There are over one hundred variations of 21 but Blackjack Switch is undoubtedly among the most enticing ones. This variant of blackjack was created by gambling expert Geoff Hall, who came up with the idea while playing a game of regular blackjack.
During one of his betting sessions, Hall observed that when he spread his action to two spots, he often ended up with two very weak hands that bore a significant improvement if only he had the opportunity to switch their top cards (something which is not allowed in traditional blackjack).
Hall introduced an earlier version of his Blackjack Switch at the annual Global Gaming Expo show in Las Vegas in the fall of 2000. The variation made its official debut in February 2001 when it was installed in Iowa’s Harvey’s Casino (presently Harrah’s).
But it was not until 2003 when the game really took off. Hall tweaked his blackjack variation and included an additional rule which stipulated that the dealer and the player push when the dealer’s hand total is 22.
This modified version of Blackjack Switch first appeared in Las Vegas’ Four Queens Casino in 2003 and became an instant success among gamblers. Today, Blackjack Switch is widely available across landbased casinos worldwide but you can also enjoy it online on gambling sites powered by the software supplier Playtech. Read on for further clarifications on its rules, house edge, and strategy.
The Rules of Blackjack Switch
Blackjack Switch borrows most of its main rules from the traditional game of blackjack but there are quite a few differences. The game is usually played with six or eight full decks dealt out of a shoe. The table layout is different because there are two betting boxes per player instead of one. Respectively, each participant in the game is required to play two hands simultaneously. The two bets are equal in size despite the fact the outcomes of the hands are resolved separately.
During the initial deal, each player receives two hands with the cards dealt face up. The dealer receives one upcard and one hole card. After side bets are resolved, the dealer asks each participant in the game whether or not they want to switch the top cards of their two hands.
Suppose, for example, you are dealt stiff hands like Q-4 and 6-J against a dealer’s 6. You can significantly improve your chances of winning if you switch the top cards, i.e. the 4 and the J. This way, you improve your first hand to a solid total of 20 and have the opportunity to make a potentially successful double down on the second hand whose total is now 10.
The Rules of Blackjack Switch Additional TipsAfter the player decides whether or not they want to switch their top cards, they have a choice from the standard playing decisions of hitting, standing, splitting, and doubling. Surrendering is not allowed in this version of blackjack. The player starts with the hand next to their right betting box and then proceeds with the one positioned next to their left betting box. If the total exceeds 21, the player automatically loses.
The dealer is the last person to act on their hand as usual. Blackjack Switch dealers usually must hit soft totals of 17 but the biggest peculiarity here is that a dealer total of 22 pushes with the players’ non-busted hands regardless of their total. The only exception to this rule is when the player has a blackjack (an ace and a ten-value card) but this blackjack must not be a result of splitting a pair or switching.
The player is allowed to double down on any two cards and split any pair they like. Hitting split aces is not an option, though. Resplitting to up to four separate hands is also permitted in some landbased casinos<. When the dealer's upcard is an Ace, the player is offered to buy insurance on one or both of their starting hands. Winning insurance bets pay out 2 to 1 as usual. The dealer peeks to check for blackjacks when their upcard is a ten-value one but insurance is not offered in this case. Player blackjacks pay even money like all other non-busted winning hands.
Side Bets in Blackjack Switch
Another peculiarity of Blackjack Switch is that the game supports a range of side bets which, if won, can earn you higher payouts. These are separate bets and have no impact on the outcome of your two starting hands. The interesting thing here is that these side bets mimic certain poker hands like pairs, sets, and quads. In Playtech’s online variation of the game, these propositional wagers are called Super Match bets.
The player is required to post the side bet at the start of the round before any cards have been dealt on the table. The side bet is resolved immediately after the initial deal before players make any further decisions regarding their two hands.
Keep in mind these are propositional bets that have absolutely no impact on the odds of winning your original two hands. The chips for the side bets are posted in the small betting circle between your two main betting boxes. It is easy to spot since it blatantly reads Super Match.
Side Bets in Blackjack Switch Additional TipsThere are four types of Super Match bets, all of which are based on the initial four cards you are dealt at the start of the round. We list them in ascending order here depending on the payouts they return. The lowest payout is even money and is awarded when two of your initial four cards form a pair.
When you have three cards of the same rank for three-of-a-kind, you are paid at a rate of 5 to 1. Two pairs in on the initial deal pay 8 to 1 and four-of-a-kind awards a payout of 40 to 1. Recreational players are advised not to overdo it with these side bets because they yield an edge of 2.55% for the house.
House Edge and Variance in Blackjack Switch
The biggest appeal of this game results from the fact it yields a fairly low house edge, particularly when the player utilizes optimal basic and switching strategies. Of course, the precise house advantage the game yields depends on the fixed set of rules laid out by the casino.
A variation of Blackjack Switch where the dealer is required to stand on soft 17 (S17) would yield a slightly smaller house edge than a game that plays under the H17 rule. Another variable that needs to be factored in is deck number. When more decks are in play the house edge increases slightly.
The house edge players are fighting depends on whether they are playing online or at a landbased casino. In most landbased venues in the US where the game is available, the advantage of the house amounts to around 0.25%. Playtech’s online version of Blackjack Switch yields around 0.15% house advantage due to differences in some of the rules.
House Edge and Variance in Blackjack Switch Additional TipsIt makes sense that the option to switch the top cards leads to a significant increase in the odds for the player. However, several rules are in place for the purpose of restoring the house edge starting with the even-money payout players get for their blackjacks. Blackjack Switch dealers push with the player instead of busting when they draw to a total of 22, which is yet another drawback.
Another advantage of this blackjack variation is its fairly low volatility. The fluctuations players experience are not as significant which is especially beneficial to those who play with limited bankrolls.
The Strategy for Blackjack Switch
Players can further reduce the house edge for this blackjack variation by applying the optimal strategy. The trouble here is said strategy is vastly different from what blackjack players have grown accustomed to. Most players struggle with their switch decisions.
Switching the top cards is pretty much an intuitive decision with some hands. For example, if you start a round with 10-3 and 7-K, it is quite obvious you need to switch the top cards so that the King goes next to the 10 for a solid hard 20 and the 7 goes next to the 3 for a two-card total of 10 which makes for a great doubling opportunity. This switch decision is a no-brainer but what about two initial hands like A-5 and K-6? You need a strategy for this.
The first decision you make in this game is whether or not to switch your top cards. This decision should be based on which set of two hands is stronger against a particular dealer upcard. First, you evaluate the strength of the card the dealer exposes.
Upcards 7 through Ace put the dealer in a strong position whereas upcards 3 through 6 are considered weak for the dealer. The deuce is treated separately because the likelihood of the dealer busting with this upcard is lower in this variation of the game. This is to be attributed to the rule which stipulates that the dealer pushes with 22 against all player hands except blackjacks. Once you evaluate the strength of the dealer’s upcard, you need to analyze how strong your initial two hands are.
One simpler approach you can start with is the switching strategy outlined by gaming mathematician Cindy Liu where the strength of the players’ initial hands is ranked in descending order as follows – 21, 20, 19, A-A, 11, 10, 9, 18/8, and 8-8.
Strategy for Blackjack Switch Additional TipsThis strategy suggests players should balance their hands when the dealer has stronger upcards like 7 and 8. You need to improve the weaker of your two hands as much as you can, if possible, by using the above hand ranking. With any other dealer upcard, your goal is to boost the strength of your better hand, again by using the hand ranking from above.
If it is impossible to form one of the hands in the above ranking, you must try and achieve the best possible hand from this list: 7/17, any pair that should be split according to the basic strategy chart for Blackjack Switch, any total of 12, and any total of 13. These are again listed in descending order. The Cindy Liu strategy makes several exceptions for the following situations:
- When you are dealt A-A and 3-8, you should not switch any cards
- When you are dealt A-A and 2-9 you should not switch against dealer upcards 2 through 6
- When you have A-A and 2-8, you again should refrain from switching against any dealer upcard
Blackjack authority Arnold Snyder proposes another intuitive and simple switching strategy in his book How to Beat Internet Casinos and Poker Rooms so feel free to check it out. Our recommendation is to practice the strategy you choose online by playing the free version of Blackjack Switch in a Playtech-powered casino.
Many online gambling operators give you the opportunity to play with demo credits. Practice until switching decisions become entirely automatic. You will be surprised how quickly the switching strategy sinks in when you invest enough effort and practice.