With such a simple game as blackjack, it is only natural that the casinos want to tweak it. This is done to make the game more appealing to a wider audience, or to attract the attention of certain cultures that may not be as familiar with the game. There are also instances when the game is tweaked purely so that the house can increase its edge — the advantage that it has over the players — as standard blackjack doesn’t offer them as much of an advantage as other games do.
Blackjack has also been around for several hundreds of years, and in that time many variants have come and gone. This article will look at those variants, concentrating on actual rules and betting changes as opposed to any simple side bets or bonus bets which have been covered in other articles.
Multiple Hand Blackjack
This can be called 3-hand, 4-hand, 5-hand or more. It is the same old version of blackjack that we know and love but the player gets to play multiple hands at once. This is often employed in online casinos and allows expert players to play more hands in a shorter space of time. These hands are all played independently of each other and the cards can not be switched as they can in Blackjack Switch (discussed later). Multi-hand Blackjack can provide huge boosts to players because if the dealer goes bust then their chances of winning 5 hands at once are high, but the same applies if the dealer hits blackjack, at which point the player would lose most hands. Money can be won and lost very quickly in these games, so the pros and cons should be weighed up in advance.
In this version of blackjack the dealer’s cards are both exposed, as are the player’s cards. This is the main difference and this lowers the house edge somewhat, but as casinos are not keen on inventing games that make them less money than their predecessors, they brought in other rules to even it out. One of these is that all tied hands, which would be pushed in regular blackjack, are classed as wins for the dealer. This is a fairly big swing towards the house’s favour, but to counteract this again players are paid considerably more than the standard 2:1 if they achieve blackjack.
Single Deck and Double Deck
These variants are fairly simple and self explanatory and they follow the standard rules of blackjack. The only difference here is that one one deck is used in the case of Single Deck and two decks are used in the case of Double Deck. These games are often desired by high rollers and are particular sought out by card counters, but because of the limited deck size and therefore the number of cards, such games make it impossible for many of the popular side bets such as Lucky 7s or Lucky 8s. These games are rarely found in European casinos, and in online casinos they are also redundant as casino software doesn’t use an actual deck of cards. They tend to be common in parts of Vegas, both Downtown and on the Strip, catering for the big gamblers and professional blackjack players that call the City of Sin home.
This blackjack game has one of the biggest payout potentials of any blackjack variant and is also one of the games with the lowest house edge. This game combines standard blackjack with the multiple hand blackjack games mentioned above. The player plays two hands at a time against the dealer’s one, and the classic rules of blackjack are employed. The difference here is that the player is allowed to switch between their hands, taking the top cards and swapping them over. This is obviously a huge advantage, but there are some other differences that may be considered as less of an advantage, certainly where the player is concerned. One of these is that the player can only split once per hand, another is that the dealer can take a sneak peek at their card to see if they have blackjack if they are showing an ace or a ten. Switch Blackjack is also typically played with 8 decks, which have a greater house edge than 1, 2 or even 4 deck games.
This variant is also played with a side bet that opens up more opportunities for the player. If they choose to play this side bet (a stake is needed) then they will be rewarded when they get 2 pairs, 3 of a kind and four of a kind. The payments for this side bet can be as high as 40-1, which means that a $10 bet will net a profit of $400 for the player (alongside their potential winnings for the hand itself) if they hit four of a kind.
This game is owned by a software development company who license it out to a number of land-based casinos. The differences from Spanish 21 to blackjack are few, but the former pays a lot more when the player achieves a blackjack. Spanish 21 also uses a continuous shuffling machine and there are no tens available, thus pushing the game in the favour of the house. Late surrender is available and the game typically uses either 6 or 8 decks. The casinos that use the name Spanish 21 typically have to be very rigid when it comes to following the rules of the game laid out by the developers, but there are casinos who have not purchased the rights and use a different name and different rules to get around any copyright issues.
This is a tough version of blackjack that is available at a number of online casinos, but very rarely in land-based casinos. It is not as popular as Spanish 21, or even as Pontoon, but aside from these two games it is one of the most commonly available online. The exact betting methods and rules may be different depending on the software used by the online casino, and the side bets or bonuses may also differ because of this.
The man difference between Caribbean 21 and classic blackjack s that the ace is only worth 1 in Caribbean 21, so to achieve “blackjack” (called a “Caribbean 21” in this game) they need two ten cards and one ace. Surrender is available in Caribbean 21 and if taken then the player will lose 50% of their bet and can end the hand immediately.
Splitting is also allowed, the dealer automatically wins all tied handa and both of the dealer’s cards are dealt face-up. Insurance is available when the dealer draws an ace first, but obviously it is just as difficult for them to achieve 21 as it is for the player.
Pontoon is often used as a synonym for blackjack, particular in Europe, but the rules are actually different than the standard blackjack rules. in Pontoon the main difference is that the player does not see any of the dealer’s cards, and as blackjack strategy is often based on the dealer’s up card, this is a rule that can confuse many blackjack players and make the game very difficult. Pontoon is played between 1 player and a dealer and it typically uses 8 decks.
Another disadvantage of Pontoon when compared to blackjack is that in the event of a tied hand, which would mean a push in blackjack, the dealer wins and the player loses. The player also has to stand when they hit 15. The benefits for the player are that the dealer has to stand on any 5 card hand and they also have to hit on hard 16s, and if a player manages to draw 5 cards and not go bust then they automatically win the game. In terms of advantages and disadvantages though the latter wins out and this is very much a game that is in favour of the casinos.
Match Play 21
Match Play 21 is similar to Spanish 21 in that all of the ten cards are removed leaving only the picture cards, which still count as ten. Another similarity with Spanish 21 is that the decks — of which there are usually 8 in total — are shuffled as soon as the hand is finished, which makes card counting nearly impossible. In the event of a tied hand the dealer loses and the player wins, which differs greatly from Spanish 21 where the opposite is true. In Match Play 21 players are allowed to split and they can double-down once during the course of the hand.
In Match Play 21 there are also a number of bonuses paid out depending on the cards that the player draws. For instance, if they get three 7s and the dealer is also showing a 7 then this is classed as a “Match Play 21” and is the highest payout available at around 40-1, which means that for a $10 hand the player will win an extra $400 on top of the winnings (if any) from the hand itself. They also get bonuses for making 21 with 5, 6 or 7 cards, and for getting pairs, sets, straights, flushes and straight flushes.
Super Fun Blackjack
It’s rather a simple name but also a self-explanatory one. This game is common at a number of online casinos and helps to bring in those players who want a little something extra from their blackjack experience. In Super Fun Blackjack a blackjack pays out even money unless it is a diamond blackjack, which consists of a diamond ace and a ten (or picture card). A bonus is also paid if the player can get a 6 card hand without going bust, and they are also paid a bonus if they can get 21 with 5 or 6 cards.
Other benefits of Super Fun Blackjack include the fact that only one deck is used. Splits are also available, as are re-splits, although a player can only re-split once. A player with 21 will also always beat a dealer with the same score, unless the dealer arrived at that score by means of a blackjack.
These rules do not apply to all of the versions of Super Fun Blackjack and as it is primarily an online game the rules and the betting can differ depending on the software used and on the online casino themselves, but these are the most common rules.
European, Vegas and Atlantic City
These games are all very similar and can be confusing for amateurs who don’t understand the minor tweaks and differences that make these variants games in their own rights. In European Blackjack there are typically two decks of cards used and all other rules are pretty much the same, with the dealer often standing on hands of 17 or higher. In typical Atlantic City Blackjack players are allowed to play more than one hand at once and they can also double on their first hand and split after a double. Atlantic City often uses 8 decks and the dealer stands on soft and hard 17s.
In Las Vegas there are actually two games, the Downtown Vegas Blackjack rules and the Strip Vegas Blackjack rules. The latter of these two is probably the most common and is also the one that many online casinos have adopted. There are 4 decks used in this and if the players splits aces and then receives a ten on one or both of those aces then the value is 21 and not blackjack. This rule is the same in Downtown Blackjack, with the main difference here being that 2 decks are often used. In Downtown Vegas Blackjack the dealers hit on 17 and can also peek to see if they have blackjack, the players are also allowed to split their hands 3 times.
These are the standard rules, but the truth is that it is up to the casino which rules they adopt and which tweaks they make. Therefore things such as deck size, house edge and even the rules themselves are not always consistent and you should also check the rules of the casino before you actually sit down to play.