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Blackjack is a game built on numbers and statistics. While it’s possible to win from every starting hand, some have better odds than others. It is for this very reason that blackjack strategy prescribes some occasions where you should surrender rather than trying to play on.
These odds remain the same whether you play blackjack online or in a land-based casino, so the skills you learn playing in one can be transferred to the other.
In this article, we will examine the different elements of blackjack odds and how we can factor them into our playing decisions.
A look at some Blackjack odds examples using hands
Blackjack odds aren’t fixed because factors like variant rules, the number of decks, what cards have been drawn already, and your playing style can affect them. However, they can provide a good guide that can steer your decisions.
Odds of Going Bust
A simple way to think of odds in the game is to consider the chance your blackjack hand could be busted by drawing an additional card.
If you start off with a hand of 11 or lower (or any soft hand), there is a 0% chance you can bust by taking another card. However, if you’re holding a hand of 20, only one card can improve your hand, but if you draw anything other than an ace, you’ll be bust.
The exact odds will depend on the number and value of cards left in the shoe, but if you assume, it’s a new game and a single deck blackjack, a starting hand of 20 will have around a 92% chance of busting if you hit.
That percentage sits at around 56-58% for starting hands of hard 14 and 15.
The dealer also has odds of going bust, but they are different from yours. Since you can only see one of the dealer’s cards, that’s how the chances of going bust are calculated.
For example, if they’ve got an ace upcard, they’ll only go bust 17% of the time. That probability is 23% for a 10 or picture card, but rises to around 42% for five and six.
This is one of the factors that help to influence the optimal decisions described in basic blackjack strategy. Both it, and the more advanced version that’s known as “perfect strategy”, have pre-defined actions that you should take for every possible hand.
But they don’t just factor in the blackjack hand that you hold. These strategies also consider the cards that the dealer is holding.
In every version of blackjack, you go first, meaning you will only know half of the dealer’s starting hand while you make your decisions. The upcard (the one that’s dealt facing upwards) changes your odds of winning your hand since the dealer faces the same probabilities as you.
That’s why you’ll find most blackjack strategies are expressed in a table, showing you whether to hit, stand, double down, surrender, or split for every possible combination of player hand and dealer upcard.
For example, if you get a hard 17 or above as a starting hand, you should always stand, regardless of what card the dealer has face up. Similarly, if you get hard 11, you’ll want to double down no matter what the dealer’s holding.
How do Blackjack Payouts Affect the Odds?
Most of the time, when you win a hand of blackjack, you receive a 1:1 payout plus your original stake. So, for example, if you wagered $1 and you won, you’d receive $2 back.
There’s one key exception to this and that’s when you have blackjack. For clarity, blackjack is valued at 21, but it’s different to a hand that makes 21 any other way as it contains only a 10/picture card and an ace.
Traditionally, blackjack has been paid out at 3:2. Meaning you’d receive $1.50 plus your original $1 stake.
Some versions of blackjack, however, pay 6:5, resulting in your winnings dropping to $1.20 plus your original stake. That’s still more than 1:1 but not as good as 3:2.
This doesn’t affect your odds of winning a single hand, but it increases the house edge from 0.5% with basic strategy to 1.9%, a sizable difference that reduces your odds of winning in the long term.