Online Blackjack FAQ
Welcome to our blackjack FAQ section. This section answers the most frequently asked questions we received from players regarding blackjack. The answers vary from questions about playing online to strategy, terminology, odds and more. There are a total of four pages in this section.
Blackjack Questions Answered
Burning the top card has several minor advantages, mostly to do with discouraging cheaters. If a dealer knew the top card, they could move another card into its place or signal to a confederate what the card was. Burning the card thus discourages the dealers from cheating, either for the casino or against it. Also, burning the card keeps a player from seeing the top card and getting an advantage. Finally, when you burn the cards, this penetrates the deck a little further without giving out information, so it foils card counters in some small way.
The pit boss is an assistant manager at a casino who oversees a number of blackjack tables at once. Notice that the tables are arranged in an elliptical fashion with a space set aside at the center of the perimeter. The pit boss stands inside this “pit,” watching the various tables under his or her supervision. The pit boss watches for any suspicious activity by players, dealers or passersby.
You should have a bankroll any time you walk into a casino or log on to play for real money online. A bankroll is your stake in the game and it limits your risk, because it’s less than the size of your bank account or the max limit on your credit card. A bankroll should be enough to make the game interesting, but not enough that it hurts you if you lose. When you have a bankroll, any one hand should be no more than 5% of your bankroll, so you can keep playing for a while.
Nevada law requires all video simulations of card games to be random, which means the gaming machine uses a truly random number generator. Video blackjack in Las Vegas and other cities in Nevada is fair, but one big drawback should be considered. In many of these machines, the blackjack pays 1:1 instead of 3:2. That one rule is a major negative variation and games with 6:5, 7:5 and especially 1:1 blackjacks should be avoided.
The card counting method discussed by Ken Uston still works. The late Ken Uston quit a job in finance in the 1970s to become a professional blackjack player. His writing on the subject brings enthusiasm and lots of good casino stories. If you want to read about Uston’s legal battle to get casinos to allow card counters, read “Ken Uston on Blackjack.”
Blackjack is beatable if the rules are favorable enough and you are skilled enough, but you have to count cards to make it so. The average gambler isn’t going to walk into the average casino and suddenly become an advantage player. In fact, bad strategy from less skilled players tends to increase the house edge around 0.90% over the basic strategy. Blackjack offers a good house edge, but it’s incumbent on players to learn basic strategy and use this to play optimal twenty-one, or as close to it as you can over an extended period. Even perfect basic strategy won’t beat blackjack, because the game still has a theoretical house edge. If you start to count cards and bet significantly more when the odds are in your favor, blackjack becomes beatable. This is considered suspicious activity in casinos (when you bet a lot more at times the count is in your favor). Card counters might be asked to leave the table, if discovered.
The dealer does bust more often when hitting on a soft 17, but it doesn’t apply that the strategy has worse odds. Hitting on a soft 17 is a better strategy, because a 17 is a weak hand and hitting when you have an ace gives you two chances to better your hand. When all the possibilities are added together, either the dealer or the player has better odds by hitting on a soft 17. That’s why games where the dealer hits on a soft 17 increase the house edge, and why basic strategy suggests players should hit on a soft 17.
The “Flaw Theory” is sold on television and in newsletters and is a total scam. These charlatans sell their theory based on the idea that the most respected writers on basic strategy, like Edward Thorp, don’t know what they’re talking about. The suggestion is that Edward Thorp created a flawed theory and all the other writers copied him. This exploits ignorance of the history of blackjack strategy. Basic strategy was created using software simulations and dozens of writers have arrived at the same conclusion independently. For the Flaw to be correct, all these programmers and mathematicians would have to have programmed the same glitches into their equations. The Flaw Theory is highly flawed and the websites where this is discussed as a serious strategy are bad ones.
6:5 blackjack refers to the amount of money you would be paid on a natural 21 or “blackjack.” The default game of blackjack offers 3:2 on blackjacks, meaning you would have your bet of $2 returned and be paid an additional $3 when you get a 21 on your first two cards. If you got the same cards in a game of 6:5 blackjack, you would receive your $2 and an additional $2.40. Imagine one table where a person gets $3.00 and the other where the person gets $2.40 every time they get lucky – that’s the difference. One of the biggest negative variations is 6:5 blackjack. Even worse is 1:1 blackjack, which is pretty rare but can be found on video blackjack machines. 7:5 blackjack is also found on occasion. Though this is better than 6:5 blackjack, it’s still less than what you would want.
Advanced gamblers sometimes advocate diverging from basic strategy in rare cases. If you’re a beginning or intermediate player, you’ll have enough trouble remembering basic strategy. In those cases, play basic strategy always.
“Las Vegas rules” usually means the rules used in many casinos in downtown Las Vegas. These rules include the ability to double down on the first two cards. Players can re-split hands, while insurance is allowed (but not suggested). The dealer hits on a soft 17 and stands on a hard 16. These rules give players a lower house edge than many rules, so gamblers tend to look for Las Vegas rules in land-based casinos and in online casinos.
Blackjack does have the best odds for real money casino players, if you’re playing with the best blackjack rules. When casinos offered 9/6 jacks or better video poker or the right version of loose deuces video poker, these gaming machines offered an expected return over 100% and therefore had better odds than most blackjack. The full pay version of video poker isn’t found often anymore, so blackjack is your best bet. As a general rule, blackjack games and video poker games have the best odds for players, though you should avoid the progressives and side bets in either of these classes.
Classic blackjack played with one or two decks and offering favorable rules has the best odds for players. Not all variants of 21 offer the excellent house edge which classic blackjack does. Avoid games with side bets, because the side bet (while paying off more) almost always has a higher house edge.
When all other things are equal, playing single-deck games over multi-deck blackjack is better. Many casinos offset the advantage given to players on single-deck blackjack by offering worse rules at the same table, so if the other rules are bad enough on single-deck blackjack, a table with cards dealt from the shoe might have better odds.
Offering 6:5 blackjack or 7:5 blackjack is a common tactic to increase the house edge in a single-deck game. Other negative variations include rules which allow the dealer to hit on a soft 17, not allowing players to double after a split, or only allowing a split on two hands. Strict doubling rules, such as those which only let a person double on 10-11 or 9-11, also give players a low expected return. If all other rules are the same, a change from single-deck to double-deck blackjack increases the house edge by 0.19%. Increasing the number of decks to four further increases the house edge by 0.06%, while changing the number of decks to five increases the house edge by 0.03%. When you increase the decks to six, this increases the house edge up to 0.02%.
Blackjack can be beatable if you use card counting. Just because you can beat blackjack by having an expected return over 100% (thus no house edge), this doesn’t mean beating blackjack is the best profession to have. First of all, card counting while disguising from casino personnel that you are a card counter is a hard thing to do. It’s hard work. Second, while you can win, the profits aren’t that great, unless you play with a bankroll which is large enough to make minimal profits pay off, while being able to weather dry spells. Think about it: if you play at a 100.05% advantage, this means you make 50 cents for every $100 wagered. Unless you’re wagering massive amounts of money, that rate of return isn’t going to pay very well. Also, just because you play at a slight advantage, that doesn’t mean you’ll win all the time. In fact, you’ll have droughts that you’ll have to weather. All in all, you’ll find better ways to make a living.
To “shuffle up” is to prematurely shuffle the deck. The tactic is used to foil suspected card counters. If a player is upset about a casino shuffling up, they might be counting cards but getting noticed.
If you’re grinding and you haven’t had any major wins, tip the dealer $1 every 20 hands or so. If you win a big hand, toke the dealer $5 on the win, unless you’re playing at really high stakes. Those wanting to assure the dealer has their sympathy can make a wager in front of your wagering circle. This means the dealer gets $0 if you lose and double the money wagered if you win. Remember, dealers often work for low wages, so your tips are often the key to their financial well-being.
A cut card is a piece of plastic with the shape and size of a playing card. This is handed to a player after a reshuffle. The player places the cut card somewhere in the deck in order to cut the deck, thus providing an additional layer of randomization and assuring the casino hasn’t done something underhanded with the shuffle.
Atlantic City blackjack uses rules common in some Atlantic City casinos. Microgaming offers these rules in most of their online casinos. Atlantic City blackjack uses eight decks dealt from a shoe and one betting position. The dealer peeks for a blackjack and stands on a soft 17. Late surrender is allowed for players. Players can re-split up to three hands. One double after a split is allowed (2 hands), while you can double on any of your first two cards.
The minimum betting limit on a table you’re playing at should be no more than 5% of your entire stake or bankroll for the session. If you are playing with $100 in your stash of casino money, then the min limits should be no more than $5. If you have $500 as your stake, then you should be playing at tables with a $25 betting minimum.
While a lot of luck plays into the eventual winner of a blackjack tournament, your odds are affected by how you play. Varying your betting pattern gives you a higher chance at winning. Since the blackjack tournament is about building the biggest chip stack, using max bets for advantage plays and minimum bets for low-odds hands is how you increase your odds of winning.
“Toking a dealer” is just another way of saying you tipped the dealer. While toke might sound like a reference to a banned substance, in a casino setting, it is associated with the word “token.” If you hand chips to the dealer as a gratuity, you toked the dealer.
For those new to the game, a two-card hand which equals 21 is called a “blackjack” or a “natural 21.” A blackjack requires a player to receive an ace and a card worth 10 points (ten, jack, queen, king). Four aces are in a deck of 52 cards, so 1-in-13 cards or a little over 7.5% chance of coming up. Sixteen cards valued at 10 points are in a deck of 52 cards, so 16-in-52 cards or about 31% of the cards are 10s. This means when the nearly 7.5% of the time an ace appears, almost a third of those times, it will be paired with a ten – just under 5% of the deals. If you want a precise mathematical calculation, the answer is 4.83% of deals are a blackjack.
Progressive blackjack offers horrible odds on the progressive jackpot side bet. Like the lottery, you have a chance at a huge jackpot most blackjack games don’t offer. The house edge on one Cryptologic progressive blackjack game was around 44%–about what playing the lottery offers. The basic game apart from the side bet has odds more like blackjack, but don’t expect to get traditional blackjack odds when you place that side wager.