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Splitting Fives at Blackjack

16 Feb 2020

By John Grochowski
QUESTION: I saw something that struck me as weird when playing blackjack. Another player seemed to be on basic strategy all the time until he was dealt 5-5 against a dealer’s 6.

I couldn’t believe it when he split the 5s. I said, “That’s unusual,” and couple of others questioned on what that was really what he wanted to do. The dealer said, “Do you mean double or split?” He insisted he wanted to split, that when the dealer had a 6, he wanted his money out there.

Somebody said he could get his money out there by doubling, and he said, “What if I get another 5? Then I can split again.”

It all seemed bizarre to me. What are the numbers on splitting 5s instead of doubling?

ANSWER: It seems bizarre to me, too. Doubling down on 5-5 vs. 6 is a strong play. Splitting 5s, not so much.

I’ll assume a common game of six decks, dealer hits soft 17, double on any first two cards, split up to three times for a total of four hands.

A pair of 5s vs. a 6 is a profitable hand provided you don’t get silly and stand on 10.

If you just hit the hand, your average profit is 29.4 cents per $1 of your wager. If you double down, that profit grows to 58.8 cents per $1 of your original wager.

But if you split the pair, the profit freefalls to 10.3 cents per $1 of the original wager.

When you start a hand with 5, too many cards will leave you in weaker position than you started with. You could draw another 5 and face the same decision again, or you could draw a 6 and have a double down opportunity at 11. But all other draws are weaker than your start.

On seven of the 13 possibilities – draws of 7, 8, 9 or any of the four 10 values -- you’re left with hands that could be busted by drawing another card. You’re stuck with standing on a stiff hand and hoping the dealer busts.

Starting with 6, dealers bust about 42 percent of the time, so if you’re left with 12 through 16 against 6, you’re not in profitable territory.

When the good draws are weighed in with the bad, you’re far better off doubling than splitting on 5-5 vs. 6, and hitting also is a better play than splitting.

QUESTION: If a casino put a Liberty Bell slot machine on the floor today, do you think anybody would play it? I’ve seen one. It looks pretty cool in an old-fashioned kind of way.

ANSWER: The Liberty Bell, invented by San Francisco mechanic Charles Fey in 1895, is an important part of slot history as the first three-reel slot, but it would just be a novelty for modern players/

Players today are used to large jackpots, multiple paylines and bonus events. The Liberty Bell was a game of three mechanical reels, a single payline, no bonuses, and a maximum payout of 50 cents.

For bets of a nickel, you’d get back 5 cents for two horseshoes, 10 cents for two horseshoes and a star, 20 cents for three spades, 30 cents for three diamonds, 40 cents for three hearts and 50 cents for three Liberty Bells.

I can’t see a modern player having the patience to bet one nickel at a time with no payoff bigger than half a dollar, can you? If a casino had a Liberty Bell on display, I’d stop to ooh and aah, but I wouldn’t settle in for a session.

This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at

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