If you ask several people where the house advantage comes from in Blackjack, you will get several answers. House edge means that the casino has an advantage over the player.
There will be people saying that the casino’s advantage comes from “the poor play of most blackjack players”. But that is not what gives them their first advantage. Simply put, the house gets its advantage in blackjack because of the “over 21 loses” rule.
The basics of the casino’s house advantage at blackjack
If a player’s hand is higher than 21, he automatically loses, even if the dealer’s hand in the same round is higher than 21. This is known as the “double bust rule”,. or more simply put the “over 21 loses” rule. And this is what creates the casino’s initial advantage over blackjack players.
To explain it more simply, you can compare 2 situations. Suppose you have 17 points and the dealer also has 17. What happens then? This is called a push in English and a stand off in Holland Casino. This means it’s a draw and you win nothing, but you lose nothing either. You keep your stake as the spooler.
But what happens if you have 22 and the bank ends up buying 22 as well? Is it still a push? The answer, of course, is no, you lose your bet.
What’s it worth to the casino
You can figure out what this “double bust” is worth to the casino with a fairly simple mathematical calculation. The dealer busts an average of 28% of the time. Consider a player who plays his hand exactly like the dealer (always hit 16 or less and only hit 17 or more). He will therefore bust 28% of the time as well. Therefore, a “double bust” in the same round will occur about 8% of the time (28% x 28%). Voilà, the initial advantage of the casino over players would be 8%, assuming all else was equal. All else being equal, however, and for good reason.
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Blackjack in the past
Historically, when blackjack was first introduced to casinos in the 1930s and 1940s, casino owners mistakenly thought the game was unbeatable. They understood the basis of their advantage (double bust), but realized that their advantage was too strong. They reasoned that if players lost consistently, they would stop playing.
Therefore, they decided to give players a casino bonus payout for a blackjack hand. They also implemented additional player advantages in the way of playing options available only to players (not the dealer). This reduced the house edge to a level that players would tolerate. The result was a game of unequal rules between player and dealer.
The table below lists the differences in the rules between the player and the dealer, and who has the advantage. If you look at the table, you will see that, except for acting first, all other rules favor the player over the dealer. This means that a smart player who knows how to take advantage of these rules. And that initial disadvantage of 8% can significantly reduce to less than one percent.
|Must play first||Must play last||Dealer|
|Blackjack pays out 1.5x||Equal||Player|
|Can choose whether to buy or pass||Must buy at 16 and pass at 17||Player|
|May double||Cannot double||Player|
|Can split pairs||May not split||Player|
|May surrender/surrender (if offered)||May not surrender||Player|
Advantages of the player
As you can see from the table, the player has quite a few advantages. With the right strategy, these advantages can reduce the house edge to 1% or less.
- The first advantage of the player
- The player’s second advantage
- The player’s third and fourth advantages
- The player’s fifth advantage
The player’s blackjack pays 3 to 2 while the dealer can only draw with a blackjack. This is worth 2.25% in a game where the casino uses 6 sticks of cards.
Deciding whether to buy a card or not, as opposed to the dealer who has no play options, gives the player about a 3.25% profit.
Similarly, maximizing your options for doubling and splitting pairs gives you about 1.50% and 0.5% extra, respectively.
Surrender (surrender), if allowed, gives the player an additional gain of 0.07% (assumes surrender after the dealer has checked for blackjack).
Therefore, if you add up all the player winnings and subtract them from the initial 8% player disadvantage, you arrive at a player disadvantage (or house advantage) of about half a percent without surrender, and about four-tenths of a percent with surrender. The preceding percentages vary slightly based on the number of decks of cards and the mix of playing rules. That’s about the lowest house edge you’ll find in any game on the casino floor.
The key to reducing the initial disadvantage is to take maximum advantage of the playing options. You can do this by learning basic blackjack strategy, which is a set of decision rules that a player should always follow to know when to buy, pass, double, split a pair and surrender. Basic game strategy is not based on opinion, common sense, hunches or intuition.
Rather, it is the computer-derived, mathematically correct way to play your hand when the only information available is the cards that make up your hand and the dealer’s open card. It does not depend on another player’s cards or previously played cards. There is only one good game at blackjack and it is the basic strategy game. And nothing else.