A Blackjack table typically features from five to seven betting spots and just as many seats. The assumption is that players will manage one bet and one hand apiece. However, many casinos allow a player to manage two or more hands by placing wagers on adjacent betting spots. In this case, the game plays exactly the same as it would if each player had just one hand, with the multi-hand player taking actions on the hands in order from the dealer’s left to right.
Most Blackjack tables do not allow multiple hands played on non-adjacent spots. Many permit no more than three spots to be played, and some only two. Others require that at least double the minimum bet be made on each spot when playing multiple hands. This House Rule is in place to discourage low-betting players from taking up spaces that bigger bettors might wish to claim.
Is There an Advantage?
Many who play multiple hands say they do so because it gives them an advantage. They are able to control more cards. What happens on the first hand affects the play on the following hands. It also directs their betting, allowing them to double down or split with confidence when one of their hands is already a “lock,” such as a twenty or a natural blackjack. And some say having multiple hands increases the likelihood of being dealt blackjacks, double-down opportunities, and pairs that can be split.
But is that all really true?
For a fact, when the house has the edge, it will win over the long-term, and playing multiple hands serves the casino more than it does the player. The more money that crosses the table, the more the house makes. This is the mathematical certainty upon which all casinos are built.
That means the only time playing multiple hands is the right choice is when the advantage is with the player. That can occur in one of two ways: either the House Rules are such that the house edge is actually negative—a true rarity—or the player has a system, such as card counting or advantage play, that shifts the margin in his or her favor.
To be very clear—playing multiple hands is ONLY advantageous when the player has the odds on his/her side. Otherwise, it is just a way to lose money faster.
Gaining an Edge
If a player has been watching a table and knows for certain that a deck is “hot”—i.e., rich in tens and Aces relative to the number of cards remaining—then it is the right time to stake multiple hands. The idea is to “chew up” the big cards before other players can get them, wagering big, winning quickly, and leaving the table as soon as the deck returns to its normal distribution. That is the absolutely perfect situation for multi-hand play.
Another way in which multiple hands can serve the player is in terms of comps. Pit bosses always take notice of multiple-hand players. No matter how much such players are wagering, they appear to be high rollers, or at least medium rollers. Win or lose, some free drinks, meals, and other perks are usually available to them.
Multiple hands can also be used to save a seat for a friend, to scare away poor players who may be intimidated by the practice, or to secure a table for heads-up play alone against a dealer. But once again, because it bears repeating—playing multiple hands is simply a way to lose money faster UNLESS the player has somehow turned the built-in house edge to his/her favor. And even when there is an edge, playing more than one hand can get quite pricey when splits and double downs have to be funded. It is a high-risk undertaking even under the best of conditions.