Double Deck Blackjack

When blackjack first made its way onto casino floors worldwide, there was not much variation in how the game played at different tables rules-wise. But things have changed greatly over the span of the last sixty years or so. Not only will blackjack mavens come across different playing rules from one gambling venue to another but often will find rule variations at different blackjack tables in the same casino.

The most common rule variation concerns the number of decks in play. Deck number is easily one of the most important things that bear consideration when you choose a blackjack game, the reason being it impacts the advantage the casino holds against players. As a rule of thumb, the more decks are in play at a given blackjack table, the bigger the advantage of the house, which in turn results in smaller returns for the players.

That being said, most blackjack pros avoid single deck games because their rules have been crippled to such an extent so as to render them completely unplayable. But what about double deck blackjack? Is it any good? The following article discusses the good, the bad, and the ugly side of double deck 21 and introduces you to the favorable rules you must look for while on your quest for decent pitch games.

The Basic Rules of Play in Double Deck Blackjack

blackjack Basic RulesThe first thing you will notice when you approach a double deck blackjack table is that the cards are pitched. In other words, the dealer holds the two packs in their hand and tosses the cards face-down toward each player. In pitch games (also called hand-held or face-down games), each player picks up their two starting cards with one hand only but never takes them off or under the table.

Hand gestures are used to signal the different playing decisions. Some of these include scratching the felt with your two cards to signal a hit and slipping them face-down under your chips to indicate a stand. We have covered all hand signals in both pitch and multiple deck games in our Blackjack Rules article so feel free to go back and check it out.

The premise of the game is the same as that in all other blackjack variations. Your goal is to obtain a total that is as closest to 21 as possible (and higher than the dealer’s) without going over. When dealer and player have the same total, their hands push and the player gets to collect their original bet or let it ride. Once the cards are dealt, you have a choice from the standard playing decisions of hitting, standing, pair splitting, and doubling down.

Double Deck Blackjack Gameplay


Double Deck Games with Advantageous Rules

Double Deck blackjackThe first rule variation we shall examine has to do with the dealer’s fixed standing total. In optimal double deck games, the dealer stands on all totals of 17, soft or hard. Here are several examples of soft 17s where the Ace’s value can be either 1 or 11: A-6, A-2-4, and A-3-3. Soft totals tend to be dealt more frequently in pitch games because the effect of the individual cards’ removal is more pronounced when fewer decks are in play.

The optimal alternative is to choose a pitch game where the dealer stands on soft 17s (S17). This notion may sound counterintuitive because the dealer is then sitting on a completed hand but we should also take into consideration the fact the dealer is always the last one to act at the table.

A dealer hitting soft 17 (H17) has the opportunity to improve their starting total. So in essence, the S17 rule prevents the dealer from potentially outdrawing you by pulling a deuce, a 3 or a 4 on the next hit. This fixed rule alone reduces the house advantage you are combating by around 0.22%.

The ability to double down on any starting two-card total is of equal import for blackjack players. This is important because of the differences in some strategy decisions for double deck games. In pitch games played with two decks, the optimal strategy calls for doubling down on soft totals of 13 through 18 when the dealer exposes weak cards 5 or 6.

The strategy recommends doubling on soft 18 against a dealer 6 as well. Not being able to make the correct strategy moves because of doubling-down restrictions is never good for a blackjack player. The ability to double down on any two cards you want decreases the casino’s advantage by around 0.11%.

The rules pertaining to splitting also bear consideration. The rules of a decent double deck game allow you to split all pairs of numerically equal cards as well as to resplit to up to four individual hands. An exception is generally made for pairs consisting of Aces which can be split but cannot be resplit in most double deck games. However, resplitting Aces (or RSA) is a very valuable option for the player, albeit one that is rarely found in most double deck versions of 21.

Being able to hit split aces is yet another rule that merits the player. This enables you to take the full advantage of splitting your Aces and eliminates the possibility of you getting stuck with poor totals like 12 through 16 where you can win only provided that the dealer breaks their hand.

Such poor hands should be hit when the dealer’s upcard (like 9 or 10, for example) puts them in a good position. However, if the dealer exposes a weak card that increases their chances of busting, you might want to stand on your poor totals instead of hitting your split aces.

Having the option for a late surrender is another beneficial rule but double deck tables that still use it are quite the rarity these days. When surrendering, you are basically forfeiting your starting hand in exchange for half of your stake.

Common Rules in Double-Deck Blackjack
Dealer Stands Dealer stands on all 17
Blackjack Payout 3 to 2; some versions pay 6 to 5 or even money if dealer shows an Ace
Double Down Only on totals of 9, 10, or 11; some variants allow doubling down only on totals of 10 or 11
Splitting Allowed on any pairs; Split Aces draw only one card
Resplits In most cases resplits are not allowed
Doubling after split Allowed
Insurance Yes
Insurance Yes
Insurance Payout 2 to 1
Surrender Not allowed

Double Deck Games with Disadvantageous Rules

Double Deck betSince double deck blackjack is easy to count and yields a smaller house advantage in comparison to six or eight deck games, most casinos have tweaked the rules to gain a larger edge over their players. The most common changes concern the dealer’s drawing rules on soft totals of 17.

As we explained previously, a dealer hitting soft 17 works to the detriment of the player because it boosts the likelihood of the dealer improving their total by catching small cards like 2, 3 or 4. This takes away 0.22% from your advantage – it may not seem like much but things add up when you go through 10,000 hands or more.

The restrictions on doubling down have a pronounced negative impact on your long-term profits. In many double deck variants of the game, the player is allowed to double only on starting totals of 9, 10, and 11. This yields a 0.11% advantage for the house and causes you to deviate from the optimal strategy because you are no longer able to double on soft totals 13 through 18 against a dealer showing a 6 or a 5.

Optimal play also calls for doubling on hard totals of 9 against dealer upcards 2 through 6. Needless to say, this play is impossible in double deck games where doubling down is restricted to totals of 10 and 11 only. These restrictions increase the house edge even further, by around 0.22%.

In some double deck variations of 21, players are allowed to split pairs of ten-value cards only if said cards are identical, like Q-Q, K-K, J-J, and 10-10. While basic strategy players are, by and large, encouraged to never split such pat hands because they might end up being stuck with smaller hard totals, such splitting restrictions work to the detriment of advantage players (you might have heard the joke about fools and card counters being the only people to ever split pairs of ten-value cards).

Payouts in Double Deck Blackjack

Payouts in Double Deck BlackjackHere is where we bring up the topic of payouts for discussion. The payouts in double deck blackjack are mostly the same as those in multiple deck games as players’ winning hands return even money and winning insurance side bets offer the usual payout of 2 to 1.

One exception is commonly made in regard to the single most important payout in the game of 21, that for a blackjack. In an attempt to boost their advantage, many casinos (especially across Las Vegas and Atlantic City) pay out 6 to 5 for blackjacks on their double deck tables instead of the standard 3 to 2.

What is the difference and why does it matter? We can best demonstrate it with an example where we shall use bet increments of $10 for the purposes of simplicity. Naturals are easily the most profitable hands for players because they occur relatively once every 21 hands or so (which is a weird, yet a very fitting coincidence for a game that is also called “21”).

A standard game of blackjack which pays 3 to 2 for naturals gives you more value because you collect 1.5 times your initial stake. Thus, if you wager $10 and your starting total is a blackjack, you receive a payout of $15 on top of your initial $10.

With 6-to-5 blackjack, there is a reduction in the payout because you receive only 1.2x times your original bet for naturals. Respectively, you net only $12 on top of your original $10 when you get a blackjack.

The negative impact this rule alone has is greater than the negative effect of all other unfavorable rules combined! By reducing the blackjack payouts to 6 to 5, the house gains as much as 1.40% advantage over its players (even if they play optimally, which is a shame).

A $10 flat bettor who goes through 100 hands per hour will incur hourly expected losses of $14 over the long term. And keep in mind bets at some of the double deck tables start at a minimum of $25, which is to say your hourly losses will be even higher.

Our Final Verdict on Double Deck Games

Double Deck Blackjack Pros and ConsAnd now for our final verdict. Is double deck blackjack yay or nay? Double deck games can be a real treasure for blackjack players provided that they offer favorable rules and decent payouts on naturals. Even more so if the players have taken the time to master perfect basic strategy which we also discuss in this guide.

In our observations, many online casinos do offer double deck games where blackjacks return at the standard ratio of 3 to 2. Two examples that come at the top of our minds are Microgaming’s Vegas Downtown Blackjack and Premier High Streak Blackjack (where the virtual dealer abides by the S17 rule, which is great for the player).

The thing is some of the rules have indeed been changed even in the online variations. Our advice for those of you who have no option but to play on H17 double deck tables is to look for games where doubling after a split (DAS) and resplitting aces (RSA) are allowed. The most profitable double deck games are the ones that follow the favorable rules we outlined earlier. Above all, make sure you do not fall for the 6-to-5 ploy. Avoid these tables (double deck or not) like the plague!

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Find the answers of questions people asked so far:

Dan Glen

When we compare Double Deck Blackjack and Six Deck Blackjack, is the first version always the best option to play?

Asked by: Glen | Asked on: 2023-06-08
Answered by: Dan | Answered on: 2023-06-09

Any blackjack player with a decent knowledge of player-favorable rules knows that the fewer the decks in blackjack, the better the winning odds. However, there are many other rules to consider whenever you are comparing two different types of blackjack tables. While the number of decks is important, the dealer standing rule, doubling down on any two cards, and especially the payout for a blackjack are crucial for the winning odds of a blackjack game. While it can be extremely beneficial to play Double Deck Blackjack, if it offers a 6 to 5 blackjack payout, any reasonable player would choose a 3 to 2 six-deck blackjack any day. The reason for that is the disadvantageous rule of blackjack paying 6 to 5 increasing the house edge significantly, which offsets the benefit of playing with only two decks.

Dan Robert

How to recognize which double-deck blackjack game is worth playing?

Asked by: Robert | Asked on: 2023-10-08
Answered by: Dan | Answered on: 2023-10-09

As there are various double-deck blackjack variations available both online and at land-based casinos, it can be tricky to decide which one to play. However, one important thing to consider is whether the double-deck blackjack game you have chosen is beatable. The first thing that you need to look for is the blackjack payout. While the 6 to 5 payout on single-deck blackjack is acceptable on a very rare occasion, there is no point in settling for the lower payout in double-deck blackjack games.

Deck penetration is also crucial when choosing which double-deck blackjack game is worth playing. In the case of playing with two decks, it is recommended to opt for games, which use at least one full deck before it cuts, ensuring the bare minimum of 50% deck penetration. The better the cut, the better the EV, which is yet another thing indicating which blackjack option you should play. So, to summarize, a 3 to 2 payout and at least 1 full-deck penetration are the things to look for when you are comparing double-deck blackjack tables.