To a much larger extent than most casino games, blackjack involves large doses of skill. Players striving to cut the house edge to the bone or beyond focus on when to hit, stand, split or double down, and rightfully so.

Away from the strategy side, there is basic information every player should know. How does the house get an edge on the game? Are odds in online casinos the same as offline? Can you, as a player, change the odds? Let's tackle those basics and a few more.

Why Does the House Have an Edge in Blackjack?

After all, players and the dealer get cards from the same deck and players have more options than dealers do. It can't be that dealer strategy creates the edge. Players can use the same strategy if they like.

The house edge in blackjack comes from one simple fact: players can bust and lose before the dealer even plays his hand.

If you played the same strategy as the dealer, you would bust about 28% of the time and so would the dealer. You and the dealer would bust on the same hand about 8% of the time – 28% of 28%.

When either you or the dealer made a standing hand of 17 or better, you would win 46% of decisions and the dealer also would win 46%. But on the 8% of hands both you and the dealer busted, you’d lose.

Overall, the dealer would win 54% of hands and you’d win 46%, an 8% house edge that would be much too high to overcome. Hardly anyone would play.

However, you don’t have to make the same plays as the dealer. You can double down. You can split pairs. And you get paid extra on two-card 21s. All those factors help cut the house edge from that 8% starting point.

A  player who learns basic strategy can narrow the house edge to less than 1% – about 0.62% in a six-deck game in which the dealer hits soft 17, pays 3-2 on blackjacks, you can double down on any first two cards, and split Aces only once but other pairs up to three hands.

That’s a long trip below 8%, but all those wrinkles are necessary with the house having such a powerful edge from the start.

Do the Odds Differ Online vs. Live Games? 

If all rules are the same, the odds and house edge are the same online as in live casinos. 

In the six-deck game mentioned above, the 0.62% house edge in live games also is 0.62% online. If the dealer stands instead of hits soft 17, the edge is 0.4%, regardless of whether the game is live or online.

The biggest difference in online vs. live play is that most online games use a fresh shuffle for every hand. That can be done instantly online. In such games, card counting does not work. 

The tradeoff is that instantaneous results and payoffs mean online games can offer more side bets and options without slowing down the game.


Do Video Blackjack Machines in Live Casinos Have the Same Odds as Online Games? 

Like most online games, video blackjack uses a random number generator to deal the cards. But you have to be really careful in checking the rules before you play.

It's common for video blackjack games in live casinos to tell you, "Blackjacks pay 2-for-1."

Sometimes players don't immediately understand the implication – a 2-for-1 payoff is the same as even money, or 1-to-1.

If you bet $10 at a live or online game that pays 3-2 on blackjacks, your payoff when you're dealt a two-card 21 is $15, plus you keep your original wager. Your profit is $15.

On a machine that pays 2-for-1, your $10 is immediately deducted from your credit meter. When you get a blackjack, twice that, or $20, is added onto the meter. Your profit is only $10. 

With 2-for-1 payoffs, blackjacks pay the same as any other winning hand. The lack of a bigger pay on blackjacks increases the house edge by 2.27%.

Are Blackjack Odds Always the Same, or Can You Change Them? 

Blackjack odds change with your playing strategy. House edges such as the 0.62% on the six-deck game listed earlier in this article assume the player is using basic strategy. If the player varies from basic strategy, the house edge rises.

One of the first moves any player getting serious about blackjack should make is to learn basic strategy. A major plus for online play is that you can have a basic strategy chart open while you play. Whether you have a paper chart next to you and your computer or have the chart online on a separate tab, you can refer to it to your heart's content.

In live games that don't use continuous shuffling machines, it's also possible to change the odds by counting cards. Card counters make bigger bets when the composition of the remaining deck favors them and smaller bets when the composition favors the house.

When is that? When there is a higher than usual concentration of high cards remaining to be played, that favors players. Under those conditions, more blackjacks are dealt and that favors players. Conversely, a high concentration of low cards brings fewer blackjacks and favors the house.


Does Playing More Than One Hand at a Time Help or Hurt? 

If it means you're betting more money, playing more hands increases your exposure to the house edge. That means losses increase just because you have more at risk.

The situation is the opposite for skilled card counters in live games. If they have the edge over the house, then getting more money on the table increases average profits.

In some cases, players can make small gains by playing more hands if they use composition-dependent strategies or if they're counting cards and recognize close-call hands. Seeing extra cards can make a difference in strategy on close-call hands such as hard 16 against a dealer's 10 or hard 12 against a dealer's 4.

Does it Make a Difference if You Play Alone With the Dealer Instead of With More Players?

In live games, playing head to head with the dealer yields a much faster game with more hands per hour than games with multiple players.

Online, in common games dealt by a random number generator, the issue is eliminated. You always get a fast game and you have to be prepared for that. You don't have to play any faster than you want to. You can take your time and ponder your plays. But the virtual dealer is always ready for the next hand.

Speed of play varies by dealer. Some push the card out faster than others. But at, Michael Shackelford lists average hands per hour at live tables at 209 with one player at the table; 139 with two; 105 with three; 84 with four; 70 with five; 60 with six; and 52 at a full seven-player table.

That means if you risk $10 per hand at a full table, you're betting $520 per hour, but if you're head to head with the dealer, you bet $2,090.

Go into a session with eyes open, mind alert, and let your bankroll be your guide.

For nearly 25 years, John Grochowski has been one of the most prolific gaming writers in the United States. He’s been ranked ninth by GamblingSites among the top 11 gambling experts at Gambling Sites and his Video Poker Answer Book was ranked eighth among the best gambling books of all time.