Blackjack Variants: The Best and the Worst

Believe it or not, casinos are out to take your money and not to play fair (I know, shock horror) and the game of blackjack, in its classic form, is one of the most equally weighted games there is, which annoys them no end. If played using basic strategy, which is a simple way of playing that uses mathematics and statistics to level the playing field, then there is no house edge and if you factor in card counting then the players actually have the edge. Obviously the casinos are not very happy with this.

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One of the ways that they get around this is to increase the number of decks, which is what happened in Atlantic City where the casinos can’t legally ban or remove a card counter from their premises. Another way, and the most popular way, is simply to tweak the rules of the game, give it a flashy new name and then remove all those who try to count cards. This is how they operate in Vegas and much of the gambling world, and it is why there are so many different blackjack variants around.

Not all of them are bad though and there are those that actually give you a better chance of winning than the classic games of blackjack. The trick is to know which is which before you head for the casino, as you don’t want to spend your night throwing your money away on a game that favours the house.

The Best Blackjack Games

Classic Blackjack, which is blackjack in its purest form, is one of the best blackjack games that you can play. This game typically uses just one or two decks and these are not shuffled throughout play. This is not only great for card counters, but it also improves the general odds of winning for regular players. Unfortunately, these games are not as commonplace as you would expect. The simple fact is that these are the variants that casinos can get away with not featuring, as the vast majority of their clientele are casual players and will be more attracted to a game with a fancy name and multitudes of tweaks and side bets, than they would to Classic Blackjack. Still, there are casinos and card rooms that offer this version on the Vegas Strip and elsewhere, but whilst single decks are somewhat rare, double decks are much more common.

Blackjack Switch is often cited as the game with the lowest house edge and therefore the biggest chance for the player to win. This is an online game that was created by one of the most popular casino software providers, and is therefore available at a multitude of online casinos and card rooms. Blackjack Switch uses standard blackjack rules with a twist: players play two hands and are allowed to swap the top cards from each of those hands. The game uses a set number of decks but as the cards are constantly shuffled there is no possibility for card counting. With basic strategy — adapted for this particular game — then the player doesn’t need to use any card counting to get on top and give themselves a huge edge.

Double Exposure Blackjack is another game with a low house edge. This is known by many names, but Double Exposure is the most common. Standard rules of blackjack apply here with the main difference being that all cards, including those held by the dealer, are held face-up at all times. This allows the player to adapt their play and they hand accordingly and can lead to some very big wins, especially if the split and double options are used correctly.

32 Red also has a game of blackjack that is well worth playing. This goes by the standard name of Blackjack and the rules are the same, but with one important difference: players can repeat deals. After every deal, both for them and for the dealer, they are faced with an option that allows them to pay a specified amount to be dealt another card or to force the dealer to take another card. How much they have to pay depends on the card on show. For instance, if the dealer’s upward is an ace, then it will cost considerably more to force them to deal again than if their card was a 4, 5 or 6, which are all generally favourable. The software used by 32 Red is used by other online casinos so this game is available elsewhere.

The Worst Blackjack Games

It will come as no surprise that this list is long than the former list, as there are many blackjack games out there that have a high house edge. To begin, avoid all games that pay even money for a Blackjack, also known as a “natural”. It doesn’t matter if it’s a single deck or even if it’s Double Exposure or Switch, because this will be enough to tip the favour towards the house in both cases. You should also avoid the games that use 8 deck shoes, such as all of those in Atlantic City. In fact, Atlantic City is really only a worthwhile destination for card counters, who by law can not be removed from the casino if they are caught.

Super Fun Blackjack is as fun as its name suggests, and that’s why it draws in the casual players, but there is nothing here for the serious blackjack professional. The odds are tipped well and truly in the favour of the house and extended play, even with solid strategy, will surely result in a loss. The same goes for Spanish 21, which was basically invented as a way to give casinos a greater edge when it comes to the game of blackjack. Some casinos offer this and nothing else, and they might even tell you that Spanish 21 is more fun and has more options for the player, but they’d be lying if they did and they should be avoided. Yes there are some neat options that make Spanish 21 viable, but these are countered by removing things that gave the player an edge in the first place. Spanish 21 is a franchise game, but there are those who don’t pay the license fee to use it in their casino and simply give it another name. So watch out for any game resembling Spanish 21; names include Match Play 21 and Match 21.

European games of Blackjack, including European Blackjack and, more importantly, Pontoon, should also be avoided. In Pontoon the player doesn’t get to see the dealer’s up-card, which renders basic strategy obsolete and puts everyone at a disadvantage. The odds for both of these games are tipped in the favour of the casino, so try and stick to Vegas Blackjack or Classic Blackjack games if you can, even in European casinos these should be on offer.

All the many side bets and bonuses can draw in even the strictest of blackjack professionals, but very few of these are worth the risk. If you want a bonus for your play then you should always try to strike a deal with the casino beforehand, even if you can get 10% back on your losses then it will be worth your while. Casino management will only give you the time of day if you bet big, they are unlikely to impressed by your $2 a hand play.