One of the best places on Earth to go and play blackjack is Las Vegas, a glamorous desert metropolis that did not even exist until the beginning of the twentieth century. Offering tourists gambling, entertainment, fine dining and possibly all imaginable ways to spend their winnings on, the city is also home to the Las Vegas Strip, a 4.2 mile stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard South where some of the world’s most fabulous casinos are located. And the Strip gave its name to one of the most popular variations of blackjack, Vegas Strip Blackjack.
Often described as a “standard version of American blackjack”, Vegas Strip Blackjack is one of the most basic versions of the classic card game and it can be found in thousands of online or brick-and-mortar casinos. Its rules are not much different from the rules of Atlantic City Blackjack and Vegas Downtown Blackjack. And since it is very similar to the most classic game of Twenty-One, it is often referred to as simply blackjack. In online casinos, it could be found under several names, including American Blackjack, Blackjack, and just a handful of releases bear the name Vegas Strip Blackjack.
This traditional version of the game can be enjoyed by almost anyone who understands the basic rules of blackjack. It does not include some special rules and features, so it should be easy to play for both beginners and highly experienced players. It goes without saying that as a game of skill, blackjack should never be played without a full understanding of its rules and principles. This is why before playing Vegas Strip Blackjack for real money, players should first familiarize themselves with its rules and then, master its basic strategy.
Objective and Card Values
As already mentioned, Vegas Strip Blackjack is very similar to the classic game of blackjack and as with all blackjack variations, the objective is to acquire a hand with a higher value than the dealer without busting. The gameplay, the blackjack table and the terminology are the same as in traditional blackjack, so of course, “busting” happens when the total value of the cards exceeds 21. In order to avoid busting and learn how to play blackjack in the first place, players should know the value of cards in this game.
Cards from 2 to 10 correspond to their face value, while the three face cards, namely Jack, Queen and King, are worth 10. Aces are much more interesting because they can count either as 1 or 11. The value of each hand is the sum of the card values and the highest ranking hand in this game consists of an Ace and a Jack, also known as a hand of blackjack. In fact, this is where the name of the game originates – many of the earlier gambling houses in America offered an extra payout if players were able to acquire a hand of an Ace and a black Jack (a Jack of spades or clubs).
The hand of blackjack counts as 21, hence the name this game is also known for around the world, Twenty-One. In fact, it may consist of an Ace and any 10-valued card, which is referred to as “natural”, and it beats any other 21 hand in the game. For example, an Ace and a King would always defeat a hand of 10-5-6, which also totals 21. The payout for blackjack is 3:2, although some casinos have started to pay 6:5 in order to increase the house edge. The payout for this hand in Vegas Strip Blackjack, however, is 3:2, which is favourable to the player.
Another important thing players should know is that hands with an Ace valued as 11 are called “soft”. The value of the Ace can change to 1 to prevent the hand from busting, in which case it is called “hard”. Last, but not least, there are no Jokers in Vegas Strip Blackjack, as it uses several standard decks of cards.
Rules in Vegas Strip Blackjack
Similar to most American-style blackjack games, Vegas Strip Blackjack uses 4 to 8 decks and is a hole card blackjack. This means that the dealer initially receives one face-up card that is visible to everyone on the table and another one, which is face-down. This concealed card is called a “hole card” and in some variations, the dealer can peek without exposing it to the players. In this variation of the game, the dealer can peek at the face-down card only if the first card is an Ace or a 10-value card and there is a real possibility for the dealer to collect a natural blackjack and win the game.
There are many more rules players need to learn before they start to play for real money and while most of them are fixed and can be found in all releases of Vegas Strip Blackjack, other rules can differ slightly, which immediately reflects in the house edge. The process of dealing and the players’ options, however, remain the same – all players on the table, as well as the dealer, are dealt two face-up cards, one at a time, except for the dealer’s hole card. When they see the value of their hands, players can take one of several courses of action.
They can hit, which means to take another card, to stand, ending their turn, or to double their bet, take one card and finish. There are two more additional actions players may take, namely to surrender and to split. We would be discussing these two below.
As already mentioned, the first rule found in all Vegas Strip Blackjack games is that the dealer peeks for blackjack only when the first card is an Ace or a 10-value card. Another important rule is that the dealer stands at soft 17. This means that the dealer must draw cards until his or her hand reaches 16 and stands when the hand reaches 17 and has an 11-valued Ace in it.
One rule that is universal to all versions of Vegas Strip Blackjack is that players can double down on any two cards. Also, this variation is played with at least 4 decks of cards, whereas Vegas Downtown Blackjack, for instance, is played with only two 52-card decks. In most games, blackjack pays 3:2 and players should avoid versions which pay 6:5 for blackjack.
Another interesting rule that can be found in almost all Vegas Strip games is the insurance. Players are allowed to buy insurance against dealer blackjack or, in other words, to make a side bet, independent from their original bet. Insurance is available when the dealer’s upcard is an Ace and it pays 2:1. It raises the house edge up to 7%, however, which is why players should be extremely careful when considering this option.
The next rule that should be taken into account is surrender. Each game tends to come up with its own version of surrender, but in broader terms, this option is available to players when there is an indication that they may soon lose. If they choose to surrender, they lose half of their bet and the round ends. In Vegas Strip Blackjack, however, surrender (early or late) is not available at all, even if the dealer’s upcard is an Ace or a 10-valued card and achieving a blackjack becomes more likely.
Variations in Rules
There are many variations in the rules of every blackjack game and in order to master their skills, players should know them all. The first one that needs to be mentioned is splitting – when they receive two cards of the same face value, players may choose to split them into two hands. Then, each single-card hand is dealt a second hand and the game proceeds. Players are allowed to split pairs several times until they receive four separate hands.
There is one exception, however, and it concerns Aces – Aces may be split just once and in most games, split Aces may receive only one additional hand. It is important to remember that in most (but not all) versions of Vegas Strip Blackjack, a blackjack made with a split Ace is not considered a blackjack and is not paid 3:2. In a large number of versions, players are also allowed to double down after splitting.
Vegas Strip Blackjack House Edge
The house edge of every single Vegas Strip Blackjack game is different, depending on the specific rules. Playing a variation with the rules explained above and using the perfect strategy reduces the house edge to 0.35%-0.36%, which is incredibly low compared to other types of casino games. The average house edge in blackjack games is around 0.5%. House edge is a common term in gambling which indicates the casino’s average profit from the player’s bet.
This is a built-in advantage in every casino game that can be easily understood with the following example – for every £1 you bet on a roulette game, where the house edge is 5% on average, the casino keeps £0.05 as profit. The rest of the bet, £0.95, is returned to the player in the form of winnings. One should keep in mind, that this is an average estimate valid after thousands of bets have been placed.
The typical blackjack player plays with around 2% to 3% disadvantage, but with a proper strategy and no mistakes, the house edge can be reduced significantly. Certain rules in blackjack games, on the other hand, may increase the house edge – when placing a side bet, for instance, you may be playing with a disadvantage of over 5%. Insurance can be included here and the buying of one may lead to a house edge of up to 7%.
Optimal Strategy for Vegas Strip Blackjack
|Dealer’s up card|
|Ace-3 – Ace-5||H||H||D||D||D||H||H||H||H||H|
|Ace-8 – Ace-9||S||S||S||S||S||S||S||S||S||S|
|2’s – 3’s||SP||SP||SP||SP||SP||SP||H||H||H||H|
As explained above, executing the perfect strategy reduces the disadvantage you play with. It is important to note that strategies do not guarantee that you will be winning 100% of the time unless, of course, you are an advantage player and use card counting. This is a highly specialized skill few players can master and it requires you to keep track of every single card that is being dealt before the cards are shuffled. It is impossible to profitably count cards in online casinos, however, as the cards are shuffled every time. This is why we should focus on learning strategies and not card counting.
The universal blackjack strategy is based on the game’s rules, payouts, odds and probabilities. It is important to stick to the strategy throughout the whole game even if you receive several losing hands in a row. There are many blackjack strategy charts available online, in blackjack guides and books. These charts are often colour-coded for easier navigation and they show the best possible move players can make in every single situation. They are useful for the moves after the player’s initial two cards and the dealer’s face-up card are revealed.
Not all strategy charts are the same and it is essential that you find a chart that is known to be reliable and effective. All the basic player’s moves need to be included – hit, stand, double down and split. Some charts would also include the situations where surrender is highly recommended. Since Vegas Strip Blackjack does not allow surrender, this option should not be present in the chart you use. In order to give you the best mathematical chance of winning, charts should be specifically created for the particular variation of the game.
Apart from the strategy charts, there are several essential rules you should follow when you play blackjack. The first of them is to always know when to stop playing and have a really good discipline. The second one is, of course, money management and controlling the amount of each bet you place. The higher the bets, the more likely it is you run out of money sooner than later. It is also recommended to avoid buying an insurance because, as explained above, it increases the house edge.
One of the most basic principles in this game is to stand whenever you have a high hand, totalling 19 or more. In this case, you should pay no attention to the dealer’s exposed card. You can also stand when you have 18, while the dealer’s card is between 2 to 8 and double down if he has 5 or 6 – the chances of the dealer busting with these two cards are big. You should hit in most cases when the dealer has a higher card from 7 to Ace and your cards’ combined value is less than 7.
Most experienced blackjack players never split 10s, although it is a tempting move. They would rather remain with a 20-valued hand because it is very close to the top score of 21. When they have a pair of Aces, on the other hand, they would always split them to maximize the potential for winning. After all, it is impossible to bust with a two-card hand consisting of one Ace and there is a good chance that one of them may achieve blackjack.
Another pair that should always be split is 8-8 but the logic behind this decision here is completely different. If you decide not to split the two cards, you will have a hand of 16, which is likely to lose whether you decide to hit or stand. When you split them and receive two additional cards, it is very likely that one of them is a 10-value card, which means you may have at least one hand worth 18. Since the dealer must stand on soft 17 (or even if it is on all 17s), your chances of winning are very good.