Understanding Blackjack Pushes: The Good, Bad & Ugly

Understanding Blackjack Pushes: The Good, Bad & Ugly

If you’ve ever played Blackjack, you have experienced a push (where you and the dealer end up with the same hand value and so your wager is returned to you). A push can feel disappointing, but it’s an important part of the game. This article will provide all the details you need to know.

What Is A Push In Blackjack?

Different land-based and online casinos might vary rules at their Blackjack tables, but the rules around a push are the same everywhere. It’s a tie, so your initial wager is returned to you.

Here’s a gameplay example of a common push in Blackjack:

  1. You place a $20 Blackjack bet.
  2. You receive two cards and the dealer’s hand is one face-down (or hole card) and the other face-up.  
  3. You have 10-6, giving you a hand value of 16.
  4. The dealer’s up-card is a Jack (valued at 10), so you hit (that is, take an extra card) and get a 2, giving you 18.
  5. You elect to stand.
  6. The dealer’s hole card is turned over; a 4. The dealer has 14 and must hit.
  7. The dealer gets a 2. With 16, the dealer must hit again.
  8. The dealer gets another 2 and stands by rule.
  9. You and the dealer both have 18, so it’s a push. Your initial $20 bet is returned to you.
A player Ten-Six-Deuce and dealer Jack-Four-Deuce-Deuce.

In the above scenario, your hand resulted in a push. But remember, Blackjack is between individual players and the dealer. Other players might have won or lost against the dealer’s 18.

Can Other Bets Push?

If a player is dealt a pair and opts to split (that is, double the wager and use each card as the starting point for a new hand) each hand is played and evaluated independently.

In my book, Casino Gambling for Dummies (Wiley 2023), a player being dealt two 8s should almost always split. That means placing another equal sized wager on the table and playing out each hand. If one hand drew a 10 and the other drew an Ace, the former would have pushed against a dealer 18 and the latter would have won.

Some players tip dealers by placing a small additional wager on the table.  These gratuity bets share the fate of the main bet, win, lose, or push. On the other hand, side bets – increasingly popular in many casinos – either win (rarely) or lose (usually).

How To Act (with a) Natural

In Blackjack, player and dealer hands are compared strictly according to their final total value, regardless of the makeup of the hand. However, the rules don’t treat all 21’s the same. Getting dealt an Ace and a 10 card is known as a natural or the eponymous blackjack. Although they never face each other, natural 21’s have certain advantages over 21’s made from three or more cards.

If you’re dealt a natural and the dealer shows any card 2 through 9, you get immediately paid 3 to 2 on your initial wager (a payout rate known colloquially as time-and-a-half, a profit of $75 on a $50 wager). Likewise, if the dealer has natural, all player hands other than a natural lose immediately. In neither case is dealer or player given a chance to hit, adding cards in hoped of drawing to 21 and pushing against the opponent’s natural.  

Ace (hopefully not) In The Hole

With an up card of 10, the dealer uses a special mirror on the table to peek at the hole card in order to check and see if they have a natural. If the hole card is an Ace, the dealer has a natural. That card is revealed and the game is over. All player hands lose unless a player’s hand is also a natural, in which case it’s a very frustrating push.

The Unkindest Push Of All

The chance of an Ace in the hole is around 8% for the dealer. But when the dealer shows an Ace, the chance of having a Ten card (Ten, Jack, Queen, or King) in the hole is around 31%.

With such a high probability of a dealer natural a special process kicks in. Before peeking, the dealer offers players holding a natural an immediate win. But there’s a catch: the payout is even money rather than time and a half.

Players declining the dealer’s offer must sweat out what comes next. The dealer peeks and if it’s not a 10 card, the hand is a winner and the player is paid off at 3 to 2. But should the dealer turn over a dreaded 10 card, it’s a natural versus natural push and the player’s perfect Blackjack hand has gone to waste. 

Here’s a gameplay sequence example:

  • You place a $50 Blackjack wager and are dealt Ace-King. A natural!
  • The dealer’s up card is an Ace. Argh!
  • Before peeking at the hole-card, the dealer offers you the option of taking an even money payout for a profit of $50, which you decline.
  • The dealer peeks, sees it’s a Queen.
  • The dealer flips the Queen to complete the natural. Instead of a $75 profit if the dealer had seen any other card in the mirror…instead of a $50 profit if the player had taken the even money payout…it’s a soul-crushing push.

Blackjack Push Probabilities

The probability of a push on any given hand is around 8.5% overall. Here’s the breakdown by specific hand:

  • A dealer and player both getting a natural only happens once in every 429 hands, or a probability of 0.23%.
  • Player and dealer both draw to 21: 2.3%
  • Player and dealer both have 20: 2.5%
  • Player and dealer both have 19: 1.5%
  • Player and dealer both have 18: 0.7%
  • Player and dealer both have 17: 0.5%

Those probabilities are approximate; the exact numbers depend on the specifics of the game. Here are factors that can affect the probability of a push:

  • In general, fewer decks means a slightly higher push probability.
  • Overall odds of a push increase slightly where the dealer hits on soft 17.
  • Player tendencies and adherence to basic strategy can change the chance of pushes occurring. For example, players who hit (rather than stand) on soft 17 and or stand (rather than hit) on 12 versus a dealer’s Deuce will push slightly less often.

A Blackjack push is a good news/band news situation. Your hand, which may have been anywhere from decent to very good, didn’t win. But be thankful it didn’t lose either.

Hopefully you’re now better prepared to face a Blackjack push, and on your way to being a better player.