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Everywhere I read manuals it focuses my options as a player. I can't figure out if the dealer knows his hidden card or not? Of course, when dealer has 10 or Ace showing, he checks if he's got a blackjack, right?

What are the dealer's options?

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The dealer knows what both of his cards are.

In casino play, the dealer has no options. He always has to hit values below 16/17 (the exact number varies by casino), and has to stay when his cards are higher.

In non-casino play, often the dealer is just another player and has the same options as you. This is not really blackjack and will not use the same strategies as casino blackjack.

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Playing with a dealer that has the same options as players would seem to be to be so different from normal blackjack that you couldn't even compare the two. The majority of blackjack strategy is based on decisions based on being able to see 1 (and only 1) of the dealer's cards, and the rules they have to follow. – bwarner May 21 '13 at 18:13
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@bwarner, I agree, but it does not stop people from calling it blackjack. I have seen it enough in informal settings to where I think it is relevant to include. Hopefully I have edited my answer enough to clarify this. – Colin D May 21 '13 at 18:18

Blackjack dealers have no options for the in-game decisions of whether to hit or stay; they follow a strict algorithm that will depend on their casino. The dealer waits until the players have exercised all their options, then the dealer reveals his hidden card and hits until he has at least 17 (most common).

The only variation I'm familiar with is a rule where the dealer will hit a soft 17 (any 17 with an Ace taking the value 11--denoted "H17" for Hit 17, as opposed to "S17" for Stand 17), but this is not the dealer's choice, it will be determined by the casino. According to Wikipedia, this rule will generally be printed on the table if it is being used, and it hurts players. Wikipedia phrases it the other direction: going from H17 to S17. "Substituting an "H17" rule with an "S17" rule in a game benefits the player, decreasing the house edge by about 0.2%"

See @NiceVerAz's answer below for a nice explanation of "meta-game" options that the dealer does control.

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The dealer first has to determine if he has blackjack. This is done by having the 10 pointers and Ace being marked in a way that the dealer can tell if it is a blackjack but otherwise can't tell. (Note that the dealer can't tell if they have two aces or 20)

If the dealer has a blackjack then once the players have chosen whether or not to get insurance that is revealed and the hand restarts.

Once no Blackjack is determine, the players all finish their actions (until they stay or bust) and once all have completed the dealer will do the same. First they will flip over their hold and then hit until 17 at which point they will stay. Note that soft 17s are sometimes hit depending on the casino. In either case the dealer never has any real choices, they react to the cards exclusively.

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The dealer has several options when exercising his duties.

His employer wants him to generate as much revenue as possible, which means:

  1. Dealing as many hands as possible
  2. Giving the players a fun experience, along with some tiny hope that they could get an edge naturally
  3. Detecting advantage players (card counters) and using counter measures to thwart them, without making mistakes such as taking a lucky high roller for an advantage player
  4. Reporting suspicious activities to the pit boss, or not

Which gives several options:

  1. The dealer can assist the players by adding the total for them. Sometimes it can be confusing since aces have potentially two values, or forcing them to take a quick decision, even taking it for them if they are too slow. Sometimes dealers will interpret conflicting signals to the house advantage, for instance hitting a 15 against a 5. The dealer can reversely act somewhat rudely and give slow players a bad experience so they can either speed up or leave the table for a new and potentially faster player to sit.
  2. A dealer can assist in giving advice, usually telling the hesitant player "The book says..." and even offer a free basic strategy card. This cards are often flawed and, even if not flawed and played perfectly, the house still has about a .6% edge with a 6-deck boot and hit on soft 17 rule. Giving that pleasant experience means the player could win that one time and come back to lose OR go through as many hands as possible in one hour. Pleasant experience to a player who wins = player happy = tip. Reversely, a dealer who spends too much time fraternizing could get into trouble for not dealing fast enough.
  3. This one is tricky because not all card counters are easy to detect. Some use camouflage, like acting like a newbie at first or a tourist or dressing like a high roller, expensive brand clothing, $10K watch, pretty girl in tow. In this last case, chances are your player is a high roller. If you are suspicious of anything, you can signal the pit boss and the eye in the sky that your player COULD BE a counter. But in the case he is not, you could be backing off a high roller who enjoys losing tons of money at the table.
  4. Suspicious activity could mean bizarre decisions, like double down on 12 (usually always reported), splitting 10s (which makes sense when you know the rest of the boot is loaded with 10s and aces), doubling down on 8, etc... Bizarre betting ramps, like starting with $10 bets and finishing with $500 bets. Again, your player could be a newbie, a high roller who loves living dangerously, or a card counter.

All in all, the dealer has many options:

  1. Slowing down or going faster
  2. Assisting in totaling cards or not
  3. Being pushy and somewhat rude towards slow players or helping them out and being charming, as tips is how they are really paid (casinos often pay minimum salary + benefits after several months, if you are lucky)
  4. Reporting suspicious activity or not
  5. Reporting a player as a potential counter or not
  6. Moving the cut card towards the center of the boot, meaning that card counters will be less likely to have an edge but the result will be less games dealt per hour. Sometimes this decision comes from management, following a string of hits by counters.

If dealers had no options, they'd have been replaced by robots a long time ago.

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I don't think OP was asking for this, but is a nice summary!!!! – gbianchi Jan 4 at 18:48
    
I was responding to the "Blackjack dealers have no options" and have to follow an algorithm comment. – NicVerAZ Jan 4 at 19:02
    
Nice answer - I should definitely amend the scope of my answer to clarify that dealers have no options when it comes to decisions on whether or not hit or stay. – Gregor Jan 4 at 19:16

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