There are a few rules in blackjack that can vary slightly from casino to casino.
Generally, the dealer in blackjack must hit if he has a total of 16 or less, and stand if he has 17 or more.
But at some games there is an exception when the dealer has a hand of “soft” 17.
If you look at the table, you will see one of two phrases on the felt:
Seventeen is a weak hand, so if the dealer is allowed to try to improve the soft 17 hands, it makes the game tougher. When a dealer is allowed to hit soft 17, it adds about 0.2% to the house advantage.
Years ago, the only “Hit Soft 17” games in the US were in and around Reno, Nevada. Almost all other areas used the better rule of standing on all 17s. Over the years, more and more casinos have switched to hitting soft 17, and there are now far more H17 games than S17 games.
You can still find some games where the dealer stands on all 17s, even in casinos where some of the tables use the H17 rule. Look around!
After splitting a pair, many casinos will allow you to double-down on a two-card hand that arises as a result of the split. For example, if you split a pair of eights, and draw a 3 on the first hand, it is valuable to be able to double-down on the resulting hand of 11.
This rule is fairly common, and it helps the player by about 0.12%.
As mentioned in the previous section discussion on pair splitting, there are several common restrictions on splitting Aces. You will receive only one card on each Ace after splitting.
Some casinos will allow you to resplit if you draw another Ace, and some will not. That’s true even if the casino allows resplits of all other pairs.
When the casino does allow resplitting of Aces, it helps the player by about 0.08%.
This rule is rarely posted at the table. If you are curious, you will need to ask the dealer.
Many casinos in Europe, and some in other parts of the world, handle the dealer’s second card differently. In these “European No Hole Card” games, the dealer only deals himself one card at the beginning of the round. After all the players have completed their hands, he deals his own second card and completes the hand.
Contrast that with the normal US style of play. There, if the dealer has a ten or Ace card up, he checks the other card immediately to see if he has a blackjack. If he does, the hand is over. This process of “peeking” under the hole card to check for blackjack means that players can only lose one bet per hand if the dealer has a blackjack.
In a No-Hole-Card game, a player might split or double and have multiple bets at risk to a dealer blackjack, because the dealer cannot check ahead of time. This changes the optimal strategy, and means that players should usually not split or double against a dealer ten or Ace upcard. (An exception is splitting Aces against a dealer ten.)
Note that there are a few no-hole-card games where the rules specifically say that only one bet will be collected from a player if the dealer has a blackjack. In those games, although there is no hole card, you can play the game as if there were. (That means you should play it as a Peek game, even though there’s not really a peek!) It’s all a bit confusing.
When the No-Hole-Card rule is in use, and all bets are at risk to a dealer blackjack, it costs the player 0.11%, and players should revise their strategy appropriately. (Use the “No-Peek” option at our Strategy Engine.)
So, if you have made it this far, congratulations. You should have a good idea of what to expect when you sit down at a blackjack table in the casino.
What we have not talked about is how to actually make the best decisions while playing the game. That is a whole subject all its own. To have the best chance of winning, you should learn and practice “basic strategy”, which is the mathematically best way to play each hand against each possible dealer upcard.
For a free chart that shows the right play in every case, visit our Blackjack Basic Strategy Engine.
You’re well on your way.
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