Blackjack is one of the world’s most popular casino games, and it’s easy to see why. Take a seat, order a drink, chat to the dealer and try to make 21. It’s as easy as that.

Of course, it’s isn’t quite as easy as that. Blackjack strategy can actually be quite sophisticated, and there’s an optimal approach to take to ensure the house edge is kept to a minimum. It involves knowing what to do in every situation — when you’re holding each specific two-card blackjack hand — and taking into account the one card the dealer is showing.

Blackjack odds are always going to favour the house. This is a casino game after all. But solid strategy reduces that edge to a minimum. Particularly when playing live blackjack, and with a shoe containing as few decks as possible, you can turn blackjack into about as close to a break-even game as most casinos offer. That’s good, because the drinks and the dealer chat are usually free.

(Of course, you can also play blackjack online, where you’ll need to make your own drinks.)

Place your bets

We’re not going to examine much established strategy here — there’s plenty about that elsewhere — but instead will focus on one particular question that many recreational players struggle with. Is it worthwhile playing more than one hand of blackjack at the same time? It’s a question worth looking at closely.

In most casinos, both live and online, you often have the option to take another box at the table and play two blackjack hands simultaneously. This depends on there being boxes free at the table, of course, and decent etiquette demands that you allow another player to sit if they want. But provided there’s the space, a blackjack dealer will deal to as many boxes as you want to play.

But should you?

At its most simple, it’s fairly obvious to say that if you’re a winning player, playing more hands will help you win more. And if you’re a losing player, you’ll lose more. It also follows that if you play double the hands (ie., two hands rather than one), you’ll win or lose double the amount. But there are a few more complexities than that – specifically when we factor in how you might change your bet sizing if you play multiple spots.

Let’s look at a few scenarios.

Blackjack examples

Scenario 1:

In the first scenario, let’s assume you play one hand, and bet $10 per deal. We’ll assume you’ve got a good dealer, and you manage to see 100 hands per hour. That means you are putting $1,000 into action per hour.

Let’s also assume here that you win or lose at a rate of 1 percent. (All these figures are purely for illustration.) It means that if you’re playing $1,000 of action per hour, you will win or lose $10.

To recap this very simplistic example:

Number of hands played: 1
Bet per hand: $10
Hands per hour: 100
Action per hour: $1,000
Win/lose percent: 1%
Winnings/losses per hour: $10

Scenario 2:

In the second scenario, you decide to play two hands and bet $10 on each of them. If you’re playing live, it means that the number of hands per box you see will be slightly fewer as the dealer has to deal twice as many cards. But overall, you end up putting more money in play, and therefore increase your winnings/losses.

Number of hands played: 2
Bet per hand: $10
Hands per hour: 80 on each box; 160 total
Action per hour: $1,600
Win/lose percent: 1%
Winning/losses: $16 per hour

Scenario 3:

All of the above makes perfect sense. The more hands you see, the greater effect it has on your bottom line. But what if you still only want to wager $10 per deal, so split it into two $5 bets, across two hands. You’re still betting the same amount as in Scenario 1, but you’re now spreading it more thinly. And this is quite revealing.

Number of hands played: 2
Bet per hand: $5
Hands per hour: 80 on each box; 160 total
Action per hour: $800
Win/lose percent: 1%
Winnings losses: $8 per hour

As you can see, Scenario 3 affects your bottom line in a different way. If you split your $10 bet across two boxes, you are putting less money in play per hour than you were even in Scenario 1. That means you win or lose at a lower rate than you do even in Scenario 1.

Reducing volatility

The truth is that for most players, blackjack presents a losing proposition. The odds are in the favour of the house, and there’s very little you can do to change that. But if you want to reduce the volatility, to lose less while still spending the same amount of time at the table — getting those drinks and that chat — then playing two boxes for a lower bet is the way to go.

Of course, it’s important to note one thing: whether you play one, two, three or more hands of blackjack, nothing will change your luck. The first thing any gambler needs to do is to shed any superstition, or belief that playing a certain number of hands is lucky.

But if you want to base your strategy on some very simple statistical analysis, then the above should work just fine.

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