Blackjack Games & Variations

Blackjack might be a classic, but you can still find a
baffling number of attempts to improve on it. Most of these are
just simple rules variations, but others are different games
with different names. The difference seems to have something to
do with how many rules variations are used.

We’ll explain the most common rules variations below, and
also provide broad overviews of the most popular blackjack

Please note that some of these games are interesting enough
and offer enough complexity to warrant their own page. In
addition to the overviews below, there are also individual pages
on each of the following games.

The Effect of Rule Variations

Before we explain about all the rule variations in blackjack,
we should start by explaining one of their biggest effects.
There are lots of little aspects of the game that can be varied
by the casino, and most of these changes affect the house edge.
In some cases, it provides the player with better odds, but in
others, it hurts the players’ chances.

If you’re not familiar with what the house edge is, you
should read our detailed article explaining it. For the purposes
of right now, we’ll provide a quick explanation.

The house edge is the percentage of each bet that the casino
expects to keep over the long run. Most blackjack games offer a
house edge of between 0.5% and 1%–assuming you use perfect
basic strategy. So you’re expected to lose an average of between
50 cents and a dollar for every $100 you spend.

Here’s an example.

  • You’re playing blackjack for $100 per hand.
  • You’re playing 50 hands per hour.
  • You’re putting $5,000 into action per hour. ($100 x 50)
  • If you have a 1% game, you’re expected to lose $50 per hour.

You’ll win some hands and lose some others, but eventually,
as the number of hands you’ve played grows, you’ll get closer to
the expected results.

Common Blackjack Rules Variations

The following are some of the most common rule variations
you’ll see in blackjack games.

  • How Many Decks Are in Use?
  • How Does the Dealer Handle Soft 17?
  • Can You Double Down After Splitting?
  • Can You Split After Splitting?
  • Which Hands Can You Double Down On?
  • How Much Does a Blackjack Pay?

How Many Decks Are in Use?

Blackjack is normally spread using anywhere from a single
deck of cards to using 8 decks of cards. The more decks in play,
the worse the odds are for the player. The difference between a
single deck game and an 8-deck game is about 0.25%.

How Does the Dealer Handle Soft 17?

You’ll find different rules for how the house plays soft 17
from casino to casino. You’ll even find some casinos which have
different rules for this from table to table.

If the dealer stands on soft 17, that’s better for the
player. If she hits on soft 17, the house gains about 0.2%.

Can You Double Down After Splitting?

You’ve probably heard that you should always split aces and
eights. That’s because if you have an ace as your first card,
you have a good chance of getting a blackjack and the
corresponding 3 to 2 payout. If you can double down after
splitting, you can get more money into action.


You bet $100. You get two aces. You split them, so you now
have $100 on two hands. But you’re also doubling down. So
instead of having just $100 in action, you now have $400 in
action. If you hit your blackjack on both hands, you’ll win

Not bad for a bet that started off as just $100.

This doesn’t come into play as often as you might think,
though. If you can double down after splitting, you gain a
little more than 0.1%.

Can You Split After Splitting?

In other words, can you split again if you get doubles again?
Obviously, if you can, it’s in your best interest. Here’s
another example:

You get a pair of aces and you split them.

On those two new hands, you also get aces, so you split them

Now you have four hands, each of which is starting with an
ace, so you have four hands with fairly good odds of getting a

Of course, this doesn’t come into play often. It’s rare to
get a pair and then get another pair. So the difference in the
house is relatively small—0.05%. But every 1/100 of a percent

Which Hands Can You Double Down On?

In some casinos, you’re only allowed to double down on a
total of 10 or 11, or on a total of 9, 10, or 11. Obviously, you
want the flexibility to be able to double down any time you want

This is a significant rule variation. It can result in a 0.2%
change in the house edge.

How Much Does a Blackjack Pay?

For years, the standard payout for a blackjack has been 3 to
2. But enterprising casinos love to take advantage of the
unsophisticated, so they’ve begun spreading a blackjack game
where you only get paid out 6 to 5 for a blackjack.

This is a huge difference.

Imagine you’re playing for $100 a hand. Would you rather get
paid out at $150 for a blackjack, or $120? The difference in the house edge is staggering. You lose 1.3%
by accepting the lower payout for that hand.

Our best advice is to stay far away from any 6 to 5 blackjack
game you come across.

Popular Blackjack Games

Blackjack Switch

In “Blackjack Switch”, players make two bets and get two
hands. The player then has the option of trading the 2nd card of
each hand.


You get two hands. The first hand is an ace followed by an
eight. The second hand is an eight followed by a ten.

Ace of Hearts, 8 of Clubs and 8 of Diamonds, 10 of Spades

You swap the ten for the eight, so now you have a hand with
two eights and another hand with a natural.

8 of Clubs, 8 of Diamonds and Ace of Hearts, 10 of Spades

With any blackjack variation where the player gets
concessions, the casino makes up for it with other variant
rules. In the case of Blackjack Switch, a dealer 22 is no longer
a bust—now it’s a push.

The strategy implications are many, and we go into more
detail about those on the game’s complete page.

Chinese Blackjack

Chinese Blackjack is a regional variation with multiple other
names, varying based on region. It’s also known as 21-Point,
Ban-luck, Ban-gan, or Kampung Blackjack. It’s played with one or
two decks of cards and multiple players. It’s usually played
among a group, and the person acting as the dealer rotates.

Your goal is to get closer to 21 than the dealer without
going over. But each variation also has special hands which are
also winners.

One example of these special hands is called “Ban-luck”. This
is just what we’d call a “blackjack” or a “natural”, but it pays
off 2 to 1 instead of 3 to 2.

Another example is the “free hand”. This is any two cards
which total 15 points. If the player or dealer has this hand,
she can stop the round and immediately reshuffle. This hand is
an effective counter to a “Ban-luck”.

You’ll find the additional special winning hands and strategy
advice on the page devoted entirely to that game.

Double Attack

Double Attack Blackjack is popular in Atlantic City. It has
multiple rules differences from a standard game. It uses what’s
called a “Spanish” deck, which is a 48 card deck where the tens
are removed. The jack, queen, and king are still included,
though, and they each still count as 10 points.

The reason it’s called “Double Attack” is because the player
has an opportunity to double his bet after he sees the dealer’s
up card. A natural only pays even money.

The game also offers a side bet called the “Bustit” wager.
This pays off if the dealer busts with exactly three cards. The
payout varies based on which three cards the dealer has—for
example, if the dealer has a suited 888, the payoff on this bet
is 200 to 1.

You’ll find complete details for Double Attack Blackjack,
including the correct basic strategy, on the appropriate page.

Double Exposure

Double Exposure Blackjack is a variation where the dealer
gets both her cards face up. This is a big bonus for the player,
but there are lots of additional rules to compensate for this.
For example, the dealer wins on all ties, and a natural only
pays even money instead of 3 to 2.

The house edge for this game is excellent, but it also
requires multiple adjustments to your strategy. You’ll find
complete details on the appropriate page.

Match Play 21

Match Play 21 is another blackjack game that uses a Spanish
deck. (See our notes on Double Attack Blackjack above.) The big
difference in this version of the game and the traditional game
is the payout structure.

Here are some examples:

  • If you get a blackjack, you get paid off 3 to 1 instead of 3 to 2.
  • If you get three 7s in your hand, and if the dealer also has a 7, then you
    get paid off 40 to 1.
  • If you get the 6, 7, and 8 of spades, you get paid off at 3 to 1.

Those are just examples of the bonus payouts. You’ll find
complete rules and strategy advice on the page devoted entirely
to Match Play 21.

Perfect Pairs

Perfect Pairs Blackjack plays just like regular blackjack,
but it offers an additional “perfect pairs” side bet. This side
bet has to match your original bet. You win this side bet by
getting dealt a pair.

The payout for this side bet varies based on which pair you
get. For example:

  • If you get a pair of jacks that have different colors and suits, your
    payoff is 5 to 1.
  • If you get a pair of jacks of the same color but different suits, the
    payout is 10 to 1.
  • A “perfect pair” is a pair of the same suit, and it offers a 30 to 1

This barely counts as a blackjack variation, as it’s really
just an available side bet with a relatively high house edge of
6%. You could ignore this side bet entirely and just play
regular blackjack at a perfect pairs table.

Players Edge 21

Players Edge 21 is almost identical to Spanish 21, but the
differences are great enough that it warrants its own entry and
its own page. Look further down this page for an overview of
Spanish 21, or check out the complete details for Spanish 21 on
its own page.

When you finish, realize that Players Edge 21 has the
following additional rules:

  • Insurance pays 5 to 1 for a suited blackjack.
  • Two cards of the same suit and rank are automatic winners no matter what.

You can find more details, including an analysis of the
game’s probabilities, detailed rules, and strategy on the
appropriate page.


Pontoon is an Australian variation of blackjack that
resembles Spanish 21. You’ll also find an online blackjack game
called pontoon, but it’s a completely different game. The
overview here is for the land-based, Australian version of the

Pontoon uses Spanish decks (see my notes on Double Attack
Blackjack above). You also get bonus payouts for the following

  • Any five card hand that totals 21 pays out 3 to 2.
  • Any six card hand that totals 21 pays out 2 to 1.
  • Any seven (or more) card hand that totals 21 pays out 3
    to 1.
  • Any hand of 678 or 777 with mixed suits pays out 3 to 2.
  • Any hand of 678 or 777 with the same suit pays out 2 to
  • Any hand of 678 or 777 of spades pays out 3 to 1.
  • Any hand of 777 of the same suit pays out extra if the
    dealer also has a 7 showing.
    • The bonus payout is $1,000 on bets of less than $25.
    • It’s $5,000 on bets of $25 or more.

In the event of the big bonus payout, all the other players
at the table get a $50 envy bonus regardless of how their hands
play out.

You don’t get any of these bonus payouts if you double down
on your original hand, though.

You’ll find more details about the rules, house edge, and
appropriate strategy for pontoon on the appropriate page.

Internet pontoon is available at most online casinos. The
five card 21 pays out 2 to 1, but the dealer doesn’t show an up
card. The dealer also wins all ties. The Internet variation has
multiple other rules changes which are covered in detail on our
main pontoon page.

Spanish 21

Spanish 21 is a popular blackjack game that sometimes offers
a player better odds than regular blackjack. It depends on the
rules variations at the casino where you play. Like pontoon and
Double Attack Blackjack, Spanish 21 removes the 10s from the
deck, leaving 48 cards.

Of course, removing four of the 10s from the deck decreases a
player’s chances of getting a natural, but Spanish 21 makes up
for it with other generous rule variations. Most of the rules
variations are just the most generous aspects of standard rules,
like allowing doubling after splitting and allowing re-splitting

A player blackjack always beats a dealer blackjack, too,
which is a big improvement over a push. In fact, a player 21
always beats a dealer 21.

Spanish 21 also offers a number of bonus payouts for various
hands. These are similar to the bonus payouts in pontoon.

You’ll find complete details, rules, and strategy advice on
the Spanish 21 page.

Super Fun 21

Super Fun 21 is a popular game in Las Vegas casinos.
Blackjack only pays even money, but the game offers lots of
other rules that are favorable to the players.

A player total of 20 always wins if the player has six or
more cards. A player total of 21 always wins when it’s made up
of five or more cards—in this case, it pays out 2 to 1, too.
Player blackjacks always win, and player blackjacks of diamonds
pay 2 to 1.

Super Fun 21 doesn’t offer the best odds in the casino, but
it can be an entertaining variation to try. You’ll find detailed
strategy advice, all the rules, and how to play on the Super Fun
21 page on this site.


Blackjack comes in a lot of different varieties with a lot of
different rules. One blackjack game might have significant
differences from another game, based on how the dealer has to
play her hand or which options the player has available to him.
Other blackjack games feature rules that are significantly
different enough to warrant their own names.

Many of these games offer interesting side bets or bonus
payouts for specific hands. Sometimes they’ll also change the
nature of the game by allowing the player to see the dealer’s
hole card or allowing the player to play two hands and swap
cards from either hand.

But in all cases, when a casino giveth, it also taketh away.
Often this takes the form of a lowered payout on a natural—even
money payouts on a blackjack are common in these game
variations. Strategy decisions vary based on the options in
play. This site offers additional pages with specific strategy
advice for the games with significant changes.