Blackjack is a classic casino game that has been played by gambling fans for decades but there have been hundreds of attempts to improve it and make it more interesting and challenging. Throughout the years, different casinos, individuals, and casino software developers have created over a hundred variations of the standard rules that were once prevalent on the Las Vegas Strip.
The huge variety of games based on Twenty-One, as it is also known around the globe, could be contributed to the nature of blackjack. It follows a set of simple, yet flexible rules and even the slightest change in them could sometimes result in a very different game. While some variations were created by altering just a couple of rules, other versions of the game were only roughly based on classic blackjack. Furthermore, certain forms of the game evolved outside Las Vegas, where the rules were standardized in the middle of the 20th century. As a result, we have now games that are slightly similar to blackjack but they have different gameplay, names, and payouts.
1Тhe classic form of the game
Before we describe the different versions of blackjack, we should clarify what is considered to be the classic form of the game. Its rules were invented at the beginning of the last century and soon, a standard version of the game was introduced in Las Vegas, Nevada. Today, it is still offered at certain casinos but the majority of gambling venues have adapted it in accordance with their needs.
Under the traditional rules of American blackjack, this is a multi-player casino game that uses 6 French decks of cards – decks consisting of all 52 cards from 2s to Aces. The game is played against the house, represented by the dealer – players receive 2 face-up cards, which are compared to the dealer’s cards. The dealer draws a single face-up card in the beginning and is allowed to pull a second one once players have acted.
The objective is, of course, to beat the dealer by getting a hand with a value that is as close to 21 as possible without exceeding this result. All cards from 2 to 10 are counted at their face values; cards from Jack through King are counted as 10; and Aces can be either 1 or 11. The strongest hand in the game is blackjack (an Ace and a 10-value card) and it pays 3:2. Players who beat the dealer by having a higher total receive a payout of 1:1.
3The Players Decisions
While players can decide what to do with the hand they are given, dealers play under the house rules. Under the standard rules, the dealer is required to Hit to 16 and Stand on a total of 17 or higher. Players are allowed to Hit, Stand, Split pairs, and Double Down on their initial hands. Splitting is usually allowed up to three times per round and doubling can be made on any two cards or after a split. There is an exception for Aces – no Hitting, Doubling or Resplitting is allowed to split Aces.
Once the player decides to Double, a third and final card is dealt to his hand and his bet is doubled. Another option at the beginning of each round is Surrender and it is available after the dealer checks the hole card for blackjack. Players who decide to Surrender against a dealer Ace give up half of their stake and end the round. Insurance can be taken and it pays 2:1.
Rule Differences in Blackjack
1The number of decks
The majority of blackjack variations have been developed by simply adding a few small changes to the set of rules explained above. Any variation of these standard rules results in a slightly different game and an increase or reduction in the house edge. One of the most important rule variations include the number of decks of in use – blackjack could be played with anything from 1 to 8 decks and the more decks are in play, the worse the odds for winning will be. The difference in the house edge between single and 8-deck games could reach 0.45%.
2The Soft 17 rule
The next rule that varies across casinos and even from table to table in the same casino is the Soft 17 rule. In many games, the dealer must Hit on Soft 17 rather than Stand. This rule alone increases the house edge by around 0.20%.
3The payout for a blackjack
Another aspect of the standard game of blackjack that is often changed is the payout for a blackjack. An increasing number of casinos are now offering less for player blackjack, which adds 1.40% to 2.30% to the house edge for games paying 6:5 and 1:1, respectively.
4Resplit and Doubling
It is also important to be able to Resplit a few times per round. Some blackjack variations allow hands to be Split just once, whereas a liberal, quite rare rule permits Aces to be resplit, as well. Certain games restrict players’ option to Double – some do not allow Doubling on split hands, while other variations allow Doubling only on hard totals of 9, 10 or 11.
5The hole card
Many blackjack variations, including those played across Europe, do not feature a hole card and instead, the dealer draws a second card once players have acted. Usually, this suggests worse odds for the player – a dealer blackjack would, in this case, win the round and the player would lose the original stake plus any additional bets for Splitting or Doubling. For this reason, games with the Original Bets Only rule are more favorable to the player – in them, the player loses only the mandatory bet against a dealer blackjack, whereas all other bets are pushed.
Popular Blackjack Variations
As a result of the rule changes, a huge number of variations of the standard game have been developed over the past few decades. Some of these versions exist only as online games and others can be found in both online and land-based casinos. When choosing a variation, players should take all rules into account and determine whether the odds are good or not. Below, we have listed some of the most popular blackjack variations, along with their specific rules and house edge.
Atlantic City Blackjack
Atlantic City Blackjack is a hole card game where the cards are dealt from an 8-deck shoe. Certain casinos also offer double-deck versions. Dealers are typically required to Stand on all 17s, soft or not, and would peek for blackjack if the upcard is an Ace or at the value of 10. The payout for blackjack is usually 3:2 but some casinos in Atlantic City pay only 6:5. Insurance is available, as well as Late Surrender, i.e. players can opt for Surrender after the dealer has already checked for blackjack.
Players are allowed to Split pairs up to three times per round, including two unlike 10-value cards. For example, a hand consisting of a Jack and a King is considered a pair and can be split. Aces, however, can be split only once and one card will be dealt to them. Following that, the player’s turn automatically ends. The rules for Doubling are also very liberal, allowing Doubling Down on any two cards – either at the start of a round or after a split.
Last, but not least – all dealer ties are pushes, which means that in the event of a tie, players receive their money back. If it is a full-pay game, Atlantic City Blackjack is one of the variations with the highest expected returns. Under these rules, the house edge is only 0.35%, which is incredibly low and allows players to generate good winnings over time considering they use basic and composition-dependent strategy.
Double Exposure Blackjack, also known as the Two card game or Face up 21, was invented in the late 1970s by the notable American game theorist and scientist Richard Arnold Epstein. The game is based on classic blackjack but includes one major improvement – the dealer shows both his cards instead of just one. While this is an obvious advantage to the players, it does not come without a price – there are several significant changes to the rules that increase the house edge to 0.70%.
This variation uses 8 standard decks of cards and the dealer reveals his hand at the beginning of the round, which helps players determine the right course of action more easily. To maintain the balance of the game, however, the rules eliminate moves such as Surrender and Insurance altogether – these are simply unnecessary since players can see both of dealer’s cards. The dealer must Hit on Soft 17 – a rule change that favors the house rather than the players.
Players are allowed to Hit, Stand, or Split a pair once per round. Cards of the same value but different denomination cannot be split. Doubling Down is available on the first two cards only – this option is not allowed after a split. One of the most important rules in this game is that the dealer wins all ties, except for a tied blackjack. Moreover, while the standard game pays 3:2 for blackjack, this variation pays even money for both a regular win or a blackjack.
As suggested by its name, European Blackjack is predominantly played in casinos across Europe. This game differs from the traditional version of 21 in several aspects, most notably in its lack of a hole card. Unlike the Double Exposure variation of blackjack, however, the dealer here deals 2 cards to the player and draws only one for himself. He can pull a second card from the shoe only after players have made their moves.
This is slightly disadvantageous to the players since there is no hole card the dealer can peek and players may spend a lot of money on Doubling or Splitting just to see the dealer having blackjack right after that. In this game, the player loses his total bet against dealer blackjack and not just the original stake.
Many of the rules in European Blackjack may vary, depending on whether you play online or in a land-based casino but in most variations, six decks of cards are used. Some casinos offer a double-deck version, as well. The dealer must draw to 16 and Stand on all 17s. Players, on the other hand, can Split only once and Double on hard totals of 9, 10 or 11. Doubling on such hands is also possible after a split, with the exception of split Aces. Whenever players decide to Split a pair of Aces, only one card will be dealt to each of the two hands and no Hitting, Doubling or Resplitting is allowed.
However, Surrender is not available. Players can take Insurance at exactly half the price of the original bet on a dealer Ace. If they win, they receive 2:1. The payouts in European Blackjack are standard – 3:2 for blackjack and 1:1 for a regular win. Under these rules, the game offers a house edge of 0.66%, although there are some versions with Early Surrender, which may offer slightly better odds.
There are several games called pontoon and one of them is primarily played in the United Kingdom – rather than deriving from blackjack, which is an American invention, the British pontoon is based on the traditional game of Twenty-One. There is also an interesting variation, also known as Spanish 21. The other game is more closely related to classic blackjack and there are also several RNG versions that could be found online. Some of their rules may vary but below, we will describe the variation that has the most similarities with traditional blackjack.
The game is played with 8 standard decks and the player receives 2 face-up cards, while the dealer draws his two cards face-down. This variation of pontoon resembles blackjack in almost everything – the aim is to beat the dealer by collecting a higher total without going 21. The best hand in the game is an Ace a 10-value card but instead of blackjack, it is called pontoon. Pontoons after a Split count, too, and this hand pays 2:1. The next best hand is any 5-card hand that has not busted and it also pays 2:1. A regular win with a higher total than the dealer’s hand pays 1:1.
There are more differences, however, such as the rules for the actions allowed to the player. In this game, the player must Hit to 14 and Stand on totals of 15 or higher. Players can Split pairs and Double on any 2 to 4 cards but only once per hand. They can Double Down after Hitting and on a split hand but Resplitting is not allowed. The dealer, on the other hand, draws to 16 and Hits on soft 17 but must Stand on any 5-card hand. The dealer always wins ties and pontoon beats a score of 21. Surrender and Insurance are not available.
Due to the differences in the rules and the payouts, the basic strategy for this game would be different from the one for classic blackjack. Players should also know that the house edge of this variation is around 0.40%, depending on the number of decks in use.
Spanish 21 is a blackjack-like game popular in the United States and is sometimes referred to as “pontoon”. Usually, this game is played with 6 or 8 decks of cards but instead of the standard French decks, it uses decks of 48 cards, also known as Spanish decks. All 10s are removed from such a pack, which changes the odds, strategy and house edge of the game. This variation favors the house since there are no 10s and it is harder for players to get blackjack.
Still, all other 10-value cards are included – Jacks, Queens, and Kings, and a natural pays 3:2. Additionally, players always win blackjack and 21 ties. Since this is a hole card game, the dealer can peek for blackjack when his first card is an Ace or a 10-value card. The dealer must Hit on soft 17, although in some versions of Spanish 21, the dealer is required to Stand on all 17s. The rules concerning player’s actions, however, are much more liberal.
First of all, players are allowed to Double Down on any number of cards and redouble once during the hand, which is rarely found in blackjack games. Second, up to three Splits can be made, including of unlike 10-value cards and after a split. Players can also Hit, Double and Resplit Aces. Late Surrender is allowed, which means that players can Surrender at any time, including after they have Doubled on their bet. Along with the above-mentioned favorable rules, Spanish 21 offers several bonus payouts for totals of 21:
- 5 Card 21 – 3:2
- 6 Card 21 – 2:1
- 7 Card 21 – 3:1
- 6-7-8, 7-7-7 of mixed suits – 3:2
- 6-7-8, 7-7-7 of the same suit – 2:1
- 6-7-8, 7-7-7 of spades – 3:1
Blackjack Switch is an interesting variation of the classic game, in which players make two bets and play with two hands against the dealer. It was created by game inventor Geoff Hall who patented it in 2009. Today, this variation of blackjack could be found in casino floors, as well as in a digital form across various online casinos. Based on the traditional Vegas rules of Twenty-One, Blackjack Switch offers altered gameplay, different payouts, and more excitement.
This variation uses 4, 6, or 8 standard decks of cards and the table features two betting boxes for each playing position. The game starts when players make 2 identical bets and receive a different 2-card hand for each of them. These two hands are then played independently, however. The dealer draws one card face-up and one face-down as in all American hole card games. Usually, the dealer must Hit on soft 17, although in some versions, the dealer is required to Stand on all 17s. In addition, the dealer peeks for blackjack with an Ace or a 10-value upcard.
Players are allowed at the start of each round to exchange the top cards between their hands. They can also switch cards to form a blackjack but in this case, it will count as 21. This rule for the exchanging of cards is unique to Blackjack Switch and gives players a great advantage in the game. Also, players can Hit, Stand, and Double Down on each of the hands. They can Split pairs twice per round and Double after a Split. Surrender is usually not available and Insurance is standard, paying 2:1 on dealer blackjack.
However, to maintain the overall advantage of the house over patrons, the rules have been changed in a rather drastic way. First of all, the dealer does not bust with a hand of 22 but pushes against all player hands that have not busted. The only exception is player blackjack, which beats dealer 22 and pushes on dealer blackjack. Another important rule change is the payout for blackjack – in this game, players who have a natural receive even money.
Additionally, Blackjack Switch usually offers a side wager called Super Match. With it, players bet on their hands and if they have a pair, they win 1:1, while for a three of a kind, they get 5:1. If they receive 2 pairs, the bonus payout is 8:1 and the top prize of 40:1 is given for a hand of four of a kind. The main game comes with a house edge of over 0.60% (the exact percentage varies, depending on the rules), while the house edge on the side bet is 2.55%.
Blackjack Double Attack
Double Attack, also known as Double Blackjack, is an interesting variation of Spanish 21 Blackjack that can be played online or across Atlantic City casinos. It is offered in some casinos in Las Vegas, too. The game uses 8 Spanish decks, which means that instead of the standard 52-card pack, we have a deck of 48 cards where all 10s have been removed. The name of this blackjack variation refers to the option to Double on your bet as soon as you see the dealer’s upcard.
In fact, players are allowed to Double Down and Surrender at any time during play. The game starts when one card is being dealt to all players and the dealer. Players can then Double Down, based on their first card and the dealer’s face-up card. After they make their decision, the dealer deals everyone a second card. Players have the option to Hit, Stand, Double, or Split up to two or three times, depending on the casino. They can Double after a Split and as usual, Aces cannot be resplit.
The dealer, on the other hand, is required to Stand on all 17s. He would peek for blackjack if his first card shows an Ace or a 10-value card. It should be noted that in this game, players receive even money (1:1) for blackjack and if they win the Insurance, they are paid 5:2. Some versions offer a higher Insurance payout of 3:1. Depending on the specific rules, the house edge of this game ranges between 0.47% and 0.62%.
Another interesting aspect of Double Attack Blackjack is the side wager called Bust It. With it, players bet that the dealer will bust with exactly three cards. The side bet is made prior to the start of the game and depending on the dealer’s bust hand or third and final card, the payouts are as follows:
- Dealer Busts with a Face Card – 3:1
- Dealer Busts with a 9 – 6:1
- Dealer Busts with an 8 – 8:1
- Dealer Busts with a 7 – 10:1
- Dealer Busts with a 6 – 15:1
- Dealer Hand 8-8-8 of the same color – 50:1
- Dealer Hand 8-8-8 of the same suit – 200:1
Match Play 21
Using Spanish card decks where all 10s have been removed, Match Play 21 is an interesting and quite an unusual variation of blackjack. It uses 2, 4 or 6 decks, depending on the casino, and features a hole card. The dealer must Hit on soft 17 and he peeks for blackjack if his face-up card is an Ace or a 10-value card (Jack, Queen, or King). Players can Split pairs up to three times per round – they can draw to split Aces or Resplit them, which is not normally allowed. They can also Redouble once during the hand or Double after a split.
The Double Down and Surrender options are available at any time. The payouts for blackjack and regular win are standard at 3:2 and 1:1, respectively, while Insurance pays 2:1. The most interesting aspect of the game, however, is the bonus pay table – it is available for several special hands but only if the player has not opted for the Double or the Split buttons. The top bonus payout is 40:1 for a Match Play 21 when the player holds three 7s of the same suit, while the dealer’s upcard is also a 7. There are also special payouts for certain player hands:
- Match Play 21 – 40:1
- 7-Card 21 – 3:1
- 7-7-7 of Spades – 3:1
- 6-7-8 of Spades – 3:1
- 6-Card 21 – 2:1
- 7-7-7 Suited – 2:1
- 6-7-8 Suited – 2:1
- 7-7-7 of Any Suit – 3:2
- 6-7-8 of Any Suit – 3:2
- 5-Card 21 – 3:2
Other Blackjack Games to Consider
When choosing a blackjack variation to play, fans of this classic game should also take the location or the platform they wish to play at into account since online blackjack is very different from the experience at a land-based casino, for example. There are also live blackjack games available to desktop and mobile devices, blackjack games that can be played for free and variations with progressive jackpots. With such an impressive variety of games on offer, however, finding the right game could be a challenge.
Online Blackjack or Blackjack in Land-Based Casinos
Apart from the obvious difference between live and online blackjack, there are many more pros and cons of both to consider. Let’s start with the advantages of playing blackjack in an online casino – the digital, RNG-based form of blackjack is much easier to play than the real-life game in brick and mortar casinos. Many beginner players prefer betting against a computer rather than an actual dealer since they have constant access to the rules and payouts of the game, as well as to strategy cards.
Besides, most online casinos offer demo versions of their games, including blackjack so one could practice for hours or even days without risking any actual money. Patrons should also know that the table limits of RNG casino games are usually low and it is possible to start playing for as little as $1 per hand. Playing blackjack over the Internet is also much more convenient and virtual casinos are accessible from any place and at any time.
In addition, you do not need to wait for a free seat at the blackjack tables in online casinos – there are even live dealer blackjack games with unlimited seats, which is, of course, impossible in brick-and-mortar casinos. The diversity and sheer number of blackjack variations online are also impressive and players can easily compare the different rules and payouts before choosing a real-money game.
The biggest disadvantage of online blackjack over the games in land-based casinos is probably the fact that the RNG software of virtual games makes techniques such as card counting practically obsolete. Players who can count cards well without being detected by casino staff would prefer the real-life experience. In an actual casino setting, they have the chance to gain an advantage over the house by counting deeply into the deck and predicting what cards will be dealt next with at least some level of accuracy. The Random Number Generator in virtual games, on the other hand, acts as an automatic shuffler of the cards so any attempts for counting would be futile.
Live Dealer Blackjack
Along with the dozens of RNG-based variations of blackjack available online, players can also opt for live dealer blackjack. Featuring professional croupiers and technologically advanced streaming platforms, live casinos allow players from any part of the world to “sit” on various low or high-limit tables. There are also VIP and high-roller tables, which are otherwise only available at the largest and most prestigious casinos in Las Vegas or Macao.
Although the majority of live dealer games follow the standard rules you would find in land-based casinos, the gameplay is similar to RNG blackjack, yet a bit slower. Players are often allowed to bet “behind” other players, i.e. to bet on the hands of others. Besides, most live dealer variations of blackjack have at least several side wagers that could be made.
Mobile casinos have risen in popularity in the past few years and the vast majority of operators also offer different blackjack games to their mobile users. They could be downloaded as apps on the device or played directly in the browser as part of the mobile game offering of an online casino. The mobile-friendly gaming collections are still quite limited compared to the games available for desktop but most apps offer at least three or four different titles to blackjack aficionados.
Generally speaking, mobile blackjack is very similar to the desktop game – usually, the design is simpler with more compact menus and fewer features but the gameplay remains the same. The mobile versions of blackjack follow the same rules and have the same betting limits, so they are incredibly easy to access and play for both Android and iPhone users.
Blackjack Variations with Progressive Jackpots
There is one more type of blackjack games to consider – progressive blackjack. Most gamblers are well aware of the progressive jackpots usually featured by lottery games and slot machines. These jackpots do not have a fixed amount and instead, they rise with every bet placed on the game. When it comes to progressive blackjack, it is quite unusual and could only be found online.
Games of this type are typically standard blackjack variations, following the traditional Vegas rules, Atlantic City-style or European, no hole card games, and the progressive blackjack can be unlocked with some specific hand. For instance, the player can hit the jackpot if he collects three 7s of diamonds. As these games are rare and played by fewer gamblers, their progressive jackpots are not as impressive as those offered by lotteries. Still, the prospect for winning a jackpot adds much more excitement to the game.