Why Play Blackjack?

Walking into a casino or visiting an online gaming site, one is immediately confronted by dozens of game options. The slot machines are colorful, entertaining, and offer huge jackpots. The Craps table is noisy and buzzing with excitement, with small fortunes won or lost on every roll of the dice. There is Baccarat and Roulette, where the glitterati congregate and high rollers rule. And Video Poker has its own attraction, promising big returns for small bankrolls. Why, then, play Blackjack?

Less Advantage for the House

To begin, casino operators expect players to lose a small percentage of every bet they make. That’s because every game they offer has a built-in house advantage or “edge,” which is usually expressed as “the ratio of the average loss to the initial bet.” For some games, that ratio is very high—such as Keno (25%~29%) and Big Six (11%~24%). For others, it is relatively low, including Baccarat (1.06%~1.24%) and Pai Gow Poker (1.46%).

Obviously, choosing a game with a lower house edge is to the player’s benefit. Roulette features a margin for the house of 2.7% to 5.3%. Slot machines can vary widely, typically from 2% to 15%. Video Poker is among the best, with a margin as low as 0.46%. And Craps, depending on the type of wager made, can range from 1.41% on the Pass Line to 9.09% on the Hard 6 or 8 and 16.67% on the Proposition 7. Clearly, certain types of bets are highly favored by the house.

Blackjack, on the other hand, when played by liberal Las Vegas rules, gives the house an edge of just 0.28%. Even if exotic variations are played, they still offer better odds of winning than most other casino games. Spanish 21, for example, features a 0.40% to 0.76% margin, and Super Fun 21—a single-deck version paying even money for natural blackjacks—gives the house just a 0.94% advantage. It simply makes sense to play the game that gives the house the smallest edge.

A Game of Skill

All forms of gambling are “games of chance,” with luck playing a role in who wins and who loses. But some games are more affected by chance than others, especially those based upon “independent events,” where whatever has happened in the past has no influence at all on the next event to occur. Among such games are Craps and Roulette, where the dice and the wheel have no memory. Each throw or spin is independent of all others. A seven can be rolled or a zero may appear at any time.

For other games, including Baccarat, Blackjack, and most other card games, the past is big factor in what will occur in the future. Each card taken from a deck during the course of play changes the odds on what is left to be dealt. Take most of the face cards from a deck and only small valued cards remain. Remove all of the Aces, and no more natural blackjacks are possible.

This fact opens up opportunities for observant players. Anyone who knows what has been played and what remains can wager accordingly—bigger bets when the deck is favorable and smaller ones when conditions are poor. This is the basis for “card counting” systems that can turn tables on the house advantage, giving the player the edge by as much as 1%~3% in some situations. This makes Blackjack more a game of skill, like Poker, than a game of chance. Become proficient, and the winnings are just waiting to be picked up.