If you think that online blackjack is a one-size-fits-all experience, you could actually be feeding into a misconception that is hurting your play. Knowing the differences between online blackjack games available to you is a good step to being an expert player. It’s all about understanding which of these differences will help you, and which will put you at a disadvantage.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been trying to give you all the information you need to become a better online blackjack player. We know that many people don’t have access right now to the casinos where they might enjoy their blackjack action. Luckily, online blackjack can provide the same kind of action for you without your ever having to leave the comfort of your home.
We’ve concentrated in those articles on the basics of game play and the strategies that you should be using to help you win. What we’ll be talking about in this article are the slight rules differences you might find as you check out different online gambling sites looking to play blackjack. It might surprise you, with a game that seems to be as straightforward as blackjack, how important these variations can be.
Many players will take the time to learn the strategy they need to give themselves the best possible payback percentage potential. But if you neglect the rules differences when deciding which online blackjack game to play, you could actually be hurting your payback. In fact, you can do as much damage picking a disadvantageous game as you could making the wrong decisions about when to hit and stand.
The Differences Are Important
Some of these differences have to do with some of the specialty plays available to you in an online blackjack hand, such as doubling, splitting, or surrendering. Other have to do with payback or the actual mechanics of game play. No matter which of these rules changes you’re discussing, however, rest assured that they will all have some impact.
Taken on their own, each difference might only mean a slight advantage or disadvantage to the player. But when you start adding up all of these incremental variations, it can definitely add up to something major. That’s why you shouldn’t ignore the differences in online blackjack games.
There are many things which you should take into account which choosing your game, including the reliability of the website and the bonuses you might be able to earn. But you should definitely include the rules variations in your consideration. If you do, you can ensure that you’re playing an online blackjack game that is beneficial to you.
In the following article, we’ll break down all the main rules differences in online blackjack. We’ll talk about each one in terms of how it works and when it will come up during game play. And we’ll also go into how each of these differences can affect your payback level.
(For the sake of this article, we’re going to assume that you have knowledge of how to play blackjack. If not, check out our guide here.)
Did you know that the reason that the game is called blackjack is that there used to be an extra payback involved if 21 was achieved with the jack of clubs or the jack of spades? In any case, that rule, sadly, fell by the wayside. But it’s still true that if you get 21 with just two cards (and the dealer doesn’t do the same), you’ll be in line for a bonus.
What’s the Standard Payback?
The standard payback for blackjack is 3 to 2. In other words, if you bet two chips, you’d get three in return when you have blackjack. Another way of looking at it is you’re getting $3 back for every $2 you wager.
But there are online casinos which will tinker with this payback, and generally not in a good way. The most common online blackjack variation in terms of blackjack pay is a 6 to 5 payback for the player.
In case you’re wondering how that stacks up to 3 to 2, let’s go back to fourth-grade math and find the lowest-common denomination between 2 and 5, which is 10. On a $10 wager, you’d get back $15 for a 3 to 2 blackjack. You’d get only $12 back on a 6 to 5 blackjack.
The good news is that the 3 to 2 payback is far more commonly found in the world of online blackjack. If you should encounter the 6 to 5 version, you’d be looking at a payback hit of over 1 percent.
In other words, this is one of the most disadvantageous rules changes you could encounter. Steer clear of any 6 to 5 online blackjack games for that reason.
Number of Decks
The general rule of thumb in online blackjack is that the less decks that are being used, the better for the player. But that might not be for the reason you think.
First of all, this has nothing to do with card counting, which we’ll cover when we get to the live-dealer versus automatic dealer debate. And you might be wondering why the number of decks matters at all in online blackjack when you’re dealing with a game that reshuffles the deck every time.
There are two main reasons that less decks are better. The first has to do with your chances of getting a blackjack.
There are four aces in a deck of 52, which works out to 1 in 13. But the second that cards are dealt in a hand of blackjack and an ace doesn’t appear, your chances of getting one increase.
But the more decks that you use, the less that effect will mean, because you’ll still have all the other decks where it’s still 1 in 13. The same effect is in play for any cards with a value of 10, which is the other card you would need to make a blackjack.
What that means is that your chances of getting blackjack dwindle with the more decks you have. And that will hurt your payback.
In addition, if you use the expert strategy known as composition-dependent strategy, you’ll be more effective with fewer decks. Composition-dependent means that you make decisions based on the specific cards in your hand instead of the overall value.
In other words, you might want to play a 13 differently if it was a 10 and a 3 rather than a 7 and a 6. You can add some fractional percentage points to your payback in this manner, but it becomes less effective the more decks are in play.
The standard for online blackjack is 8 decks. If you can find a game offering less than that, you should keep it on your radar.
Dealer With Soft 17
The basic rule of thumb in online blackjack is that the dealer has to hit until they have 17, at which point they must stand. But what about when an ace, which can be valued at 1 or 11, is involved?
Anytime that a dealer gets to 17 without an ace in the hand, that’s considered a “hard” 17. If the ace can only be valued at 1 or else the dealer will bust, that is also a hard 17. But it’s a soft 17 when the dealer can value the ace as a 1 or an 11.
Soft 17: ace + 6
Hard 17: ten + 6 + ace
In most online blackjack games, the dealer has to stand on a soft 17. This is advantageous to the player.
But if the dealer is allowed to hit on soft 17, the advantage shifts away from you. The difference is two-tenths of a percentage point, which might not seem like much. But for a regular online blackjack player playing thousands of hands, it can definitely have a negative impact.
Doubling is a huge advantage that the player has in terms of building up their payback percentage. Any time that an online gambling site puts a restriction on that strategy, it will hurt you.
Many people only think of doubling when they’re sitting on 9, 10, or 11. The advantage there is that any card valued at 10 would put them in a great spot.
For that reason, there are some sites which will restrict your ability to double your bet to when you have those totals. It’s a sneaky way to get you to accept a rule change that will actually be working against you.
Proper online blackjack strategy suggests that there will be other occasions besides having a 9,10 or 11 when doubling makes sense. This is especially the case in many situations where you have a value in the soft teens and the dealer has a poor starting card. As a result, you should look for online blackjack games where you can double no matter what cards you receive.
Along the same lines, there are certain online blackjack games which don’t allow doubling after splitting. Obviously, this is a negative for you if one or more of the hands formed on the split work in your favor.
Look for online blackjack games with the most liberal possible rules on splitting. These games will give you a payback boost.
Much like doubling, splitting is another way that the player can even out the house edge that the dealer possesses. In the same way as doubling, many online casinos will try to slide in some restrictions on splitting to take some of that advantage away.
Many of these restrictions have to do with resplitting. In other words, imagine that you received a pair of 8s on the deal, which presents one of the ideal splitting situations. You decide on the split by adding a bet the same size as your first, and you end up with another 8 in one of the two hands.
In most cases, you can resplit in that situation by adding yet another bet. Most online blackjack limit the number of splits that you can do to where you can end up with no more than four hands in play. But if you find an online blackjack where you can’t even resplit to that amount, you should know that your potential payback will be harmed by this.
You’ll also find different rules pertaining to the ways in which aces can be split. When you receive a pair of aces on the deal, it represents the ideal splitting situation, because you’ll be in line for two possible blackjacks.
For that reason, many online casinos will try to cap this advantage as much as possible. First of all, they may not allow any resplitting of aces. That would keep you from really blitzing them with three or four blackjacks at once.
On top of that, many online blackjack games allow you to receive only one card on top of your split aces. At that point, your hand would be complete. You couldn’t hit to improve the hand if you received a second card that left you far from 21.
Keep in mind that online blackjack games which don’t allow resplitting aces or any hits after splitting aces are the standard. In other words, any games that change these rules in your favor might be rare. As such, these two rules might be ones that you just have to grin and bear.
Most online blackjack games offer surrender after your first two cards are dealt and the dealer doesn’t have blackjack on their first two cards. This is known as a “late” surrender. (An “early” surrender would be available before the dealer does their blackjack check, but this is a pretty rare occurrence in the world of online blackjack.)
When you surrender, you are giving up the hand immediately. But you would lose only half of your original wager instead of the full amount.
Many novice blackjack players might not realize there is any advantage in surrendering. As a result, they might not even mind choosing an online blackjack game where there is no surrender (apologies to Bruce Springsteen) involved.
That is actually a mistake. There are many scenarios where it’s just not a good situation for a player based on their deal and what the dealer has. Chances of somehow pulling out a win in hands like this are extremely small.
What if you were dealt a 16 and the dealer has a hand showing? You don’t need to be a probability expert to know that hitting in that situation will more often than not lead to a bust. And if you stand, the dealer will have a hidden card that gives them at least 17 more often than not as well.
In that case, and several others, biting the bullet, cutting your losses and taking the surrender is the right way to go. But if you don’t have that option, you’ll be stuck taking the full loss. That’s why you should try to stick to online blackjack games where surrendering is available to you.
Live Dealer Versus Automatic Dealers
We mentioned card counting earlier, and this is the area where it could actually come into play. Most online blackjack games use automatic dealers in much the same way that video poker games do. Your chances of getting specific cards in any given hand are determined by a random number generator within the software.
This pretty much eliminates any usefulness in card counting. Card counting only works if cards from previous hands are then out of play for a while.
When that happens, a player might conceivably have a pretty good idea of all the cards still left to be played. If the cards left tilt the advantage in the player’s direction, they can bet more each hand. And if the opposite were true, the right thing would be to lessen the bet.
Another way that card counting can help is in determining how to actually play the hand. Knowing that there might be an abundance of certain cards left might make a shift from common online blackjack strategy wise in terms of standing, hitting, or any of the other actions available to the player. In fact, insurance, a ploy not normally recommended in common strategy, can actually be helpful for expert card counters.
Again, none of that is available to you with automatic dealers. But there are now many live dealer online blackjack games available at gambling sites.
These games feature video of an actual dealer dealing cards from a shoe as they would in a casino. And, just like in a casino, the cards that are played go out of play until the dealer reshuffles. And that puts card counting back into play.
Keep in mind that live dealer online blackjack games will reshuffle with more frequency than casino blackjack dealers will. As a result, your card counting advantage might be limited.
But if you know how to count cards effectively, you should definitely go with the live dealer online blackjack game. You might be able to squeeze out slightly better payback in this manner.
We hope you now understand the differences between online blackjack and how they affect you as a player. Keep them in mind as you choose the games you want to play at top gambling websites.
Jim Beviglia joined Gamblingsites.org as a staff writer in 2018, parlaying his years of freelance writing into contributions on a number of different topics. He handles the sport of horse racing for GamblingSites.org and the intersection between the worlds of cryptocurrency and online gambling in a weekly blog.
For his full-time job, Jim handles the television and track announcing duties at a h ...
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