5 Minute Guide To Blackjack Variants
In terms of popularity, blackjack is the casino equivalent of TV shows like Seinfeld and Friends. While it has its share of detractors, most people like the game. Many of us love it.
It’s not just the fact that it has a low house edge (although that’s a huge motivator). People also like it because it’s easy to learn and simple to play. Plus, if you use basic blackjack strategy, you can definitely win money in the short run (the casino always wins in the long run).
Most gamblers are familiar with classic blackjack. They’re less familiar with the numerous variants you can play online. Following is an overview of different types of blackjack you’ll find at online casinos like Bovada Casino and Slots.lv.
Let’s start with the basics.
You already know how this game is played. But just in case, here are the rules:
- You and the dealer each receive two cards. One of the dealer’s cards is dealt face-up.
- Numbered cards are worth their face value. Aces are worth 1 or 11. Face cards are worth 10.
- The person who gets closest to 21 without going over wins the hand.
- You can choose to draw cards to your hand (“hit”) in an attempt to get as close as possible to 21. If you go over 21, your hand “busts” and you lose. The same goes for the dealer.
- A “natural blackjack” (an Ace and a face card or 10) automatically wins.
- If the value of your hand is the same as the dealer’s hand, the round is a push. You neither win nor lose.
That’s classic blackjack in a nutshell. You can see why it’s so popular. It’s fun and simple. There are other features of the game, such as the option to split pairs, double down and surrender. But the above rules are the main points.
Single Deck Blackjack
This variant is almost identical to classic blackjack. The difference, as its name implies, is that only one deck of cards is used. That reduces the house edge as far as it will go on blackjack (all other variables being equal).
It’s worth noting that single deck blackjack doesn’t give you the option to surrender. This option allows you to take back 50% of your bet if you receive a hand that shows little promise. That can come in handy. For example, if you’re holding 16 and the dealer is showing a King.
Not having that option works against you.
Double Deck Blackjack
You can probably tell what distinguishes this blackjack variant. Two decks are used instead of one (or four or eight). That increases the house’s edge slightly over its single-deck counterpart. But all other variables remaining the same, the edge is lower than it is on variants played with more than two decks.
The rules of double deck blackjack are identical to the rules of single deck blackjack. That includes the unavailability of the surrender option. It’s the same game, but played with two decks.
This variant comes with the same rules as classic blackjack. The one difference is in the manner in which the cards are dealt.
Normally, the dealer receives two cards – one downcard and one upcard – before you decide whether to hit, stand, double or split. In European blackjack, only the dealer’s first card, an upcard, is dealt before you make those decisions. Once you decide what to do, the dealer’s other cards are dealt.
Another notable difference is that you can only double hard totals of 9, 10 and 11. In classic blackjack, you have the option of doubling down on any hand.
The casino’s edge on this game is slightly higher than the edge on the ones we’ve covered above. Also, the basic strategy is slightly different.
Perfect pairs is like classic blackjack, but gives you the option of making a side (or bonus) bet. The bonus bet is a wager on whether the first two cards you’re dealt form a pair. If you choose to make this wager, you do so before the first cards are dealt.
It’s simple. If your first two cards form a pair, you win. If they don’t, you lose.
It doesn’t matter whether the two cards are close to 21. Nor does it matter whether they beat the dealer’s hand. The only thing that matters is whether they form a pair.
The payout for a pair on the bonus bet varies by the type of pair:
- A mixed pair (the cards have the same value, but different colors) pays 6:1
- A colored pair (the cards have the same value and color) pays 12:1
- A perfect pair (the cards have the same value, color and suit) pays 25:1
Those payouts look tempting. But it’s important to realize the house edge on the bonus bet is approximately 6%. In other words, it’s a terrible bet.
The feature that makes this variant stand out is the ability to “zap” your initial hand into oblivion if you don’t like it. The only requirement is that your first two cards form a hard 15, 16 or 17.
For example, suppose you’re dealt a Queen and 5, and the dealer is showing an 8. That’s a terrible position to be in. If you stand, you’ll probably lose to the dealer’s presumed 18. If you hit, you’re likely to bust.
In traditional blackjack, you’d have to bite the bullet and draw a card (according to basic strategy), taking your chances. In Zappit blackjack, you can hit the “Zap” button to trade in your hand for a new one.
Keep in mind, the new cards you’re dealt may not be any better than the previous ones. But at least you have the option.
Atlantic City Blackjack
This variant is very similar to traditional blackjack. There are two main differences.
First, the dealer will check for blackjack if he (or she) is showing an Ace, face card or 10. If the dealer has blackjack, you automatically lose. The upside is that you can avoid putting more money at risk – for example, by splitting or doubling – if there’s a chance the dealer has blackjack.
The second difference is that the game is typically played with eight decks.
The house edge on Atlantic City blackjack is nearly as slim as the edge on the classic game: 0.43%.
Double Exposure Blackjack
In Double Exposure, both of the dealer’s cards are dealt facing up. At first, that seems like a huge advantage because you don’t have to guess what the dealer is holding.
But as they say, the devil is in the details. This variant has rules in place that actually increase the house’s edge despite giving you more insight into the dealer’s hand.
For example, all ties go to the dealer rather than resulting in a push. Also, blackjacks are paid even money. In classic blackjack, you’re paid 3:2. Other rules include the dealer hitting on a soft 17 and a limit on the number of times (once) you can split your cards per hand.
These things add up. Depending on the rules of the table (they vary from casino to casino), the edge can climb to 0.70%.
Spanish Blackjack (Spanish 21)
This game is an interesting departure from traditional blackjack. It’s unlike any other variant. All face cards are removed and all remaining cards are worth their face value.
The object is still the same: to get as close to 21 as possible, beating the dealer’s hand in the process, without going over.
Another difference is that you’re awarded bonuses if you make 21 with specific hands. Here’s a breakdown of those hands and their respective bonus payouts –
- 7-7-7 spades – 3:1
- 7-7-7 same suit – 2:1
- 7-7-7 mixed – 3:2
- 6-7-8 spades – 3:1
- 6-7-8 same suit – 2:1
- 6-7-8 mixed – 3:2
- 7 or more cards – 3:1
- 6 cards – 2:1
- 5 cards – 3:2
The rules for Spanish 21 vary by casino. Depending on the rules, the house edge can range from 0.20% to 0.76%.
This form of blackjack is more commonly played in Asia than in the West. But it’s worth mentioning as you might stumble upon the game online.
It’s typically played with two decks. As with classic blackjack, the goal is to get closer than the dealer to 21 without busting.
Certain hands win automatically. For example, if you’re dealt two Aces (called a Ban-Ban), you’re paid 3:1. If you’re dealt five cards without going bust, you’re paid 2:1. If your five cards total 21, you’re paid 3:1.
If you’re dealt a hand totaling 15, you can choose to abandon it and receive back your entire wager.
In some casinos, players must hit if their hands are worth less than 16. As you can imagine, that rule warrants using a modified blackjack strategy.
Vegas Strip Blackjack
The basic rules of this blackjack variant are almost identical to the rules of classic blackjack. The main differences concern how players are allowed to split and double down.
With the exception of Aces, you can split three times per hand. (Aces can only be split once.) Also, you can double down on your initial two cards or on a split.
The dealer always stands on 17, regardless of whether it’s a soft or hard 17.
The house edge on Vegas Strip blackjack is low: 0.36%.
Vegas Downtown Blackjack
This variant is the same as Vegas Strip blackjack with one notable difference: the dealer hits on a soft 17.
That may seem insignificant, but it increases the house’s edge to 0.39%.
This form of blackjack is a “last person standing” game. In addition to beating the dealer, you also want to beat the other players sitting at the table. Think of Elimination blackjack as a cross between classic blackjack and a Texas hold ’em tournament.
A typical tournament requires a buy-in and consists of 30 hands. Along the way, players are eliminated if they run out of chips, don’t have enough chips to make the minimum bet or have the fewest number of chips on certain hands.
There’s only one winner in Elimination blackjack: the last person standing at the end of the 30th hand.
How To Choose The Best Online Blackjack Variant
If your top priority is to have the best chance of winning, play the variants that have the lowest house edge. Classic blackjack and single deck blackjack are excellent options.
But it’s worth noting that part of the online gambling experience is having fun. To that end, I recommend trying some of the more esoteric variants at casinos like Bovada and Slots.lv. You may find that you enjoy playing them, even if the house edge is slightly higher.
If you don’t have an account at Bovada Casino and their new brand called the CafeCasino. It’s a relaxed, fun place to play blackjack at your own pace. Now’s a good time to register. Visit both sites, create your accounts and make your first deposits. Be sure to grab your sign-up bonuses before hitting the tables to beat the dealer!
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