Effects of Blackjack Rules Variations on House Edge

Blackjack School

The game of blackjack has over the years spun over 100 documented variations. Some variations have very fixed rules that never change, while others are more flexible and the casino can decide to include some rules and not others when they offer a particular blackjack variation.

Changes in blackjack rules have an obvious effect on the house edge the casino enjoys and the potential payout percentage the player can receive.

In blackjack the player is always at a disadvantage to the dealer as when a player busts they lose their bet to the casino regardless of the dealer busting or not. In spite of this blackjack is still a very advantageous game for players as those who deploy basic blackjack strategy bring the house edge on most blackjack versions to below 1%.

Number of decks
As a general rule when fewer decks are in use the house edge is reduced due to two main factors:

  • Fewer decks increase the likelihood of a player hitting a natural blackjack. When a player is dealt a 10 valued card they have a better chance of the second card dealt be an ace when playing fewer decks.
  • Fewer decks decrease the chance for a dealer’s blackjack vs. a player’s blackjack that will result in a push.
Most casinos will allow to resplit a post-split hand that again shows cards of the same value. Some casinos limit the total number of split hands allowed (for example will allow resplitting up to 4 hands), other casinos will allow unlimited splits. As a general rule the more resplits are allowed the lower is the house edge on the game, therefore the more favorable it is to the player.

Dealer hits soft 17
All blackjack variants have a fixed set of rules that govern the dealer’s actions. One of the key actions a dealer can take is to hit or stand on soft 17. This decision is not left up to the dealer and is predetermined by the rules of the game. As a general rule it is better for the player if the dealer stands on soft 17 as it drops the house edge by around 0.2%.

Late surrender
This rule allows the player to surrender their hand after the initial two cards are dealt if they believe their hand does not stand a chance of winning or resulting in a tie with the dealer. When employing late surrender the player loses half their original bet, with the other half pushed. This rule is favorable to the player as it lowers the house edge by up to 0.1%.

Double after split allowed
In most games doubling down after a split is allowed. These games would have a house edge that is lower by about 0.12% than the house edge of the same game when doubling after a split is not allowed.

Resplitting aces/ Hit resplit aces
In most games players are not allowed to resplit aces and can have one more card dealt for each split hand. They are not allowed to hit, double or resplit. However, when these actions are allowed they make the game more favorable to the player. Allowing hits after ace splits reduces the house edge by more than 0.1% and allowing to resplit aces lowers the house edge by around 0.03%.

Changes to natural blackjack payouts
In most blackjack games when a player has a natural blackjack the payout is 3:2, however in some games (especially single deck games) a natural blackjack pays at 6:5 or 1:1. When playing a 6:5 game the house edge increases by about 1.4% and when playing 1:1 game the house edge increases by about 2.3%.

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