From the Blackjack Dealer’s perspective
Unlike players, dealers have no decisions to make regarding the play of their blackjack hands. They can’t split pairs, double down or surrender. They are constrained by the House Rules. These dictate when they must hit, when they must stand, and how to count Aces in soft hands.
Because dealing requires no critical thinking, it can easily be handled by machines based on simple algorithms – and that’s exactly what happens on the Internet and at casinos with electronic blackjack games. But the player still needs to understand how the game is played from the dealer’s side of the table. Such knowledge can lead to significant advantages if properly applied.
The Rules Rule
Although dealers have no choice in how to play their hands, the House has plenty of latitude in deciding what rules they will play by. Rules variations that favor the dealer give the House some additional edge. They include adding more decks to the shoe; prohibiting double downs after splitting; limiting the number of splits allowed; adjusting the payout odds for natural blackjacks; and offering surrender options.
Perhaps the rule that affects the game most applies to what the dealer must do when holding a soft 17. Most casinos require that the dealer stand. However, the casino has a greater edge when the dealer hits on this count. Specifically, for an eight-deck game with no re-splitting, where players can double on any two-card hands including those formed by splits, the house edge is about 0.5% if the dealer stands on soft 17, but close to 0.7% percent if they hit—a 40% increase—so the penalty is significant.
The Bust-Out Rate
No matter what rules are applied, the dealer’s biggest advantage is that the player must make all decisions before the dealer’s hand is shown. That means players can bust and lose, even if the dealer busts out after them. But what are the odds of the dealer’s hand going over 21?
Statistically, a dealer who stands on soft 17 will bust about 29.1% of the time. By comparison, if the dealer hits on soft 17, the bust-out rate increases only slightly to 29.6%, so not much different. Of course, no player wants to take the chance of going over 21 when the dealer is likely to bust. So it’s good to know exactly which cards favor a bust and by what odds.
Although bust-out rates will vary according to the composition of the deck during play, the following averages can provide a good guide to how likely the dealer is to bust when standing on soft 17 and showing these up cards:
Dealer’s Up Card: 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Ace
Bust-Out Rate: 35.30% 37.56% 40.28% 42.89% 42.08% 25.99% 23.86% 23.34% 21.43% 11.65%
Worthy of note, when holding a total of 12 or 13, the likelihood of the player busting is below 40%., which explains why all blackjack charts recommend standing when the up card is 4, 5 or 6, the dealer’s biggest bust cards.
The Human Factor
Again, the rules dictate the dealer’s play. However, there are a few aspects of the game over which the dealer does have some discretion, influence and control. One of the most important of these is the speed of the game. The casino may pressure dealers to play quickly because it increases the number of hands dealt per hour and overall betting throughput. But some dealers will still adopt a more leisurely pace, especially if they believe taking extra time to be friendly can increase the amount of tips they receive.
Other factors reflect personalities. One dealer may be quite helpful, another quite stoic or even bossy. Some simply ooze patience, while others make players feel pressured to hurry their game. Dealers who are tired or inexperienced may not follow the same rules as veterans. But they are only human. Dealers make mistakes, which typically favor the players if they are paying attention.