WHAT DETERMINES IF A blackjack game is â??goodâ? or â??badâ? for average players is the house edge, which is a percentage that indicates how much a casino stands to win from players based on the total amount bet. Naturally, the higher the house edge, the more the casino will earn, and the more players stand to lose; therefore, bad blackjack games have a higher house edge than good blackjack games. Generally, blackjack games that have a 0.5 percent or less house edge against a basic strategy player are considered good games, and those with greater than 0.5 percent are bad games that should be avoided.

So what determines this house edge? Three variables: 1) the number of decks of cards being used, 2) the playing rules and 3) the payoff for an untied blackjack. Casino bosses can fiddle around with these variables to obtain whatever house edge they desire.

  1. The house edge increases when more decks of cards are used (assuming all else is equal).
  2. Some playing rules will decrease the house edge (e.g., being able to double down after pair splitting) while others will increase it (e.g., dealer must hit soft 17).
  3. When the casino pays less than 3 to 2 for an untied blackjack, the house edge increases, and when it pays more than 3 to 2 the house edge decreases (the latter rarely occurs; the former is, unfortunately, very prevalent).

The first step to being a smart blackjack player is to avoid playing the bad games listed below.

BLACKJACK PAYS 6 TO 5 (OR WORSE, EVEN MONEY).

Unfortunately, the despicable 6-5 games are everywhere. Most of the time, the casino will use a single deck of cards in a 6-5 game (the single deck is the casinoâ??s come-on, although be aware that some casinos offer 6-5 multi-deck games). Paying only 6 to 5 on an untied blackjack increases the house edge a shameful 1.4 percent. And be forewarned: Casino bosses often set the betting limits low on 6-5 games to attract less sophisticated players with limited bankrolls. Do not be tempted by their chicanery: Avoid playing any single- and multiple-deck games where an untied blackjack doesnâ??t pay the traditional 3-2.

CARDS ARE DEALT FROM A CONTINUOUS SHUFFLING MACHINE (CSM).

A CSM is a combination shuffler and dealing device that usually holds 4 to 6 decks of cards. After a round (or two) is completed, the dealer will place the just-played cards (i.e., discards) back into the CSM, where an elevator system randomly inserts each discard into the unplayed cards that are stacked vertically, making it possible that a card played in one round could appear in the next).

With a CSM, there is no downtime for manual shuffles, and every hand dealt from a CSM is like being dealt cards from a freshly shuffled pack, or shoe. So what does this all mean for the average player? Basically, the casino is dealing a faster game because there is no downtime for manual shuffles, or for exchanging the just-used six decks of cards for another freshly shuffled six decks. Therefore, the dealer can, on average, deal out about 20 percent more hands per hour using a CSM. This will, in turn, increase the playerâ??s expected hourly loss by 20 percent (remember the house still has an edge against a basic strategy player, even though itâ??s small). So fast is not good if you are an average player; therefore, avoid playing any blackjack game that uses a CSM.

SIX- OR EIGHT-DECK GAME WHERE THE DEALER HITS SOFT 17.

This is a tough rule to avoid because so many casinos are switching to â??dealer hitting soft 17 (h17) rather than standing on soft 17 (s17). In an h17 game, the house edge increases about 0.2 percent compared to an s17 game, even though the dealer busts more often. So why does the house edge go up? Because when the dealer doesnâ??t bust, he will wind up with a 17 or better total enough times compared to an h17 game that he will beat the player more often. My advice is to scout the casino floor and scan the table layout to determine if the casino rules are s17 or h17 (it will say it on the layout). Many casinos have a mix of s17 and h17 tables, so it pays to scout around.

The next time you play blackjack, surprise the casino bosses and do not play any bad blackjack games. You and your bankroll will be happy you did.