Blackjack derives from several similar gambling games originating in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries, including veintiuna in Spain and England’s Vingt-Un.
Accordingly, the classic casino card game has evolved slowly but surely over the years, all while spawning a slew of successful variants.
Close cousin Pontoon is popular in Australia and the Far East, and the 48-card Spanish 21 endures in Europe and the Caribbean – proving standard blackjack’s fundamental flexibility.
On the other hand, dozens of blackjack inspired table games have failed to catch on with the casino gambling community – including the five busts found below.
Three Card Blackjack
Way back in 1994, aspiring casino game inventor Derek Webb had what can only be described as a “Eureka!” moment.
A decade before the “Poker Boom” put games like Texas holdem on the map, Webb instinctually knew that table game enthusiasts would enjoy a poker-themed gamble. After spending months tinkering with the underlying mathematics, Webb created Three Card Poker – only the most successful modern table game of them all.
Having pounded the pavement nationwide to secure over 100 installations in American casinos, Webb cashed in by selling his company to industry behemoth Shuffle Master. Today, more than 2,000 tables spread Three Card Poker in casinos from coast to coast.
In the game of Three Card Blackjack, players anted up as per usual, but they receive three cards face down from the dealer rather than two. The dealer also gets three cards, but one of theirs is turned face up to provide players with vital partial information.
From there, the foundation established by Three Card Poker becomes clear. Instead of hitting, splitting, doubling down to try and improve one’s hand, Three Card Blackjack sticks you with the three cards dealt. Based on that random deal, the player’s total is the best possible combination of either two or three cards.
For example, a hand like 7-9-King can create three possible totals – 16 (7+9), 17 (7+10), or 19 (9+10). Obviously, you’ll want to play the best total available, so your total now stands at 19. Let’s say the dealer shows a 17 as their up card, which brings about the sole decision point players face in Three Card Blackjack.
Following the lead of Three Card Poker, you now have to decide between folding and surrendering your ante bet, or raising and placing a second bet equal to the first.
Raising is the only way to reach a showdown with the dealer, so with a 19 against their 7 up, you’d go ahead and place the Raise bet. To conclude the hand, normal blackjack scoring is used upon showdown.
Three Card Blackjack also tried to hook recreational players with an optional side bet, which paid up to 100 to 1. Despite that apparent draw, though, an overall house edge of 3.42 percent on the base game – higher than Three Card Poker or standard blackjack mind you – was enough to put curious players off for good.
Never Bust Blackjack
Another variant that tried to remove all traces of skill and strategy from the game, No Bust Blackjack, was the brainchild of the legendary Geoff Hall.
While he struck out with Never Bust Blackjack, Hall established himself as one of the preeminent game designers of his age by inventing Blackjack Switch in 2000. That game revolutionized the industry by giving players two hands on each deal, while also allowing them to switch cards between hands to optimize their totals.
A decade later, Hall returned for his encore by introducing Never Bust Blackjack in a handful of British casinos. But despite the name, Never Bust Blackjack doesn’t play out much like its beloved predecessor.
To begin with, players aren’t permitted to act on their hand in any capacity. Instead, the dealer delivers two cards according to the standard fashion. After that, the player simply sits back and watches to see what happens next.
What was supposed to make No Bust Blackjack special is the next major rule change. Any card drawn that causes your total to go over 21 is simply banished to the discard pile. You’ll get another card based on the aforementioned rules, with any bust card discarded, until you hold a total of (hard) 17 or higher.
Never Bust Blackjack can be found in two forms – one which pays out 3 to 2 on blackjacks and another paying 6 to 5. However, both are bad bets as they hold house edge rates of 1.89 percent and 3.25 percent, respectively.
When normal blackjack runs at a house edge rate of only 0.50 percent – provided you play with basic strategy, of course – players didn’t take long before dismissing Hall’s innovation as a “carnival” game. And unlike the game itself, gamblers didn’t have much desire to give Never Bust Blackjack a second chance.
Two Face Blackjack
And now, for something completely different…
Following the success of his Double Attack Blackjack, Joe Centrone of Xcite Gaming debuted Two Face Blackjack in 2013 across a few Las Vegas casinos. The game plays out like classic blackjack in almost every way except for a pair of significant departures.
First, the four 10s have been removed to create a 48-card deck a la Spanish 21.
Secondly, and most importantly, the dealer must flip over their hole card whenever their up card is a face card Jack, Queen, or King.
Obviously, knowing the dealer’s total down cold before you act offers sharp players a huge advantage. Accordingly, the house edge on two Face Blackjack was a player’s dream at just 0.34 percent.
Casino executives attempted to goose the game’s favorable odds by changing the payout on blackjacks to even money instead of Centrone’s preferred 6 to 5 rate. That wasn’t enough, though, so the house soon decided to shelve one of the most player-friendly casino games to ever hit the floor.
If you’re like me, the first card game you played as a child was the high card contest known as War. Many a rainy day was spent trying to capture my little brother’s half of the deck one card at a time.
Initially, that gamble appeared to be quite successful, as War Blackjack was crowned the “Best New Table Game” that year by Casino Journal. And soon enough, War Blackjack could be found in tribal casinos in states like Arizona, California, and Oklahoma.
When playing War Blackjack, you place two bets of any value (within the posted limits) on the “War” and “Blackjack” spaces. The dealer then delivers one card to you and one for themselves, both face up. From there, standard War rules apply so the highest card wins (ties don’t trigger a “war” and the house wins instead).
If you managed to win your War bet, you can then decide to Collect or Parlay before the Blackjack bet is settled. When you opt to collect, you simply end the hand and haul in the profits from your War bet.
But when you decide to Parlay, you add the profit won in the War phase to your standing Blackjack bet. The hand then plays out using standard blackjack gameplay.
Astute blackjack players should surely see the advantages offered by War Blackjack’s unique twist.
When faced with a favorable situation between your first card and the dealer’s first card, “pressing” your War bet and adding to the Blackjack bet lets you boost your potential profits.
At only 1.16 percent, the house edge on War Blackjack is quite friendly when compared to Casino War (2.88-3.70 percent depending on the “war” rules).
And naturally, casino operators eventually tired of offering a more player-friendly option, leaving War Blackjack to slowly slip off the radar.
Lucky 13s Blackjack
Vinny Sandhu coined Lucky 13s Blackjack in 2014, but the Australian’s attempt to expand on basic blackjack backfired fairly quickly.
The deck in Lucky 13s Blackjack holds 64 cards instead of 52 thanks to the addition of new ranks – 11, 12, and 13.
With 21 still the optimal total to shoot for, Lucky 13s Blackjack tweaks the original considerably. For instance, you can start out the hand going bust immediately when you’re dealt an unpaired 22, 23, 24, or 25 total. Thankfully, any paired starting hand that exceeds 21 can be split to give the player a fighting chance.
Blackjack is the quintessential casino gambling game, serving up the perfect blend of skill and strategy with luck and random chance. For that reason, the game has migrated worldwide while appealing to players from all walks of life.
Thus, it’s not exactly surprising to find so many enterprising game designers trying to improve on an industry icon. But as you just learned, the odds of going bust as a blackjack variant inventor are incredibly high. As the old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”