When you are looking to play blackjack, are all tables the same? In short, absolutely not! Different games can offer different payouts, different side bet options, and drastically different rules. Can you double down on any two cards? What about splitting more than once? You need to know all of the rules of the game you are sitting at to maximize your value.
This is where the casino can really maximize its edge without the players taking notice. Casinos used to have a set rule that said they would stand on any seventeen. Then some mathematician figured out that if you forced the house to hit on soft seventeen (a seventeen featuring an ace that can be used as an eleven or a one) it increased the house advantage by .22%. Many players mistakenly think that the dealer hitting on a soft seventeen is to their advantage. It is not.
Doubling down on any two cards is another rule that has evolved over the years in the house’s favor.
It used to be that you could double down on any two cards. Now many casinos only allow you to double down on any ten or eleven. This is a rule that seems like it shouldn’t matter too much, but it does. Not being able to double down in a situation where the house is likely to bust can cost you value. The ability to double down after splitting is another variation that can add value to your bet.
How many times you are able to split pairs is another rule that has wide variation. In a standard blackjack game, you are only allowed to split pairs one time. Get two aces and envision two blackjacks, only to get derailed when a third ace peels off?
Most casinos won’t allow you to split them again. This is a major disadvantage, as in almost all scenarios that you would choose to split the original pair, you would want to spilt them again if given the opportunity. Some places also allow you only one card per ace on spilt aces; this is a rule that can really drag down your expected value.
Playing more than one hand is another rule that can vary from casino to casino. Most casinos will allow you to play one additional hand if you bet at least double the table minimum. They give in a little bit in order to get a higher level of action.
Playing multiple hands isn’t an inherent advantage for the player, but if you are a savvy player that pays close attention to what cards have come out and what cards may still be in the deck, it can be to your advantage to see as many cards per hand as possible. This is especially true in single- and double-deck games.
The payouts a specific game offers on a blackjack is the single biggest difference there can be between two blackjack games. The standard payout for a blackjack used to be 3-2. Now the standard payout is 6-5. For the average player, those numbers seem to be about the same.
But when you look at it in terms of long-term house advantage, like the casino does, it equates to almost a 2% increase in the house take.
That is a giant number that can be the difference between being a profitable player and being a losing player. 3-2 games aren’t extinct, but they can be hard to find these days. Usually, you will have to play higher limits with restricted rules in order to get a 3-2 game.
I would say you should only be playing at a 3-2 table, but sadly in many places you just can’t find one anymore.
The various side bets a game can offer are pretty much endless. I would like to first caution all of you that blackjack side bets are generally not great bets. They are added to the game to add value for the house on a game that has tight margins. Some blackjack side bets are downright awful propositions that should never be bet, while others can be a fun little sweat to add to what can sometimes be a boring game.
Match the Dealer is a side bet that pays out odds if one or both of your first two cards match the dealer’s up card. This is a fun little add-on to the game that has a house hold percentage of between 3%-5%. The payouts range anywhere from 3-1 for a non-suited match all the way up to 19-1 on a suited match, depending on how many decks are in play. You can find this side bet at many casinos.
King’s Bounty is a side bet where you are betting on what type of twenty you are going to get. Get a non-suited twenty, and you get paid out 2 to 1. Get two kings of spades, and get paid out 1000-1! As a general rule, the bigger the potential payout on a side bet, the worse the bet is for the player. The big shiny number up top that attracts the fish is almost never good for the savvy player.
21+3 is a side bet that has found some success in the Midwest and South gambling regions. This game combines blackjack with 3-card poker. You take your first two cards and add in the dealer’s first up card and make a 3-card poker hand out of it; that then pays odds for hands like straights and flushes.
While most blackjack side bets have something to do with the game, this one is completely independent of the game itself.
This side bet offers huge odds-based payouts, and as I mentioned above, the bigger the payout, the worse the bet, so stay away from 21+3.
Buster Blackjack is a game where you make a bet on whether or not the dealer busts. If the dealer busts in three or four cards, you get paid out 2-1. If the dealer busts in eight cards, you can expect a payout of 250-1! This is a fun side bet that won’t kill your expected value on the game. The dealer busts an average of 27% of the time, so your money will always be staying in circulation and not waiting for a giant odds-based payout like 21+3 or King’s Bounty.
I could go on all day about the various blackjack side bets, and there are new ones coming out every day. Just remember that if the house adds a bet to a blackjack table, they are doing it to increase their hold percentage, not to be player friendly. They can be fun and exciting, but just make sure that you know what you are getting into when you place a side bet.
Single-deck blackjack is a variation that is also starting to disappear from most casinos. The days of getting a single-deck game of blackjack paying 3-2 odds are over. It can be nearly impossible to find a single-deck game outside of games with very high limits these days. Double-deck has even become increasingly rare as the standard has shifted to six- or eight-deck shoes, and even an endless shoe in some cases.
In reality, the amount of decks you are playing with doesn’t really matter for the average player. If you are a savvy card counter, you would love a single-deck or double-deck game. If you are an average player, there really isn’t any major disadvantage to playing with multiple decks.
Many novice players actually prefer playing from a shoe, as the game moves much faster without having to wait for the dealer to shuffle after every hand, and having multiple decks allows for fun and exciting side bets like King’s Bounty.
As you can see, not all blackjack tables are alike. If you are a player that is looking for maximum value, try to scout out a table with as few decks as possible and a 3-2 blackjack payout. If you are a novice player just looking for some fun, seek out an endless shoe game that keeps the action going and offers huge side-bet payouts!
The best thing to do is ask the pit boss what the rules are for your specific game so you can make the most informed decisions possible. Good luck, and have fun at the tables!