Blackjack is probably the most popular card game in the casino besides poker, and there are several variations in terms of both the games that are offered and variations in the rules from casino to casino for even the standard game. The articles in this section examine some of these different blackjack games and variations.
Black Jack Variations
Blackjack is easily the most popular table game offered in gambling establishments. It is a game which requires concentration, nerves of steel, a keen eye, and more than just a little luck thrown in. Called blackjack (or “21” in Nevada casinos), it is essentially a banking game, the object of which is to achieve a hand whose points are closer to 21 than the banker’s hand, but without going over 21. It is most often played with two (counting the house dealer) to seven players.
The name “blackjack” is used in Britain for a game which is similar to Crazy Eights (they refer to the American game of blackjack as Pontoon). Although, strictly speaking, Pontoon has somewhat different rules too.
Below is a list of rules variations you’ll find in different casinos:
1. Dealer Stands on Hard 17– This is the classic, and most common, rule of blackjack. Under this rule, the dealer will stand as soon as his/her score reaches 17 or above (without an ace in the hand). (Strictly speaking, this isn’t even a rules variation, since it’s almost always in place.)
2. Dealer Stands on Soft 17– The dealer stands if she has 17 or better and an ace in his hand. This is more advantageous than if the dealer hits a soft 17.
3. Dealer Hits on Soft 17– Soft 17 is an optional rule which is not used widely, since most casinos require their dealers to stand on a 17 or better, but it is always used in Blackjack Switch (which we’ll discuss later). This variation requires the dealer to draw another card if he’s holding a soft 17 (that is, a 17 with an ace in the hand). However, the dealer will still stand on a hard 17. This variation slightly increases the house edge.
If the dealer his on soft 17, the house edge is increased by about 0.2%.
4. Doubling– Considered one of the most profitable player options, some online casinos entirely prohibit doubling, while others allow it. Some casinos only allow doubling on the first two cards, while others allow doubling on any number of cards. (Being allowed to double down on any 2 cards improves your expectation by a little more than 0.2%.)
When you double down, you double your bet (or you can choose to bet less than the original wager, just never more) and receive one, and only one, additional card to your hand.
Some casinos will allow you to double on any two cards, while others will allow you to double only if your cards are of a certain value, typically 9-11. The latter variation decreases the player’s edge by about 0.1%.
5. Doubling After Split– This variation is uncommon. It allows you to double even after the hands have been split. This improves the player edge by 0.14%.
Splitting is defined as being able divide an initial hand consisting of two matching cards (two aces, two jacks, etc.) into two separate hands and then playing them independently. But keep in mind that 21 is not considered a natural hand (or blackjack) after a split.
In fact, some casinos allow you to keep splitting, as long as you keep getting pairs on the initial hand. The most common rule allows you to split up to three times, thus giving you four separate hands on the table. If doubling after the split is allowed on all these, then you could possibly have as much as eight times your initial bet on the table.
6. Surrender– While this variant is often prohibited altogether, it can be “early” or “late” if allowed. An “early” surrender can be invoked before a dealer checks for Blackjack, while a “late” surrender comes after the initial check. If you choose to surrender, you forfeit the hand and lose half of your original bet. Because the “early” surrender offers such a cheap way out for the players, it is almost never allowed. This variant can make a huge difference in your strategy, and veteran players will drool at the notion of finding an early surrender table.
7. Insurance– A commonly available rule for Blackjack, Insurance may also be the least understood. It works like this: if the dealer turns an up-card of an Ace, he will offer “insurance” to the players. Insurance bets can be made by betting up to half your original bet. The dealer will then check to see if he has a 10-value card underneath his Ace, and, if he does have blackjack, your winning insurance bet will be paid out at 2:1. You’ll lose your original bet (unless you also have a blackjack), so the net effect is that you’ll break even (assuming you bet the full amount allowable on insurance). If the dealer does not have blackjack, you’ll lose the insurance bet and still have to play out your original hand.
And here is a list of blackjack games, from the common to the unusual. (We have plans to expand this section.)
1. Blackjack Switch– Very popular among online casino players, Blackjack Switch is a blackjack-based game which gives you control over two hands. Both hands have their own betting pocket and, initially, you must wager equally on both hands. There is also a “super match” betting pocket, which is won if your initial four cards contain two or more matching cards. You can find the odds for the “super match” bets on the casino table.
In Blackjack Switch, you play both hands separately before the dealer. It is allowable to hit, stand, and double with each hand. Before you make the first move, you may perform a switch between hands (exchanging the two top cards of both hands).
Another difference is that the dealer always plays the “soft 17” rule and draws another card when he has a 17 with an ace.
If the dealer draws 22, it is considered a push and bets are refunded unless the player has blackjack, in which case the player wins.
2. Spanish 21– This variant provides players with many player-friendly rules, such as: doubling down on any number of cards (with the option to “rescue”, or surrender only one wager to the house), payout bonuses for getting blackjack with five or more cards, hitting blackjack with a 6-7-8, hitting blackjack with three 7 cards, late surrender, player blackjacks always winning, and player 21’s always winning. The biggest difference from a gaming standpoint is that there are no 10 cards in the deck (although there are still jacks, queens, and kings). Besides its various rule variations, Spanish 21 is popular because, with a correct basic strategy, the house has a lower edge than in a comparable standard blackjack game.
3. Double Exposure Blackjack– The dealer’s cards are both face-up.
4. Double Attack Blackjack– We have a whole section devoted to this game now – check it out.
5. Pontoon - The British version of blackjack, which many people thing is actually an ancestor of the traditional American blackjack game.