Positive Blackjack Variations

Positive variations refer to the game variations and rules in blackjack that have a house edge in favor of the player. In other words, in a casino world filled with games designed to take your money, these are the best blackjack games to play.

It’s important to be aware of which games have the highest positive expectation. Even though you’re playing blackjack for fun, you still want to win. And preferably win the most money possible. That means knowing how the rules affect the odds, and which games are the best to play. After all, you don’t want to sit down to a blackjack game with a Perfect Charlie side bet. That has a house edge of 38.97% or a .40 loss for every $1 you spend.


What Blackjack Rules Improve the House Edge?

Something that will help you choose the right games is knowing what rules impact the house edge, and more importantly, which rules swing the edge in your favor. The following are the most important rules to look for.

  • 21 pays 2:1 – This has the largest effect on the house edge, decreasing it by 2.27%
  • Five card Charlie – When a player receives 5 cards without busting. This is an automatic winner, and improves the house edge by 1.64%.
  • Suited blackjack pays 2:1 – This improves the players’ edge by .57%.
  • Single deck gameSingle deck games have a house edge of .48%.
  • Early surrender vs. dealer ace – This improves the house edge .39%.
  • Player may double on any number of cards – This improves the house edge .23%.
  • Player can draw to split aces – This rule increases the house edge .19%.
  • Double decks – Playing with two decks decreases the house edge by .19%.
  • Late surrender vs. dealer 10 – This improves the house edge .07%.
  • 777 pays 3-1 automatically – This gives players an additional .05% in their favor.

There are several more rules, but these have the most impact. All of these assume the player is using basic strategy, too.

What Are The Best Blackjack Games to Play?

I don’t expect you to memorize all the different rules before heading out to the casino, just so that you can save yourself a few percentage points per hand (although it does make a difference). So here are the best blackjack games to play according to house edge. These all assume you’re using optimal blackjack strategy, when available.

  • Blackjack – Dealer stands on 17, player can double on any two cards, player can double after splitting, resplit aces and late surrender. This has a house edge of .28%. You’re damn near breaking even.
  • Spanish 21 – When the dealer hits soft 17 the house edge is .76%, and when the dealer stands the edge is .40%.
  • Pontoon – Similar to Spanish 21, this too has a house edge of .40%.
  • European Blackjack – When played with 6 decks, dealer standing on soft 17, player can only double on 9-11, doubles after split allowed and the dealer does not peek for blackjack, the house edge is .62%.
  • Vegas Strip Blackjack – This has a house edge of .35%.
  • Blackjack Switch – A fun game considering you can switch your cards around. Even better is the house edge, which is .58% when 6 decks are used.
  • Blackjack Surrender – This has a house edge of .49%.

All of these have a house edge of less than 1%. Keep in mind that ultimately the house edge will depend on how you play. I recommend learning basic strategy so that you can reduce the edge as much as possible.

An Example of Why Positive Expectation Blackjack Games Are Important

I think a lot of people scoff at the idea that .5 or 1 percent makes a big deal. These are the type of people that will sit down to any blackjack game. To them the little differences don’t matter.

But they do add up.

Say, for example, you sat down to play a regular game of blackjack. You’ve learned basic strategy so that the house edge is .28%. What this means for you is that for every $5 hand of blackjack you play, you’re giving the casino 1.4 cents.

Say your buddy sits down to a game of Bet the Set. This has a house edge of 27%. That means for every $5 hand your buddy plays, he’s giving the casino $1.35.

Now assume you can both play 100 hands in a hour. Here’s what each 10-hand increment would look like:

You     |     Your Buddy
.14                   1.35
.28                   2.70
.42                   4.05
.56                   5.40
.70                   6.75
.84                   8.10
.98                   9.45
1.12                 10.80
1.26                 12.15
1.40                 13.50

Over the course of an hour, you only lose $1.40 while your buddy lost $13.50. That’s almost a 1000% difference. It’s huge.

Think about this a little more. What if you were on a budget, say $50 or $100. Who do you think will play the most and have the most fun? My vote is for the guy with almost $100 leftover.

And finally, think about the difference on a larger scale. In other words, look at how much your buddy would lose at $500 per hand.

  • You – $140
  • Your Buddy – $13,500


Of course, this is taking the long run in account. It’s very possible that your friend goes on a massive winning streak, making 10x more money than you do. Then he rubs it into your face.

But just smile, because you know better.

What You Can Take Away From This

There are a few important points I want you to take away from this page:

  • It pays to shop around for the best blackjack games, variations and rules.
  • The small differences in house edge add up. Especially if you play high stakes.
  • In the short run you might not see the difference, but in the long run you certainly will.
  • Avoid side bets. I gave two examples in this article, both are over 25%. Granted, some have 2% edges, but then we’re back to the small differences add up point.

Ultimately, if you take the time to educate yourself and shop around for the casinos with the best house edge, you’re going to have a much better time and much more money in your pocket.