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Look Before You Leap in Blackjack

Know the rules of the game before you sit down to play Blackjack games

By Henry Tamburin


Don’t sit down and play at any table until you know what the playing rules are. Otherwise, you might be playing a game with a higher than expected house edge.


I recently received two emails from disgruntled blackjack players who claimed they were misinformed by the casino about the playing rules. In one case, a player was playing a double-deck game in a New York casino and was dealt a pair of 4s against a dealer 6 upcard. He split the 4s, and on the first 4 he got a 7 (for an 11), so he attempted to double down. The dealer then told him he couldn’t double down because the “house rules” would not permit it on the double-deck game.

The player complained to the pit supervisor to no avail. He was very upset because there weren’t any posted rules on the table that stated you couldn’t double down after pair splitting in the double-deck game. (The casino’s six- and eight-deck games allowed double down after pair splitting.)

Another player became upset when he sat down at a single-deck game in a Midwest casino, and after an hour of playing, realized that he was being paid only 6-5 for a blackjack (instead of the traditional 3-2). Again, he stated there wasn’t any signage stating that blackjacks were going to be paid at 6-5.

These two incidents emphasize what I have been preaching to blackjack players for a long time: Don’t sit down and play at any table until you know what the playing rules are. Otherwise, you might be playing a game with a higher than expected house edge. This is important, because not all blackjack games are the same nowadays.

Blackjack Games

Here’s an example to prove my point. I recently strolled through the new Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas and found these blackjack games being offered:

Single-deck, h17, das, 6-5

Double-deck, h17, das, 3-2

Double-deck, h17, das, 6-5

Six-deck, s17, ds, ls, rsa, 3-2

Six-deck Blackjack Switch, h17

Eight-deck h17, das, ls, rsa, 3-2

Spanish 21, h17

(Note: h17 = dealer hits soft 17; s17 = dealer stands on soft 17; das = double down after pair splitting allowed; rsa = players may resplit aces; ls = late surrender; 6-5 = untied player blackjacks are paid at 6-5; 3-2 = untied player blackjacks are paid at 3-2.)

Which blackjack game at the Cosmopolitan do you think has the lowest house edge? (I’ll give you the answer shortly.)

The point is that the playing rules on blackjack games are often different from one table to the next and from one casino to the next, so it’s up to you to know, before you buy in and play, what the rules are. Here are some tips on how to accomplish this.

If you are going to Las Vegas, you are in luck because the first place you should check is the Blackjack Survey on You’ll find a table that lists all the Las Vegas casinos (in alphabetical order) with the rules for their blackjack games (# of decks, whether it’s s17 or h17, and whether das, rsa, or ls is allowed). The table also lists the house edge for each game (the lower the better), and the minimum and maximum betting limits (handy for a player looking for a low-stakes game). The table lists only games that pay 3-2 for a blackjack (meaning, any blackjack game that pays 6-5, or worse, even money, is not listed because they are sucker games).

Another option is to subscribe to Current Blackjack News ( This newsletter lists the rules and playing conditions not only for Las Vegas but for casinos in the U.S. and Canada. (They use paid reporters, who visit their assigned casinos and report on the playing conditions.) The cost for the web version (download) of the newsletter is $99 for 12 issues or $45 for three issues. There is also the option of purchasing a single issue for $15 (download) or $18 (mailed). (Since you are steered to the best blackjack games, you can easily save the cost of one or more issues when you play.)

I’m going to humbly propose another option: a subscription to my Blackjack Insider e-Newsletter. In each issue, we have several (paid) reporters who report on playing conditions in different casinos in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and elsewhere. In addition, these “field reports” are archived on our web site and are available to members 24/7. A one-year BJI membership costs $19.95. (You can also order a free, three-month trial subscription at

The last piece of advice I will offer you is this: If you don’t see any signage on the table summarizing the rules, ask the dealer what they are before you buy in. Be sure the game doesn’t pay 6-5 (or worse, even money) for a blackjack. If it’s a double-deck game, check that double down after pair splitting is allowed. If it’s a six- or eight-deck game, ideally the rules should be s17, das, with ls and/or rsa. If you want to be smart player and win more money, play only blackjack games with the best rules, and correspondingly, the lowest house edge.

Note: So which game at the Cosmopolitan casino did you pick? Of all the blackjack games that they offer, the six-deck Blackjack Switch game with das has the lowest house edge (but this assumes you know the switching and the basic playing strategy for this game), at 0.16%. The game with the next-lowest house edge is the traditional six-deck game with s17, ds, ls, and rsa (albeit the stakes are high at $100 per hand) at 0.26%. (You could have gleaned this information from the above references.)

————————————————————————————————————-Tamburin Tip of the Month

How would you play this hand?


Some soft hands make good double downs but this is not one of them. If you hit soft 14 against a dealer’s 3 upcard, you are the favorite to win; however, if you double down instead, you are virtually even with the dealer (meaning you lost your advantage). Just remember that doubling soft 14 against a dealer 3 is a bad double, and that your best play is to hit.


Henry Tamburin is the editor of Blackjack Insider Newsletter (, the lead instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack Course (, and host of For a free three-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter, go to To receive his free Casino Gambling Catalog, call 1-888-353-3234 or visit

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