The Dealer's Play

For security purposes, the casinos like all dealers to play their hands by a standard set of rules. Management prefers that dealers have no say whatsoever in how their hands are played. This avoids possible errors in judgment and precludes collusion between an unscrupulous dealer and player.

Because the house always plays in a fixed manner, we know exactly what to expect from the dealer. Let's take a closer look at the dealer's play.

In many casinos in the United States, the dealer keeps hitting until reaching a total of 17 or more. That is, once the dealer reaches 17, he must stop, regardless of what the players have as their totals. Other casinos offer a variation in which the dealer must continue to hit if holding a soft 17 (soft hands always contain an ace which counts as 1 I). In this case, thedealer must hit until reaching a total of 17 or more on hard hands, and 18 or more on soft hands. In some casinos, the hitsoft-17 rule is employed in single- or double-deck games, while the dealer stands on all 17s in multiple-deck games (the rule in force is usually specified on the table layout).

Since we know exactly how the dealer will play, cycling through all the possible card sequences allows us to obtain the dealer's theoretical distribution. Figures 1 and 2 were generated by this type of combinatorial analysis, assuming a pack of two freshly shuffled decks. We've chosen the 2-deck game for our examples because it serves as an "average" of the many games offered in casinos.

First, let's look at the theoretical final distribution of values for the dealer's hand. Looking at Figure 1, you can see that overall the dealer busts about 28%, of the time, assuming we consider no information about the dealer's upcard." Additionally, the dealer will reach a pat hand (17 through 21) about 67% of the time, the remaining 5% so accounted for by naturals.

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Online Etiquette

The next rule is: Don't abuse the all-in function. Because players sometimes must rush away from their computers in mid-hand (a baby might start crying, someone could come to the door, a child could injure himself), most cardrooms allow players who are still connected one or two "all-ins" when they fail to act on their hand. Rather than folding the hand of someone who has chips in the pot, the system treats the player as if he is all-in. He is eligible to win only the part of the pot he has contested and a side pot develops for the remaining bets.

Occasionally, an unscrupulous player will take unfair advantage of this. For example, if someone has a weak drawing hand like an inside straight draw, he might just sit there and fail to call a bet on the turn. The system treats him as all-in. If he makes his straight, he collects the pot, but if he doesn't, he hasn't had to invest a big bet to draw to it. Similarly, someone who has a fairly weak hand like middle pair might want to know if his hand is good, but not want to pay a bet on the end. He fails to make a move and collects the pot if his opponent was bluffing, but doesn't have to pay the bet to see his opponent's hand.