22 December 2023
Blackjack is one of the most popular casino games in the world. A large part of the appeal owes to how simple it is to set up. The rules can be learned in minutes and you just need a standard pack of cards, with the jokers removed. But how many decks of cards will you require? This sounds like a simple question. But the answer is surprisingly complex, often depending on where the game is taking place. Let’s run through some of the scenarios you might encounter.
Most people prefer to play with one or two decks of cards. This makes it easy to set up the game. Plus, it’s easier to run, as you can shuffle the cards by hand.
That’s not the only difference. There are usually a few subtle changes to the gameplay. For example, most people opt to rotate the dealer regularly, so everyone at the table has a chance to play. Furthermore, you can serve players their cards face-down. This is usually done with the agreement that no one touches their cards during the game. In a casino, cards are served face-up, so players can’t tamper with them.
This is where things start to get a little more complicated. When you walk into a casino, you’ll be presented with a range of blackjack tables. There will likely be a different payout for each one, reflecting the odds that the house loses. For example, if the casino is only using one deck of cards, the players have an advantage; it’s easier to keep track of the cards that have already been played.
Because of this, the casino will change the conditions slightly to make sure that the house always has an edge. Single-deck tables often give the winners slimmer odds, like 6:5. Plus, there is a tighter gap between the maximum bet and the minimum bet. They might also rule that players can’t start the game if more than half the deck has been used. While they might put these restrictions in place, casinos don’t want to ban this form of blackjack entirely. They still want to give the people the illusion that they can beat the house.
Other tables will use multiple decks. Because the outcome is harder to predict, the casino is willing to pay higher odds and set larger limits. In most cases, the casino will use four or eight decks. However, this can vary a little. Some casinos prefer to use six decks.
Online casinos follow a similar approach, albeit in a more high-tech way. They might offer a player a range of blackjack tables, depending on the number of cards used. However, since they aren’t using physical cards, the decks can be shuffled more frequently. Sometimes, they will shuffle after every hand. At other times, they will wait until half of the cards have been used. Then, they will shuffle.
The exception to this is a live game. This is run by a human dealer. In this case, they will follow the same procedure as a real-world casino, using multiple decks of cards.
There is also a big difference in the way the cards are shuffled. Real-world casinos use a card shuffling machine, which helps ensure a random result. However, if the dealer is only using one deck of cards, they might shuffle it by hand. For online casinos, though, things are run by algorithms. They use a random number generator to decide what order the cards are placed in.
The house needs to maintain an edge. If they can’t, the casino won’t be in business for very long. Part of this means protecting themselves from card counters. These are skilled players who keep track of the cards that have already been played. They then use math to figure out the odds of winning the hand. Once they know this information, they can adjust their bet accordingly.
Technically, this is completely legal. But casinos don’t take too kindly to being cheated. While they can’t report you to the police, they do get to decide who gambles in their venue. Because of this, card counters can be swiftly banned. Even worse, they can refuse service to anyone for any reason. This includes denying you the right to cash in your chips. The only way to get your chips cashed will be to sue the casino, which will be very expensive and time-consuming.
The risk of card counting is the reason why the odds change based on the number of decks in use. The more decks there are, the harder it is to keep track of all the cards. Plus, it creates more possible combinations, which makes the outcome harder for card counters to predict.
Given this, it’s common to wonder why casinos don’t use over eight decks. After all, that would further extend their advantage. The reason comes down to a logistical challenge. The shoe (the box where the cards are stored) and the large number of cards are already enough of a challenge for dealers. More importantly, adding more cards would slow down the game. Fewer hands played means the casino makes less money.
Just as an aside, because online casinos can shuffle their cards more frequently, it makes techniques like card counting harder. Tipping the odds back in favor of the house. But that doesn’t mean that the casino is cheating. For a casino to be licensed in the US, it needs to follow a series of strict laws, including regular inspections of the algorithms to make sure that blackjack players have a fair chance.
However, increasing the deck size isn’t the only provision casinos take to protect themselves from card counters. They look for other tells that a player is cheating, like watching the cards too closely and avoiding drinking and conversation. The most important tool they have is an advanced database, which contains all known card counters. End up on this database, and you won’t even make it to the blackjack table.
There is no fixed rule about the number of cards used for blackjack. Sometimes, you might play with just one deck. In a casino, though, you can be playing with up to eight decks. Regardless, the rules don’t change. Just the odds of the house beating the player.
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