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Scouting Blackjack Tables – Choosing The Best for You

If you are going to be playing Blackjack, whether online or in a land casino, one of the first things you will need to do is to choose which game you actually want to play. While this may sound very straightforward, there is actually more to it than you may first expect. This is because a large casino (both online and offline) is likely to offer several Blackjack tables with different rules and shuffling procedures.  

In general, there are five things you need to be aware of when picking a table, the betting limits, the number of decks, the playing rules, the shuffling procedure, and the number of players. In this guide, we will explain these together with how you can find the best table for your needs.

Betting Limits 

The minimum and maximum bet at a table is not likely to have a huge impact on your play, unless you are using a betting system such as the Martingale, which can require very large bets after a losing streak. However, you still need to be aware of them. The main reason is so that you do not embarrass yourself or the other players by trying to place a bet that is too small or too big for the table. In nearly every casino there will be a placard next to the dealer that summarises the table’s betting limits and rules. It is very easy to locate and takes just a second to find the relevant information. Make sure that this is the first thing you do in order to avoid any awkward situations or misunderstandings.

The Number of Decks 

You will find that there are Blackjack games that use 1, 2, 4, 6 or 8 decks of cards, and it is important to know which you are about to play. The number of decks has a direct effect on the house edge, as a general rule, the more decks involved, the larger the house edge will be. 

When you look at the placard by the dealer, it will often state if it is a single or double deck game; however, it rarely reveals if it is a four, six or eight deck game. Nonetheless, it is vital that you know before playing, as the strategy used is contingent upon the number of decks. It is standard for multi-deck games to be dealt from a shoe; a transparent device that houses the decks. With a bit of practise, you will be able to tell how many decks are in use just by looking at the dealer when the cards are shuffled or by glancing in a shoe. However, if you are not sure, then ask the dealer and they will happily tell you.

The Playing Rules Used 

If you have been studying Blackjack then you will be aware that there are numerous possible rule variants and while the differences may be subtle, they will all have an effect on the house edge. For instance, you need to know which hands you can double down on, if you can re-split hands, and so on.

You need to know what the rules are governing the dealer, do they stand on all 17s or hit on soft 17s. Can you Double Down on all hands or only on those with specific totals? Does the game allow surrender, and if so is it early or late surrender? Can you re-split Aces? Also, be sure to check the payout for Blackjack, it could be 3:2, 6:5, 7:5 or even money. You should never sit down at a table if you are not 100% sure of the rules.

It is fair to say that some rules are friendlier to players than others are. Some rules increase the house edge, while others will decrease it. In general, any rule that expands the player’s options, such as surrender or splitting, will decrease the house edge, while a rule that restricts the player, such as no doubling after a split, will increase the house edge.

When looking at the rules these are the ones you want to see: 

  • Blackjack pays 2:1 
  • Blackjack pays 3:2 
  • The game uses one or two decks 
  • Early surrender is allowed 
  • Late surrender is allowed 
  • Double Down allowed on any first two cards 
  • Double Down on soft hands is allowed 
  • You can re-split pairs 
  • You can re-split Aces 
  • The dealer stands on soft 17 
  • Player can enter a game mid-shoe 
  • There is manual or auto shuffle 

The rules you want to avoid are as follows: 

  • Blackjack pays 6:5 
  • No Double Down after a split 
  • Double Down only allowed on totals of 10 and 11 
  • No Double Down on soft hands 
  • Aces cannot be re-split 
  • Dealer hits on soft 17 
  • No surrender allowed 
  • Six or eight decks used 
  • No mid-shoe entry 
  • CSM is used to shuffle the cards 

The Card Shuffling Procedure 

If you are playing a single or double deck game of Blackjack, then generally the cards are shuffled by hand and this is not an issue. However, when playing a multi-deck game, the cards will often be shuffled by a machine as doing so manually is time consuming. There are many different types of shuffling machines and the one you do not want to play with is the Continuous Shuffling Machine (CSM).

Generally, a casino will have two sets of cards on the go at a Blackjack table, while one set is in play, the machine is shuffling the other. When the dealer comes to the cut card, the round is completed and then the two sets of cards are swapped. This is done in order to save time and ensure that the game can continue being played at all times.

When an automatic shuffler is used to shuffle multiple decks, the odds against the player do not change. In a six deck game, usually between 65% to 80% of the cards are dealt before they are all shuffled in the machine. However, this is slightly different with a CSM. 

A CMS is a combination of an automatic shuffler and a shoe. Usually, five decks of cards are placed into the CSM and after a round is over, the dealer collects the just used cards and places them into the CSM (rather than a discard tray), where they will be randomly shuffled with the remaining cards.

This is a small but very important difference. With an automatic shuffler, the majority of the cards are played before they are gathered and shuffled together. With a CSM, the cards are returned after each round and shuffled. The most obvious effect of this is that the action never stops with the CSM, as the dealer does not have to stop for shuffling.

However, a CSM also changes the odds against a player. Surprisingly, they actually change in favour of the player, with the house edge reduced by about 0.1% in a six-deck game. This is because of what is known as the “cut card effect”, which means that there is a slightly greater chance of getting tens and Blackjack with a CSM.

While this sounds positive, there is more to it. While the house edge decreases, from the casino’s point of view, this is made up for by the increased pace of the game. A CSM game never has to stop, which means that on average there will be about 15% to 20% more hands played per hour. From the player’s point of view, this means a larger hourly theoretical loss than with a manually shuffled or auto shuffler game. Therefore, it is actually better to avoid CSM games if you are seriously interested in reducing your risk and losses.

The Number of Players 

If you are playing with basic Blackjack strategy, then it is always better to play at a full table than a table with empty seats, or worst of all, heads up with the dealer. This is simply because more players mean fewer hands dealt, which once again reduces the number of hands per hour, so reduces the exposure of your bankroll to the house edge. 

To Summarise 

By considering the above, you can do a lot to reduce the house edge. For instance, as a general rule, the more decks used, the larger the house edge. For example, in a game with H17 (dealer hits on all 17s) and DAS (Double is allowed after splitting), the house edge is 0.04%, 0.39%, 0.56%, 0.62%, and 0.64%, for single, double, four, six and eight decks respectively.

You can look for games that have more of the favourable player rules than the unfavourable rules, tables that don’t use a CMS, tables with more players, and so on. Before you sit down at a table, whether virtually or in a land casino, be sure that you are fully aware of the betting limits and the table rules. You can also look up the basic strategy for that particular configuration, which will go a long way towards improving your results. It may seem like a lot to consider at first, but with a little practise, it will become second nature.