A key reason for the enduring popularity of blackjack is the low house edge. This can vary from 0.26% for the single deck game, through to around 0.50% for 8-deck games. With a house edge this low, your money can go a long way – hopefully including some big winning streaks.
However, you need to be vigilant. Many casinos, both live and online introduce seemingly small rules changes which tip the odds in their favor. For example, a small restriction on the cards which you can double can add .01% to their long-term edge.
This page highlights the rules which can work against you so that you know what to look for before you play. First up, the payouts for player blackjack are considered. Next, dealer rules on whether to hit or stand on a soft 17 is discussed. Rules of splitting, then doubling also affect your edge and these are covered below. After that some more niche rules which have a massive advantage for the house are outlined- before a final word of warning about the side bets available in many games.
If you hit a blackjack (21 in your first 2 cards) and the dealer does not, then that particular hand ends for you and you are paid a premium of 3:2, or $15 for every $10 bet. This is the default on which the lower house edge for blackjack games is calculated.
Some games give you a lower payout, for example 6:5 is common and even money can also be found. Since blackjack does not come along all too often, you might think that this only has a small effect on the house edge. In reality, the difference is big. The 6:5 payout increases the house edge by 1.39% and the 1:1 payout increases it by a staggering 2.4%.
A soft 17 is an Ace and Six in two cards, or combinations of 3 cards also containing an ace. You will see the rules the dealer must follow written on the felt, and the ideal is a game where the dealer stands on 17. If the dealer rules allow a hit, you will find another 0.22% added to the house edge. Remember that this is cumulative with any other negative rules.
There are three types of splitting rule which will increase the house edge. The first is to allow you to split only twice – you can split your original paired hand, then once more if dealt another pair. This rule adds a small though significant 0.14% to the house edge, while restricting 3 splits adds a tiny 0.01%. The next negative blackjack splitting rule to watch out for is that no doubling is allowed after a split, which adds another 0.14%. Third, some games do not let you split aces adding yet another 0.18%.
Doubling rules also add up to a bigger house edge for the casino if you are not careful. The most common is to only allow doubles on 10 or 11. This increased the house edge by 0.2%, adding a 9 to this is a little more favorable, though still negative to the player to the tune of 0.9%.
Here is a negative blackjack variation it can pay to stay alert to. Some casinos stipulate ties with certain scores are counted as wins for the dealer instead of a push. This rule gets progressively worse for the player as the number of ‘losing ties’ increases. The dealer winning a 17 tie gives the casino and extra edge of 1.87%, add 18 and this is 3.58%, add 19 to get to 5.3% and 20 gets you to a crazy 8.38% house edge. You’d simply be throwing money away by playing in a game with those rules.
There is one more ‘tie’ rule which is even worse for your winning chances. Sometimes you’ll find games where a dealer 22 bust is counted as a ‘push’ regardless of the player winning the hand. The effect of the house edge is massive, with an increase in 9.53%.
Even if you find a ‘good game’ with the smallest number of decks and favorable player rules there are opportunities to give the house more of your money. First are the various side bets like Perfect Pairs and Progressive Jackpot Blackjack. You’ll need to balance the chances of getting a big win with the extra cash you are handing to the house while playing these games.
Most important of all is the extra edge you give to the house by playing incorrectly compared to the mathematically correct strategy for your particular game. Make sure you know exactly when to split, double and hit before you play to keep the negative edge to the minimum possible.