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Aruba Blackjack: The No-Hole Card Rule
By Arnold Snyder
(First published in Casino Player, September 1992)
© 1992 Arnold Snyder
Question from a Player: I recently spent a week in Aruba and visited all nine operating casinos on the island, primarily to play blackjack.
As indicated in the February issue of Casino Player, Aruba is a delightful island with the potential of becoming the Las Vegas of the Caribbean. Blackjack is played in all the casinos with five or six decks.
However, in seven of the nine casinos the dealer takes his hole card (and other cards if required) after all players have completed playing their hands. My reaction to this play was that this gives the house a great edge since the dealer must take two consecutive cards before he has the possibility of breaking. As a result of this rule, I limited my playing to the other two casinos.
Was I correct in my assumption about this “no hole card” rule? If so, what is the house’s percentage resulting from this? Also, as a side comment, I noticed that the two “good” casinos were very crowded, while in the other casinos the blackjack tables were empty.
Does Aruba's No-Hole Card Procedure Give an Extra Advantage to the House?
Answer: This is not an uncommon question. Many players, especially those who are familiar with the common dealing procedures in the U.S., feel that the “no hole card” procedure, used in many other locales around the world, provides an extra advantage to the house. The “logic” behind this reasoning — as this player explains — is that the dealer’s hand will be completed with consecutive cards, instead of with cards interspersed with cards for the players’ hands.
But, is it less likely for the dealer to bust with consecutively dealt cards than with nonconsecutive cards? I once had this question posed to me from the opposite perspective by a European player who was familiar with the typical European no-hole-card dealing procedure. He felt that the nonconsecutive cards taken by dealers in American casinos provided a house advantage. In other words, his “instincts” were the exact opposite of his American counterpart. He was sure that the consecutive cards taken by European dealers in completing their hands made it more likely for them to bust.
The fact is it doesn’t make one iota of difference in the long run whether the dealer completes his hand with consecutive or non-consecutively dealt cards. The average total of any two cards taken from a shuffled deck or decks, whether consecutive or chosen from random points in the deck(s), is slightly more than 13. You could test this yourself at home, though it would take quite a few hours to obtain a statistically significant result. More likely, before you obtained a statistically significant result, the exercise itself would cause you to realize the flaw in your logic.
Let’s reduce the problem to its basic elements. The real question is whether or not two consecutively dealt cards would have a lower total value — making it less likely for the dealer to bust — than two non-consecutively dealt cards. If you shuffle a deck of cards, then deal the top two cards consecutively, do you feel that the total would be lower than if you dealt the top card, then took the second card from elsewhere in the deck?
We can test this empirically by shuffling and dealing two consecutive cards, then taking a third card from elsewhere in the deck(s). Is the total of the first and third cards generally higher than the total of the first two consecutive cards?
We can further reduce this problem by noting that it’s really a question of whether or not the second consecutive card is lower than a randomly chosen card. So, to speed up our empirical test, all we have to do is shuffle a deck of cards, then compare the value of the second card from the top with the value of a randomly chosen card from the pack. In no time at all, this exercise will seem futile. Since the cards have been shuffled, both cards, in fact, are random.
Aruba No Hole Card Blackjack vs. European No Hole Card Blackjack
The Aruba no hole card rule does, however, differ slightly from both the standard European version, and the American version. In Europe, if you double down or split a pair vs. a dealer ten or ace, and the dealer completes his hand to give himself a blackjack, the player will lose everything to the dealer’s natural. In the American casinos where the dealer does not take (or check) his hole card until after the players have played out their hands, a dealer blackjack will win only the original bet of the player.
In Aruba, the dealer will win only the player’s original bet, unless the player busts on one or more split hands, in which case the dealer will also win the bet(s) on the busted split hands. The house advantage from this no-hole-card rule variation (dealer natural takes busts) is very small, about .01% (that’s one-hundredth of a percent, or about one penny for every hundred dollars bet). The only basic strategy change that you should make in Aruba, to compensate for this rule, is don’t split 8s vs. a dealer ten or ace.
I won’t venture a guess as to why the two “good” casinos in Aruba that did not practice the no-hole-card dealing procedure were more crowded than the no-hole-card casinos. But, in Aruba, as everywhere else, the major factor for a card counter in evaluating a casino’s blackjack profitability should be the shuffle point. For non-card-counters, the penetration really doesn’t matter. The rules at all Aruba casinos are similar enough that the basic strategy player should expect to lose at about the same rate.
Although the Hyatt (one of the hole card casinos) has dealers standing on soft 17, which is favorable to the players, they do not allow doubling after splitting, which is allowed at the Alhambra, the Concorde and the Palm Beach. The Alhambra, however, allows doubling down on ten/eleven only, while the other casinos allow doubling on any two cards. From reports I’ve received, the best Aruba casino for card counters as of the writing of this article is the Concorde, which allows doubling on any two cards, doubling down after splits, and has about the deepest penetration you’ll find in Aruba.
For more information on blackjack rules and variations, see the Blackjack Forum Professional Gambling Library.
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