One question that gets asked a lot is why blackjack players should simply not just mimic the dealer’s strategy. After all, most players who go up against the dealer will come off second best. This is a good question and one that we intend to explore in the notes below. In order to answer this question, we need to understand two things. First we need to understand how the game of blackjack really works and secondly we need to understand how the house edge works.
Most players believe that the house gets an edge in blackjack because the players themselves are not playing their hands properly. While it is certainly true that a player who simply guesses whether to hit or stand will increase the house edge, there is another force at work here. We need to take a look at the inherent house edge in blackjack. The game of blackjack has a built-in edge that stems from the fact that player are forced to play his or her hand before the dealer. As such, the player has a chance of busting out before the dealer can even enter the picture.
Double Bust House Edge
Even if the dealer had a lower scoring hand or had a greater chance of going bust, the player loses their bet before the dealer can play. This double bust scenario is how blackjack gives the house its edge, and how most players will walk away with a loss. If we decide to mimic the dealer’s strategy, which means basically standing on any hand 17-21 and hitting on 16 or less, the house edge would sit around 8% due to fact that the player is forced to play his hand first.
Consider the probability of going bust. In any given blackjack hand, the probability busting out is around 28.3%. This means that if both the player and the dealer played the same strategy, around 8% of the time both hands would bust together but the dealer would win as the player goes first. So what we are saying here is that if you mimicked the dealer’s strategy, you are actually increasing the house edge compared to playing the basic strategy which gives a house edge between 0.5% and 2.5% depending on how well you follow the strategy.
In blackjack, there are a number of advantages that are given to the player that the dealer does not have at his or her disposal. This includes receiving a payout of 3:2 for blackjack compared to the dealers 1:1. Also being able to double your wager in favourable situations, being able to split pairs and stand on totals as low as 12 whereas the dealer must hit on totals lower than 16. In some games, players can even hit on soft hand while the dealer cannot.
Reducing the House Edge
So as we can see, mimicking the dealer’s strategy is a very bad idea. It is also not a good a good idea to guess when you should be hitting or standing. You might not know this but mathematicians have actually calculated the best way to play every single hand in blackjack. This information has been condensed into what is known as the basic playing strategy. By learning the basic strategy players can reduce the initial 8% house edge down to a possible 0.5%. This means knowing exactly what to do in each hand, whether to split, hit double or stand.
Playing the Basic Strategy
If we take a look at the numbers, we can see that from the initial 8% house edge that is inherent in blackjack, the 3:2 payout for blackjack hands drops the house edge to 5.7% straight away. If we factor in the correct strategy for standing or hitting, the house edge is reduced it by another 3.4% taking the total to 2.3% Add in the correct strategy for doubling and we are down to 0.7%.
Finally, if you use the correct method for pair splitting, this will reduce the house edge by 0.2% taking the total down to a nice low 0.5%.