Expected Value (EV)at the Blackjack Table

table game

We often practice the consideration of “expected value” in our daily lives.  Sometimes, when dining out, we just pick a restaurant and go, but there are other times when we go on line, check the menu, check reviews or ask friends about a new place.  In the latter, we are looking for expected value, in other words, what we should expect for value with that experience.  Ultimately, we judge whether it was worth the time, money, or whatever we would personally consider in our experience as valuable to us.

Anyone who gambles at a casino knows that the EV is always going to be negative.  That’s what’s called “the house advantage.”  If you think you are ever entitled to win at a casino, you are incredibly naive.  Your best bet at that time is to leave go to a store with your bankroll, buy something you like at a good value or on sale, and enjoy wearing it for a lifetime – that is a positive EV!  Any single bet can force a casino to pay out, but on a long-term basis, it will make a lot of money off almost all gamblers.

Even though patrons of casinos know there is always a house advantage, the knowledgeable gambler, or advantage gambler, tries to lessen the negative EV by knowing the best rules, practicing the best strategy and using comps and freebies in their overall experience.

So what should we be looking for if we want a low EV?  Let’s look at some of the better games for EV first.  For today, we turn to blackjack.

BlackjackBlackjack is considered by many as a beatable game.  But hold your horses, pardner – even the pros are finding it harder and harder.  There are so many great stories out there about pro blackjack teams, such as in “Beating the House” by Ben Mezrich.  But, better casino surveillance, Griffin (which contains photos and info regarding hundreds of known gaming offenders), the ability to deny play to anyone for any basically any reason due to the casino’s umbrella of “private property,” and rule changes with technology such as Shuffle Master has made it increasingly impossible for the pros.  Counting cards is one thing, but getting past all the other deterrents is another.  This is why pro blackjack players use alias names and have gone into publishing and other casino consulting ventures.

So, what can the non-pro advantage player do?  Well, here is a simple list of the things that will change the advantage to the house, good and bad!


1) A very good rule for the player is permitting Double Downs after splitting pairs. It cuts the house advantage by .13 percent. In areas where several casinos are within reasonable distance, the player should choose games in which doubling after splits is allowed.

2) Single Decks games with similar rules to 6 and 8 decxk games.  Large deck games increase the casino’s edge by about 0.5%

NOT SO GOOD to downright BAD RULES

1) Never play blackjack at a table that pays 6/5 for a blackjack.  The normal is 3/2.  This rule is a bankroll breaker for players. For example, a two-card 21 pays only $6 for a $5 bet instead of the usual $7.50, which adds 1.4 percent edge to the house–more than the usual house edge against the basic strategy of seasoned players in nearly all games with the normal 3-2 return.

2) Watch for tables that the dealer hits on a soft 17 (Ace & 6) – the house edge is increased by .2 percent. soft 17

3) Double Down Only on 10 & 11.  Some casinos do not allow the player to double on totals of less than 10 or on soft hands. The net is a .28-percent increase in the house edge

4) Never take Insurance. (There are exceptions the pros know of, but you wouldn’t be reading this if you were at that level, would you be?)


  • Read the limit sign.  Does it have standard rules?  What’s the minimum and maximum bet limit? Does it include rules above – good or bad?
  • Does the dealer look friendly?  entertaining?  This might not have anything to do with EV, but if you are one of those players that feel entitled to tip the dealer, that affects your EV.  Remember, why tips are given – and it’s not because you are just doing your job.
  • Don’t bet beyond your bankroll and chase losses.  Don’t follow “systems”, like the Martingale, to recoup losses.  The only system you MUST HAVE is basic strategy.
  • The next one I love, from Fred Renzey who writes for Casino City Times, “If you believe those “No Mid-Shoe Entry” signs actually protect you from having your cards “screwed up” by new players coming to the table when you’re “running good”, then you probably don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell at this game anyway. Fact is, those signs serve just two purposes: 1) they stop card counters from “back-counting”, then jumping in when the shoe is “heavy” with 10s and aces, and 2) they cater to, and pacify, high-rolling suckers with valueless pampering. Don’t get hung up on irrelevant nonsense.
  • Be careful of side bets.  Any additional bet increases the volatility of the game and is added only to increase the house edge.  They are fun, but understand they increase the EV.

This is not an exhaustive list by any means.  Visit the resources listed to the right or go online.  The amount of blackjack advice (good & bad) is astounding.


That’s all for now.  Tomorrow – EV and Slots!




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