Regardless of which online or brick-and-mortar casino you decide to visit, there is a good chance you will be faced with numerous variations of the classic card game of blackjack. The basic rules of these variants coincide for the most part but there are differences in terms of the details. It is precisely these dissimilarities that give each blackjack variation its own distinctive twist, rendering it more appealing to fans of the game looking to spice up their gaming experience.
That being said, blackjack aficionados often transition from landbased to online play for the simple reason interactive casinos offer a greater choice of options variation-wise. Ever since online gambling first became a thing two decades or so ago, players have witnessed an unprecedented explosion of blackjack games, each one with its own oddities and twists.
More importantly, these new variants helped revive the interest in this centuries-old casino staple by lending it an extra level of excitement. In this article, we take a look at some of the most interesting blackjack variations and explain what the differences between them are. Take a peek if you are looking to diversify your blackjack sessions a tiny notch.
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The roots of all curious blackjack variations can be traced back to the classic game of blackjack as after all, this is where they have borrowed their basic rules from. Classic blackjack offers some of the best odds a player can possibly find on casino floors. Additionally, the game is fairly easy to learn as opposed to more complicated card mainstays like poker, for example.
The number of decks in play varies depending on the gambling venue or the software the online casino runs on. Generally, the number of decks can vary between one and eight. In online multi-deck varieties, the decks are all shuffled together before each hand is dealt. The object of the game is to get a hand value higher than the dealer’s that equals or comes close to 21 without exceeding it.
Classic Blackjack Additional TipsFace-cards and 10s are given a value of 10, the value of the Aces can be either 1 or 11 and all other cards are assigned their pip value. After players are dealt their starting hand, they are allowed to hit, stand, split pairs, and double down. The surrender rule may also apply in many games of classic blackjack. The dealer draws to 16 and stands on 17 or soft 17 but these rules may vary depending on the online variation you play. An example would be the classic blackjack variant by RealTime Gaming where the dealer hits on soft 17.
Most classic blackjack games you will come across at online casinos offer the standard pay out of 3 to 2 for naturals while insurance returns at a rate of 2 to 1. In the majority of classic blackjack varieties, the dealer receives one face-up and one hole card but of course, there are exceptions to every rule. In Classic Blackjack Gold by Microgaming, the player is dealt two cards facing up while the virtual croupier receives only one card facing up on the initial deal. This also means that in Microgaming’s take on classic blackjack, the dealer does not check for naturals simply because there is no hole card to peek at.
The bottom line is the person to obtain the higher total without exceeding 21 wins the round. If both the player and the dealer have an equal total, nobody wins nor loses. Whoever exceeds the total of 21 busts. These are the rules which have paved the way for all curious blackjack varieties we get to enjoy in modern days.
Differences between Blackjack Variations
While all blackjack variants follow roughly the same basic rules, various differences can be observed when it comes to payouts, rules on splitting and doubling down, and the side bets players are allowed to make.
The good news for those who engage in the game online is that they will rarely encounter virtual tables where the payouts for blackjack are reduced from 3 to 2 to 6 to 5. Then again, in some variants where both cards of the dealer are exposed, the payouts for naturals are further reduced to compensate for this. There may be discrepancies in the rules concerning pushes as well. There are varieties of the game where the dealer takes absolutely all ties. In other games, the same applies to all ties with the exception of naturals where dealer and player push.
Differences can be observed in the rules regarding the dealer’s peeking for naturals. Most of the time, the dealer would check for a blackjack when they show an Ace only. There are exceptions to this rule, however, as becomes evident by Playtech’s variation of Blackjack Surrender where the dealer takes a peek for naturals when showing Aces as well as ten-value cards.
More Differences between Blackjack VariationsMore deviations can be noticed in the rules concerning splitting and doubling down. In some variants, the players are allowed to double down only on certain two-card totals, like 9, 10, or 11. The same applies to splitting – there are varieties where it is possible to re-split any pair you like as opposed to others where re-splitting and doubling down on split Aces is prohibited. There are instances where the player is also not allowed to split pairs of face-cards is they are not identical. For example, a pair of a King and a Queen cannot be split in such cases.
Even more differences can be outlined when it comes to the available side bets one can make. These differ wildly from one variant to another but most often have to do with betting on pairs of the same value, color or suit. In some blackjack games, the player can earn a little extra by placing a side bet that they will receive a set or four of a kind on the initial deal. There are even variations where community cards are in play, just like in poker.
When playing online, players would certainly notice various stylistic differences as each software developer approaches graphical presentation in a different manner. The online blackjack titles of some developers impress with more authentic visuals, animations, and audio effects than those of other software providers. The games are also different in terms of features – the perfect example for this are Playtech’s variants where players get to choose from several colors of the table’s felt.
Popular Blackjack Variations
The massive popularity blackjack enjoys has caused dozens of variations to spring into existence in recent years. Some of these games are unique to specific software providers and can be found only at online casinos running on their platforms. This enables interactive casino operators to attract a greater number of players, looking for a unique blackjack experience. We have outlined in brief some of the most appealing variants of the game below. Check them out yourself to see which one offers the most fun.
Blackjack Switch is one of the most interesting variants of blackjack one can engage in online and rightfully so – it features a range of side bets that further boost its entertainment value as well as bespoke rules which allow players to switch cards so as to improve the strength of their hands. The game was created and patented by Geoff Hall in 2009 and quickly gained popularity among online casino fans.
Blackjack Switch Additional TipsFor the most part, Blackjack Switch borrows its rules from the conventional game of Twenty-One. The difference here is that players are dealt two hands instead of one and can switch the top cards between the two to improve their totals. Therefore, players are required to make two bets that are equal in size on each round. Four to eight decks are usually in play.
Several modifications have been introduced to the game to compensate for the advantage the switch option provides players with. First off, all naturals in Blackjack Switch offer even-money payouts instead of the usual 3-to-2 return. Dealer totals of 22 result in a push against all players’ hands which have not busted. The only exception to this rule is when the player holds a blackjack against the dealer’s 22 but this blackjack should not have resulted from splitting or switching the top cards. This calls for a more aggressive strategy on behalf of the player since the dealer will not bust as often as they would in standard versions of the game. One should play their hands with more caution whenever the dealer shows a 2 since he or she is less likely to bust with this card.
It should be noted that whenever the player obtains a blackjack that has resulted from a switch, the hand is not viewed as a natural but rather as a regular 21 total. In such situations, a dealer holding 21 would prevail over the player.
Four optional side bets are available. These involve betting that the player would be dealt a pair, two pairs, a set or 4 of a kind, which also offers the highest payout of 40 to 1 in Blackjack Switch. A pair returns even money, two pairs pay at the rate of 8 to 1, and a set on the initial deal comes with a payout of 5 to 1.
Double Exposure Blackjack
Double Exposure was invented by American game theorist Richard Epstein and first appeared on the floors of the Vegas World casino in October 1979. The game was initially called “Zweikartenspiel” but later on, the name Double Exposure was adopted by customers as it better reflected what this variation was all about.
Double Exposure Blackjack Additional TipsIt becomes evident by the name itself that both cards of the dealer in this blackjack variation are exposed which naturally works to the benefit of players. As the house needs to maintain its edge one way or another, several adjustments were made to the standard rules and payouts to counterbalance this favorable condition. The most important modification concerns the payouts for blackjacks which are reduced to even money. Another adjustment has been made to the rules on pushes as the dealers in Double Exposure take all ties with the exception of tied naturals.
Additionally, no re-splits are allowed and dealers would normally either stand or hit on soft 17. Of course, when playing online, you may come across more favorable rules where dealers draw to 16 and stand on 17 like in the NetEnt variation of Double Exposure. It makes sense the correct basic strategy for Double Exposure differs from that used in standard blackjack games due to the huge discrepancies in the rules. It was Julian Braun who first developed and introduced a modified basic strategy for the single-deck variation of the game.
European Blackjack is among the most popular versions of the game and for the most part, follows the rules of classic blackjack. This game is played in landbased casinos across the Old Continent but tables with similar rules can be found in American gambling venues as well.
European Blackjack Additional TipsOne of the peculiarities of this game is that there are no hole cards since the dealer receives only one face-up card on the initial deal. This is slightly disadvantageous to players as it prevents the dealer from peeking for naturals. In comparison, the standard variations of the game often involve the dealer checking for naturals when they are dealt Aces and sometimes, even on ten-value cards. If the dealer indeed has a pat blackjack, players are spared from putting more money out through splitting or doubling down on their already losing hands. This is not the case with European Blackjack where the dealer may obtain a natural on the next hit after the player has already acted on their hand.
Despite this downside, European Blackjack offers players a slightly lower house edge due to the fact it is played with two decks of cards only. As we know, shoe games where multiple decks are in play give the house a bit higher advantage than single and double-deck variants, such as European Blackjack. Additionally, multiple-deck games render it more difficult for advantage players to count cards.
Apart from that, there are deviations in the rules concerning splitting and doubling down. In European Blackjack, players can double down only when they are initially dealt totals of 9, 10, or 11 which may slightly decrease their expected return as it prevents them from maximizing their profits when they are certain their hand will beat that of the dealer. In comparison, standard blackjack would normally allow for doubling down on all two-card totals. Of course, there may discrepancies in the rules depending on which gambling venue one visits.
The same applies to the rules regarding splitting in European Blackjack. The rules in this variation are a bit unfavorable to the player due to the fact one is permitted to split pairs only once and re-splits are not an option. Moreover, splitting high pairs into two separate hands is possible only in cases where the player holds two identical ten-value cards, for instance, two 10s or two Kings. This prevents players from exploiting the dealer’s weak starting hands and increasing their winnings through splits.
This variation is widespread in the United Kingdom and borrows most of its basic rules from the traditional game of blackjack. The objective in Pontoon coincides with that in standard blackjack since the players aim at acquiring a hand total higher than the dealer’s but without going over 21. The values the cards are assigned are also the same. The game is usually played with a single deck but sometimes multiple decks are used to accommodate a greater number of players. Online variants of Pontoon would normally utilize multiple decks.
Pontoon Additional TipsA natural consisting of an Ace and a ten-value card is called “pontoon” instead of blackjack. If you have ever played a single or double-deck blackjack, you will find Pontoon similar in that the dealer receives two hole cards instead of one and has no face-up card. This actually gives players an advantage due to the fact they have no way of knowing whether the dealer has a blackjack until they have played out their hand first. Therefore, if a player succeeds in drawing to 21 and the dealer indeed has a natural, the player’s hand will prevail. A pontoon offers a payout of 2 to 1.
Once players receive their starting hands, they get to choose from several actions which for the most part, resemble those in blackjack. The player can request additional cards from the dealer which is referred to as “twisting”. It should be noted the player is prohibited from twisting on split Aces, which means that they will be dealt only one additional card per Ace. There is the option to stand if you are already pleased with your two-card total which is called “sticking” in this game. In many variants, the player is granted the option to stick only if their hand total is equal to or exceeds 15.
The third option resembles the double down in blackjack in that players are expected to make an additional side bet. This is called “buying a card” in Pontoon, which is a rather suitable term, in fact, since the player is literally required to pay for each subsequent card they draw. The difference here is that when sticking on totals of less than 21, the player is allowed to buy several cards as opposed to the single card one is dealt following a double down in blackjack. This side bet needs to be at least the amount of the original wager of the player. The upper limit for buying a card is twice the size of the initial bet.
One difference that would certainly strike those who have never played Pontoon has to do with the payouts on certain hands. These are offered on totals consisting of a particular number of cards. The next best hand following the pontoon is the five-card trick which contains five cards for a total of 21 or less. A five-card trick returns at a rate of 2 to 1. The third-best hand consists of three or four cards that total 21 and returns even money. All other hands, i.e. hands with totals less that 21 and consisting of less than five cards, are ranked in order of their total value. The closer the total is to 21, the better. Hands exceeding 21 result in a bust.
Atlantic City Blackjack
This commonly played variation of blackjack borrows its name from the rules which apply in casinos throughout Atlantic City. Most of the standard blackjack rules are in force, with a few differences. In Atlantic City Blackjack, there are eight full decks in play although some online casinos offer double-deck variants of the game as well. The objective remains the same – beat the dealer with a higher hand total.
Atlantic City Blackjack Additional TipsDealers receive one face-up and one hole card and are normally required to stand on soft 17. Of course, when playing online, you are likely to come across rule variations where the dealer stands on all totals of 17, soft or not. Naturals offer the standard payout of 3 to 2 while insuring your hand against dealer blackjacks can potentially reward you with the standard payout of 2 to 1.
Speaking of blackjacks, one of the greatest advantages Atlantic City rules can possibly offer is that dealers are required to peek for naturals not only when they show Aces but on ten-value cards as well. Also, players are allowed double downs on any two-card totals they may hold. Another benefit of Atlantic City Blackjack is that pairs can be split up to three times, the only exception being the Aces which cannot be re-split. Additionally, players are given only one card per split Ace. What makes this variation even better is that splits are allowed on pairs of ten-value cards that are not identical – for example, it would be possible to split a King and a Queen into two separate hands. Surrendering weak hands is also an option.
Players looking for extra action are presented with the opportunity to engage in a number of online variations where it is possible to play anywhere between one and five hands at a time. Multi-hand blackjack varieties increase one’s chances of prevailing over the dealer and provide players with more opportunities to turn profits. This is so because even if the player loses one of their hands, the other four can potentially result in wins and thus, offset the previous loss. Of course, it is allowed to play multiple-hands in landbased casinos as well if there are free betting boxes, but online multi-hand variants can offer a number of great features to the benefit of players.
Multi-Hand Blackjack Additional TipsThe online multi-hand games are equipped with elegant design and extremely realistic animations, providing players with the ultimate casino experience without having to leave their homes. Players can choose from a number of chip denominations but table limits normally vary between online casinos. However, you can rest assured there are options for high-rollers and players on a tight budget alike. It is also possible to vary your bet size on the hands you play simultaneously.
There are different tiny details which aim at making one’s playing experience more pleasing. For instance, those who opt for some of Microgaming’s multi-hand variations of the game get to choose from three card styles. These games also include hints on strategies to help players make correct decisions on hitting and standing. Playtech’s multi-hand games enable players to choose from several felt colors – green, purple, black, orange, red, white, and light blue.
Please note the rules at multi-hand blackjack tables are different so you need to ensure you are familiar with those applying to the online blackjack table you have chosen to play at.
Spanish 21 is one of the most interesting variations of blackjack as there are many modifications and differences in terms of rules. This game is perfect for fans of Twenty-One who have grown tired of standard blackjack and are looking for greater excitement and more thrills. In some parts of the world, like Malaysia and Australia, this game is referred to as “Pontoon”.
Spanish 21 Additional TipsThis variation is considered by many to be one of the most profitable varieties of blackjack because of its beneficial rules. Some of those are similar to the rules in Pontoon, but the greatest difference between the two games lies in the fact Spanish 21 is played with six to eight Spanish decks. Each deck contains only 48 cards instead of the standard 52 since the 10s of all four suits are removed. At first glance, this tilts the odds in favor of the house but several favorable rules are at hand to compensate for the missing 10s.
The rules concerning the dealer vary between casinos and software providers as they may stand or hit on soft totals of 17. The dealers may also peek for naturals when exposing ten-value cards. Blackjacks and winning insurance bets pay out as normal – 3 to 2 and 2 to 1.
In Spanish 21, bonus payouts are offered on non-busting hands that consist of a specific number of cards. Five-card hands reward players with a payout of 3 to 2, six-card totals return at a rate of 2 to 1, and seven-card totals pay 3 to 1. Another bonus is granted to those who obtain three suited 7s when the dealer is also showing a 7 but the payout varies between casinos. Card combinations of offsuit 6-7-8 and 7-7-7 also earn players a higher payout of 3 to 2 and if the cards are all spades, the hand will pay 3 to 1. The same combinations when suited return 2 to 1.
One of the most profitable rules in Spanish 21 allows players to surrender following a double down. Also, doubling down is possible on any two-card combination, with players being able to double following the split of any pair, including Aces. But the icing on the cake is that you collect a 3-to-2 payout on all totals of 21, regardless of what the dealer has!
Choosing a Blackjack Variation
Many players struggle to select a blackjack game simply because the number of options is so overwhelming. There are several things your choice should be based on. Of course, it is important to pick a game which best corresponds to your style of play, but before you proceed with more unusual varieties like Blackjack Switch, you absolutely need to master the rules and oddities of standard classic blackjack. Study the game in detail and practice at no charge in Fun mode – something most online casinos support.
Once you have mastered the game completely, you need to consider which real-money blackjack variation will provide you with the highest value for your bets. It makes sense that your decision should be primarily based on which game offers you the most favorable conditions. Therefore, it would be best to pick a table which returns 3 to 2 on naturals. The good news is most online variants have adopted this standard payout and you can rarely find a game where the return on naturals is reduced to 6 to 5.
Blackjack Variations Additional TipsStudy and compare the rules on splitting and doubling down in different variations to make a better-informed decision. The optimal variant will be to find a table with more liberal rules where you are allowed to split up to three times and re-split pairs of Aces. Your doubling down options are of equal importance as this side bet enables you to boost your profits in situations where the dealer is in a particularly vulnerable position.
Therefore, you should go for the tables where doubling down is allowed on all starting two-card totals and not only on 9, 10, and 11. The same applies to peeking – a virtual dealer who peeks for blackjacks on both ten-value cards and Aces can spare you the additional expenses on hands that were doomed to begin with. Surrender is also an extremely valuable option so it would be best to attack blackjack variants where folding your hand is allowed. Sure, surrendering may cost you half of your original bet but collecting the other half on hands that are ordained to lose is still better than losing it all.
Many online casinos of great repute tend to publish lists with the theoretical Return to Player percentages (RTP) of all games they have on offer. This is important because you can determine what the house edge on a given variant is judging by its average return. This is achieved by subtracting the listed RTP from 100%. An example would be Microgaming’s Classic Blackjack Gold where the RTP revolves around 99.90% which means players would lose $99.90 on average out of every $100 they stake. This accounts for a house edge of 0.10% only. It makes sense that you can expect higher returns on average over the long run than if you go for a variant where the theoretical return percentage has dropped below 95%.
Of course, playing blackjack should be above all fun. Do not hesitate to spice up your gaming sessions every once in a while by choosing variations with more extraordinary rules and a range of side bets. But above all, you should remember that playing blackjack online should be done responsibly and with due measure.