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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Deal Me In: Should you split 10s in blackjack?

15 January 2010

Dear Mark: When my ex-girlfriend and I used to go to Vegas, every once in a while we would have someone at our blackjack table split 10s. This used to drive my ex absolutely crazy and there were times when I thought that I actually saw steam come out of her ears when someone did that. So my question is, is there actually any time when it is a good idea to split 10s? Keith K.

For starters, Keith, it's wasted energy getting hot and bothered when someone splits 10s. The flawed point of view of the heated one – your split ex – is that this blameworthy move always seems to take the dealer's bust card. Not so, Keith and ex-girlfriend. As long as the shuffle is randomized, improper play by others will just as likely help as hurt.

The person splitting 10s has no idea what the next card is, nor does your ex, so that poor play will have no consequence on the game in general. It's limited only to the splitter's wager. Splitter goes down in flames, but not necessarily anyone else.

Actually, one notable gaming author, John Scarne, in Scarne on Cards (1949), recommends splitting 10s, but that book was first published well before computers could analyze blackjack with multi-million-hand simulations.

There is, however, one time when it is proper basic strategy to split 10s and that is on a Face-Up Blackjack game. In Face-Up Blackjack, all the cards dealt are exposed, including both of the dealer's cards. Only here does correct strategy call for splitting 10s against a dealer's 13, 14, 15 or 16.

However, Keith, before seeking out the nearest Face-Up game to part those tens, ex might reflect on the fee involved. The casino edge on regular blackjack, using perfect basic strategy, is 0.4%. With Face-Up Blackjack, it's five times that, coming in at a neat 2.0% – reason being, in Face-Up you lose when you push (tie).

Dear Mark: At our twice-monthly poker game, we like to refer to your column about poker questions. Someone mentioned that about 15 years ago you wrote about how the sandwich was invented because of gambling. I couldn't find what you wrote online at our newspaper. Any chance you can recall the circumstances? Jeff B.

My God, Jeff. Two lines of food fodder, and more than a decade ago. Who remembers this stuff? Someone is hereby awarded Outstanding Trivialist of the Month.

I wrote that John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich (1718-1792), loved to gamble so much and so steadily he had his cortege bring him meats, bread and cheese so he wouldn't have to abandon the gambling parlors. Hence, the sandwich.

My source was Pierre Jean Grosley, who penned in his travel book, "Tour to London," the popular tale that bread and meat sustained Lord Sandwich at the gambling tables.

Now that you have incited a growling stomach as I close in on lunch, I'll share with you what I'm having today: My favorite, a Reuben sandwich. It also has some historical gambling significance.

Although the Reuben's place of origin is somewhat disputed, one account is that Reuben Kulakofsky, a grocer from Omaha, was its lead creator, along with a gang of his gambling cronies at Kulakofsky's weekly poker game. Nicknaming themselves "the committee," the group held court at the Blackstone hotel in the 1920s, and the hotel's owner, Charles Schimmel, also part of the group, decided to put their sandwich invention on the Blackstone's lunch menu. Bon Appetit.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "Some of the opponents you will encounter in poker games will be more ruthless than any casino in taking your money." --Jean Scott, More Frugal Gambling

Recent Articles
Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.