Blackjack Games and Variations
Rules Variations and the Pros and Cons of Playing "Unusual" Blackjack Games
Blackjack has spawned a dazzling number of rules variations over the years. One of the earliest and most interesting was invented by Bob Stupak, of Vegas World fame--it's called "Double Exposure Blackjack", because the players get to see both of the dealer's cards instead of just one. All these games feature rules changes to keep the odds firmly on the casinos' side, but which ones offer the best (and worst) bets? Is it worth it to play "unusual" blackjack variants? This page lists and examines specific games while also providing advice about the odds behind each one.
In Australian Blackjack, the dealer doesn't take a hole card in Australian blackjack, but other than that, it's played much the same as it is in the United States. Since there aren't a lot of differences in the rules, Australian blackjack offers a house edge that's similar or slightly better to standard United States games.
In Blackjack Switch, players get to place two bets and play two hands. They are then allowed to switch a card from one hand to the other. Blackjacks only pay even money though, and a dealer total of 22 results in a push rather than a dealer bust. These house edge on this game is roughly similar to those of other games, assuming you understand how to switch the cards in the correct settings. This means learning additional strategy, though, and the only plus is that you get to a play a different game and get some novelty value from it.
Burn 20 Blackjack is, I think, a Shuffle Master creation. The house edge is 0.80%, which makes it a slightly worse bet than regular blackjack or Blackjack Switch, but it's still one of the best games in the casino, odds-wise. If the dealer gets a "hard 20", she has to throw her hand away and start over. Dealers also have to burn a suited blackjack if their upcard is a ten. If the dealer gets a total of 22, the game is considered a push instead of a dealer bust.
Caribbean 21 is an online variant created by the designers of Realtime Gaming software. Players are allowed to split ANY two cards. They can also hit and redouble after doubling down. Players lose all ties, though. If played with perfect strategy, Caribbean 21 actually offers a lower house edge than standard blackjack games, but you have to memorize the correct strategy.
Double Attack Blackjack is a popular game both online and in Atlantic City. It features several rules variants, but the most significant one is that players can double their bets once they see the dealer's upcard. The game uses a "Spanish" deck, which means the 10s are removed before play. The house edge is 0.62%, which is worse than a standard game, but slightly better than something like Burn 20 Blackjack.
Double Exposure Blackjack is the variant that Bob Stupak invented in the 1970s. I mentioned it in the first paragraph of the page. The dealer has to play both cards face up, which gives the player an edge, but the house makes up for it with other rules variations like only paying even money for a natural. Dealers also win ties. Depending on the other rules variations, the house edge runs between 1% and 1.5%, making this one of the less attractive variants available. It might make for a fun change of pace, but it's relatively expensive entertainment.
Extreme 21 offers a house edge of about 1.2%, so it's about as attractive as Double Exposure. The gimmick here is that the dealer plays against each player in succession and takes hits until she wins or busts. Naturals pay even money.
Free Bet Blackjack is a relatively new variant where players don't have to pay additional money when splitting or doubling down, but they still get paid off on their bets as if they had. ("Free bet" -- get it?) If the dealer gets a 22, then it's an automatic push. The house edge is roughly 0.8%, which makes this competitive, if not exciting. One advantage to this game is that the basic strategy is actually simple and easy to learn, so it might be worth learning for that reason.
The biggest advantage to Never Bust Blackjack is its lack of decision-making, but that's only an advantage to people who don't like to make decisions. The gimmick is that any card which would make the player or dealer bust is burned, and a new card is dealt. Blackjack pays 6 to 5 instead of 3 to 2. These house edge to this game is a relatively high 3.24%, so it's a better game than roulette, odds-wise, but not much. It's inferior to just about every other blackjack variant I can think of, though.
In spite of the similarity between the names, Never Bust Blackjack and No Bust 21 aren't similar at all. The deck includes two jokers, which act as wild cards that instantly change the value of any hand (player or dealer) to 21. Players are also still able to push even if they would normally have gone bust. The house edge is over 1.6%, so it's not a great game for the player.
You can find Pick One 21 at one of my favorite gambling haunts, the Winstar in Oklahoma. The game is played with a Spanish deck, which means the 10s are removed. Two hands are dealt, but they're not designated as player or dealer hands. The player decides to bet on which one will get closest to 21 without going over. The player decides BEFORE the 2nd card of each hand is dealt. The house edge is approximately 2.1% when played with perfect strategy, which shouldn't surprise anyone, since many of the casino games in Oklahoma offer lousy odds compared to traditional gambling cities like Vegas and Reno.
Players Choice 21 is another relatively new variation. Each player gets three cards, with which she starts two hands. One of the cards is used in both hands. The game requires a side bet on the "3 card bonus" feature. The strategy for this game is relatively complex, because the player has to decide which card to share between hands and also play basic strategy. This side bet has a large house edge.
A lot of sites mention that Pontoon is what they call blackjack in the United Kingdom, but that's not really true. Cryptologic, Playtech, and Realtime Gaming offer a game called Pontoon, and another game called Pontoon is played in Australia. The Australian version is essentially the same as Spanish 21, which is an entertaining enough mutation of the standard game. In the Internet version, the dealer wins all ties, and a dealer's 5 card hand always beats a player's 5 card hand. A player has to have a total of 15 in order to stand.
In Power Blackjack, the player has the option to "power double" with certain two-card totals. This gives the player the option to exchange the card he gets when doubling for the next card in the deck. Dealer totals of 22 result in a push. The house edge is 0.55%, and strategy decisions for this one aren't especially difficult to make if you already know basic strategy.
Entire sites have been written about Spanish 21. The game offers excellent odds and a nice change of pace from standard blackjack games. Spanish 21 uses a Spanish deck, which means that the tens have been removed from the deck. Spanish 21 also offers late surrender, doubling after splitting, resplitting aces, and a "player always wins with 21" rule. Players can also double on any number of cards. The game also offers bonus payouts for five-card and six-card hands totaling 21.
The focus of Super Fun 21 is to provide the player a lot of really fun options. For example, players can double after splitting, resplit up to four hands, can double on any number of cards, and can take late surrender on any number of cards. A six card hand of 20 or less is an automatic winner. A five card (or more) hand with a total of 21 pays off at 2 to 1. Any blackjack in diamonds pays off at 2 to 1 also. The catch? Other blackjacks only pay even money. The house edge for this games ranges from 1.16% to 1.40% depending on the number of decks in use.
Three Card Blackjack is always played with a single deck, and the player has a mandatory ante wager and an optional side bet (Ace Plus). The dealer and the player both get three cards. One of the dealer's cards is face up. The score is based on the best blackjack hand that can be formed with either two or three cards. As in many poker-based games, players can fold or raise based on the cards they're dealt. The dealer has to have at least 17 points to open. If the dealer is unable to open, then the player gets even money on a blackjack on the ante bet, but the raise is considered a push. If the dealer is able to open, then both the ante and the raise pay even money if the player has a natural. If the dealer opens and the player does NOT have a natural, then the high hand wins. Ties result in a push. The side bet has a pay table which varies from casino to casino. If you stick to the ante only bet, the game has a 2%+ house edge.
Triple Attack Blackjack is similar to Double Attack Blackjack, only now you have the option of increasing your bet both after you see your cards and after you see the dealer's upcard. The game uses a Spanish deck, with the tens removed. The house edge varies between 0.7% and 0.9%. The game also has significant strategy differences.
Triple Up 21 is similar to Triple Attack Blackjack--you get the opportunity to triple your bet after you get your hand. Depending on how many decks are being used, you might be able to "triple down" on any total, any total of between 9 and 11, or only on totals of 10 and 11. Naturals only pay even money. The house edge varies between 1% and 1.2%, and the game has significant strategies to memorize.