One important feature of all blackjack games, including Live Dealer Blackjack, that distinguishes them from most other casino games is that the outcome depends on not just luck, but also on the player’s skill. Knowing the correct Live Dealer Blackjack basic strategy won’t guarantee that you’ll have a winning session, but it improves your chances by reducing the house edge.
Rules matter, too, and all blackjack games are not created equal. Unfortunately, the price you have to pay for the extra entertainment you enjoy when you play Live Dealer Blackjack is less than ideal rules.
One unfavorable rule in Live Dealer Blackjack is that the game uses eight decks. So do many other land-based and online blackjack games, but certainly not all of them. Especially at higher minimum tables, standard blackjack games using fewer decks are available.
Other things being equal, the fewer the number of decks, the better the odds for the player. So eight deck games are not the best, but with Live Dealer Blackjack, you don’t have a choice.
Dealer must hit soft 17
Another rule that works against you in Live Dealer Blackjack is that the dealer must hit soft 17. For the benefit of those of you who are new to the game, a soft 17 is a hand including an Ace, whose total value can be either 7 or 17, depending on whether the Ace is counted as 1 or 11. In games where the dealer stands on soft 17, the Ace (in the two-card hand A-6 or a multi-card hand like A-2-4) always counts as 11. However, in a game where the dealer hits soft 17, the value of the Ace is only 1. So the dealer must continue to draw until the total value of the hand is at least a hard 17.
By the way, you, the player, should never stand on a soft 17. Against certain dealer up-cards, the correct Live Dealer blackjack strategy is to double down. Otherwise, and with all multi-card soft 17s, the correct basic strategy is to hit.
How the dealer hitting soft 17 hurts the player
The rule that the dealer has to hit soft 17 is bad for the player and good for the house. That’s because 17 is not a very strong standing hand. You can beat a dealer’s 17 with any hand of 18 or better or tie the dealer if you have a hand of 17 as well. The only way you could lose the hand is to bust.
On the other hand, by drawing an A, 2, 3, or 4, the dealer’s hand can improve to an 18, 19, 20, or 21. If the dealer’s next card drawn to a soft 17 is a 10, the hand becomes a hard 17. Or the dealer’s next card could be a 5-9. That would create a “stiff” hand (12-16), but it could still turn into a winning hand if the next card after that doesn’t bring the total to over 21.
In short, with all the extra chances the dealer gets to improve, there are many different ways the dealer hitting soft 17 can work against you. That rule, combined with having to play with eight decks, increases the house edge to almost 1 percent, about twice that of some of the other blackjack games you can play.
Live Dealer Blackjack Basic Strategy
Given the above facts, you could choose not to play Live Dealer Blackjack at all. In fact, that’s exactly what I recommend if you’re a high stakes player. You need every possible edge you can get, and if you’re betting big money, even a small difference in house edge could add up to a big difference in bankroll.
On the other hand, for lower stakes players with busy schedules and limited playing time, Live Dealer Blackjack is an excellent game choice. It offers the same opportunity for fun and social interaction that you find in a real casino, but without the extra time and expense of traveling there and likelihood of higher minimum tables than desired.
Furthermore, of all the Live Dealer games available to you–blackjack, roulette, baccarat, and casino hold ‘em–blackjack has the lowest house edge of the bunch. But only if you follow the correct basic strategy.
How Live Dealer Blackjack Basic Strategy differs from Standard Blackjack Basic Strategy
If you are already familiar with the correct basic strategy in multi-deck games where the dealer stands on soft 17, the good news is that the basic strategy when the dealer hits soft 17 is for the most part identical. So you don’t have to learn a whole new set of guidelines.
But there are a few changes when the dealer hits soft 17. So you need to be aware of them. That way, when the situation comes up in a Live Dealer Blackjack game, you will know and be able to apply the correct play.
According to “Wizard of Odds” Michael Shackleford and other blackjack experts, in the following situations, whenever the dealer has to hit soft 17, the correct basic strategy play is not the same as when the dealer stands on soft 17, but the following:
- 11 vs. dealer Ace: double down instead of hit
- A-7 vs. dealer 2: double down instead of stand
- A-8 vs. dealer 6: double down instead of stand
These plays may surprise you, but statistically they are correct. Basically, they give you an opportunity to try make a little extra money, and with the house edge for Live Dealer Blackjack being higher than in many other blackjack games, any extra advantage you can give yourself is worth taking.
Of course, to maximize your chances of winning in Live Dealer Blackjack or any blackjack game, you should know the correct basic strategy for every possible combination of cards. This information is readily available online in easy to understand tables that you can copy and have with you when you play.