer above to come up with what we recognize today as terribly wrong playing advice. It turned out that in many cases, common sense just didn't do the trick. However, now that we know what the correct plays actually are, many blackjack enthusiasts, including some popular blackjack authors, persist in making up verbal justifications for those plays.

(The usual explanation for splitting eights against a ten goes something like, "Don't forget that you're getting rid of a hard sixteen, which is the worst hand you can have." Splitting eights is often referred to as a "defensive play", and if it results in an overall push the split is considered to have been successful.)

The problem I'm referring to is that beginners read those simplistic explanations and get the impression that they constitute the source of basic strategy, and that correct basic strategy is therefore merely a matter of opinion. An author writes that a certain play is correct because "you're assuming that the dealer's hole card is (something)", and "you'll probably draw such-and-such a card if you hit", and so on, and the reader then becomes justifiably skeptical. He forms his own opinion and considers it to have equal merit.

My advice is, go ahead and read such explanations that others may offer and judge whether or not they seem logical to you, but don't be too concerned about them. They are "for amusement only". The validity of basic strategy depends on sophisticated mathematics and computer simulations, not intuition or common sense.

(But of course in the event that a play seems totally ridiculous to you, by all means verify it with other reputable sources. It could be an error, misprint, or John Patrick book.)

Leroy Nimka

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