How Often Does the Dealer Bust in Blackjack?
If you’re thinking about dealer bust rates, you’re already doing more than most blackjack players. You can see for yourself at the casino – blackjack is a game for casual fans and obsessives, there’s no in-between.
Dealers are forced to behave in certain ways by the rules of the game; players aren’t. That’s where optimal blackjack strategy comes in, guiding players in deciding whether to hit or stand. Understanding dealer bust rates, odds of dealer busts, and the upcards that are most likely to lead to busts is a powerful addition to a basic blackjack strategy chart.
Like most subjects around blackjack, myths and legends cloud the air around dealer busts. This post is designed to air out the nonsense and focus on answering the question at hand.
Dealer Behavior in Blackjack
If dealers had room to make personal decisions about game strategy, I don’t think blackjack would be as popular. At the very least, it would be a poker-like game, with a special area of the casino reserved for it. The fact that the dealer’s behavior is controlled by blackjack rules makes it an ideal target for strategizing.
Players following optimal blackjack strategy will bust about 16% of the time. The difference between player bust rate under ideal strategy and the dealer bust rate comes from the play requirements for dealers outlined below:
- Dealers can’t split cards or double down. Players can do both things, under the right conditions. This gives the player a slight advantage.
- Dealers can’t stand on any number. Players can. If a player wants, he can stand after his first two cards, regardless of the point value. This gives players another slight advantage.
- In most casino blackjack games dealers can only stand on a hard total of 17. That means they have to hit a soft total of 17. Players can make any decision they want on any point total. This is yet another advantage for the player.
- Dealers must keep playing by their rules until their hand hits a 17-point total. They can’t go beyond that, even if the table conditions are right for it. This is another little advantage in the player’s favor.
Of course, you can’t just blindly bet against the dealer based only on these rules. The casino’s edge against players not following optimal strategy is like the edge on slot machines. To take advantage of the rules of dealer behavior in blackjack, you have to understand hand odds, and you have to know when the odds suggest you should stand and when you should take a hit.
Odds of Busting in Blackjack
Below is a chart showing the odds of busting by hitting every hand value in the game:
- 21 – 100% bust chance if hit
- 20 – 92% bust chance if hit
- 19 – 85% bust chance if hit
- 18 – 77% bust chance if hit
- 17 – 69% bust chance if hit
- 16 – 62% bust chance if hit
- 15 – 58% bust chance if hit
- 14 – 56% bust chance if hit
- 13 – 39% bust chance if hit
- 12 – 31% bust chance if hit
- 11 and below – 0% bust chance if hit
Take note that even a hand worth 12 points has almost a 1/3 chance of busting from a hit. With a point total of 16, almost 2/3 of hits you take will cause you to bust.
These odds change as the makeup of the deck or shoe changes, but unless you’re keeping an accurate count, you’re probably not going to be able to benefit from adjusting bust odds on the fly.
Some blackjack players try to take advantage of the odds of busting and attempt a no-bust strategy. They stand on low hand values, hoping to profit from dealer busts.
Of course, this doesn’t work in the long run.
The next section helps explain why.
Frequency of Dealer Busts in Blackjack
Dealer behavior is completely controlled by the game’s rules. Dealers don’t make decisions – they follow a strict set of behaviors baked into the rules of the game. Because of that stylized play, dealers bust less than 30% of the time.
Under standard blackjack rules, there are only seven possible outcomes for each dealer hand: a bust, a natural 21, a hand of 21 built from 3 or more cards, or hands worth 20, 19, 18, or 17 points.
Look at how often each of these dealer final hands occurs:
- Natural 21 – 4.83% of final hands
- 21 (3 or more cards) – 7.36% of final hands
- 20 – 17.58% of final hands
- 19 – 13.48% of final hands
- 18 – 13.81% of final hands
- 17 – 14.58% of final hands
- Bust – 28.36% of final hands
If you follow a no-bust strategy, the dealer is going to beat you 71.64% of the time.
By the way, we just came across an answer to our overall question. According to the mathematics behind the game, and based on standard casino blackjack rules, dealers will bust out 28.36% of the time.
We can zoom in a little more and show bust rates based on different dealer upcards:
- 2 – 35.3% bust rate
- 3 – 37.56% bust rate
- 4 – 40.28% bust rate
- 5 – 42.89% bust rate
- 6 – 42.08% bust rate
- 7 – 25.99% bust rate
- 8 – 23.86% bust rate
- 9 – 23.34% bust rate
- 10 – 21.43% bust rate
- Ace – 11.65% bust rate
Dealers bust most often with a 2-6, more specifically with a 4-6. The least-likely upcard for a dealer bust is an Ace.
You can use this information to your advantage. If you know the dealer’s bust rate, you can work out if your bust rate is higher or lower, then make an informed decision on whether to stand or take a hit. Your bust rate with a total of 13 (39%) is lower than the dealer’s bust rate with a 5 showing (42.89%), so your best move here is to take a hit.
Blackjack Dealer Bust Strategy Tips
Want to take advantage of dealer busts? That’s understandable. When the dealer busts, your strategy almost doesn’t matter. Your point total doesn’t matter, provided it’s below 22. Taking your hand out of play entirely by leveraging dealer-bust hands is a logical way to strategize.
Unfortunately, the game’s rules don’t allow you to do that.
My first tip for people who want to leverage dealer busts into blackjack winnings would be: follow basic blackjack strategy as closely as you can.
Here’s a side note that helps support my advice to follow basic strategy. If you were to mimic the dealer’s behavior and make only those moves that the dealer can make, it seems like you’d have even odds of winning. But that’s not the case. The house has a 5.5% edge against you if you mimic dealer behavior.
The reason dealer mimicking doesn’t work is that the outcome of a bust is different for the dealer and the player. Players always lose when they bust, but the dealer loses on a bust only when the player hasn’t busted. In other words, when you both bust, the dealer still wins. That’s not true for you.
Basic strategy is designed to take advantage of the limits on dealer behavior. The strategy card already knows when you’re in an ideal situation to stand or take a hit and use a dealer’s likely bust against him. It’s built into the system. Trust the system, and you’ll already be taking advantage of a busted dealer hand.
A second tip for people looking to bust the dealer – learn to keep a very basic count. I’m convinced that, even against a modern 8-deck shoe with frequent reshuffling, keeping a running count of 10- and 11-point cards gives you an advantage in situations where you or the dealer are at risk of busting.
If you’re in an 8-deck game, a full shoe has 160 cards worth 10 or 11 points. If you can keep a count of those 10- and 11-point cards as they’re dealt, you’ll make more informed decisions in critical moments.
What I do is wait until half the shoe is dealt. If my running count is 60 or smaller, I know the shoe is loaded with high-value cards. If my running count is 80 or higher, the shoe is loaded with smaller-value cards. I can bet according to that running count.
Combining basic strategy with a running count of high-value cards is the best and easiest way to take advantage of the rules of blackjack that govern when a dealer busts and when a dealer plays.
Blackjack players who follow optimal strategy perfectly bust out less often than dealers. That’s because basic strategy identifies the perfect situations for pushing the envelope on a high hand, while the rules of blackjack prevent the dealer from doing the same thing.
If you’re not following proper blackjack strategy, you’re not going to be able to use the dealer’s requirements against him. Casinos love players who sit at a blackjack table essentially blind, with no sense of strategy and no real understanding of the game’s rules and how they give the casino a comfortable guaranteed profit.