A Look at Some Popular Blackjack Variants

Blackjack has been one of the most popular casino games for more than a century. For most of the game’s history the only significant change was a 3-to-2 payout for a natural blackjack. In recent years more variants have been introduced. These variants offer some interesting opportunities and some potentially rewarding side action.

Free Bet Blackjack

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Free Bet Blackjack is a relatively new variant that was first played in Las Vegas at the Golden Nugget Casino, and is now making its way into many casinos. Free Bet Blackjack gives the player a free double down bet on all hard nines, tens, and elevens. (Double downs on other hands are played the standard way.) Players also get a free split on all pairs other than tens. If the dealer wins both, the player loses the initial wager only. If the player wins both, the dealer pays two times the original bet.

The only difference in the game play is that a dealer’s 22 is a push. The game is like having a generous uncle at the table with you who covers your bets and lets you keep the winnings. It pays to be more aggressive with splits and double downs than in regular basic strategy. The house edge in Free Bet Blackjack is a little over 1% (about double a normal game). The game also has a different dynamic than most other blackjack games.

Players should look for games that use the most number of decks. This is completely opposite from all other blackjack games.

European Blackjack

European Blackjack is one of the most popular variants, especially, as the name suggests, outside the United States. European Blackjack is generally played with a six deck shoe. The dealer hits Soft 17s, and players can double down on any two cards and split any two cards of the same rank or value.

The biggest difference in European blackjack is how the dealer’s hand is played. The dealer does not receive a hole card until all player action is concluded. If a player has doubled down or split on a hand where the dealer’s up card is an Ace or a ten and the dealer hits a blackjack with the second card, only the original wager is forfeited and the split and double down wager is returned. The surrender option is still available unless the dealer is showing an Ace. The house edge for European Blackjack is less than .05%, making it a very player friendly game. 

Blackjack Switch

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 Blackjack switch is the invention of Geoff Hall, who also invented Free Bet Blackjack, and allows players to legally make a move that players have joked about for decades; switch cards between hands. Players play two hands with equal sized wagers at the same time. Players can chose to switch the second cards between the two hands. A very thorough knowledge of basic strategy is very helpful in making any tricky decisions but by in large, knowing when to switch cards is fairly common sense. The rest of the game is played the same as standard blackjack. A dealer’s 22 is a push except against a player blackjack. The dealer push on 22 and the other rule changes make the house edge about 5% which is substantially higher than traditional blackjack.

21 +3

21+3 is a popular variant that is found in many land based and online casinos. Players can make an additional side wager that pays off based on the player’s two cards and the dealer’s up card. The highest bonus is suited trips (8d, 8d, 8d) which pays up to 100-to-1, while a flush (three cards of the same suit) usually pays 5-to-1. The wager also wins for a straight flush, three of a kind, and straights. The house edge remains the same as in regular blackjack. The house edge of the side wager is 4% or higher depending on the number of decks and some payout variations.

High Hand Blackjack

 High Hand Blackjack

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 One of the aspects of blackjack that players enjoy is that it is a fairly social game. In many cases the players win or lose as a group, which builds a bit of table comradery. High hand blackjack changes that dynamic a bit.

In high hand blackjack, the players are playing two games; standard blackjack against the dealer and competing for the high hand among all of the players at the table.

Prior to the hand starting, each player makes a wager, which goes into the high hand pot. The player with the high hand wins the pot. If the dealer has the high hand, or two or more players tie for the high hand, the pot rolls over to the next hand.

High hand blackjack can influence the player’s decision concerning the play of the standard blackjack hand. For example, many players would stand with a 13 against a dealer 6. However the high hand pot and the other players total may indicate that the play with the highest potential return is to hit.

Instead of the play moving from the dealer’s left the right, a dealer button is used to indicate which player will act first. The dealer button moves to the right each hand.

For some players, the only aspect they find lacking is the absence of the “big win” hand. The side bet games change that dynamic without making fundamental changes in the aspects of the game that has made it so popular. The other variants also keep the game’s integrity intact while adding a fun element to the game.