Blackjack is the most popular table game in casinos. This is due to its low house edge. It is also because of the perceived ease of understanding the rules of the game. Beginners can still play the game without making too many major errors.
Players sometimes get bored at a traditional blackjack table. It can be fun to move to another game. In the past, blackjack players moved to games like craps or roulette to change it up. The conditions at these games are less than ideal when compared to blackjack.
Game inventors understand this and created many blackjack variants to help keep it fun. One rule that is common in all of the blackjack variants listed below is that the dealer hits soft 17. Blackjack does not always pay 3-2 at these tables.
There are 20+ blackjack variations. You’ll find the most popular variations below.
Blackjack Switch may be the most popular blackjack variant. It requires players to bet on two hands at the same time. Players may switch a card from one hand to the other or keep them as they were dealt. Double down before and after splitting is permitted, as well as re-split aces. Blackjack only pays even money. A switched blackjack is only a 21. If the dealer makes a 22, all hands that are still alive push.
Free Bet Blackjack
Free Bet Blackjack gives players free double downs on 9, 10 and 11. Players may also split for free on any pair that does not equal 20. A free double down after the free split is also allowed. In exchange for these friendly rules, the dealer pushes any live hand if 22 is made. Blackjack pays 3-2, except at Luxor, Casino Royale and the single deck Free Bet Blackjack games at Golden Nugget.
Spanish 21 is a dying game these days. It was nowhere to be found in Las Vegas for years before it returned to Venetian and Palazzo. Double down on any number cards and after splitting is permitted, even after hitting. Players can surrender after doubling down, known as double down rescue. Aces may be hit and re-split. A 21 hand always wins.
There are bonus payouts for making a five-card 21, 777 and 678. The trade off for these player friendly rules is that 10’s are removed from the deck. The other ten-value face cards are still in play. This makes the dealer bust left often. Players will hit a few more stiff hands because of this.
Super Fun 21
Super Fun 21 is a game often spread in a single or double deck format. Players can double down on any number of cards, even after a split. Split aces may be hit and re-split. Surrender is available at any time, even after hitting and doubling down. Blackjack always wins but it only pays even money unless it is an ace and face of diamonds. In that scenario, the player gets paid 2-1.
Most Liberal 21
Most Liberal 21 is only found at Plaza in downtown Las Vegas. It was once available at Plaza’s sister casino Las Vegas Club before it closed in August 2015.
This game permits players to double down on any number of cards. Surrender is permitted, even after a card is drawn. Aces may be split, re-split and hit. Double down after splitting aces is also permitted. A five-card or higher 21 wins automatically. Blackjack only pays even money, unless it is suited. It then pays 2-1.
War Blackjack is more of a side bet than a game itself, although its table advertising makes it appear otherwise. A player may make a wager on whether his first card up beats the dealer’s door card. Ace is low for this purpose. The dealer wins all ties. A player has the option of capping the blackjack bet with the War Blackjack side bet wager if it wins. The hand then plays out as normal.
Change It 21
Change It 21 is only offered at Fremont. It is a game where players may discard one of the original cards dealt. This costs half the price of the original wager. A player that makes a blackjack after the exchange is paid as if it was dealt. Blackjack pays 6-5. Double down before splitting is permitted but not after.
Face Up Blackjack
Face Up Blackjack is one of many names used to describe a blackjack game where all cards are dealt face up, including the dealer’s cards. This clearly gives the player a big advantage but there are rules to offset this. The rules may vary from one casino to another, but typically players may only double down on 10 and 11 and not after splitting. Blackjack pays even money and usually wins on a tie. The dealer wins all other ties.
Bottoms Up Blackjack was once dealt at Riviera in Las Vegas. It was pulled in 2014. That was the last time it was spread in Las Vegas. It is still spread at casinos in Primm on the Nevada and California border.
Online Blackjack Variants
Some blackjack variants are easier to deal online than in live casinos. It is also possible for online casinos to spread more blackjack variants because there is no need for table space for less popular games.
Zappit Blackjack is only found at Bovada. It is a traditional blackjack game with one very major rule change. A player that is dealt a 15, 16 or 17 may discard both cards and draw a new hand. Players should always trade for a new hand when 15, 16 and 17 are dealt. In exchange for this player friendly rule, the house pushes if the dealer draws 22 on any hand. Players may double down on any two cards and after splitting. Blackjack pays 3-2 but zapped blackjacks only pay even money.
European Blackjack is played like a traditional game with one major difference. The dealer does not receive a hole card until the player acts. This rule changes some decisions for the player related to doubling down 11 against a 10 and splitting 8’s. This is how blackjack is dealt in most European casinos. Americans will only find it at online casinos, including regulated ones offered by Atlantic City resorts.
Online Pontoon is an online game that uses the theory of blackjack but is dealt with several rule variations. The player receives two cards. The dealer does not receive an up card until after the player acts. The player must hit until the hand is at least 15. A Pontoon is a blackjack, which is an ace and a face.
Pontoon pays 2-1. It is still considered a Pontoon if it occurs after splitting. The player may double down on two, three or four cards. It is also permitted after splitting. Aces may be re-split, hit and doubled down.
The best hand is a Pontoon. The second best hand is a five-card trick, which is any valued hand with five cards. Like Pontoon, it pays 2-1. All other hands are graded by point value. The dealer wins all ties.
Online Pontoon is available on Real Time Gaming, Microgaming and Playtech platforms. Pontoon has a different meaning in Australia. Spanish 21 is called Pontoon there.
4 Things to Know About Blackjack Variations
There are a few important things to know about (playing) blackjack variations.
1. Online casinos offer a limited number of blackjack games and variations.
What you’ll quickly find out is that most casinos have a handful (or less) of blackjack games. Variations like Spanish 21 or live dealer blackjack are hard to find, and others like European blackjack or Perfect Pairs is hit or miss from one casino to the next.
The downside to this is not being able to find your variation, but finding your variation at a casino that’s not worth playing at for one reason or another (rouge, no adequate deposit methods or support, doesn’t accept US players, etc). To avoid any problems, I recommend using the toplists on each of our blackjack variation pages to find a starting point. Then read the reviews, and if a casino looks like it’ll be a fit, use the links on our page to visit the casino and create an account. That’ll be the best and fastest way to find a blackjack casino with the variations you want to play.
2. Not every variation is available online.
Unfortunately, not every blackjack variation is available online. In fact, some variations will even be hit or miss from one (brick and mortar) casino to the next.
3. Side-bets increase the house edge.
It’s important to understand that blackjack variations with side bets will have higher house edges. Some can be as high as 5, 10 or 15 percent. So, you’ll either want to avoid these side bets, or just avoid blackjack variations altogether. If you’re worried about the house edge sticking to traditional blackjack while using basic strategy is your best bet. You can learn more about house edge and why it matters here.
4. Blackjack tournaments and sit and goes are variations too.
We don’t have them listed on this page, but blackjack tournaments and sit and goes are another kind of blackjack variation. These are like poker tournaments in that you buy-in for a fixed amount and once you lose your chips you’re done. Only the top players (which varies from game to game) are paid.
We’ve already written about blackjack tournaments and sngs, as well as where you can play them. You can read that article here.