Because the game of 21 has so many potential rule variations and alterations, the variety of games that are variations of blackjack available both online and in casinos is large. Not only is there a lot of variation between different games of standard blackjack, there are many versions that drastically alter the rules.
House rules make for a wide variety of standard blackjack games – these aren’t actually different blackjack variations, but the rules may be a little different from one title to the next. One casino may allow a player to double after splitting, while another does not. Variations in game rules possible even in standard games makes it extremely important for players to understand and read these rules before they play.
Let’s start with a look at variations between blackjack rules at standard games before we look at games based on the rules of 21 that have a few drastic rule changes that earn the game a totally different title.
Standard Blackjack Game Rule Variations
Even in the standard game of blackjack, a number of rule variations exist that depend totally on the casino software designer or the dealer working the table at a live game. There are three basic categories of rule variations that all players should learn so they can play the game that gives them the best chance of winning.
Double Down Rules
When you approach a game of 21, check out the rules as they apply to the game option of doubling down – some games may limit the total that the player is allowed to double down with. A game that lets you double on totals of 10 or 11 only and a game that allows you to double on 9, 10, or 11 have a full 0.5% difference in player advantage. Generally, the more doubling you’re allowed to do, the better. The ability to double down on any amount or number of cards, for example, shifts the game’s advantage nearly a quarter of a percent in the player’s favor.
Another rule variation between different blackjack games governs your ability to split pairs. Commonly, 21 players can split pairs in their hand usually up to three times, creating as many as four hands played at once. Other casinos may allow you to split just once, while some online games allow infinite splitting. As with doubling, the more options you’re given for splitting, the better. Games that don’t allow you to split pairs of aces, for example, are generally bad games, advantage-wise.
Surrender and Insurance Rules
Whether or not a game allows you to take insurance against a dealer blackjack varies from one casino to another – but since insurance against blackjack is a sucker bet unless you’re a card-counter and know that the shoe is stacked with aces, this rule variation is of little consequence. However, surrender rules are worth noting. Some games allow early surrender, before the dealer checks for blackjack, which swings the odds nearly half a percent in favor of the gambler. Most games, however, will not allow you to surrender (and retain half your bet) until after the dealer checks for blackjack.
Games Based on Blackjack
The following are descriptions of games based on the rules of blackjack available at land-based and online casinos. These games start with the basics of traditional blackjack games and add rule twists to make the game more appealing to gamblers.
The biggest difference in the game known as Spanish 21 is the use of a special deck, made up of just 48 cards. Played with a standard deck minus the four tens, Spanish 21 would give the house a massive advantage, so the game’s traditional rules are altered to attract players. Late surrender is allowed, as is a form of surrendering after doubling down, in which the player gets his initial stake back, but not the doubled bet. Player blackjack always beats a dealer blackjack, and in fact any player total of 21 wins.
The rules of this game also allow for bonus payouts based on the makeup of the player’s hand. Suited sevens when the dealer is showing a seven is the biggest jackpot, paying out up to $5,000. Other rewards exist for a hand of 6-7-8 unsuited, as well as triple sevens unsuited. The addition of these side bonuses help make up for the lack of ten point value cards, which tilts the advantage towards the dealer. But the game promises a larger blackjack reward than most other variations, as much as 3 to 1 for a player total of 21 made up of seven or more cards.
It may take some getting used to, but some variations of Spanish 21 may actually give the player a better edge than traditional blackjack, especially games in which the dealer stands on a soft 17 and redoubling is allowed. The addition of bonus bets for specific hands is a fun game that doesn’t require an additional wager.
Citizens in the UK, hearing the French and Spanish talk about a game called venti-un, mistranslated it as their word pontoon. Traditionally, Pontoon is played in the UK, though its availability online gives more players around the world access to this unique set of blackjack-style game rules.
One thing that’s nice about Pontoon — no need to learn new point values, since the cards are worth exactly the same as in our standard game. The big difference between Pontoon and our game of 21 is the hand hierarchy. Hands are ranked this way:
The most valuable hand is a pontoon, defined as an ace and any 10-point value card, what we’d call a “natural.” Pontoons formed after splitting are still the most valuable possible hand. The second-best hand is called a five-card trick, any hand of five cards which does not go over the point total of 21. The third-best hand is the high hand between the dealer and player if neither bust and neither use more than four cards.
Pontoon rule variations exist, just like varieties of blackjack games online and in land-based casinos. But in general, Pontoon players can draw and double down after splitting aces, and no matter what version you play, Pontoons and five-card hands pay 2 to 1. All other player wins in the game are even money. Take note that in most Pontoon games, a tie counts as a player loss, something that people used to stand American blackjack may not be familiar with.
Double Attack Blackjack
Another game variant using the Spanish deck, which has had all four of its tens removed, Double Attack Blackjack uses plenty of other rule twists to set this title apart from the traditional game. The double attack in the name comes from the fact that the player is allowed to double his bet after the dealer’s up card is shown, before any player moves are made.
Other rules are more favorable to the player, such as the fact that the dealer stands on soft totals of 17 and the dealer peeks for blackjack. Because of these and other rules in the game, a blackjack on the part of the player pays out only even money. That’s because the player is allowed to double or surrender at any time, including once he’s already split his hand.
Game play moves like this – the first card on the table is the dealer’s up card As soon as this card is shown, players can choose to Double Attack by doubling or raising their wager up to the amount of the original wager – if you bet $50, you can bet up to another $50.
The game also includes a side wager called Bust It that pays off if the dealer busts with any combination of exactly three cards. If the dealer’s hand doesn’t bust this way, the wager doesn’t pay off, but if it does, it can pay out some big prizes. The dealer busting with three eights, specifically, is an instant 200 to 1 payout. The smallest jackpot for this side wager is a 3 to 1 payout if the three-card busted hand of the dealer contains a face card, the most common three-card bust.
Double Exposure Blackjack
In this version of the game, both of the dealer’s cards are shown face up, hence the name Double Exposure. The ability to see the dealer’s hole card gives the player an extreme advantage, so game rules are altered to make the contest a more profitable venture for the house.
Specifically, the rules that counter the advantage you get by seeing both dealer cards are the fact that the dealer wins on all player-dealer ties, besides a natural blackjack. And by the way, player blackjack pnly pays even money, which takes a pretty big chunk out of the player’s edge. The fact that the player can split just one time also facors the house, countering the impact of the exposure of both hole cards.
The appeal of the game is obvious – players assume that the option of looking at both dealer cards will give them a better chance of winning. But, as though to point out the value of reading all the rules of any gamble you take, Double Exposure Blackjack includes a set of rules that makes up for any advantage the player has by peeking at the hole card.
If you’ve ever wanted the ability to trade out a bad card for a better one, the rules of the game known as Blackjack Switch will appeal to you. This game variant lets players trade cards between two hands to build a bigger payout. In order to get the ability to switch cards, the player has to make two equal-sized bets, and is limited to switching out only the second card dealt to both hands. While this does improve a player’s chances, as usual the game’s rules are altered so that the casino still has an edge.
In the case of Blackjack Switch, a dealer hand of 22 means the result of the game is push against any other non-busted hands. The fact that player blackjacks pay even money adds to the house’s advantage as well. The ability to switch cards between hands is another gimmick to convince blackjack players to try their hand at a new title, but if you read the game’s rules carefully you’ll see that the game is not designed in the player’s favor.
Casino software designers have seen the popularity of progressive jackpots on slot machines and incorporated an ever-increasing top prize into blackjack play. Rule variations change from one site to another, but all the games share one thing in common: players have to make an additional wager in order to play into the progressive wager.
A common way the progressive top prize is paid out is based on the number and type of aces the player draws in a row. For example, in order to win the jackpot progressive reward, the player may have to draw four aces of the same color in a row, though payouts also exist for drawing other combinations of aces as well. The exact mechanism of a progressive jackpot blackjack game will probably vary, so make sure you understand how to chase the top possible reward before you start placing real-money wagers.
This game is played heads-up between one player and one dealer. Each player goes head-to-head with the dealer, who has to draw to 21 or bust. 6 standard decks are used, and all players take turns going up against the dealer.
After everyone has placed their ante bet, the dealer deals one card to each player. Then the dealer doles out a second card to each player and a single up card to himself. In Extreme 21, all the cards have the same value as in the standard game, but other rules differ. For example, you can double on any card total even after splitting. Another wrinkle in the rules – if the player earns exactly 21 points, he wins an even money prize automatically.
What makes this game Extreme is what happens if the player did not bust or reach exactly 21 points – the dealer will keep hitting until he either beats the player or goes bust. This means the player can stand on 17 and the dealer will have to draw until has a total of between 18 and 21, or busts.
The fact that a natural blackjack pays even money, and that nothing besides even-money payouts are available in this variation evens the scales a little. But as should be obvious from the game rules, a totally unique strategy is required if you want to play according to optimal strategic rules.
Triple Up 21
As the name implies, Triple Up 21 is a game variant available at some online and land-based casinos that lets the player triple down in certain game situations, rather than just doubling down. As with all the other variants on this list, rules are set so that the advantage gained by tripling your bet is balanced out with rules that work against the player’s favor – blackjack pays even money, even situations where the player and dealer tie with blackjack.
No Bust 21
The appeal of a blackjack game where the player can’t go bust is obvious. This game is different enough from traditional blackjack as to require a pretty lengthy explanation of the rule variations.
For starters, all games are played with six special 54-card decks, each of which contains two joker cards. A hand made up of a pair of jokers is a natural blackjack, in this game, and is the highest possible hand, paying out at 2 to 1. If the player and dealer should both draw a natural, the bet is push.
What makes it “no bust?” If both the player and dealer go bust, the winner is determined by which is closer to the total of 21. If the player is closer to a total of 21. the bet is a push instead of a loss. When the dealer’s total is closer to or equal to the difference to 21, the bet is a loss.
Jokers are a big part of No Bust 21 – any hand that contains a single joker is automatically worth 21 points. Other rules that affect your odds – when the dealer is showing a joker, the player is forced to stand. This is also a no peek game, which means double down and split bets are still in play. At most games of No Bust 21, the play may not resplit or draw to split aces.
Burn 20 Blackjack
In Burn 20 Blackjack, the player gains the advantage of never having to face a dealer’s 2-card total of 20. But as with all online and live casino variations of blackjack, there are rules that split the difference in terms of player advantage – in Burn 20, if the dealer busts with a total of exactly 22, all players still in the game finish with a push regardless of their card totals.
The dealer hits on all soft totals of 17, and unlike many of the variations on this list, a natural pays 3-2. Another nice rule of Burn 20 Blackjack is that the player can double on any cards except after splitting two aces.
The Burn 20 part of the game works like this – if the dealer shows a ten card, he will check the hole card. If the hole card is also a ten-point card, he’ll burn both cards and take a whole new hand. As an added bonus, if the dealer shows a ten point card and the reader reveals an ace, meaning a blackjack, the dealer discards both of cards and draws the next two in the shoe.
This basically takes away two ways of losing in blackjack, but it’ll cost you. The fact that a dealer total of 22 points, normally a bust and loss, pushes your hand no matter its value removes any and all advantage the player gets from the Burn 20 feature.