Columnist

Which blackjack game do you want to play?

 
 
Published: 5/16/2008 12:12 AM

At any casino you walk into, the blackjack games will look about the same. But when it comes down to the nuts and bolts, each casino has its own personalized set of sub-rules. How many decks do they use? Can you double down after splits? Does the dealer stand or hit on soft 17? Can you re-split a pair of Aces if you catch a third Ace? Do they allow Surrender?

It's generally said that the house has a ½ percent advantage over a perfect basic strategy player at blackjack, but this is just a rule of thumb. Actually, it can vary from about 0.20 percent to 0.75 percent for standard blackjack games, depending upon the exact rules in force.

If you're a bad player, it won't matter that much which game you play because you'll be giving away a couple full extra percentage points to the house on top of their initial advantage anyway. But if you know your correct basic plays, your actual net disadvantage can be cut in half if you stick to the good games. If you're a $25 bettor who plays once a week for three hours per session, that's likely to make a $1,000 difference your way at the end of the year!

Stereotype Blackjack: The most typical blackjack game will be dealt with a six deck shoe and the dealer will stand on soft 17. You'll also be able to double down on split pairs, re-split them out to four hands -- and that's about it. With this setup, the house will have a 0.43 percent advantage over a proper basic strategy player.

If you can find one additional player-friendly rule on top of those, such as re-split Aces or Surrender, your disadvantage will be only 0.35 percent.

Now if instead of adding good rules to the standard set, the dealer hits on soft 17 and it's an eight-deck shoe, they'll have you by 0.67 percent.

Hand-held Blackjack: Since fewer decks are known to be better for the player, some casinos pull the wool over your eyes by offering a double deck game with "tight" rules. If they hit soft 17, don't allow double after splits and restrict doubling down to hands of 10 or 11 only, the house has a 0.75 percent basic strategy advantage! You'll probably find these games packed with sheep who flock to play blackjack with only two decks, but you'll know better. Don't get sucked into games just because they're double deck. Know the rules.

Single deck blackjack used to be the dream game, but not anymore. Most single deck games today pay only 6-to-5 on blackjack, making it the worst blackjack deal just about anywhere. Depending upon the rest of the rules involved, 6-to-5 single deck puts the basic strategy player at roughly a 1.60 percent disadvantage!

If you want to trim the house edge to the bone, places in Vegas like the Bellagio, Mirage and Treasure Island have double deck games with the typical six deck rules (stand soft 17, double after split), bringing your basic strategy disadvantage down to 0.20 percent! Mandalay Bay and MGM have six deck games with those same standard rules -- plus you can re-split Aces out to four hands and you can Surrender. That starts you out at just a 0.27 percent disadvantage.

The list below tells you how much each rule change will increase or decrease the house edge from the standard six deck rule set.

8 decks +.03%

2 decks -.23%

1 deck -.57%

6-to-5 B/J +1.40%

No dbl aft spl +.14%

Dbl 10/11 only +.20%

Hit soft 17 +.20%

Re-split Aces -.08%

Surrender -.08%

In most cases, each rule means only a little. But if you can group two or three good rules together, it can make a serious difference in your game.