Blackjack versus Poker

Poker Hand on Left Blackjack Hand on Right

Should you play blackjack or poker?

Which game are you more likely to win money playing?

There are multiple factors to consider when deciding whether you want to specialize in blackjack or poker. Are you a recreational gambler looking to increase the amount of fun you’re having? Or, are you a professional gambler who wants to maximize how much money you’re making?

This post looks at answering these questions and other questions that might be pertinent to contrasting blackjack and poker.

Blackjack Is a Game with No Competitors

Most people think you’re playing against the dealer or playing against the casino when you’re playing blackjack.

But this isn’t true.

The blackjack dealer doesn’t make any decisions at all. Neither does the casino. They have a set of rules that are as specific as the rules for solitaire, but you’re not really competing. You’re just going through a bunch of motions.

Even if you play perfect blackjack, and even if you’ve mastered an advantage technique like counting cards, you’re still doing the equivalent of working a crossword puzzle or a sudoku game.

This is great for some temperaments. Not everyone enjoys competition.

Others, though, thrive on competition, and blackjack can bore such gamblers silly.

The Strategy for Blackjack Is Relatively Simple

In blackjack, the beginning of a sound strategy is to learn how to play the game with “basic strategy.” This means that you know the mathematically optimal way to play every possible hand you might get dealt against every possible card the dealer might be showing face-up on the table.

That sounds like a lot, but it’s just a table. The dealer only has 10 possible cards, and you have a surprisingly limited number of totals to deal with, too.

And many of these totals can be played the same way. For example, any total under 8 is automatically a hit. Any total of 10 is automatically a stand.

In poker, though, you don’t know what your opponents are thinking or what they’re going to do. You might be able to see some of their cards, but they’re liable to do anything. A blackjack dealer never bluffs, but poker players bluff and semi-bluff all the time.

Closeup of Two Blackjack Hand

Also, in poker, you must look at every decision in terms of pot odds and the odds of making your hand. If the pot pays better odds than your odds of making the hand, a call is a mathematically correct move.

But this requires some math that many players aren’t used to.

And, in blackjack, it’s just not important.

Even if you want to become an expert blackjack player and learn how to count cards, you don’t have as many data points to consider as you would have in a game of poker.

Casinos Don’t Generally Back Off Skilled Poker Players

Blackjack and poker have this in common:

They’re both games where you can get a mathematical edge.

Here’s the big difference, though:

If casinos figure out that you’re counting cards in blackjack or using some other advantage technique, they’ll ask you to stay away from their blackjack tables. They might even ask you to not play at their casino anymore.

You don’t generally have to worry about this at the poker table. When you play poker, you’re pitting your money against the other players’ money at the table. The casino makes its money from taking a percentage of the pot.

It doesn’t matter how good at poker you are, the casino doesn’t lose any money because of you – unless you’re so good that no one wants to play with you. And I’ve never seen that happen. There’s always someone who wants to take on the big poker player in the room, even when they don’t stand a chance.

Some gamblers enjoy the challenge of flying under the radar when counting cards at the casino, but I tend to like playing poker where it doesn’t matter.

Blackjack Is Easier to Learn than Poker

When you’re learning to play blackjack, you start by learning the numerical values of each card. Aces are worth 1 or 11, face cards are worth 10, and all the other cards are worth their ranking. A 7 is worth 7, for example.

A blackjack hand’s “ranking” is just the total number of points it’s worth. The main thing to know that a hand totaling 22 or higher is an automatic loser.

In poker, though, you start by memorizing the standard hand rankings. These account for suits and ranks, and they involve 5-card hands. You don’t add up points with poker hands. You fit them into categories that aren’t always easy or intuitive to spot.

Closeup of a Texas Holdem Game

One of the first books I read about Texas hold’em explained that one of the first skills I needed was recognizing what the nuts – the best possible hand – would be for any set of community cards. If I didn’t know what the best possible hand was, I wouldn’t know how likely it is that one of my opponents would have it. In fact, I wouldn’t know if I were holding the nuts.

That kind of thing just doesn’t come up in blackjack.

Both Games Are Ripe for Advantage Play

Most casino games offer no opportunity for getting a mathematical edge over your opponent. Blackjack is a rare exception, and, if the casinos had their way, it wouldn’t be an exception at all. Games like poker, where you’re literally pitting your decision-making skills against your opponents, are different.

An advantage player in blackjack is probably going to count cards. Shuffle tracking is another common advantage technique in blackjack, but it still requires an understanding of the principles of card counting.

Advantage players in poker are different. They just have to be better than the other players at the table. If you can find a game with a lot of wild, loose action, you can play with an advantage even if you’re not that experienced or skilled.

The trick is knowing who the suckers are at the table. Chances are if you don’t know who the sucker is, it’s you.

You Can Win More Money Playing Poker

You can win a lot of money as a card counter in blackjack, but you can win a lot more money playing poker. Just the fact that you can be a great poker player without worrying about the casino noticing ensures that.

But the other advantage that poker has is the number of tournaments available with high buy-ins and big prize pools.

The World Series of Poker offers you the opportunity to win a life-changing amount of money, even in some of the smaller events. If you win the Main Event at the WSOP, you’ll never have to work again unless you blow your winnings or just want to.

WSOP Logo and Binions and Rio Background

Blackjack has tournaments, but even at their height, they didn’t compare in number and popularity with the poker tournaments. And blackjack tournaments are the exception to the rule about how in blackjack you’re not dealing with competitors.

They even had a World Series of Blackjack at one time, but the last time anyone played in a World Series of Blackjack was in 2007.

Pros and Cons of Blackjack versus Poker

Blackjack has the edge over poker in terms of how easy it is to learn and how easy it is to master the basic strategy. Even learning how to count cards is easier than mastering poker strategy.

On the other hand, luck plays a bigger role in blackjack than it does in poker. Your bankroll swings in blackjack will likely be wilder than they would be in poker as a result. Also, playing blackjack isn’t as entertaining as playing poker – after all, you’re doing the equivalent of working a puzzle or playing a solitaire game.

Poker, on the other hand, is vastly more interesting than blackjack, even if it does have a steeper learning curve. And your strategy only matters in comparison to your opponents. If you find the right home game, you can easily be the best player there by just studying a couple of books.

On the other hand, poker can be devastatingly expensive when compared to blackjack. It’s easy to wind up at a table with a lot of players who are more skilled than you are.

And, regardless of which game you play, you must have a bankroll sufficient to last long enough to avoid going broke until your skill level kicks in.

Our Final Thoughts on This Comparison

Should you play blackjack or poker?

The truth is that it’s a false dichotomy. You don’t have to choose one over the other. If you’re a recreational gambler, by all means learn to play both games skillfully.

If you enjoy socializing, poker is probably the better choice. And if you’re serious about making a lot of money, poker is the right choice, again.

At the end of the day, it’s all about your individual preferences.