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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

Which Blackjack Games Should You Play In?

19 September 2008

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 little 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% 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% to 0.75% 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 basic ½% advantage anyway. But if you know your correct basic plays, your actual net disadvantage can cut up to half of that away if you stick to the good games. For a $25 bettor who plays once a week for three hours per session, that's likely to make a $1000 difference at the end of the year. Let's review the blackjack games you might run into at your local casino.

Typical 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% 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%.

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%.

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% basic strategy advantage. As bad as this game is, you'll probably find them 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.

Now, 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% disadvantage. 6-to-5 blackjack is a no-no!

Great Blackjack: 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), which bring your basic strategy disadvantage down to 0.20%. This is about as good as it gets. 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% disadvantage, another very good game.

Also, a few casinos in Tunica and Biloxi Mississippi are known to still have a few 3-to-2 single deck blackjack games. A great gamble.

The list below tells you how much each rule change will raise or lower the house edge compared to the standard six-deck rule set. Just add or subtract the appropriate percentages to find out where your local game stands.

8 decks+.03%
2 decks-.23%
1 deck-.57%
6-to-5 blackjack+1.39%
No double after split+.14%
Double on 10 or 11 only    +.20%
Hit soft 17+.21%
Re-split aces-.07%
Surrender-.08%

In most cases, each rule means only a little (except the 6-to-5 clinker, even when it's combined with single deck). But if you can group two or three good rules together, it can be a serious help to your game.

Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send $9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

Books by Fred Renzey:

> More Books By Fred Renzey

Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send $9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

Books by Fred Renzey:

> More Books By Fred Renzey