Blackjack Online - Reduce The House Edge

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JimD Monday, July 9, 2018

How to further reduce the house edge


Blackjack, as with all casino games, has a certain level of risk associated with the potential winnings. These risks are what keep the game interesting and ensure that you are not always losing or always winning. 


The ‘house advantage’ or ‘edge’ refers to the distinct advantage that the casino has over the dealer in any specific game. No game is exactly 50/50 odds of winning and the slight advantage that the casino has is what keeps it earning the billions of profits that the casino industry sees annually.


By better understanding the house advantage, gamblers are able to play in certain ways that lessen their chances of losing. There is no way to completely eliminate the house advantage, but by using certain techniques, you are able to improve your odds as much as is legally possible.


Certain games are also set up in such ways that their house advantage is lower or higher than other games. Games that usually have a relatively high house advantage, meaning you are less likely to win, are American Roulette, the tie bet in baccarat, and Keno. Games that are notoriously beneficial to gamblers because of their lower than normal house advantage are poker, normal roulette, and blackjack.


Blackjack is the focal point of this article and certain methods will be discussed that will ensure you always play at the lowest possible house advantage. The types of strategies include composition-dependent strategies, hand interaction strategies, casino comps and coupons, and loss rebates.

You can test your blackjack strategy at one of our casinos found on our online casino download page.


Composition-dependent Strategies


Developed in 1979 by Peter A. Griffin, this strategy has been around for a while and is one of the more complex strategies discussed. Composition-dependent strategies are based on the composition of cards in your hand and therefore requires gamblers to have studied the various combinations and what they mean for your odds.


A simpler variation of this strategy is the total-dependent strategy which focuses on the total number in your hand and does not worry about what combination of cards makes it up.


Composition-dependent strategies also include some of the most extensive lists of variations of any strategy and require excessive amounts of learning to remember them all. Instead of focusing on all of the compositions, there are certain ‘more important’ combinations that will be focused on.


For those that wish to learn more about this strategy and where it originated from there are many readings available online and some of the most influential readings are Blackjack Attack: Playing the Pros Way and Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Cards, both by Don Schlesinger, and Blackjack Bluebook II, by Fred Renzey.


Schlesinger is an active promoter of the benefits of the composition-dependent approach versus the total-dependent approach. His books state that the house edge can ultimately be reduced by up to 5% using this approach, while the other approach only reduces it by about a quarter of a percent.


16 against dealer 10


The first combination to consider is 16 against dealer 10. This is a tricky situation to be in and most would feel inclined to hit under the threat of the dealer’s 10. Dealer on 10 means regardless of what card they get, they cannot go bust. It is a safe place for the dealer to be in but means that you will feel inclined to risk going bust in an attempt to limit their chances of victory.


16 is an awkward position to be in at this point because there are only a handful of cards that can actually benefit you. The six cards are ace, which will be used as a one, 2, 3, 4, and 5. Anything higher than a five and you will go bust.


According to the total-dependent strategy, 16 is a position that you would hit in unless you had a pair of the same cards which could, therefore, be split. The composition-dependent strategy also agrees that you should hit in this situation, but it focuses more on the various card combinations that will result in 16 and states certain situations where it might not be wise to go for an additional card.


The composition-dependent strategy takes into account each card and therefore realizes that the odds are slightly different depending on what cards make up the 16 in your hand. If the 16 is made up of 2 cards that cannot be split, you should hit. However, if your hand is made up of 3 or more cards, you should stay.


The reason for this change in tactic is because of the odds present for you to go bust or not. If you have two cards that result in 16, the lowest card possible for you to have is a 6. As previously discussed, a 6, or higher, is not a card that you want to draw if you have 16, so by it being in your hand, you are less likely to draw another 6 and bust.


If your hand of 16 is made up of multiple cards, then it means you have a combination of lower value cards. Because these cards are present in your hand, they are not present in the deck and you cannot draw them. Low-value cards, 5 or lower, are the exact cards you need to draw to be able to win from a 16 and therefore in multi-card hands, you should stay if you reach 16.


To sum it up you have three options, according to composition-dependent strategy, when you are faced with a hand that totals 16. If the hand is made up of two unequal cards, you should hit; if the hand is made up of two equal cards, you should split them; and if the hand is made up of three or more cards, you should stay.


12 against dealer 4


Another situation that results in variation between the total-dependent and composition-dependent strategies is 12 against dealer 4.


By looking at the dealer’s hand, the highest total they could be in after revealing their second card is 15, by receiving an ace. All the dealer needs is a 9 to beat anyone who has a total of 12 and therefore people normally would want to hit at this point.


According to the total-dependent strategy, you would not benefit from hitting on a 12 against dealer 4 situation and should always stay. For most situations, this is also the case with the composition-dependent strategy but it focuses on one specific card value combination as a potential for drawing another card. This combination is 10-2.


The only reason it is risky to hit at a total of 12 is that if you get any 10 valued cards, of which there are 16 in a standard 52 deck of cards, you will go bust. Generally, you might see the benefit of hitting, but if the dealer is only on 4 then statistically you will be better off with staying. However, if you have a 10-2 combination the odds change.


A 10-2 combination means you have removed one of the 10-valued cards from the deck, thereby reducing your chances of drawing a card that will send you bust. In this situation, the combination-dependent strategy argues that you should always hit. It is a risky venture, as is any strategy in blackjack, but one that slightly decreases the house advantage.


This is not always the case. When you have a 10-2 combination against a dealer 4, you should hit unless you are playing with 8 decks. At this point, there are so many other 10-valued cards available to be drawn that it does not make a statistical difference that you hold one of those cards in your hand. Therefore it is always better to stand if you have 12 against dealer 4 and are playing with more than 6 decks.


Another exception applies that you should not hit when you have any combination of 12 (including 10-2) against dealer 4 if you are playing with 4/6/8 decks and the dealer is using H17. H17 means the dealer will Hit on soft 17. S17, where the dealer Stays on soft 17 is the most beneficial form of blackjack and minimizes the house advantage in various situations including the 10-2 combination against dealer 4.


Additionally, it is important to remember that if you have a pair of 6s, it is always better to split and play from there.


15 against dealer 10


Looking at our hand first we are faced with a common problem in blackjack. A situation where there are multiple cards that could send us bust. In this situation, total-dependent strategies ignore which cards you have and focus on the fact that you have quite a high probability of going bust. A 7 or higher is enough to send you bust and there are 28 possibilities by ignoring cards already in use.


In some situations, it still might be beneficial to hit according to the total score, but when the dealer has a 10 this is not the case. 15 against dealer 10 means the dealer only needs a 6 or higher to beat you and therefore has a high possibility of beating. In this situation, the total-dependent strategy would tell you to immediately surrender your hand as there is a very small chance of you actually winning the hand.


The composition-dependent strategy also recommends surrendering your hand in most situations but there is one combination that poses slightly different statistical probabilities. A 15 made of up of a 7 and 8 is the one situation that the composition-dependent strategy recommends hitting and it only recommends this in games where you are playing with less than 7 decks.


The reason behind this strategy ties in with the usual trends and focuses on the probability of you drawing a card that can potentially bust you. Any card higher than 7 means you lose, but if you have two of those cards in your hand it means there are slightly better odds that you will draw a card that is lower than 7 and therefore you will not bust. So in a 15 against dealer 10 situation, only when you have a 7-8 combination should you hit.


When you are playing with 7 or more decks you are better off sticking with the original ‘surrender’ tactic because of the reduced effect that your 7-8 hand has on the overall draw outcome.


Hand Interaction


If the casino allows doubling down you have a unique opportunity which allows you to benefit more frequently from high-opportunity hands.


Doubling down refers to the ability to double your initial bet after seeing your cards and the dealer’s one card. If allowed by the casino, it allows gamblers to bet up to their initial bet again on hands that have a higher probability of resulting in a win. Doubling down is most effective when gamblers can ‘predict’ the outcome of hands in single deck games, but still offers an opportunity to reduce the house advantage in multiple deck games.


You do not need to bet the exact amount you initially bet but you may not bet more. This is the part of doubling down that is focused on in this technique.


Hand interactions is a technique that focuses on using doubling down to its full advantage by betting for other players that have not fully capitalized from a clearly favorable position. The player may not have doubled down at all or they may have only bet a portion of their initial bet – thereby leaving a portion still available.


When someone is aware of the reduced house advantage present in a certain hand they are able to take full advantage of that hand. When you do not know the difference, you will simply be betting based on luck – which can win you significant pay-outs but is less statistically probable.


If you see a player has not maximized his double down and you are aware that he has a hand that is statistically more likely for him to win, you can ask the gambler to place the rest of his double down. If he/she allows you to do so, which they often will, you will have taken advantage of a lower than normal house advantage, thereby increasing your chances of winning.


The two most common hands where hand techniques are often available are a low combo 11 (e.g 7-4) versus a dealer 10 and a 21 hand versus a dealer ace. Both of these hands have slightly reduced house advantage and are therefore beneficial hands to double down on. If the player you are watching does not fully capitalize on this ability, you should intervene and complete the bet.


This technique allows you to benefit from players who are not entirely aware of the increased probabilities present with various blackjack hand combinations. This technique is not always appreciated by other gamblers and after a while might not be effective on the same set of people.


Supporters of this technique say that if used correctly it can allow you to gain an actual advantage playing blackjack.


Casino Comps


Casino comps, short for complimentary, are bonuses that are granted to members by certain casinos. Casinos benefit from having dedicated clients and based on how high the casino rates your gambling, you will be entitled to certain complimentary privileges.


The privileges range from casino-related benefits to luxury and transport benefits including restaurants, hotels, and airfare.


A game that benefits a lot from casino comps is blackjack. It is therefore advised to make sure you have signed up for any comps that are available at the casino and you should make sure you are asking for them whenever you play.


The first step in benefiting from casino comps is to make sure that you are eligible for them. Casinos only offer these comps to their members and you will, therefore, need to sign up for the players club. Some casinos allow this to be done online while others only do it in person. A card is provided for all members.


Once you have gotten your card you should head to the blackjack table of your choice and begin getting rated. This is the most ‘important’ point of getting a membership because they do not change ratings often unless the supervisor notices certain changes in trends.


You will give your card to the dealer and either them or their supervisor, will record the information and occasionally glance your way to determine average betting and playing trends.


The casino is trying to rate you to determine what level of comps they should be giving you. This is determined based on how much money they think they will earn off you. If you are only betting $5 on a few hands every hour then you will not earn the same level of comps as someone who is playing 100 hands and betting towards the maximum limit of the table.


If you want to be prepared, you can ask the employees at the players club and they should be able to tell you what betting average a basic skill player should bet around to get certain benefits.


Calculating your player rating


Let’s go into more detail regarding the three areas that are important to consider when trying to establish a high player rating. The higher your player rating, the greater comps you will be rewarded with. In order to maximize your potential rating, you should consider how profitable you appear to the casino.


The casino is trying to calculate the expected earnings that you will generate for them and based on these potential earnings, they will allocate a certain % towards complimentary rewards for you. The comps that you receive are usually grouped into different levels based on a range of player ratings.


To calculate the casino’s theoretical earnings they use three things that are in your control: average bets, hands played, and time spent gambling. Based on these three things, the casino will determine an amount that you spend at the casino. This amount is then multiplied by a % house advantage to determine how much you will theoretically lose out of your total money spent on gambling.

This theoretical loss amount is the amount of profit that the casino believes they will make off you every time you come to their casino. This expected profit is the sole determiner of your player rating. The value of comps that you receive will depend on this amount. They often use a simple percentage to determine how much of their total profits earned from you they will reimburse you in the form of comps.


How to improve your player rating


Now that you know how the player rating is calculated, you can try your best to ensure they are rating you as high as possible. You can only influence it within your control but there are a few tips that can go a long way.


Firstly, slowing down your gameplay will help improve your overall betting appearance. The supervisors are rating you on the average hands played at the table in an hour, whether you played every game or not. By taking tactical breaks from games played you will get a higher average. Be careful to not be too obvious as they can very simply deduct a few games from your total.


If they have calculated your total money spent on an average of 100 games but you only played 50, then you are able to bet more than you usually would in those 50 games thereby increasing your ‘average bet’ according to the casino. This pushes you higher up the casino’s potential earnings without spending more money.


Depending on the supervisor, you may be able to show them higher bets than you would usually play. Most do not watch every hand and they often pay close attention to your first one. Instead of betting high on every hand, use your first hand and a few other ones to show higher than usual bets.


Another important factor in the casinos’ calculation of their potential earnings from you is your skill level. The higher skilled you appear to the supervisor, the lower risk you have of losing money. This means you could spend as much money as someone else but be put in a lower rewards level because you will theoretically not lose as much money. Try to limit the amount of knowledge and skills you show at the table and for the first session, it might be best to appear as much like a beginner as possible.


It is also not against casino rules to ask the supervisor what you were rated. At the end of your first gambling session, ask the supervisor and see what they have decided. If they rated you in one category, you could always try to negotiate by pointing out the higher bets that you played. You might not get lucky with this option but if you don’t ask you won’t get anything.


This final trick hasn’t got much to do with increasing your rating but it is focused on increasing the difference between comps received and money lost. Comps are essentially rebates given to you by the casino itself, so a clever gambler will try his best to ensure that the amount of money he lost gambling is as close, or even less, than the amount earned in comps. To do this you should focus on playing games and hands that minimize the house advantage, thereby increasing your overall advantage.


Remember that even if you use all these tips you aren’t guaranteed more rewards. A fluctuation in any of the variables changes your overall loss potential and therefore reduces the value of comps that you will get.


Casino Coupons


Similarly to casino comps, coupons are opportunities for gamblers to earn more (or lose less). There are various different coupons that a casino may offer and not all of them offer the same ones. Before committing to a casino it is advisable to find out the various coupons on offer and if they have any that benefit blackjack.


There are three main coupons that benefit blackjack players, namely promo chips, matchplay coupons, and blackjack bonus coupons.


Promo chips are chips given to players that can be used in their casino but cannot be cashed in for money. These chips are useful as they can be used to cover your bets during blackjack games and therefore lessen the amount of actual money you need to commit before winning.


Once a promo chip has been bet it follows the following rules. If you lose, the chip is taken from you; if you win, the promo chip is swapped for an actual chip and you receive the remainder of your winnings. If the hand ties the promo chip is returned to the player to be used again.


Matchplay coupons are the other category of casino coupon that you will most likely encounter. These coupons function as additional bets covered by the casino. If a gambler places a bet, he can match the amount he bet with this coupon, If he wins, he will earn the payout for his initial bet and an additional amount for the match play coupon.


Matchplay coupons can only be used once except in the case of a tie. If you choose to split or double down you can only apply the matchplay bonus to the original bet.


Another beneficial casino coupon for blackjack players is the blackjack bonus coupon. This coupon allows you to get bonus rewards for your first blackjack. This is a useful coupon because it does not require you to play, and therefore risk, the coupon in order to benefit from it. When you finally get blackjack you can hand in the coupon and you will receive the bonus.


The bonus is usually 2-1, which means you will be paid out $2 for every $1 you bet. These coupons can be used at any blackjack table and increase your payout rate by 0.5 on standard rate tables.


Popular reasons for granting these coupons are as rewards for regular play, as an incentive for a gambler to come to gamble more, or as a reward for an event. Most casinos have websites, social media accounts, and mailing lists. Even if you are not a member, you should keep an eye out on casinos’ digital profiles for various coupon offers. Getting on the mailing list is another way to ensure that you hear about these offers as soon as they become available.


Local newspapers are becoming less popular when it comes to advertising but they are still used by many casinos. The casinos may run newspaper offers which entitle players to coupons.


Once at the casino there are two tips for getting coupons. The first way requires that you are booking out a room for the evening. When making the booking you should ask for any coupon books that are provided with the room and they will often supply them to keep you satisfied. Alternatively, you can just ask the casino host for promo chips if you are a regular client and hope for the best – you would be surprised at the generosity of casinos towards frequent customers.


Loss Rebates


This technique is not possible for standard players but is a potential way to cut back on your loss %. If you are a high roller and make consistent large bets, you could be able to benefit from loss rebates.


Loss rebates are agreements that you can enter into with casino whereby they will reimburse you for a portion of your losses. This encourages those gamblers to bet higher amounts because they have a slightly lower loss %.


Loss rebate strategies are not new but focus on basic probabilities to determine that you can gain a slight advantage over the casino. There had been a lot of doubt about the effectiveness of loss rebates and many considered them another means for casinos to lure gamblers to losing more money. One gambler, by the name of Don Johnson, used his own loss rebate strategy to successfully win $15,000,000 from playing blackjack and lead to casinos focusing more on the formulation of these agreements. 


He did it by using basic mathematical statistics and was lucky to have negotiated the exact terms that he thought would make his chances as advantageous as possible. Looking at it now the agreement looks very beneficial to him, but at the time casinos had never experienced problems with these types of things. By first looking at a coin toss, we can determine where his advantage came from.


If you take a loss rebate it means you will be repaid for a portion of the amount you lose. This seems to make less difference to your overall loss % and more to the total amount the casino will get – but they are linked.


For the first coin toss, you have a 50/50 chance of winning. If you are provided a 20% rebate on your losses it means that you actually end up with a theoretical advantage of 9.5%. The more games you play, the less this advantage holds up and you are eventually back at a house advantage.


Johnson used this exact technique to capitalize on his winnings by claiming the rebate as early as he felt necessary. This, coupled with the favorable betting conditions, meant he was able to win millions from various casinos throughout Atlantic City. To this day it is considered to be one of the most cleverly conducted legal cons in gambling history and some say the casinos had no way of preparing for it.


Johnson also felt it unnecessary to waste time learning other ways to reduce the house advantage, such as the total-dependent and composition-dependent strategies, because he felt that these techniques offered less of a benefit than with loss rebates and required much more effort. The key to his technique was formulating an agreement that was highly beneficial and then never playing too many hands so as to wear out the advantage.




There are many ways for blackjack gamblers to improve their advantages. Whichever technique or tip you try to use you must always realize that gambling is based on percentages which do not always result in the expected outcome.


Even if you have the upper hand, you could find the dealer drawing the exact card they need to win. However, by using these techniques you should statistically be able to minimize the house advantage to a point where you gamble at far better odds than someone who bets randomly.


The composition-dependent strategy focuses on only playing hands that having slightly higher probabilities, while casino comps, coupons, and loss rebate strategy focus on improving your odds and payouts in unique ways. Hand techniques is another interesting technique that focuses on other gamblers and trying to capitalize on their missed opportunities. Any or all of these techniques can be used to improve your blackjack game.