John Grochowski, Gaming Guru

In blackjack, the more options available in house rules, the better for the player - if you know what you're doing. Far better to be allowed to double down on any first two cards than to be restricted to hard totals of 10 or 11, and better to be allowed to resplit pairs than to have to stop after one split. After splitting 8-8, you want to be able to split again if dealt another 8.

But if you don't know basic strategy, then sometimes more restrictive rules can save you some money.

One late Monday night in Las Vegas, I was playing blackjack head-to-head with the dealer until a younger couple joined me. They were in their late 20s or early 30s, and obviously had already had a few drinks before they asked the cocktail waitress for a couple of beers.

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"How's Kim been treating you," the man said, noting the name on the dealer's badge.

"Not bad," I replied. "You win some, you lose some."

Before long, the man was dealt a pair of 10-value cards, while the dealer had a 6. He split. I didn't react at all. It's a poor play, but the poor play of others is going to help me as often as it hurts me.

On the first hand, he drew an 8 for 18, then he drew another 10.

"Can I split these, too?" he asked.

The dealer told him he could. House rules allowed up to three splits for a total of four hands.

"Great," he said. "Where we were playing before, they wouldn't let me split again."

He drew another 10, and split again, giving him the maximum of four hands. On the three remaining to be played, he drew a 4, a 6 and another 10, so he had hands of 18, 14, 16 and 20 in play against Kim's 6.

Dealer Kim turned up a 7, for a two-card 13. Then she drew a 4, giving her 17. The 10-splitter won on the 20 and the18, but lost on the 14 and 16.

"Well, at least I broke even," he said.

His partner chimed in, "That's like a win so far tonight."

Some might note that had the splitter stood on his original 20, he'd have won instead of just breaking even. You might also note that had he split his pair just once, he'd have had 20 and 18 and won two bets

But that's all short-term talk. On any one hand, anything can happen. With repeated play, the odds of the game drive long-term results so that those who split 10s against 6s win only about half as much money, while taking on twice the risk. Every additional split takes on additional risk in the form of added wagers, while decreasing the overall profit on the hand.

Given that long-term reality, the couple would have been better off had they stayed at the casino that didn't allow resplits. Rules that give players options are beneficial to players, but only if players know how to use them.

When the casino allows resplits, it's giving a bit of the house's natural edge on blackjack back to players who know how to use the option. For basic strategy players, if splitting once is the proper play, than so is resplitting if you pair up again.

But for players who split 10s, like the couple who joined me that night, or who split 6s against 7s or make any other off-the-chart splits, resplitting gives an extra edge to the house. It's an option they'd be better off without.

Gambling author and columnist John Grochowskis weekly newspaper column began at the Chicago Sun-Times and is now syndicated nationally. He also regularly makes TV and radio appearances about gambling. His column appears weekly.

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