Blackjack is the most popular casino-banked card game in the world for a variety of reasons. It offers a very low house edge compared to most other games on the casino floor and gives skilled enough players the opportunity to completely negate the house advantage through advanced techniques like card counting. The simplicity of the rules and the fast pace of play further increase blackjack’s appeal.
Blackjack has greatly evolved over the years and is now available in dozens of variations, both online and offline. One of the most popular variants of this enticing card game is Atlantic City Blackjack, named after one of the biggest gambling hubs in the United States. Let’s take a brief glance into this exciting game’s history.
The History of Atlantic City Blackjack
It all started in November 1976 when the state of New Jersey gave the thumbs up to regulated casino gambling on its territory. Legal gambling was restricted solely to Atlantic City where the first landbased gambling venue, Resorts Atlantic City, opened doors only a couple of years after the state’s legislators approved casino gaming. The iconic casino continues to run its operations from the exact same location on 1133 Boardwalk to this very day.
Atlantic City was a good choice for building a gambling hub, mainly due to its ideal location, as sits in close proximity to metropolises like Philadelphia, Washington DC, and New York. But in order to attract the attention of gamblers and become a worthy competitor of Las Vegas, Atlantic City needed to give traditional gambling a twist. This twist came in the form of a new blackjack game, one with better, more favorable rules than those in Sin City.
The History of Atlantic City Blackjack Additional TipsIt is fair to say the idea worked. The good rules significantly reduced the house edge. This, in turn, attracted hordes of tourists and high rollers to Atlantic City’s glamorous casino floors. Sharp blackjack players and card counters did not hesitate to attack the favorable blackjack tables, either, and this is when things began to go downhill.
Now-legendary blackjack player Ken Uston was barred from Resorts International in the beginning of 1979. The reason? He counted cards and crushed the Atlantic City blackjack tables as a result. Uston responded with a lawsuit, insisting casino operators have no right to ban skilled patrons from playing on their premises just because they are using their brains to win at blackjack. The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in favor of Uston and prohibited Atlantic City casinos from barring card counters.
To protect their profits and regain their edge, gambling venues responded with various rule adjustments to their blackjack games such as increasing the number of decks in play, reducing penetration, doubling/splitting restrictions and decreasing the payouts for naturals, among others.
This was the beginning of the end for Atlantic City Blackjack until the first online casinos emerged on the scene in the mid-1990s. In fact, online gambling pretty much preserved Atlantic City Blackjack and saved it from complete extinction. Major casino software developers like Microgaming and WGS created virtual variations that abide by the original rules at the Atlantic City blackjack tables. Fans of the game can now enjoy it for free or for real money on their desktop computers and smartphones. What follows are the rules of Atlantic City Blackjack.
The Rules of Atlantic City Blackjack
Atlantic City Blackjack offers some of the most liberal rules a player could possibly hope for. The number of decks in play is usually eight. The dealer receives one of their cards face-up and their second card is dealt face down. But it gets better. The dealer is required to stand on soft 17 instead of hitting it. This works to the advantage of the players and reduces the house edge of the game.
Since this is basically a shoe game, players are dealt their cards face-up and are not allowed to touch them in landbased casinos. Atlantic City Blackjack offers extremely lax rules when it comes to doubling down and splitting pairs. Similarly to the original game once offered in Atlantic City, players have the option to double down on any two cards they choose.
Doubling after you split a pair is also permitted, which is yet another rule that significantly favors the player. Speaking of splitting, Atlantic City Blackjack gives you the chance to split any pair you like and resplit three times to form up to four hands. On a side note, we took notice that the WGS variation of Atlantic City Blackjack does not allow you to split pairs of unlike ten-value cards. For instance, you can split two Queens but cannot split a Queen and a Jack.
Rules of Atlantic City Blackjack Additional TipsThe player can split Aces no more than once. As usual, when a pair of Aces is split, each Ace receives one extra card and you cannot hit the hand afterward. If you happen to catch a ten-value card on an Ace that has been previously split, your hand is treated as a regular, multiple-card 21 which pays even money (like all other non-busted hands except for the blackjacks themselves).
The favorable rules do not end here. The dealer peeks for blackjacks under their hole card when showing an Ace and a ten-value card. This is great for the players because it saves them lots of money from doubles and splits that end up losing against the dealer’s blackjack.
When the dealer’s upcard is an Ace, players are offered to buy insurance which pays at a rate of 2 to 1. The player also has the option for a late surrender against any dealer upcard which is yet another advantage because it cuts down your losses from hands that are sure losers.
When the player and the dealer have the same hand total, they push. Blackjacks offer the standard payout of 3 to 2 which is a rarity in the Atlantic City of today where players are paid at a reduced rate of 6 to 5 at many tables.
The House Edge in Atlantic City Blackjack
It is hardly a surprise this set of favorable rules yields an extremely low house edge, which is one of the reasons this blackjack variation is now a rarity in the city of its birth. An eight-deck game with a 3-to-2 blackjack payout, doubling on any two cards, doubling after a split, a peeking dealer who stands on soft 17, and late surrender yields a house edge of 0.39% with perfect basic strategy.
Each of the rules we listed above leads to a reduction in the house edge. A dealer who stands on soft 17 instead of hitting it takes away 0.22% from the casino’s advantage. The doubling on any two-card hand is also helpful to the player but it yields a relatively small edge for the house. You can further increase your profits against a weak dealer by doubling after splitting which increases your advantage by around 0.14%.
House Edge in Atlantic City Blackjack Additional TipsThe late surrender is another useful rule which enables you to get half of your original bet back when you are dealt a hand that is a sure loser. You can take advantage of the late surrender option after the dealer checks their hole card for a blackjack.
The presence of the late surrender rule leads to a house edge reduction of 0.08%. The peeking dealer also helps you a little as this rule increases your edge by around 0.11%. Yet, the biggest increase in the house advantage results from the 3-to-2 payout on blackjacks. This boosts the player’s advantage by 0.32%.
Here it is important to clarify that these rules lead to the above-specified house edge reductions only on condition the player uses perfect basic strategy. The latter tells you the optimal plays for all possible starting hands against all possible dealer upcards.
It comes in the form of a chart you are advised to memorize but if you cannot learn all the playing decisions by heart, you can always consult with the chart. This is very convenient, particularly when you are a member of an online casino where you can play at your own pace, taking the necessary time to find the correct plays in the chart.
Strategy for Atlantic City Blackjack
You can find a correct basic strategy chart for Atlantic City Blackjack online or generate one by using an online basic strategy engine. Some blackjack-focused websites feature such engines where you can adjust the rules so that they coincide with those of Atlantic City Blackjack.
You check the box where the value of the dealer’s upcard and your hand total overlap to see the correct decision. Abbreviations are used for the purpose of saving space. The “S” means standing, “H” stands for hitting, “P” stands for splitting, “D” means doubling and “R” corresponds to surrendering as obviously three of the playing options begin with the letter “s”.
Note that certain decisions are different for the same player total, depending on whether or not the said hand is soft or hard. Pairs are also treated separately so the chart features a separate section for them. The order of decision making is the following – surrender, split, double down, hit, stand. This is so because obviously you can surrender, double, and split only on starting totals consisting of two cards. If you take a hit, these three plays will no longer be an option.
These decisions are mathematically proven to be optimal so you should never deviate from them unless you count cards (which is impossible with random-number-generated online games where the shoe is reshuffled after every round). Here are several key strategy plays for Atlantic City Blackjack:
- Never buy insurance (this is a propositional bet with a massive house edge which has nothing to do with your original hand holding and does not improve its odds)
- Surrender 16 against dealer upcards 9, 10, and Ace
- Surrender 15 against a dealer upcard of 10
- Double down on all total of 11 against dealer upcards 2 through 10
- Double down on totals of 10 against dealer upcards 2 through 9
- Double down on hard 9 against dealer upcards 3 through 6
- Double down on soft totals A-2 through A-7 against dealers with 5 or 6
- Always stand on hard totals of 18 or higher
- Always hit hard totals of 4 through 8 (unless the cards are paired; there are separate decisions for some low pairs depending on the dealer upcard)
- Never split pairs of 5s and ten-value cards (like 10-Q, 10-10, K-J, 10-J, and so on)
- Always split Aces and 8s
These are only a few key basic strategy decisions. There are lots more which are less intuitive so be sure to inspect the strategy chart closely before you sit down to play Atlantic City Blackjack online. The strategy cannot overturn the house edge entirely but reduces it to the point where you are playing an almost break-even game.