One of the more appealing aspects of blackjack is the fact that the rules are very simple. It should be noted, though, that there are different variations of the game. There are also certain aspects of the rules that can vary from one casino to the next. For example, one casino may use four decks while another may use eight. In one casino the dealer may have to stand on soft 17, while at another the dealer may have to hit.
The rule variations can also affect what you are allowed to do in certain situations. They can have an impact on the correct strategy to use too and on the overall house edge. Overall, though, they don’t really change the way the game is played.
It doesn’t hurt to understand the common rule variations though, so we explain them on this page. We detail their effect on the house edge too, and we also provide some information on several popular blackjack variants.
Standard Rule Variations
The following rules are the ones that most commonly vary at different casinos and between different game variants.
Number of Decks in Play
Most variants of blackjack use multiple decks, and the exact number of decks can vary between two to eight. Single deck blackjack is available in some places, but casinos don’t generally like to offer it as it makes card counting easier and has a very low house edge. With all other rules being the same, the house edge increases with the number of decks used.
Dealer’s Soft 17
A dealer will usually have to stand when they have a soft 17. However, they will be allowed to hit passed that in a few variants of the game. The house edge is increased when this is the case, but only by around 0.2%.
In some variants, players can only double on certain hands. This puts players at a disadvantage, as it removes certain profitable opportunities to double. Depending on the exact restrictions for when players can double, the house edge can increase by as much as 0.18% when compared to being able to double on any starting hand.
Doubling After Split
Players are allowed to double after splitting in some games, but in others they are not. It’s an advantage to the player if they are allowed to, so the house edge increases by approximately 0.15% when they can’t.
Resplitting after an initial split can also be advantageous to players in the right circumstances. It’s not allowed in all game variants though. The house edge increases if resplitting isn’t allowed, by around 0.1%.
Surrendering is when a player forfeits their hand after the deal, at the cost of half their stake. It’s only the right thing to do in a very limited number of situations, so the advantage the surrender rule offers to the player isn’t hugely significant. It’s an advantage though, so the house edge is still affected. The net effect will depend on the exact rule, as there are different rules about the circumstances in which a player may surrender.
Dealer peek is when the dealer checks for blackjack if their exposed card is an ace or a ten. If it’s a blackjack, then the hand ends immediately. This rule is an advantage to the player. In some circumstances it is right to split or double against an ace or ten, and those bets will always lose if the dealer has a blackjack. By finding out in advance that the dealer does have a blackjack, the player is prevented from making those additional losses. Dealer peek reduces the house edge by about 0.1%.
Payout For Blackjack
Some casinos have taken to reducing the payout for player blackjacks. This is reasonably rare, and is typically only done in blackjack games where most of the rules are favorable to the player. A reduced payout of 6:5 (instead of 3:2) will increase the house edge by over 1%.
Common Blackjack Variants
There are three blackjack variants which are particularly common. These are as follows.
- Vegas Strip Blackjack
- Atlantic City Blackjack
- European Blackjack
As you may have guessed, the names of these variants relate to where they are played. Vegas Strip, for example, is generally the main variant used by most Las Vegas casinos. This isn’t set in stone though, and you’ll often find different variations of blackjack in one casino.
The table below shows the standard rules for each of these popular variants.
Please note that these are only the standard rules, and some casinos do make variations to them.
Other Blackjack Variants
There are several other blackjack variants too. Some of these are only played in certain regions of the world, and some of them are only available at online casinos. The following are some of the more popular variants with key aspects that make them different.
Blackjack Double Exposure
This is an interesting twist on the game of blackjack, where both the dealer’s cards are exposed before the players make a decision. Clearly this is a major benefit to the players. However, this is countered by the fact that the dealer wins all ties. The only exception to that rule is when the player and the dealer both have a blackjack, in which case the player will be returned their stake.
Winning blackjacks are also only paid out at even money (1:1), so players lose out in this respect too. This is a fun variant to play if you prefer something different, and seeing both dealer cards is obviously an advantage. The overall house edge isn’t much different to other blackjack variants though.
This is a multi-hand variant of blackjack, and a player must play two hands. This means they must place two (equal) stakes at the start of each round. Each hand is then dealt two cards in the normal way, but the player may choose to switch one card from each hand with a card from the other. This allows the player to potentially create stronger starting hands, giving them a significant advantage.
As with Double Exposure, there are other rule changes which balance this advantage. First, blackjacks are only paid out at even money. Second, if the dealer busts with exactly 22, all bets remaining in play are pushed. The exception to the rule is blackjacks, which will definitely win against a dealer’s 22.
Progressive blackjack is played the same as conventional blackjack. The only difference is that there’s an additional side bet that players can choose to place. This bet then pays out if a player is dealt an ace as their first card. If a player’s first two cards are both aces, they’ll receive an even bigger payout, and if those two aces are suited the payout will be even bigger still. If a player receives four suited aces, dealt consecutively in a hand, they will win the progressive jackpot.
Saving the best for last, this is another variant which introduces a side bet. In this game, the side bet wins if the player is dealt any pair. The exact payouts vary from one casino to another and are based on the rank of the pair. Suited pairs typically earn higher payouts.