Blackjack is widely considered the most popular casino game in the world. There are plenty of celebrities who play the game, including Ben Affleck, who seems to have fancied himself as something of a card sharp. But the reason behind the game’s popularity seems to be quite simple: It has one of the lowest house edges of all casino games. In fact, as we shall explain below, some players believe there is no house edge at all, and that they can, therefore, beat the house over time.
But it is generally accepted that the house edge in blackjack is somewhere in the region of 1%. That means, in theory, the casino would win $1 for every $100 bet on the game over time. Yet, that’s only theoretical math, and it’s not always going to work out like that in practice. Nevertheless, it’s worth asking where that house edge comes from? After all, isn’t the game about who – you are the dealer – gets closest to 21? All things are equal, as the player and the dealer get cards from the same deck. So shouldn’t the house edge be zero?
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Dealer has some built-in advantages
Not necessarily. There are several reasons why the game favors the house. For a start, the dealer’s “hole card” is hidden. This means the player has to proceed without knowing the dealer’s hand. This hidden card gives the dealer an advantage, as does the fact the dealer automatically wins when the player goes bust.
But if you play live blackjack online with real dealers, you will see that there is a number of weapons in the player’s arsenal that counteract the dealer’s advantage, including doubling down (increasing the bet on a strong hand), taking insurance, and playing with the best strategy. The latter factor is important as it stresses the fact that the player has options, whereas the dealer has to play within certain rules. For example, the dealer will usually have to stand on a soft 17.
We should also talk about one of the most misunderstood concepts in blackjack – card counting. Due to certain movies, like Rain Man and 21, there is something of an impression that card counting is somehow illicit – a form of cheating. There is also a perception that it is difficult – it really isn’t. Fundamentally, all it requires is keeping a mental record of the number of high cards that have been dealt so far. You can use a system to keep a record, and it’s as easy as learning a phone number.
Some believe house edge doesn’t exist
We aren’t going to recommend card counting as a way to win at blackjack. But for our purposes here, it is enough to say that card counters believe that their strategy is enough to eliminate the house edge. As we mentioned, the players have options; wiggle room to do different things. The dealer does not. Being aggressive (doubling down) when required, or being conservative when you believe the cards aren’t falling your way, all help the player succeed.
In the end, we probably haven’t made the house edge too clear from an objectively mathematical standpoint. The reason for that is it is, by its very nature, unclear. Blackjack is not like roulette, where we can clearly see the house edge in terms of pure probability. It involves human decisions, and that means human ingenuity and error. Good players believe they have enough of the former to tip the balance, whereas the general consensus remains the house will win. The fact that it is all still being debated today without resolution is part of what makes blackjack so enigmatic for players. And it’s why it is one of the most popular casinos games.