Blackjack: The Good and the Bad Rules

Blackjack is one of the most loved casino games largely for being simple and, at the same time, skill and strategy-oriented. Throughout its history, it has changed and evolved in many different parts of the world and nowadays, only a small percentage of casinos offer the traditional blackjack rules that were long ago established on the Las Vegas Strip.

The majority of land-based and online casinos have introduced subtle changes to the standard rules and these deviations are not necessarily unfavorable to the players. On the contrary, some of these novelties increase the player’s advantage and were actually added to attract new patrons or to make the game of 21 more interesting. Before we continue to explain the most common deviations from the traditional Vegas game, we should clarify the standard rules of American blackjack.

Traditional Las Vegas Strip Rules

1Gameplay

The most conventional game of blackjack, also known as American 21 or Vegas Rules, is played with 8 decks of cards. The dealer is required to draw on all totals of up to 16 and to stand on all totals of 17 or higher. Players are allowed to Double Down on any hand and Split any pair.

Doubling and hitting on split hands are also permitted with one exception and it applies to split Aces. Under standard Vegas Rules, only one card is drawn to split Aces and the player’s turn automatically ends. Usually, players can resplit up to 3 times (to a total of 4 hands) but cannot surrender. The payouts are 3:2 for blackjack and 2:1 for Insurance.

2House edge

These rules are considered to be very liberal and result in an extremely low house edge of around 0.44%, which is also reflected in a theoretical Return-to-Player of 99.56%. The house edge, represented as a percentage, is the advantage of the casino that is guaranteed by the specific rules and payouts in practically every type of casino game. In this case, the house edge shows that, on average, players are expected to lose less than half a percent of their total bet if they play the game perfectly, with no mistakes.

Even the slightest deviation from the traditional rules would influence the house edge of the game. In fact, the effect on the house advantage could be seen very clearly and has been calculated for every rule change.

Rules that Favor Players and Reduce the House Edge

As it was already mentioned, some changes to the standard rules can reduce the house edge and practically, to increase the player’s expected return. With thousands of rule combinations, however, we should not necessarily take consider them individually since most blackjack variations include both favorable and unfavorable rules. Still, it is important to distinguish between good and bad blackjack games, which is why we have listed some of the rules that are the most advantageous to the player.

Single and Double-Deck Games
Dealer Stands on Soft 17
Early Surrender
Unlimited Resplitting
Hitting on Split Aces
Doubling on Any Number of Cards
Six-Card Charlie

Blackjack Rules Unfavorable to Players

The vast majority of blackjack variations are negative expected value games, which means that even with the perfect strategy, players can expect to lose some of their wagers over time unless they base their tactics on card counting. Even the most liberal games of 21 include at least one or two unfavorable rules so that they can maintain a house edge of between 0% and 1%. Below, players can find some of the most commonly found blackjack rules that increase the house edge.

Multiple Decks
Dealer Hits Soft 17
Reno Rule
Blackjack Short Pays
Only 1 Split Allowed
No Hole Card

The Effect of Rules in Blackjack Variations

Almost every change to the traditional rules of blackjack results in a different expected return. More importantly, such changes also alter the optimal strategy for the particular game, which is why players should always try to formulate a tactic, based on the specific set of rules they play. The importance and effect of rule changes can be easily noticed when we compare the different variations of blackjack. Note that there more than a hundred versions of blackjack offered by online and brick-and-mortar casinos, while the combinations of different rules and payouts exceed 6,000.

European Blackjack
Atlantic City Blackjack

Blackjack Strategies to Avoid

Many casino patrons, especially those who are new to the world of blackjack, seem to be following some strange tactics such as playing the dealer way or structuring their bets around some famous progressive system. Such strategies are not useful in any way and should be avoided at all times since they could be very damaging to the player’s overall performance at the blackjack table. Patrons should steer clear of any systems promoted as “tricks” or “guaranteed success”. In reality, there is no guarantee that you will always win in blackjack even if you are a good card counter.

Play Blackjack the Dealer Way
Never Risk Busting
Progressive Systems