There are a couple situations where a game of Blackjack will deviate from the procedures outlined above.
Insurance/Even Money:?Insurance is a side bet offered when the dealer has an Ace as an up-card. Before anyone plays their hands the dealer will offer insurance (or even money if you have a Blackjack). You can put up a wager equal to half your original wager or less, which will get paid 2 to 1 if the dealer has a ten as blackjack 21 their hole card. So, put simply, you’re betting on whether or not the dealer has a blackjack. If you win, you get paid 2 to 1. As a basic strategy player you should always say no?to insurance and even money. Only a card counter is skilled enough to play this side bet. Once all the players who want to buy insurance place their bets, the dealer will check her hole card (using a special viewing window in the table). If they have a ten underneath, the dealer got a Blackjack, and will take everyone’s original wager. Anyone blackjack 21 who bought insurance will get paid 2 to 1 on their insurance wager. If the dealer does not have a ten underneath, she will take any insurance wagers that were made and the game will continue like it normally would. If you hold a blackjack while the dealer has an ace showing, you will be offered “even money.” Don’t be fooled! This is just another name for what is mathematically the same as insurance. If you take even money, your blackjack will not get paid 3 to 2 like it normally would. It will just get one times the original wager (even money) regardless of whether or not the dealer has a blackjack. If you do not take even money and the dealer has a blackjack your wager will push and your blackjack will not get paid. If you don’t take even money and the dealer does not have a blackjack you will be paid 3 to 2 like you normally would. Again, you should never take even money if you are not a professional card counter. To better understand the difference (or lack thereof) between insurance and even money watch this video from our blackjack 21 premium video course: The Truth about Insurance.
Non-Insurable Dealer Blackjack:?It is possible for the dealer to have a blackjack without offering insurance or even money. If the dealer is showing a ten up, they will check their hole card automatically, before anyone is allowed to play their hands. If there is an ace underneath, the dealer has a blackjack and all bets on the table will be taken except for any player blackjacks, which would just push. Insurance is only offered when the dealer is showing an ace.
Dead hand: If all players at the table bust before the dealer plays their hand, it’s considered a “dead hand” and the dealer will flip over her hole card (so the cameras can see it) and then sweep the cards up and put them in the discard tray. There is no reason to play the dealer’s hand and waste cards because the dealer has already beaten the player(s).
Side bets: In the last 2 decades or so, Blackjack side bets have become popular. Insurance is the only side bet that is universally offered on all Blackjack tables and is a big part of beating the game for a card counter. But there are hundreds of other kinds of side bets on the felts these days. Most of them will require you to place a bet at the same time you place your main wager. You can be betting on getting a pair as your first two cards, betting on if the dealer’s cards will match yours, betting on your hand making a poker hand with the dealer’s up-card, betting on whether or not the dealer with bust, etc. These side bets are everywhere and have various different procedures and pay tables so we will not explain them here. Just know that they are not part of the game of Blackjack itself but may affect the normal dealing procedure of the game. We never recommend playing these side bets. Casinos only offer them because they have a huge advantage over you. Don’t be a sucker and learn how to count cards instead.
Blackjack Rule Variations
There are many different rule variations and conditions that can affect how the game of Blackjack is played. In other words, not all blackjack games are created equal, in terms of the odds and favorability to the player. Here is an overview of some of the rules that will affect the odds of the game.
Doubling After Splitting (DAS):?This simply means you can double down on a hand you just split. Some casinos will allow you to double after splitting and some don’t. Most casinos do allow this rule and it IS?advantageous to the player.
Re-Splitting Aces (RSA):?Some casinos allow the player to re-split their aces after they have already split a pair of aces, meaning if you just split a pair of aces and received another ace as the next card, you are allowed to split to a 3rd hand up to a total of 4 hands. The ace is the most powerful card for the player so it is a very advantageous rule for the player if the casino allows RSA. Typically speaking, even if the casino offers RSA, you are still only allowed to take one card on each ace. You can’t double after splitting an ace and you can’t take additional cards. This is because the casinos know the Ace is the most powerful card and they are trying to limit situations where the player?has an advantage.
Early Surrender: This is a dead rule that hasn’t been in casinos in the United States since the 70s. It is the same as the usual “surrender” rule only you can surrender before the dealer checks for a blackjack or offers insurance. When it was still around it was highly favorable to the player, to the point where a perfect basic strategy player could have a small edge, without counting cards. It went extinct for that reason. Early surrender is also the reason why some perfectionists will call the common surrender rule by its proper name, “late surrender” to distinguish it from its counterpart.
6 to 5 Blackjacks: Some casinos that offer blackjack will reduce the 3 to 2 payout for Blackjacks down to only 6 to 5. This increases the house edge and takes more money out of people’s pockets. It also makes card counting basically useless. Even casinos that have this rule may not have it at every table. Be sure to read the rules on the felt before you sit down.
CSM Blackjack: Some casinos use Continuous Shuffling Machines on their blackjack tables. This is a machine that continually shuffles the cards as they are being played. Instead of putting the cards in the discard tray until the end of the shoe, the dealer will continually feed the machine all the used cards and there is never an end to the shoe. This also makes card counting impossible and worsens the odds for a basic strategy player.
Single Deck versus Multi-deck: All else being equal, the house edge on Blackjack gets higher for every deck you add to the game. As a rule of thumb, a 6 deck game will have a higher house edge than a 2 deck game if all other conditions are equal. The problem is, all the other conditions are rarely equal. Often times a single deck game will not allow doubling after splitting or re-splitting aces and will have 6 to 5 blackjacks, whereas an 8 deck game in the same casino might allow DAS, RSA, and have 3:2 Blackjacks?and end up with a lower house edge. There are many trade-offs when it comes to the rules and number of decks.
Deck/Shoe?Penetration?(PEN):?This refers to the percentage of the cards that are actually dealt out over the course of a shoe. Usually the there is a cut card inserted in the shoe toward the back of the cards to be dealt. When the cut card is dealt out in the course of the game, it signals to the dealer that the shoe is running out of cards and the dealer will shuffle the cards and start a new shoe. While a quarter deck of cards is plenty sufficient to finish a round of Blackjack, most casinos will cut off much more than that (several decks) to limit the profitability of the game for a card counter. For a card counter, the depth of penetration can make or break a blackjack game.
Games Masquerading As Blackjack
Blackjack is a very popular game in the United States because many people try to beat it by counting cards. Because of its popularity and commonly known rules, many casinos have created Blackjack variants that use a lot of Blackjack rules and terminology to try and piggyback on Blackjack’s notoriety. Casinos know they are creating new games entirely, but they want you to think the new games are the same as blackjack so that you can feel like you’re playing a familiar game?and the casino can enjoy a higher house edge. Here are some of the Blackjack doppelg?ngers you should avoid:
Super Fun 21: This is usually pretending to be a single-deck blackjack game where you can surrender on any number of cards, you can double on any number of cards, and you can get paid automatically if you have a 6 card 20 or a 5 card 21 and a player blackjack always wins money! It sounds like a dream. The only problem is that blackjacks only pay even money (except for diamond suited blackjacks). That one change to how blackjacks get paid erases all the benefit of the “super fun” rules they give you and makes the house edge almost 3 times worse than regular blackjack. This game is not Blackjack. Stay away!
Spanish 21: This game is very popular in many parts of the country. Many of the same rules as above are also present in this game but blackjacks still pay 3 to 2 and you can re-double (double down twice on the same hand). That sounds awesome right!? WRONG! They remove all the 10s from the shoe (the face cards are still in there but no ten?cards). If you know anything about counting cards, you know the ten-value cards and aces are the most valuable cards for the player. Removing all the tens from the deck erases all the awesome you get from the better rules. It also has a more complicated basic strategy than conventional blackjack so most people do not play correctly and thus?most people are playing at a much bigger disadvantage than what the game insert would print about the game. The casinos love Spanish 21 players. This game is not Blackjack. STAY AWAY!
Free Bet Blackjack: In this game you play just like Blackjack but instead of supplying your own money to double down and split, the casino will let you do it for free but still pay you as if you had wagered the money. Sounds too good to be true right? It is! In exchange for the free roll, if the dealer goes over 21 with a hand total of 22, then all bets push (even though the dealer busted). BARF! This doubles the house edge of normal Blackjack. This is not Blackjack. Stay away!
Blackjack Switch: This game is a little different. You start with 2 hands of blackjack and you can choose to switch the top cards of each hand if you think it will make you a better set of two hands. Any of us who have played blackjack a long time wish we could do that sometimes so this sounds like it could really save your hands right? NOPE! Just like Free Bet Blackjack, the dealer pushes all bets if they get a 22 and player Blackjacks only pay even money. This is not Blackjack! No thank you! There are many more games masquerading as Blackjack that we haven’t mentioned here because it would take all day. Don’t be fooled and make sure you’re playing real blackjack before you sit down!