Blackjack is one of the most popular card games in the world, and a big favourite for online casino gamers. The game itself is a very simple one, where you put yourself up against the dealer and one of you will be deemed the winner of each hand that you play.
However, underlying the simplicity of this game, many aspects have an impact on the game. Understanding these, and forming how you play based on them is the real key to success as a blackjack player, allowing you to put as much in your favour as possible.
The house edge is one of those, the house edge is in very simple terms, is the statistical edge that the casino has over the player. This ensures that over a long period, the casino will win. However, depending on you and how you play, as well as any specific rules attached to the game, the house edge can change. When you are playing, you want the house edge to be as small as it can be, which means you are on an equal playing field against the dealer, rather than at a very small disadvantage.
Here we will take a look at the house edge and the odds of blackjack before taking a look at the rule changes which have an impact on the house edge and explain if they make it better for the player, or better for the casino.
What is the Basic House Edge?
The blackjack house edge is all based on your strategy and how you play. If you are an average player, using basic blackjack strategies while playing your game, the house edge is classed as being around 0.5%.
If the strategy is played well, or a player uses more advanced blackjack strategies to beat the dealer, that figure would be closer to zero, because you are playing as effectively as you possibly can. The same happens in the opposite direction though, if you don’t use any blackjack strategies, or you are not implementing your strategy correctly on every hand then the house edge will rise, this can go up to around 2%.
As you can see, this is all based around you and how you play the game, rather than any rule changes yet, which will further change things even more. This shows how important it is like a blackjack player to understand the probabilities of blackjack, and what you should be doing on each hand if you want to give yourself the best chance of winning against the dealer.
Is It Possible to Reduce the House Edge?
The good news is that you can reduce the house edge by yourself, without relying on rule changes to do so. However, to do this, you need to be a very good player and implement a very strong and advanced blackjack strategy.
Perhaps the best of all, but certainly the most complicated is card counting, though this is something that many players struggle with. If you are a new player then focus on a simple strategy and ensure you are implementing it correctly. When you do this, that should put you in a good place to be around the 0.5% house edge mark.
It is from here that you can implement more advanced strategies with the hope of lowering the house edge even further, to stack the odds even more in your favour. This is where things get a little complicated, and where practice and time to learn is needed, but when you look at the probabilities, if you are going to play a lot of blackjack then it is certainly worth your time and effort.
Blackjack Rule Variants That Affect the House Edge
Alongside your ability to play the game and implement a strategy, the rules you play will have an impact on the house edge you have inside a game. Many people do not realise this, and often don’t see just how big the changes are but this is an incredibly important aspect of blackjack gaming.
Just like when you play this game, other casino games, poker, or even bet on sports, you should always be on the lookout for the best deal. With some variations of blackjack rules, if you play this game you are not giving yourself the best deal, so try and play the games that give you the best chance, if it’s possible.
Here is a look at some of the more common rule variants with the game of blackjack, and how they affect the house edge in your game.
Hit or Stand a Soft 17
In terms of the rules that can slightly change a game of blackjack, the soft 17 rule is perhaps one of the most popular of them. First of all, a soft 17 is one where the ace is in play and valued at 11. This could technically be a hand totalling 7 rather than 17 if you choose to change the ace to 1.
In standard games, the value given to this hand would be 17, and that would mean that the dealer would have to stand with that. If the dealer has to hit on a soft 17, rather than stand as normal, the house edge is higher, with the difference being around 0.2%. This means if you are playing with basic strategies and executing them well, your house edge would increase from 0.5% up to 0.7%.
If you take a look at the rules that many online casinos have in place, you will see that many of them use the hit soft 17 rule, which will increase the house edge. If a casino doesn’t use this rule, the chances are that they use another rule to increase the house edge as they try to get an advantage of their players. This also shows the importance of comparing all of the rules in place, not just looking at them singularly.
The change may only be a small one, but this is certainly a rule that adds something to the dealer’s side and makes the game a little tougher for players.
The Number of Decks in Play
First of all, it is important to note here that the standard online casino rules will play a game with a total of eight decks in play. The fewer decks we have, the better things are for the player. However, just as we mentioned above, this is often offset by other rules which swing things back in the favour of the casino.
For example, some casinos will play a single deck game, which really swings things in the favour of the player but then to balance things out again, the casino will implement further rules that affect the house edge negatively.
If you are looking for a game then look for one that has fewer than eight decks in play, and that also have few or no other rules that are disadvantageous to the house edge. These games may not always be available, or they may be withdrawn are a certain period of time, but if you see games like this one, in terms of getting good value and have the best chance of winning, they are right up there with the best on offer.
The fewer decks in play, the better your chances and the smaller the house edge that is in play.
The payout for Natural Blackjack
This is all about payouts on the game, specifically when you get a blackjack win. The standard payout for this is 3:2, which is better than the normal payout wins, which are usually even money. However, not every casino will pay 3:2 on blackjack, some will pay 6:5 while some others will only pay the standard even money payout.
As you can imagine, these lower payouts will certainly affect the house edge and put it more in favour of the casino, rather than the player. A payout for natural blackjack of 6:5 will increase the house edge by 1.4%. If the payout is down to just even money, the increase in the house edge then becomes huge at 2.3%. When you add in the rough guide of 0.5% for the house edge for regular players, you are looking at an edge of almost 3% if you play the game with even money payouts for natural blackjack.
Many people will look at the difference in natural blackjack payout and not think about it affecting the whole game. However, that could not be further away from the truth, this has a big impact on the house edge, especially if the casino offers even money payouts for natural blackjack so it is certainly something to look out for.
We have already spoken about the way that casinos can offer something positive but then take it away by adding in something else. This is a prime example of what casinos may add if they give you a benefit elsewhere. For example, you may get the benefit of a single deck game as we have mentioned above, but then the loss of a good natural blackjack payout, which will increase the house edge back up.
This is one of the more complex aspects of blackjack gaming, the rules for splitting doubles are not always easy to understand. A good general rule to have in mind is that if these rules are liberal, they are better for players.
The rules we often see means that split hands that aren’t aces can only be hit by players, and they cannot be doubled down on. If a player can double down on split hands, the house edge is decreased a little. The ability to split aces is important for players, some blackjack games will give both ace and 10-point card hands the same treatment as naturals, which means they are paid out at more favourable odds.
Standard rules will say that split aces receive one more card, and then they have to stand. If the standard rules are not in play, and a player can hit hands of split cases, the house edge will then be reduced by 0.13%. If aces can be split, the house edge is reduced by 0.03%, so a much smaller decrease in the edge.
What these rules show is that if there are more restrictions on your game and the potential to split your hand, the house edge is likely to be higher.
Points to Remember
The key to remember in all of this is that these rules can all have an impact on the house edge and that you each one will affect the edge by a fixed amount. However, although completely separate, and able to affect the game in different ways, you can only truly judge your blackjack game when you look at the rules in full, together to see what is being added and what is taken away.
For example, the ability to lower the edge by playing a game with a single deck, or fewer decks than the standard of 8 is big for players. However, if that is coupled with rules around soft 17 hands, natural blackjack payments and the re-splitting of cards having a negative impact, then the positive is not going to be any use to use.
The key to your deal is to work out rough positives and negatives and see what the net value is. If you are a competent blackjack player, starting with a house edge of 0.5% is a good place to start. Then add the negatives and take away the positives of your game to see where you come out.
The house edge can be affected by your play, and this is a vitally important thing to remember. However, the game you play can also have a big impact, so make sure you put yourself in the best position to get a good deal while playing. This is something that every player should be on the lookout for, in any type of gaming.