Blackjack: Variations On A Theme

Over the past few years, the casino industry has tried mightily to increase their edge on the game of Blackjack in an effort to keep more of the players’ $$$ (the “Hold”). Usually, they change the basic rules of the game, such as having the dealer hit a soft 17 or increasing the number of decks used. For example, hitting soft 17 used to be a rule of the “downtown” casinos in Las Vegas, whereas the Strip casinos stood on soft 17. Well, that distinction is pretty much gone now, because most – though not all – casinos on the Strip have the dealer hit soft 17. For those of you who may not know, having the dealer hit A,6 adds about 0.20% to the casino’s edge, which admittedly isn’t huge, but it’s still something we have to put up with. You’re all undoubtedly familiar with 6- and 8-deck games, but there was a time when “multi-deck” meant four decks; there weren’t even that many double-deck games around 10 or 12 years ago. It used to be that Blackjack was either a single-deck or four-deck game and darn few casinos had the dealer hit soft 17 in a 4-deck game. Believe it or not, Atlantic City was once all 4-deck games, but when the state Supreme Court there ruled that card counters could not be excluded from play, the casinos went to virtually all 8-deck games. Competition seems to be moderating that trend somewhat, but it’ll be a long time before we see any 4-deckers in A.C., I’ll wager.
But I’m not here to talk about rules variations because they will always be with us and they’re easily calculated, plus they don’t typically add a lot to the casino’s edge, unless they’re real draconian in style, like you can’t split pairs. Most casinos aren’t going to install such rules, because while the players may not know its percentage impact, they intuitively know it’s a lousy deal and if they have a choice, they’ll play elsewhere. Changing the rules of the venerable game of Blackjack is like trying to boil a frog. Toss it into a pan of boiling water and it’ll hop right out. But, if you set it in a pan of cool water and gradually heat it up, it’ll stay there until it’s too late. Gradually is the way the casinos have to “cook” us when it comes to changing the game of Blackjack, but there’s nothing to stop them from trying out new types of Blackjack-style games and that’s what I’ll cover. In case you’re wondering, I’m also going to ignore the side bets like “Super Sevens” and so forth, because many of them have been covered in previous articles that you’ll find archived on this page. If I haven’t covered a side bet there, it’s probably because the casino’s edge is gigantic but I will show you a resource for finding the value of most side bets later on.

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