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Number of Decks in Casino Card Games

By: Joe Valentino, Tuesday March 16th 2010
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Card games are an integral part of online casinos. Poker based card games are usually played with a single deck. However games like blackjack and baccarat are offered in multiple decks. New players are not aware that the number of decks used in the game affects the house edge and therefore the average payout ratio. Without this knowledge they often make the wrong choices. Therefore it is crucial to understand the relationship between the number of decks and the house edges.

Before getting involved with the essence of the issue, it would help to take a look at the variation offered. Since Microgaming offers the largest variation it is being used as an example. Microgaming offers a large number of blackjack variants like European Blackjack, Atlantic City Blackjack, Vegas Strip Blackjack and Vegas Downtown Blackjack. Across all variants the number of decks used range from 1 to 8. There is variation in the number of decks within blackjack variants as well. For example Classic Blackjack is offered in the single hand version with 1 deck and in the multi hand version with 5 decks. Vegas Downtown Blackjack is offered with both 1 deck and 2 decks. Baccarat is offered in only two variants. The normal variant is played with 1 deck and High Limit Baccarat is played with 8 decks.

In blackjack games the house edge increases as the number of decks used in the game increase, other rules remaining the same. The house edge is the percentage of each dollar wagered that the casino retains in the long run. Therefore it is favorable for the player when fewer decks are used. In Vegas Downtown Blackjack the house edge with 8 decks is 0.64%, the house edge with 2 decks is 0.40% and the house edge with 1 deck is 0.01%. Therefore the Blackjack Downtown Vegas game with two decks offered in Microgaming online casinos is avoidable. In Vegas Strip Blackjack the variation in house edges is even more interesting. The house edge with 8 decks is 0.43%, the house edge with 2 decks is 0.18% and the house edge with 1 deck is -0.18%. This means that in the single deck case the house will lose money in the long run. However, these house edges are based on optimal play and will increase when players do not make the right moves. Blackjack games with higher number of decks are usually formatted as multi hand games. New players often venture into these games because they replicate more closely land casino environment and also speed up the wagering because a number of hands are played simultaneously. But they should realize that they are paying a price for this thrill.

In baccarat the situation is somewhat different. There are three different bets and the house edge of each of the bets has to be considered separately. The Tie Bet is a sucker bet having a very high house edge. In the eight deck variant the house edge is 14.36%, which increases to 15.75% in the single deck variant. For the Player Bet the house edge is 1.24% in the eight deck variant, which increases slightly to 1.29% in the single deck variant. However for the Banker Bet the house edge decreases with the number of decks. It is 1.06% for the eight deck variant and 1.01% for the single deck variant. Since the Banker Bet is the preferred bet players should opt for baccarat games with single decks. However if a player wishes to wager on the Player Bet for any reason, he should opt for baccarat games with eight decks.

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