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Blackjack is attractive to players as a simple game that allows you to have a high level control over the outcome. It can be a risky game with a house edge as high as 10%, but at a carefully chosen table and with the right strategic choices, this edge can be as low as 0.62%. If you’re really lucky with the house rules, it could even be 0%.
The key to developing a good strategy is understanding how the different rules affect your decision-making process. Here you can find European and American rule variations, as well as some different house rules, the way in which they affect the house edge, and how to improve your advantage.
The more decks used in the shoe (where the cards are dealt from), the greater the house edge. This is because more decks makes card counting harder. The player also wins fewer blackjacks (an opening deal of an ace with any ten-point card) and has less powerful double downs, which is the opportunity to double your original bet if you think your hand will beat the dealer’s.
In general, European blackjack uses two decks, and American blackjack between four and eight. However, to compensate for the change in odds caused by lower deck numbers, casinos frequently lower the blackjack payout or apply unfavourable rules to increase the house edge. As a result, European blackjack has a few rules that don't act to the player's advantage.
At most American blackjack tables, the payout for hitting blackjack is 3/2, meaning a £10 bet would return £25 (including the original stake). If you’re very lucky, you might find a game that pays out 2/1 on blackjack.
At some tables, the payout is reduced to 6/5, meaning a £10 bet would return £22 (including the original stake). The difference may not sound like much, but settling for a table with 6/5 payouts can increase the house edge by 1.39%.
While it is a common feature at American blackjack tables, the strategic advantage of a surrender is often overlooked, particularly by players who believe that fortune favours the brave, and enjoy chasing lost causes.
The surrender option allows you to admit defeat after your initial two cards are dealt. When you surrender, you forfeit just 50% of your original stake instead of the full amount, which is particularly useful when the dealer’s up card is an ace, face card or ten and you have a hand of 15, 16 or 17. In fact, if you play this right you can lower the house edge by up to 0.1%.
The rules on whether a player can double down vary across both European and American blackjack. In general, European blackjack restricts the player’s ability to double down to hands with a total of nine, ten or 11, while American blackjack allows a double down on any total.
Restricting the double down will add around 0.09% to the house edge, as it prevents a potentially profitable doubling on a start card of values up to nine when facing a weak dealer hand.
In European blackjack, the dealer is dealt one card face up, and only receives the second card after the player hand is complete. In American blackjack, the dealer receives the second card – the "hole" card – face down immediately, and can peek if blackjack is a possibility.
This might seem like a minor difference, but the absence of the hole card increases the house edge by 0.11%, as the player may double or split before realising they’re up against blackjack. The results of this can be supervised by playing conservatively against potential blackjack hands.
Splitting means dividing the pair of cards you were originally dealt into two separate hands, and adding a second stake that's equal to the first to back the second hand. It’s a way to take advantage of a weaker dealer card.
Some blackjack versions don’t allow you to double after a split, which increases the house edge by 0.14%, or don’t allow ace re-splits, which increases the house edge by 0.18%. If these restrictions are in place, there isn’t much you can do in response.
One thing that’s always worth remembering when approaching the blackjack table is that European blackjack will always force the dealer to hit on a soft 17, which is a hand containing an ace with a value totalling seven or 17. This is bad news for players, as the dealer is more likely to win an improved hand when they hit rather than stand, increasing the house edge by an average of 0.2%.
Although you can’t respond to this strategy, you can learn from it. Standing on a hard 17 (a hand totalling 17 without an ace) is a good strategy, but remember to always hit on a soft 17.
A blackjack game can vary hugely across continent and casino, so when sitting down to play, remember to adapt your strategy to match the house rules and lower its advantage. For a wide range of blackjack games and rule variations, visit InterCasino today.
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