Introduction

This article explains the popular variations of blackjack offered in land-based and online casinos and the many ways that blackjack games can differ.

Table of Contents

Different Versions of Blackjack

The following popular variations of blackjack involve players competing against a dealer with this objective: having your hand total higher than the dealer’s hand without busting.   

1. American Blackjack

The vast majority of blackjack games played in U.S. casinos use multiple decks of cards (mostly six and eight decks). Blackjack games that use only a single deck or two decks of cards are also offered in some casinos. In virtually all the casinos, the dealer will get her face down (or hole) card before players make any decisions on their hands. There are variations in the playing rules, how the cards are shuffled, and the payoff for a player’s blackjack. (See below for details.)

2. European Blackjack

The major difference in European blackjack games, compared to American blackjack games, is the dealer receives her hole card after the players have acted on their hands.  This is known as European No-Hole-Card or ENHC. (There are also differences in rules and payoffs; see below.)

3. Stadium Blackjack

In this version of blackjack, electronic player terminals are spread out in a stadium-configured arrangement.  A live blackjack dealer faces the terminals, and after players make their bets on their interactive terminals, the dealer will deal a single common hand to all players and one card to herself.  All the players independently decide how they are going to play the same (common) starting hand. 

4. Spanish 21 (also known as Pontoon)

The game is played like the traditional game of blackjack with one major distinction: all four 10-spot cards are removed so that a deck in Spanish 21 contains only 48 cards. The casino’s edge over a basic strategy player increases about 2 percent due to the removal of the four 10s. There are also several very liberal playing rules and interesting and unique bonus hands offered in Spanish 21 that significantly reduce the house edge. Additionally, the basic playing strategy differs from the American version.

5. Blackjack Switch

You must play two hands with equal bets in each round, and you have the choice of keeping the hands that you were dealt or switching the second card in each hand. This switching option gives players a big advantage because you can convert one or two bad hands into two very good hands. To offset the player-favorable switching options:

  1. When the dealer’s hand totals 22, all players’ hands push (except a player’s blackjack).
  2. All player blackjacks pay even money (instead of 3-2).

Additionally, the basic playing strategy is slightly different from American blackjack.

6. Super Fun 21

This game features a host of liberal rules such as:

  1. Doubling is allowed on any number of cards.
  2. Surrendering is allowed on any number of cards.
  3. Player blackjack beats dealer blackjack.
  4. Player blackjack in diamonds pays 2 to 1.

There are also several additional liberal rules; however, here is the catch:

  • Player blackjacks pay only even money (except if the player has a diamond suited blackjack where it pays 2 to 1).

The game is played mostly with a single deck of cards, although double- and multi-deck versions are offered in some casinos.  The basic playing strategy for Super Fun 21 is very similar to the basic playing strategy for a traditional blackjack game but some adjustments need to be made. 

7. Multi-Hand Blackjack

This is a popular variant of blackjack offered in online casinos that allows a player to play multiple hands in the same round. A player can wager the same or different amounts on each hand, and each hand is played independently. (Note: In American blackjack games, most casinos require a player who plays more than one hand to wager at least double the table minimum on each hand.)

Blackjack Chart

The following blackjack variant pits players against players.

 
 

8. Tournament Blackjack

If you play in a blackjack tournament, you will be competing against other players rather than the casino dealer. You and your opponents start with the same bankroll and play the same number of hands. The player with the most chips at the end of the round (which consists of a designated number of hands) wins and advances to play other table winners. The initial large field of players is eventually whittled down to a final table of six (or seven) players who play a final round to determine the overall tournament champion.

There is a unique set of tournament skills that often determines whether or not a player will succeed in tournament play. Some of them involve keeping track of your opponents’ bankrolls and, depending on whether you are betting first or last in a round, knowing:

  1. how much to bet
  2. how to play your hand, especially in the latter hands of a tournament round

EIGHT VERSIONS OF BLACKJACK GAMES

VERSION MAJOR DIFFERENCE
American Blackjack The dealer gets her hole card before players have acted on their hands.
European Blackjack The dealer receives her hole card after players have acted on their hands.
Stadium Blackjack The dealer deals a single common hand to all players situated in a stadium configuration with interactive terminals.
Spanish 21 All four 10-spot cards are removed so that a deck contains only 48 cards.
Blackjack Switch Players must play two hands with equal bets and have the option to switch the second card in each hand.
Super Fun 21 It features a host of liberal rules such as doubling and surrendering on any number of cards.
Multi-Hand Blackjack Players can play multiple hands in the same round.
Tournament Blackjack Players compete against other players rather than a casino dealer.
Two decks of cards

 
 
 

Ways Blackjack Games Differ

There are several ways blackjack games can differ from one another. They include the following.

1. Dealer’s Hand

In some casinos, the rules specify that the dealer must hit soft 17s (any hand containing an ace counted as 11). While in others, the dealer must stand on soft 17. This is an important rule for basic strategy players because there are strategy changes that should be made depending on if the dealer must hit or stand on soft 17. Note: Even with these strategy changes, the house edge is slightly higher (by 0.2%) when the dealer must hit soft 17 rather than stand.

2. Doubling Down

Most casinos allow players to double down on any two initially dealt cards. Others restrict doubling to only hard hands (9, 10, or 11 – i.e., you can’t double down a soft hand). Additionally, it is to a player’s benefit to be able to double down after splitting a pair. Some casinos forbid doubling after pair splitting.

3. Surrender

Some casinos allow players to surrender their initial two-card hand, meaning to forfeit playing the hand and lose one-half of the wager. Usually, when surrender is allowed, it’s on multi-deck games.

4. Pair Splitting

There are differences in how many times a player can split in a round. For example, in most American multi-deck blackjack games, players can split up to three times resulting in four hands. In European games, most casinos allow a player to split only once per round.

5. Splitting Aces

Some casinos allow a player to resplit aces once, to form three hands; others allow resplitting twice to form four hands.

6. The Payoff for a Blackjack

Traditionally, a player’s untied blackjack hand was paid at 3 to 2, meaning if you bet $10 and the dealer doesn’t have a blackjack, you would be paid $15. Nowadays, many American casinos have reduced the payoff to 6 to 5, 7 to 6, or worse, even money. 

7. European No-Hole-Card (ENHC)

A player will lose any additional wagers made on splitting and doubling when the dealer’s second card gives her a blackjack. This increases the house edge slightly (by about 0.11 percent) and it requires a modification to the basic playing strategy.

8. Shuffling the Cards

Casinos shuffle the cards in three ways: manual shuffling by the dealer; off-line using an automatic shuffling machine; or using a continuous shuffling machine (or CSM). With a CSM, cards from each round (or two) are placed back into the CSM where they are randomly shuffled with five or six decks of cards. The latter results in more hands per hour, and a higher theoretical loss per hour. Virtually all online casinos shuffle the cards after each round. (Note: The use of a CSM, or shuffling of the cards after each round, negates the technique of card counting.)

EIGHT WAYS BLACKJACK GAMES CAN DIFFER

WAY MAJOR DIFFERENCE
Dealer’s Hand Must either hit or stand on soft 17.
Doubling Down Can double down on any two initially dealt cards or restricted to only hard hands (9, 10, or 11). Can double down after pair splitting or the latter is forbidden.
Surrender Can surrender the initial two-card hand or option is not offered.
Pair Splitting Differences in how many times a player can split in a round.
Splitting Aces Resplitting is allowed once or twice.
The Payoff for a Blackjack It’s either 3-2, 6-5, 7-6, or even money.
European No-Hole-Card Players lose any additional wagers made on splitting or doubling down if the dealer’s second card gives her a blackjack.
Shuffling the Cards Accomplished either manually, offline using an automatic shuffler, or via a continuous shuffling machine.

Summary

There are different versions of blackjack in land-based and online casinos, and different ways that games can vary. You must understand these differences before you play any blackjack game.
 

About the Author
By

Henry Tamburin is one of world’s most respected blackjack experts and a world-class player. He is the author of the Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide, and Blackjack: Take The Money and Run. He edited the monthly Blackjack Insider Newsletter, and was a featured blackjack columnist for Casino Player magazine, Midwest Gaming and Travel magazine, Gaming South magazine, Southern Gaming magazine, New England Gaming News, Jackpot, Bingo Bugle, and Casino City Times.