A wide range of casino games is available to players, but blackjack is in a class of its own. This game and its many variants is enjoyed around the world from Las Vegas to Atlantic City, Monte Carlo and beyond. It’s the allure of big money that draws players to blackjack and it’s the fact that skill can be incorporated into the game that makes it so enticing.
Blackjack is certainly one of the easier games to learn. Players are tasked with beating the dealer without exceeding 21. Blackjack professionals have earned their stripes with impressive winning records that speak volumes about the skill element in the game. When played with perfect strategy, players can reduce the house edge to a negligible value.
The overarching objective of professional blackjack players is to use skill, strategy and playing smarts to lower the house edge to 0.5%.
To achieve the above in blackjack you also have to find games that offer favourable rules to players. This is because even seemingly harmless rule changes can have a big impact on your profits. Here are the most important rules you need to look for when you’re playing blackjack.
3:2 Blackjack Payouts
The biggest rule that players should look for is 3:2 payouts for natural blackjacks. As long as you find 3:2 payouts, you will be earning $15 profit for every $10 bet when your first two cards add up to 21. On the other hand, you want to avoid 6:5 blackjack payouts like the plague because they add an extra 1.4% to the house edge. This being said, you might wonder why people even play blackjack games with 6:5 payouts. And the answer is that this rule is usually slipped in with single deck blackjack, which still carries a 1.2% house edge with 6:5 payouts included.
The fewer decks you’re playing with in blackjack, the better chance you have to beat the casino. The majority of casinos run either 6 or 8 deck blackjack because it gives them a greater house edge. However, you can also find less decks offered at some casinos, which lowers the house edge quite a bit. Here is a look at the house edge with different deck amounts (assuming other favorable rules are in place):
8 decks – 0.43%
6 decks – 0.40%
4 decks – 0.35%
2 decks – 0.18%
Single deck – 0.18% edge for player
As mentioned before, you have to be careful when less decks are offered because casinos will try to slip the 6:5 blackjack payouts into the game; when this happens, you are better off sticking to 6 or 8 deck blackjack.
Dealer Stands on Soft 17
Another rule that benefits the player is when blackjack dealers have to stand on a soft 17 (A and 6) because it prevents them from improving soft hands to 18 or better. All blackjack tables feature a sign that says whether or not dealers hit or stand on soft 17. If the dealer is allowed to hit with a soft 17, it gives them a 0.22% higher edge over players. Much like 6:5 payouts, dealers are often allowed to hit on a soft 17 when fewer decks are used.
Double Down after Splitting
While the majority of casinos don’t allow players to double down after splitting a pair, this rule is advantageous when it’s allowed. For example, let’s say that you are dealt a pair of 8’s and split against the dealer’s upcard of 5; if you receive a 3 with the first hand and have a total of 11, you would be making money long-term by doubling down here. Assuming casinos allow you to double down after splitting, the house edge goes down by another 0.13%.
It’s always nice when you can re-split aces because this gives you the option to make more good hands. On the other hand, you can get stuck with some pretty bad cards when casinos don’t allow you to re-split aces. For example, if you split a pair of aces, and were dealt another ace, you would have a 12, which is one of the worst blackjack hands out there. When you’re able to re-split aces, you knock the house edge down by another 0.08%.
Some casinos allow players to do a late surrender, where the dealer checks for a blackjack, and if they don’t have one, players can surrender half of their bet to get out of the hand. For example, if your first two cards totaled 12 against the dealer’s upcard of 10, you could surrender $5 of your original $10 bet and get out of the hand. You can gain a small advantage with this rule, assuming you only surrender in optimal situations.
Looking at things from a broad perspective, it’s to your advantage to search for the aforementioned rules in a blackjack game. Just keep in mind that you won’t find all of them in the same game because this would give players the edge over casinos. But as long as you can play with 3:2 blackjack payouts and the dealer has to stand on a soft 17, you’ll be facing a pretty small house edge.
European Casino Rules for Blackjack
Remember that there are 2 distinct blackjack styles. These include American Blackjack and European Blackjack. The nuances of these games necessitate a better understanding of each. For European Blackjack, casinos typically follow these rules:
- Equal value cards can be split, but not split again.
- It is possible to double down after you split your cards.
- When Aces are split, players are only allowed to draw for 1 more card.
- Players are only allowed to double down when a hand’s value is between 9 and 11.
The European casino rules for blackjack are far stricter than one might imagine. It is not possible to split twice. Further, European Casino Rules are rigid for doubling down, since the permissible hand values are between 9 and 11.
Las Vegas Casino Rules for Blackjack
Las Vegas Casino rules for blackjack fall under the general umbrella of American Blackjack rules. There are typically 2 styles of American blackjack – Las Vegas blackjack and Atlantic City blackjack. For Las Vegas Casino Blackjack, the following rules are in effect:
- It is possible for players to double down on any combination of cards.
- Players can double down after splitting pairs.
- Players can split with any pair, and even re-split if more pairs are dealt. The only exception to this rule is with split Aces where one cannot split again and are only allowed to draw once.
Take note that Las Vegas casino rules differ tremendously from European casino rules. The major difference comes from the fact that you can double down with any initial combination of your cards. It is also possible to re-split after splitting, if you're dealt more pairs. There are similarities between the two, including the fact that you're allowed to split Aces once, and hit with them once.
Atlantic City Casino Rules for Blackjack
Atlantic City Blackjack or East Coast Blackjack is the other popular American Blackjack style. These are the rules of Atlantic City Casino blackjack games:
- Players can split any pair.
- Re-splitting pairs is not allowed.
- Doubling down is allowed after splitting.
With Atlantic City blackjack rules, players can double down with any pair, and it's possible to double down after splitting cards too. The difference between Atlantic City blackjack and Las Vegas blackjack rules is that players are not able to re-split pairs.
The differences between European Blackjack, Atlantic City Blackjack and Las Vegas Blackjack are notable. For the American Blackjack variants, the dealer checks for blackjack any time that the face-up card has a 10 value or higher. In the event that the dealer hits blackjack, the game is over and players will not be allowed to take any further action. This is contrast to European blackjack, where players can split/double down on their hand before the dealer checks for blackjack. In the event the dealer does not have blackjack, players who split or double down will lose their bets.