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Smarter Bet Guide to Blackjack
by Basil Nestor
Book Picture
Strategy is the key to success at the blackjack table; that's a mathematical fact, and you can count on these expert, easy-to-learn tactics to make you a victor. Here's the deal: everything begins with the basic rules, and they're laid out on these pages with smart little “factoid” tips. Go through blackjack economics, which explain why cards fall the way they do, and what makes a good (and a sucker) bet. Easy-to-follow tables suggest strategies for splitting pairs and soft hands and provide dozens of other statistics and card probabilities.
Related Links Home of the Blackjack Basic Strategy EngineWant to fine tune your blackjack strategy? There's no better place for getting the right chart for the game you're playing than the Blackjack Strategy Engine at You can choose the number of decks, the rules for soft 17, doubling, double after split, surrender, and the hole card rule. Enter all of your parameters, and presto -- your blackjack strategy chart is ready. Highly recommended.

Rule Variations and Their Costs

The good old single-deck game of yesteryear is pretty much gone forever, but it’s still useful as a standard to measure the effects of various rule changes. And since the truly classic oldBasil NestorBasil Nestor is the author of the new Playboy Complete Guide to Casino Gambling. This wonderful book teaches players how to avoid sucker bets and win more when playing gambling games.  He is also the author of The Smarter Bet Guide series for video poker, slots, craps, and many other books about gambling.  Basil's website is  Las Vegas blackjack game was actually a positive-expectation contest (when using basic strategy), we need to restate the rules a bit to bring it down to zero.
This is our standard zero-advantage contest; it’s a single-deck game, dealer stands on soft 17, doubling is allowed on any two cards, but doubling is not allowed after splits. Naturals pay 3:2.
The following chart shows the relative advantages and disadvantages of the most common rule variations.
Rules and Their Effect on the Edge
Unfavorable Rules
Two decks
Four decks
Six decks
Eight decks
Dealer hits soft 17
Double only on 9, 10, or 11
Double only on 10 or 11
No splitting of aces
Tied hands lose (per rank)
Naturals pay 1:1
Naturals pay 6:5
Favorable Rules
Resplit aces
Draw to split aces
Double after split
Late surrender
Early surrender
Surrender after doubling
Double on more than two cards
Five-card automatic winner
Six-card automatic winner
Tied naturals always win 3:2
Suited naturals pay 2:1 (per suit)
Naturals pay 2:1
This table shows the effects of various rules on the house edge. The baseline is a 0% house edge in a single-deck game when the dealer stands on soft 17 and doubling is allowed, but not after splitting. Some figures are adjusted for multiple decks.
Calculating the edge for a game is easy. Simply start at zero and then add or subtract the amounts that correspond to the various rules. For example, a six-deck game (-0.58), with the dealer hitting soft 17 (-0.20), double on any two cards (0), double after splits (+0.12), and late surrender (+0.07), adds up to –0.59 percent.
Here’s a game I’ve seen on the Las Vegas Strip. It’s played with a single deck (0), dealer hits soft 17 (-0.20), doubling is allowed on 10 or 11 only (-0.20), no doubles after splits (0), and naturals pay 6:5 (-1.37). That game has a whopping edge of 1.77 percent!
Now compare the above game to one I found in downtown Las Vegas: It’s a single deck (0), dealer hits soft 17 (-0.20), doubling is allowed on any two cards (0), no doubles after splits (0), and naturals pay 3:2 (0). This game has an edge of only 0.20 percent.
Clearly, many casinos hope you’ll see a single-deck game and instantly sit down without investigating all the rules.
Other casinos try a different approach; they vigorously promote favorable rules with slick brochures and bold advertisements, but the unfavorable rules such as low-paying 1:1 naturals get less type and hype.
Whatever the marketing strategy, it’s always a good idea to read the upright card and ask some questions before putting your money on the table.
Occasionally a casino will offer a promotion of 2:1 payouts on naturals. This will push almost any blackjack game solidly into positive expectation. If you see such a promotion, play it soon because it won’t last long. But be careful. Some casinos advertise 2:1 payouts for one kind of suited natural, and 1:1 for all others. This is much worse than the standard 3:2 payout.
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