Choosing the best version of blackjack
By Henry Tamburin
Has this ever happened to you? You enter a casino to play blackjack and spot an empty seat at one blackjack table, and another at an adjacent table. Both tables have posted $10 minimum bets. The dealer on one table is dealing a double-deck game, pitching the cards to players face down. You glance at the placard that summarizes the rules and it states that the dealer hits soft 17 (H17) and doubling is allowed after pair splitting (DAS). On the adjacent table, the dealer is dealing the cards from a dealing shoe containing six decks, and the cards are dealt face up to players. Rules are dealers stand on all 17s (S17), doubling is allowed after pair splitting, and you can surrender (LS, or late surrender, meaning you can surrender your hand but only if the dealer doesn’t have a blackjack). To summarize, your choice of games is:
So, if you are a basic strategy player, which game would you play and why?
If you think the above is some kind of trick question, it isn’t. Nowadays, it’s common to walk in to any casino and have three, four, or more blackjack games being offered with different number of decks and rules. Think I’m kidding? Here’s the mix of blackjack games that I observed recently at the Cosmopolitan casino on the Strip (City Center) in Las Vegas:
• Double-deck with S17 and DAS
• Double-deck with H17 , DAS, and 6-5 payoffs for blackjack
• Six-Deck with S17, DAS, LS, and RSA (i.e., resplit aces allowed)
• Eight-Deck with H17, DAS, LS, and RSA
• Eight-Deck with H17, DAS, LS, RSA and 6-5 payoffs for blackjack
• Free-Bet Blackjack game dealt with six-decks, H17, and DAS
That’s quite a cornucopia of blackjack games in one casino, and you’ll find a similar mix in most other casinos. So let me get back to my original question; namely, which of the two blackjack games above would you play and why?
If you are a basic strategy player (not card counter), the best blackjack games are the ones that have the lowest house edge. (If you are not a basic strategy player and, instead, play by hunches, good luck because you will need it regardless of which game you play.)
So how do you know which of the two games has the lower house edge? You know the casino manager isn’t going to tell you (more than likely he doesn’t know anyway), and I wouldn’t trust the advice of a blackjack dealer or fellow player. No, it’s really your responsibility as a player to know which game has the lowest house edge. How do you get this information? There are several ways, and I’ll show you the two that I use when I’m faced with this dilemma.
1.Use the data in Tables A1 and C1 in the book Blackjack Attack: Playing the Pros’ Way by Don Schlesinger. These tables summarize the expected values (i.e., house edge) against the basic strategy player for different numbers of decks and rules. For example, Table A1 shows the basic strategy player faces a 0.38% house edge for the double-deck pitch game with H17 and DAS. For the six-deck game, the calculated house edge is 0.33% using the data in Tables A1 and C1.
2.Use the House Edge calculator on www.wizardofodds.com. Just go to the Blackjack page and in left margin click on House Edge Calculator. You’ll obtain the same house edges as you would using the data from the tables in BJA.
Bottom line: If you have a choice of playing either of these games – the double-deck with H17 and DAS vs. the six-deck with S17, DAS, and LS, the game with the lowest house edge is the six-deck game. (Surprised?)
The mix of playing rules, including the number of decks of cards, has an effect on the house edge. There are some great rules (that significantly lower the house edge), some good and bad rules, and some really bad rules, meaning this is a game you should not be playing. It’s important that you know which rules fall into each of these categories.
Great Rules (rarely offered except during a casino promotion)
• 2-1 payoff on Blackjack
• Five-Card Charlie Rule (automatically win with five cards as long as you don’t bust)
• Suited blackjack pays 2 to 1
• Player may double on any number of cards
Good Rules (common rules that are player-friendly)
• Early surrender against an ace and/or ten
• Player may double on any two cards
• Player may draw to split aces
• Player may resplit aces
• Player may double or stand after splitting aces
• Late surrender against 10 and ace
• Single and double decks
Bad Rules (too many of these rules make the game undesirable)
• Player may double on 9, 10, and 11 only
• Player may not split aces
• Dealer hits soft 17
• Doubling down after pair splitting not allowed
Really Bad Rules (run from any game with these rules)
• Blackjack pays 7-5
• Blackjack pays 6-5
• Blackjack pays even money
If you avoid the games with bad (and really bad)) rules, and stick to games that have mostly good rules, you will significantly improve your chances of winning more, or losing less, when you play blackjack.
Henry Tamburin, Ph.D. is the author of the Ultimate Guide to Blackjack (http://blog.888casino.com/casinoguides/ blackjack), editor of the Blackjack Insider e-Newsletter (www.bjinsider.com), lead instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack course, and host of smartgaming.com. For a free three-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter, go to www.bjinsider.com/freetrial. To receive his free catalog, call 1-888-353-3234 or visit www.smartgaming.com.