The standard dictum in online blackjack is that fewer decks result in lower house edges and higher average returns to the player. Hence players are encouraged to opt for online blackjack games with fewer decks where the choice is available. But this is true only of the bare blackjack variants with no side bets. Once side bets come into play the strategy could change. How this happens is illustrated using a new blackjack game titled Suit ‘Em Up Blackjack launched at Realtime Gaming online casinos.
A bit about the rules of Suit ‘Em Up Blackjack needs to be said first. The side bet is assessed independent of the main game and it wins if the first two cards dealt to the player are of the same suit. Two aces of the same suit pay 60 to 1. A blackjack with both cards from the same suit pays 10 to 1. Two suited cards of the same rank, other than aces, pay 5 to 1. Two cards from the same suit totalling to 11 pay 3 to 1. Any other two suited cards pay 2 to 1.
Suit ‘Em Up Blackjack gives you a choice from 2, 6 or 8 decks. Suppose that you go by the normal strategy and opt for two decks. This gives you 4 ways to make suited aces, 64 ways for a suited blackjack, 48 ways for a suited pair, 64 ways for a suited 11 and 1120 ways any other suited cards out of a total of 5356 combinations. A simple mathematical calculation gives the house edge as 9.4%. This is suicidal by any standards.
Now let us see what happens if we opt for six decks. This gives you 60 ways to make suited aces, 576 ways for a suited blackjack, 720 ways for a suited pair, 576 ways for a suited 11 and 10080 ways any other suited cards out of a total of 48516 combinations. The probabilities of getting suited aces and suited pairs increase markedly, while the probabilities of other winning combinations remain more or less the same. This brings down the house edge to 3.4%. A similar exercise shows that the house edge with eight decks will fall to 2.7%.
There is a conflict of choice between the main game and the side bet. The house edge for the main game would increase from about 0.18% for two decks to about 0.43% for eight decks. This is minuscule when compared to the gain you get in the side bet. So the choice is clear for Suit ‘Em Up Blackjack.