Better Blackjack Rules to Look For

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Brian Christopher at a blackjack table

Over time, Blackjack rules have evolved, creating more ways for casinos to introduce changes that increase their house advantage over a player. Knowing what rules to look for can help you avoid playing sub-par games, especially when better rules may lurk just around the corner.

So in this post, we’ll go over some of the rules that can be helpful for players and ensure the best overall payback chances.

3:2 Blackjack Payouts

One of the rules that can have the most impact on overall Blackjack return to player is the payout of Blackjacks themselves. Many casinos, particularly on lower minimum tables, have shifted to a 6:5 Blackjack payout over the traditional 3:2. On occasion I’ve even seen even money payouts. 

How does this impact you as a player? Let’s use the example of a $10 per hand bet. You would get paid the following under each rule set:

  • 3:2 Blackjack: $15
  • 6:5 Blackjack: $12
  • Even Money: $10

While it may not seem like a lot of additional money in an individual payout, players are expected to get a few Blackjacks an hour, on average. Presuming you’d average four per hour, the difference of $12 between 3:2 and 6:5 is more than one hand’s worth of play every hour. That adds up!

Some casinos will have 3:2 and 6:5 in different parts of the casino floor with otherwise many of the same rules, so it always helps to check the various areas to determine what’s available at what bets. If a 3:2 table exists with a minimum that’s comfortable for you, it’s definitely better to play there than at a 6:5 table.

Dealer Stays on Soft 17

This is another rule that’s important enough that you’ll often see it printed on the felt. Either the dealer hits on soft 17, or it stays on all 17s. If a dealer stays on soft 17, that’s favorable to the player, as it forces the dealer to keep more weak hands relative to the hit on soft 17 rule.

The paradoxical thing about a dealer hitting on soft 17s is it creates both more bust scenarios and more improved hands. But the frequency with which the dealer improves its hand is higher than its increasing odds of busting, so when a dealer hits on soft 17, it’s a rule that overall increases the house advantage vs. a player.

Ability to Surrender

Another rule that can be favorable to players is the ability to surrender. This rule is designed around the idea to cut your losses – such as, say, a player holding a 16 with a dealer showing a 10.

With surrender, you give up your hand in exchange for losing only half your money. It’s a money-saving scenario but it can improve a players’ overall return when employed correctly.

Traditionally a surrender scenario, when allowed, only occurs after the dealer checks their other card, known as a late surrender. But there’s also the concept of an early surrender, which allowed a player to surrender even before a dealer checked their cards. But the player advantage improved so much under those rules that it was done away with at the casinos that offered it before too long.

Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to surrender when you’re confronted with a situation where you have a less than 50 percent chance of winning your hand vs. the dealer’s up card.

Double Down After Split

When you have the ability to double down after splitting your cards, that’s a rule that’s favorable for a player vs. the casino, and can really up the potential of a positive outcome for a player.

Generally speaking, double down rules allow players to double their bet on hands that have the best chances of winning for them, such as having an 11 against most dealer up cards. When you split, you double your bet, by breaking up a pair of cards and now effectively playing two hands.

Let’s say you get a pair of 9s and a dealer is showing a 6. This is a good time to split, as the most likely outcome is to draw two 10s, getting 19 on each hand. But let’s say you got a 2 instead – now you have an 11 against a dealer 6. That’s a great time to double, as the dealer has a high risk of busting and you have a strong chance of getting a face or 10 to make 21.

Takeaway

Blackjack is not a one-size-fits-all game. When sitting down to play, be sure you know what the rules are, and that you’re getting the best gamble for your money. Like checking video poker pay tables, you could be literally leaving money on the table by playing a subpar game vs. what else is available.


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