Blackjack started out as a simple game. The object is to draw cards whose combined values are higher than the dealer’s, but without going over 21. But in recent years, players desiring greater variety and casinos looking for new ways to gain an advantage have brought about a broad range of Blackjack variations.
Many of these have exotic sounding names, such as Double Exposure Blackjack, Blackjack Switch, and European Blackjack. Some are so different from the original game that many jurisdictions—the State of Nevada, in particular—will not allow them to be associated with “blackjack” at all, so they must go under titles like Spanish 21, Super Fun 21, and so on.
Changes in the Game
The House Rules are the set of governing regulations for play at any Blackjack table. Most casinos use a shoe with eight decks of cards, have the dealer stand on soft 17, allow players to double on any first two cards as well as after splitting, and permit splits of up to four hands. The game operator has the right to modify any or all of these rules, so it is the player’s responsibility to become familiar with how the game differs, if at all, from the basic rules of Blackjack.
Most of Blackjack variations fall under a few important categories that affect the odds and improve the house edge by 0.09%~1.39%. Common among these are having the dealer hit on soft 17, limiting the availability of doubling down and splitting, and paying only 6-to-5 for a natural blackjack instead of the standard 3-to-2.
Blackjack variations that actually improve the player’s odds of winning by 0.08%~1.46% include being able to resplit Aces, use of a single or double deck, and wins paid on a Five-Card Charlie, i.e. a hand containing five cards without going bust. Gimmicks such as bonus payments for suited blackjacks paying 2-to-1, the ability to triple down on any two cards, and any player 21 pushing against a dealer’s blackjack also benefit the player.
In one of the most popular variations, Spanish 21, a 48-card deck is used; it contains no natural 10s. Aces may be resplit and hitting and doubling down are allowed after splitting them. Other rules of Spanish 21 are late surrender is allowed (except against a dealer’s natural blackjack) and “Double Rescue” to surrender after doubling down. Payouts are different, too, such as 2-to-1 for a Five- or Six-Card Charlie and 3-to-1 for a Seven-Card Charlie. Bonuses are awarded for suited combinations of 6-7-8, for three 7s, and other counts of 21.
In Blackjack Switch, swapping cards between two hands is permitted. It requires staking two hands for equal amounts. The first card dealt to each hand must be kept in place, but the second cards of the hands can be traded without penalty or surcharge. On the downside, Blackjacks pay even money, and when the dealer’s hand totals 22, the result is a push, not a bust, with bets returned and no winners paid except natural blackjacks.
Double Exposure Blackjack lets the players see both of the dealer’s cards face up, but there is a trade off; blackjacks pay 1-to-1 and the dealer wins on all pushes. In Ties Win Blackjack, a push is worth 1-to-2 to the players and blackjacks are 1-to-1. And in European Blackjack, there is no hole card and hence no “peeking” by the dealer, so although insurance may be offered, the entire hand must be played out before the result of insurance bets is known.
The most important thing to realize about Blackjack variations is that they affect not only the odds but also the strategy by which one plays the game. Following the basics in a game like Spanish 21 can lead to disaster. When to swap cards in Blackjack Switch will not be found on standard play charts. Variations have been invented for fun, entertainment, and to increase the casino’s profits. In general, greater risk is involved when playing any version of the game called something other than just Blackjack.