Why You Should Play Poker vs Blackjack

Blackjack vs Poker

If you’ve decided to learn how to gamble with cards, you might be wondering whether you should focus on blackjack or poker (especially Texas holdem).

Both card games have much in common, but they have distinct differences that you should consider when deciding between poker and blackjack.

In this post, I highlight the similarities and differences between blackjack and poker and explain how you can decide which game is best for you.

Comparing the House Edge

The house edge is a concept that measures the mathematical advantage that the casino has over the player. It’s an estimate of how much the casino expects to win from each bet over the long run. It’s expressed as a percentage.

If you say that a game has a house edge of 5% it means that the casino expects to win an average of $5 every time someone bets $100 on that game.

But that’s a long-term average. In the short run, anything can happen. It’s critical to remember that.

In online blackjack, the house edge – assuming you’re playing with perfect basic strategy – varies from about 0.3% to 1%. This is one of the lowest house edge figures in the house.

In poker, you’re not playing against the house. You’re playing against the other players. If you and all the other players have exactly the same skill level as poker players, you have no edge, and neither do they. In the long run, you’ll all break even.

Sure, you’ll be up some of the time, and you’ll be down some of the time, but in the long run – it’s a break-even game.

Here’s the problem, though: If you’re playing in a poker game in a casino setting, the casino takes a 5% rake. They pull 5% out of each pot before it’s delivered to the winner.

So, in effect, poker does have a house edge of roughly 5%.

But you’re never facing 9 or 10 poker players of the same skill level as you. Some of your opponents are probably better at the game than you are, and some are probably not as good.

In fact, if you’re a serious poker player, it’s your goal to have an edge over the other players.

Both Blackjack and Poker Offer Advantage Play Opportunities

What does it mean when someone says that a game is vulnerable to advantage play?

It means that using the appropriate strategy for the game, a clever player can get a mathematical edge.

  • In blackjack, you have multiple options for getting an edge. The most common is card counting, but shuffle tracking and dealer tells are also possible routes for getting an edge in blackjack.
  • In poker, you get an edge by being better at the game than your opponents. You also have a set of skills that enable you to do this.

Those skills are surprisingly similar in some ways but remarkably different in others.

The starting point for getting an edge in blackjack is memorizing basic strategy. That’s the mathematically correct way to play every hand in every situation. It’s easier to memorize than you think.

There’s no creativity in mastering basic strategy in blackjack, and it’s not enough – by itself – to get you an edge.

But if you don’t master basic strategy first, you can’t get an edge at blackjack.

In poker, the analogous strategy is your starting hand requirements, but you have more flexibility in a game of poker. Most sites offer general guidelines for how to play your starting hands in poker, but those guidelines vary based on how your opponents play.

Please Note:
For the most part, mastering starting hand requirements in poker is enough to make you a break-even player in most games. Learning how to play well in the later betting rounds is how you get an edge in poker.

Blackjack Doesn’t Reward Creativity or Psychology

Blackjack doesn’t reward creativity. The dealer plays her hand in a specific way. It doesn’t vary based on her mood or her evaluation of what kind of player you are.

Poker, on the other hand, deals with other players who have various tendencies. In some situations, it’s appropriate to check-raise with pocket aces in a Texas holdem game, while, in other situations, that’s one of the worst plays you can make.

For Example:
In blackjack, you can try to spot dealer tells, but many dealers don’t have tells. It depends on whether the blackjack dealer cares about the outcome or not. Most of the time, they don’t care. In poker, though, the players do care about the outcomes. After all, they have their own money on the line.

This means that you can bluff someone in poker, but you can never bluff in blackjack.

You can’t do anything creative in blackjack.

Being Great at Poker Is More “Legit” Than Being Great at Blackjack

If you sit down at a poker table and make the best moves mathematically repeatedly, you’ll face no heat at all from the casino. They don’t care. You’re contributing toward the rake – that 5% they take out of every pot – regardless of whether you’re a winning or losing player.

But when you sit down at a blackjack table, you’re entering into a contest with the casino for the casino’s money. If they even suspect you of counting cards and getting an edge, they’ll take countermeasures.

These countermeasures might be as simple as shuffling the deck after every hand. This effectively eliminates any advantage you might be able to get from counting cards.

Other casinos prefer to just back you off the blackjack table. The pit boss will approach you and tell you that you’re just too good a blackjack player for them. They’ll suggest that you try their other casino games, and they’ll make it clear that your action isn’t welcome at the blackjack tables.

In other cases – like if you ignore their warnings to stay away from their blackjack tables – they’ll ask you to leave the casino altogether. If you return after being banned from a casino, you’re breaking trespassing laws.

It’s entirely legal to count cards in blackjack. In my opinion, it’s not even cheating.

The casinos have a different opinion.

They’re absolutely convinced that counting cards is cheating.

Counting your outs at the poker table and betting accordingly isn’t cheating, though.

What It All Boils Down To

Both poker and blackjack offer distinct features that cater to different kinds of gamblers.

It’s not a question of which game is better or even which game has better odds. It’s more a question of which game suits you and your personality better.

The first step in deciding that for yourself is thinking about what your goals are.

Do you hope to make a living from your gambling activities?

You can do that with both blackjack and poker, although it’s easier to make a living playing poker professionally than it is making a living playing blackjack professionally. If you’re a great poker player, you won’t face heat from the casino.

But the casinos are downright unfriendly to advantage players.

  • On the other hand, do you prefer competing with the casino for their money?
  • Or would you rather battle it out with your peers?

Most of the time, I’d rather get my hands on some of the casino’s money, but I don’t mind taking the money from the fish at the poker table, either.

If you’re a recreational gambler, it boils down even more to your personal preference.

If you’re not trying to get a mathematical edge over the casino, most of the stuff I’ve just discussed doesn’t matter at all. It all boils down to preference.

  • Are you interested in trying to outwit other people?
  • Are you more interested in an almost purely mathematical endeavor?

There’s plenty of math in poker, and it might even be more math-intensive than blackjack, but there’s not much outwitting of other people in blackjack.

A good recreational blackjack player just memorizes basic strategy and makes in-game decisions accordingly without deviating from them.

A good recreational poker player, on the other hand, has the chance to watch what his opponents are doing and try to take advantage of their mistakes.

Another personal preference has to do with whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert.

Please Note:
If you’re interested in interacting with lots of other people while you’re gambling, you’ll probably prefer poker. In blackjack, if you want to interact with other players, you can socialize at a busy table. But if you’re an introvert, you can just find blackjack tables where you’re heads-up with the dealer, and you don’t have to deal with a lot of people.

My suggestion is that you carefully consider your goals and preferences before deciding. Of course, you don’t have to choose one over the other. I play online poker AND blackjack, and you can, too.

Rex Hoffman / Author

Rex Hoffman is a passionate sports writer, with over five years of experience covering sports journalism in line with the Vegas betting landscape. His favorite subjects include football, basketball, and baseball. As a Las Vegas resident, he enjoys finding an edge against the local sportsbooks and aims to share his extensive knowledge with both beginners and experienced bettors. Rex also dabbles in horse racing wagering and enjoys typical casino fare like blackjack and poker in his spare time.