Blackjack is, of course, one of the most famous and most popular of all casino card games. It’s a game that requires some skill to play, even if it’s still mostly a game of chance. One of the most attractive things about it, though, is that it’s a game with relatively straightforward rules and a simple objective: come as close as you can to having your cards total as close to 21 as possible without crossing it.
Another reason for why blackjack is as popular as it is, is that it has one of the best house advantages of all the games available at the casino.
To understand this, let’s first start with understanding what a house advantage is, in general, before understanding how it works in blackjack.
What Is a House Advantage?
The house advantage refers to the percentage by which the house – the casino – has an advantage over the player in a 50/50 bet. To understand this best, consider betting on red or black in roulette. In theory, this should be a simple case of 50% chance of the player winning (and the house losing) and 50% chance of the player losing (and the house winning) depending on whether the ball ends up on a red or black number.
In order to make a profit, the house has to make sure that it will win slightly more often than the player. In the case of roulette, this house advantage is created by adding a green 0 to the roulette wheel – and in the case of US roulette wheels, a green 00 as well – to ensure that rather than the player having a 50% chance to win, they only have a 46 to 48 percent chance.
It’s a small percentage, but in the long run, it makes a huge difference and is the reason behind the famous saying that the “house always wins”, it may not win with each turn at the roulette table – or at the slot machines, Big Six Wheel or at the baccarat table – but overall it always will in the long run. Which is why it is so important to gamble responsibly and to quit while you’re ahead when you’re winning and cut your losses when you’re losing.
The House Advantage in Blackjack
So, now that we have established what a house advantage is in general, how does it apply to the game of blackjack – and just how bad is it in blackjack in comparison to other casino attractions.
In short, the house advantage in blackjack comes in at around 2%, but it’s actually possible to drag it all the way down to 0.5% if you play your cards optimally. Which is to say that if you know exactly when to hit, when to fold, when to split and when to double to maximize your chances of winning, you can lower the advantage that the house has over you. There are numerous ways to maximize your chances of winnings, but this includes things like splitting on aces rather than 8s or staying on a 15 if the dealer is showing a 4.
This is because unlike adding a green zero or double zero to a roulette wheel to give the house an advantage, the way that the house advantage works in blackjack is quite different. In blackjack, the dealer’s advantage comes purely from the fact that the dealer plays second. Though the dealer does have certain limitations that the player does not have (primarily not having to play until reaching 17), by going second, the dealer sees exactly what cards the player is working with – whereas the player only ever sees one of the dealer’s cards until after either going bust (getting a total of more than 21) or staying. It also means that the player may well go bust before the dealer has to play a single card.
As such, the house advantage in blackjack is only an average of 2%. Wreckless players can make that 2% house advantage steadily climb if they simply don’t know when to stay and when to hit – a weakness that you won’t find at a slot machine, say, or at a roulette table – but it can also decrease significantly, but not completely, in cases where the player knows what they’re doing and plays as optimally as possible.