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Video Blackjack

17 July 2001

By John Grochowski

When video gaming devices started to make their way onto casino floors in the late 1970s and the early 1980s, the assumption of most managers was that video blackjack would be a big hit, and that video poker would struggle. After all, blackjack was the most popular casino game, far more popular than poker.

Exactly the opposite happened. Video poker became one of the hottest happenings in the industry, and video blackjack was pushed to the fringes. One of the big reasons is something we explored in this column before: On most video blackjack games, blackjacks pay only even money instead of the 3-2 you get at the tables. That spots the house an extra 2.3 percent edge.

Another reason is that video blackjack doesn't lend itself easily to the kinds of jackpots that attract players to other electronic gaming devices, including slot machines. In video blackjack, you bet a couple of quarters, you win a couple of quarters.

Nevertheless, video blackjack survives as a niche game. It does far better in jurisdictions such as Arizona that do not permit table games. There, table-sized, multi-player video blackjack games are among the most popular offerings.

Where table games are permitted, video blackjack survives on single-player machines, largely as one option on multigame machines that include slot, keno and video poker games.

Those single-player video blackjack games usually are dealt from a single electronic deck, which is reshuffled after every hand. To get the most out of the game means learning and using basic strategy for single-deck blackjack.

Let's break it down into a few simple rules, then add in a few extra little wrinkles.

  • Always stand if your total is hard 17 or higher. (A hard hand is one that does not include an Ace being used as an 11. With 10-7, you have hard 17. With Ace-6, you have soft 17, and it cannot be busted with a one-card draw because you can revert to using the Ace as a 1 instead.)
  • If your total is hard 13, 14, 15 or 16, hit if the dealer's face-up card is 7 or higher. Stand if the dealer is showing a 2 through 6.
  • If your total is hard 12, hit if the dealer's face up card is 7 or higher, or if the dealer is showing a 2 or a 3. Stand if the dealer's up card is a 4, 5 or 6.
  • Most video blackjack machines will permit you to double down only if your first two cards are 10 or 11. Double down whenever your first two cards total 11, no matter what the dealer shows. If your first two cards total 10, double down when the dealer's up card is 9 or lower.
  • Hit on soft totals of 12 through 17, no matter what the dealer shows. Hit soft 18 if the dealer's up card is a 9, 10 or Ace. Stand on soft 19 or 20. (Soft 21 is a blackjack). On table blackjack, we'd double down on many soft hands, but I've yet to see the single-player video blackjack game that permits soft doubling.
  • Always split Aces or 8s. Never split 4s, 5s or 10s. With other cards, we have to keep in mind that single-player video blackjack doesn't permit you to double down after splitting pairs, so we have to account for that in our strategy. Split 2s or 3s if the dealer shows 3 through 7. Split 6s if the dealer shows 2 through 7. Split 7s if the dealer shows 2 through 7. Split 9s if the dealer shows 2 through 6, and if the dealer shows 8 or 9.

Those are the basics. There are also a few little fine adjustments you can make to cut a fraction off the house edge.

Some video blackjack games, including a widespread version on IGT Game King machines, permit late surrender, meaning that if the dealer does not have blackjack, the player may surrender half the bet after the first two cards instead of playing out the hand. In single-deck blackjack, we surrender only with hard 16 against a dealer's 10 or Ace.

We also make a slight adjustment if we have a 12 that consists of a 10 and a 2, and the dealer's face-up card is a 4. In that case, we hit the 12. If the 12 consists of any other combination, we stand.

Also, if we have a 16 and the dealer shows a 10, we stand if our 16 includes any 4s or 5s. With 8-5-3, for example, we stand instead of hitting as we would with most combinations that total 16.

Video blackjack doesn't give players the opportunity to overcome the house edge through counting cards as the table game does, but those who follow the basic strategy will cut that edge as low as it goes.

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago, with podcasts at www.wlsam.com/sectional.asp?id=38069. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook (tinyurl.com/7lzdt44) and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

Winning Tips for Casino Games

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