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Basic Blackjack Strategy
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Basics of Blackjack
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Different Blackjack Strategies
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Blackjack Variations
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Blackjack Variations

Due to its popularity, blackjack has inspired a number of spin-off games and available side bets. Many of these games vanish quickly and none have really improved on the original, and certainly not in terms of house edge. You may find the following blackjack variations offered during your casino travels.

Multiple-Action Blackjack

Multiple-action blackjack is about as pure a variation as you could hope for. The rules are the same as traditional blackjack, but it allows players to play three rounds of blackjack using one hand against a single dealer upcard. Players can make either two or three separate bets on the numbered betting spots at their seat. Each spot represents a separate round of play. Since the player plays the same hand three times they are dealt only one normal two-card hand. However, the dealer, initially receives only one single upcard (no down card is dealt). Players decide how to play their hand against the dealer’s upcard – just like normal blackjack. All the options are available: double, split, insurance, etc. If a player busts, all bets are immediately collected.

After all the players have completed their hands, the dealer plays his first round. A single card is drawn to his one upcard. Then the dealer completes his hand using the given house rules (typically standing on soft 17). When the dealer completes play on his hand he then compares his hand to all the remaining player hands. The winning and tied hands in the first round are paid off and then all the dealers’ cards are discarded except for the original upcard. A second followed by a third round then commence and follow the same steps as the first round. When all three rounds have been completed all cards are discarded and the player place new bets.

Realize that each bet is resolved according to the results of it’s respective round. Suppose you made three bets and you were dealt a 14 and the dealer’s upcard was a 9. You hit and receive a 5 for a total of 19. Your play is done. The dealer then plays out his first hand. He draws a king and has a 19. You push the first bet. He discards the king and begins his second hand. He draws a 7. He must draw to his total of 16 and he gets an 8. You win your second bet. The dealer discards the 7 and 8, and he begins his third hand. He draws an ace and, thus, has 20. That beats your 19, and you lose your third bet.

The important thing to keep in mind with multiple-action blackjack is that you are really just playing three separate hands of regular blackjack. It is very important that you stick to basic strategy. If you do, the house edge will be the same as for a regular game. It can be difficult sticking to basic strategy when you could lose all your bets should you bust. It’s tough to lose two or three bets right away, but you still must hit your stiffs when it’s called for. Imagine it’s just three consecutive hands in a regular game; I hope you would be consistent in that instance. If multi-action makes you too tentative to play out your hands properly, you shouldn’t play it.

For multiple-action play your bankroll must be higher than in regular blackjack. You’ll be getting in two or three times as many hands per hour. This will cause greater fluctuation than when you make single bets at a traditional blackjack table.

Spanish 21

This exotic variation spares nothing when it comes to spicing up blackjack. Spanish 21 has caught on with the gaming public because if it’s “everything-but-the-kitchen-sink” approach. Let’s take a look at the list of rules and special payoffs:

  • Player’s blackjack beats dealer’s blackjack. Still pays 3 to 2
  • Player’s total of 21 beats dealer’s total of 21. (note, 21 not blackjack)
  • Double down on any number of cards.
  • Split pairs, including aces, up to four hands.
  • All split hands can be hit and doubled on two or more cards.
  • Double down rescue. If a player is dissatisfied with the doubled hand, he can take back the doubled portion of the bet and forfeit the original bet. This doesn’t apply to busted hands.
  • Bonus payoffs on 6-7-8, 7-7-7, and 21’s consisting of five or more cards.
  • 7-7-7 of the same suit and a dealer upcard of 7 wins jackpot up to $5,000.
  • Late surrender is offered.
  • Played with 6 “Spanish packs,” each consisting of 2-9, jack, queen, king, ace (no 10’s).
  • Dealer hits soft 17.

Amazingly this crazy game seems to have everything. But did you notice that something was missing? How about the lack of 10’s? The special 48-card “Spanish pack” doesn’t have any 10s. We know that 10s are valuable for blackjacks doubling down, and making the dealer bust. The simple exclusion of the 10’s wipes out the advantages offered by all those player-friendly bells and whistles.

Unfortunately applying basic strategy from regular blackjack will give the house a 2% edge over the player. A specific basic strategy created for Spanish 21 knocks this edge down to about 0.8%. Which is very good, but not as good as the 0.5% offered when using basic strategy in regular blackjack. In addition, the proper strategy is complex and differs significantly from normal basic strategy: you hit more hands, double less often, and must consider the specific composition of your hand because of the special bonuses.

Except as a novelty, I wouldn’t recommend spending too much time or energy on this gimmicky game. It’s simpler and more profitable parent is more deserving of your efforts.

Side Bets

Some casinos are adding side bets to blackjack to spice up the game and attract more players. The trend in side bets is to offer jackpot-type bonuses for specific card combinations. It would be unfortunate if these side bets became a permanent part of the game. We are already inundated with poker variations that offer jackpot side bets. Some might call this a old fashioned way of thinking but anticipating the next card after being dealt an initial ace is enough drama for me.

Really the only thing you need to know about side bets is that they almost universally carry a steep house edge. For example if we take a look at the high-tech game 21 Madness that is trying to catch on with players and casinos. You make a one-dollar side bet. If you are dealt a blackjack, you get to press a giant button and a digital readout tells you what jackpot you’ve earned – between $5 and $1 000. As tempting as this seems, if one wanted to press a button and win money one would play one of the hundreds of slots machines in the casino.

The real deal on 21 Madness is its house edge. Players can expect a blackjack about 1 in every 21 hands. The average jackpot on the side bet is said to be about $14. This puts the house edge for the side bet at about 28.6%.

However, sometimes the suckers get their revenge. One of the first popular side bets was the over/under 13 bet. Players bet on whether their first two cards would be less than or greater than 13. The casino advantage was 6.5% on the over bet and 10% on the under bet. So why with a nice house edge like that has this bet all but disappeared? It turns out that card-counters concocted a counting system that made over/under a very profitable investment. The casino caught on and the bet went under for good.

The best way to find out about any side bet or new fangled twist that can be exploited is to be plugged into Internet discussion groups or subscribe to blackjack newsletters.

Video Blackjack

Unlink its cousin Video Poker, Video blackjack has never caught on. One main reason could be that most video blackjack machines only pay back 1 to 1 on a blackjack. That works out to about a 2.3% bite out of your return. You ma find the rare machine that offers the right blackjack payoff, but even then you’ll be missing the social interaction that make for much of blackjack’s appeal

When compared to slot machines, video blackjack – even with the reduced pay of naturals – offers a better return. If you want to play for low stakes (nickel and quarter machines can be found) or practice your basic strategy in less intimidating conditions, the machines are a good choice (although you can now practice on your computer at home for free). If you play at dollar machines, realize that you’re playing at a much faster rate than at the tables. Combine that increased speed with a bigger negative expectation and your losses can mount quickly. The crowded table may suddenly seem quite cozy.

Resources: Double Down Chart | Hit and Stand Chart | Splitting Pairs Chart