It could be argued that blackjack is the quintessential casino game. Its impact on popular culture has been profound, and millions of people have recognized a specific significance in the number “21.”
While countless Americans partake in the game at casinos across the country, many are unfamiliar with the other variations of the game. Like so many other familiar games, there are other versions that exist which give players better odds for their money.
In this article, I’ll dive into some alternative versions of blackjack, and explain the specific rules and advantages that set them apart from the game most people know and love.
1 – Classic Blackjack
Whether in a physical or an online real money casino, classic blackjack remains the most popular form of the game – not just in the U.S., but in most parts of the world.
Make no mistake about it, this version is a gambler-favorite for good reason. The house edge is low, the rules are relatively easy to pick up on quickly, and it’s more social than poker.
As I mentioned, the house edge is low. With that being said, it’s important to recognize that just because you see that very appealing 0.5% edge number, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re taking advantage of it in its entirety.
The famous 0.5% that is constantly tossed around when looking at games with the lowest house edges assumes that you’re making all the right moves. The good news is that it isn’t particularly difficult to learn what the right moves should be, but it does take a little bit of practice.
If you’re stumbling upon this article without any prior blackjack experience and want to compare the rules of each version, I’ll provide a brief description (although I would assume most readers know the rules of classic blackjack):
Players go against the dealer attempting to reach 21, or be the closest to 21, without getting more than 21. Players each receive two cards and have the option to “hit” (get another card) or “stay” (keep their current cards only). If anyone, player or dealer gets cards that equal more than 21, they “bust” and lose the hand.
In the end, if you choose classic blackjack as the standard version, you’re going to give yourself a good chance to win some money.
2 – European Blackjack
Similar to roulette, there is a European version of blackjack. Also like roulette, European blackjack offers slightly better odds to players than its American (or generally standard) counterpart.
First, European blackjack is typically played with two decks of cards. This means the cards are more predictable than other versions of blackjack that incorporate a half-dozen or more decks into one game.
Another component of European blackjack that makes it more favorable to players is the dealer stands on soft 17.
A few more qualities that set European blackjack apart are: dealer blackjack vs. player blackjack results in a tie or push. Players can only double down when their cards are showing 9, 10, or 11. And finally, blackjacks pay 3:2.
When you do the math (I’ll spare you the equations), the result shows that the house edge in European blackjack comes in at 0.39%. In other words, it’s about 20% lower than classic blackjack.
If you’re an experienced blackjack player and are looking to try something new, I would recommend checking out this version of the game during your next casino visit.
3 – Face Up 21
Face up 21 puts a great deal of power in players’ hands, while removing some of the advantages of the house.
In this version of the game, both of the dealer’s cards are dealt and shown face up. It goes without saying that being able to see two cards instead of just one gives gamblers tremendous insight into how they should be betting during the hand.
Unfortunately, it isn’t all good news for gamblers when it comes to this game. For example, a dealer hits on soft 17, and dealer blackjack beats a player blackjack, and blackjack only pays even money.
Similar to European blackjack, in Face Up 21 players can only double down on 9, 10, and 11.
The house edge on this version of the game comes in at 0.69%, which makes it the worst on the list up to this point. While the overall house edge might be lower, if you adjust your betting strategy in accordance to the rules that require the dealer to show both cards after dealing, it still might be a better option than classic blackjack.
4 – Perfect Pairs Blackjack
For those players who think that a great betting strategy is more important than a great playing strategy, Perfect Pairs blackjack offers a unique opportunity to win big.
Perfect Pairs Blackjack has the same rules as classic blackjack, with a betting twist. At the beginning of each hand, players can make an extra side bet. This side bet is a gamble on whether or not the first two cards you’re dealt will be the same number.
You might be wondering, “Betting on two cards being the same seems like a longshot, what’s the payout if I take the risk?” I’m glad you asked.
If your pair is any two cards of the same value (meaning just the number or the same face card), you get paid out at 5:1. If the two cards are the same value, same color, but a different suit, you get paid at 10:1. The big jackpot win comes if the two cards are the same rank and same suit (keep in mind multiple decks are used, so this is possible). If you hit a “Perfect Pair,” you get paid at 30:1.
The reason I’m so fond of Perfect Pairs blackjack is because it’s just regular blackjack with the opportunity to take a little risk on the side. Anyone who is familiar with classic blackjack won’t have to undergo any learning curve, as the rules here are as simple as it gets.
5 – Spanish 21
Arguably the most popular alternative of classic blackjack is Spanish 21.
In Spanish 21, all the ‘10’ cards are taken out. You might think this would be a huge boost to the house edge, but the rules are tilted in the players’ favor, so it more than evens out in the end. Spanish 21 is known to be one of the most player-friendly games you’ll find anywhere in the casino…even more so than classic blackjack.
Keep in mind that the rules vary from casino to casino, but most follow a standard procedure.
Now let’s get into the more complex rules that give players the advantage.
Resplitting is permitted, including aces, which gives gamblers a great opportunity to maximize winnings. Furthermore, players can double down on any point total after any amount of cards dealt. They can even double after splitting.
The next area of Spanish 21 that makes it so popular is the unique payout structure. Keep in mind that these are not the same at every casino, but I’ll lay out the most common.
- A five-card 21 pays out at 3:2.
- Six-card 21 pays 2:1
- A seven-card 21 pays out at 3:1.
- A 678 and 777 of mixed suit pays 3:2. If they’re the same suit it pays 2:1.
There is one big exciting payout component to Spanish 21. If a player has 777 of the same suit and the dealer is holding a 7 in any suit, there is a $1,000 bonus paid to the player. If the player has bet more than $25 at the start of the hand, this climbs all the way to $5,000.
Depending on how you play, Spanish 21’s house edge comes in somewhere around 0.38%, making it the lowest on the list. The downside is that depending on some house rules, it can be around 0.78%, which would make it not quite as appealing as some of the other games on the list.
My advice? Try out Spanish 21 if you’re a fan of real money blackjack. Its unique payout structure always makes for an interesting game and the chance to hit the jackpot provides an extra layer of excitement.
Blackjack might be as standard as it gets when it comes to casino games, but these variations of the game ensure that it won’t ever get old.
If you’re looking to spice things up during your next trip to your local gaming establishment, ask a casino staff member about the blackjack versions they offer. Try your hand at a few and see if you can experience some of that ‘beginner’s luck’ everyone keeps talking about.