Splitting tens in blackjack is a high-EV play when done correctly, though many experts advise against it because the play can be a “tell” to casino employees that you’re a card counter. Here’s a good look at factors to consider when deciding on whether or not to make the play:
It's a situation-dependent decision. By situation, I mean the meta-game situation.
I usually assume that there is a maximum amount of money that I can win from a casino before they bar me for good. The trick is to figure out how to extract as much of this potential win as possible. Picture the casino as a mine. Depending on the place, it might be a huge gold mine or a tiny tin mine. The trick is to figure out the exact nature of the mine, and how you can best get as much of the good stuff out as possible. You also have to consider your time and effort here as well. If you are looking at a small tin mine, don't spend a lot of effort messing around with it. Either skip it entirely, or blast the heck out of it and pick up whatever is most easy to grab. For a huge, rich gold mine, a little more care is appropriate to ensure that you don't waste the potential gold during your value extraction. I find the following questions helpful to ask myself when deciding on the best approach to take in a given situation (in no particular order):
How much value can I glean from this place? Is this a high-potential place (good rules, high tolerance for action, good penetration, sloppy dealers, etc)?
What form will that value take for me? (comps, free play, cash back, promotional drawings, game winnings, etc.)? This question will be different for a nearby place where my significant other loves the suites and steakhouses, than it would be for a dump in the middle of nowhere, for example.
How is the casino defended? To use a sports analogy, I generally want to "take what the defense gives me.” What is their tolerance level for things like bet spread, maximum bet level, strange plays (per the count or based on hole card knowledge), etc.?
What is my cost per hour to play at this casino? Primarily depends on the amount of travel involved.
How much is my time worth? Do I need to take time off from my day job if I want to play more than one weekend at a time? How much do I make on a per-hour basis at my day job?
What is the potential for collateral damage when I inevitably get backed off? Is the casino a database participant (Current Blackjack News often has the answer to that)? This question will affect the decision of whether I play under my real name, among other considerations.
I ask myself all of the above questions, and then consider which approach is best to beat that specific casino. Some of the questions may result in an answer of "I don't know." That's fine. It just makes things a bit more challenging. But that said, I do everything possible to find out, by asking folks I know, etc.
I have some set approaches, including comp maximization, conservative, moderate and aggressive count strategies. Some combination of these "standard plays" usually works for most situations, but I also run simulations if I think I need something a little different. And getting back to the original topic, I have split tens a grand total of only four times in my life. Every time resulted in heat, and one resulted in an immediate back off before the next hand was dealt (it was the last hand of the deck and I was backed off before they finished the shuffle). That one eventually ended up costing me a great store. Therefore, I don't really like to split tens much.
LV Bear offers an opposing view: To me, ten splitting is too valuable a play to not have it in the toolbox. I split tens at most opportunities to correctly do so, often ending up with four hands at max bet. However, I will end the session after a ten split (or after doubling down on A,9) -- win, lose, or draw -- and make a prompt exit from the casino. Because I generally play anonymously, my hope is that with me leaving, the play is quickly out of the mind of whoever might otherwise be interested.
Originally published on bj21.com Green Chip, edited for this format.