Because blackjack is the only casino table game in which skill can play an important role, casinos have done everything they possibly can through the years to re-tool the game in an attempt to neutralize any edge studious players can acquire.
If you play the game with any degree of regularity and are serious about keeping the house advantage to a minimum, it is important to scrutinize the rules at individual properties to know exactly what you're up against.
Here are the primary categories for smart blackjack shoppers:
TABLE MINIMUM: You have to play at a table you can afford. Keep in mind that even at a $5 or $10 game you can always wager more, up to the table max. A lower minimum will give your bankroll more mileage and help you weather cold streaks.
NUMBER OF DECKS: Ever since basic strategy was popularized, casinos have abandoned single-deck hand-dealt games in favor of multiple-deck games dealt out of shoes. The more decks in play, the harder the house advantage works against players. The most popular variations are six-deck and eight-deck games. The former is the lesser of two evils, so make it a point to seek them out.
CUT DEPTH: This is a critical category, especially for players who keep track of the cards that are dealt. The more decks the casino puts in play after the shuffle, the better it is for skilled players. Watch carefully to see where the dealer places the cut card and how many decks are chopped off. The norm is up to two decks, but if you find a casino where only one and one-half decks are cut out of play you can bet it's a good place to play the game.
SOFT-17: Blackjack games where the dealer must stand on a soft 17 are preferred over games where the dealer hits that hand. When the dealer is given the opportunity to make a better hand out of a marginally weak one, it increases the house advantage at the expense of players.
OPPORTUNITY: It's a tough go grinding out profit winning even money on minimum bets. That's why when the situation warrants (a weak dealer up-card), you should take advantage of the chance to bet more when the dealer is in a position of weakness and in jeopardy to bust. Opportunities for players to accomplish this goal include being able to double down on any two cards, being permitted to split any pair, and being allowed to double down after splitting. Casinos that place restrictions on these perks are ones to avoid. Pay special attention to house rules on splitting aces. Most will allow you to do it only once, which means if you draw a third ace on one of them you're stuck with a 12. If you find a casino that allows you to split aces twice, or even up to three times, you've struck a strategic pot of gold.
THE SHUFFLE: Automatic and the more insidious continuous shufflers are popping up with ever increasing frequency at casinos around the country. They are designed to speed up the game and subject your bankroll to the ravages of the unrelenting house advantage. The best games are where the dealers shuffle up manually. It not only gives the players a little break to collect their thoughts and regroup, it also provides some down time. Automatic shufflers are the lesser of the two evils. Continuous shufflers should be avoided at all costs.
BLUE CHIP: July is your month to enjoy some “Fun in the Sun” at the Michigan City resort. B-Connected player’s club members just need to claim all three letters in the word “SUN” at the promotional kiosk during the following weeks to qualify for a guaranteed slot prize between $10 and $10,000: Claim the “S” July 1 through July 6; Claim the “U” July 7 through July 13; Claim the “N” July 14 through July 20. Qualified B-Connected members must swipe their card between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. on July 29 to claim their prize.
FOUR WINDS: The property is giving away a luxury vehicle on Saturday, July 5, in the $125,000 Hot Summer Ride event. The grand prize is a 2014 Maserati Ghibli or a share of $55,000 in cash prizes. Hourly drawings will begin at 1 p.m. (EDT) with a $10,000 winner. The car will be given away at 9 p.m. There will be a “last chance” cash drawing for $15,000 at 10 p.m. W Club members receive one free entry daily now through July 5 by visiting the W Players Club. Earn additional entries by playing slots or table games.
HARRAH’S JOLIET: This coming weekend is your final opportunity to get in on the Pump Payout promotion. Earn entries Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. until 9:45 p.m. Play the kiosk game from Noon until 10 p.m. to receive one free guess at the pump price. Every hour between 3 and 10 p.m. a gas price amount will be revealed for your chance to win a share of $16,000. Please visit the property for complete details.
HORSESHOE: For the second straight year “The Shoe” hosted its own Relay for Life fundraising event. Participating employees formed teams for the June 10 – 11 event and pledged to have at least one member from each team circulating the venue’s 1/9-mile track at all times for 24 hours straight to raise money for the American Cancer Society. The goal was to exceed last year when the property clocked 645 miles and raised $14,000. Horseshoe has pledged to match all donations made up to $5,000 during the month of June. Guest donations are still being accepted on the casino floor.
MAJESTIC STAR: The final “Earn & Get Giveaway” for the month of June will be held on Sunday. Player’s club members who earn 250 in slot points from 6 a.m. until 9:30 p.m. will be eligible to receive the outdoor gift of the day, including an Igloo Party Bucket, Cuisinart Charcoal Grill, Picnic Time Portable Cooler, and Beverage Dispenser and 12-piece BBQ/Cooler set. Eligible players may redeem their prize Noon to 10 p.m. at the 2nd level entrance walkway.