Blackjack is one of the most popular card games in the casino still, and it has a seemingly-endless number of variations. Most of the time, I advise casino game players to not put as much stock into the house edge as most writers do. But when comparing one blackjack game with another, everything else is equal—the number of hands per hour and the average bet size per hand doesn’t change from one variation to another.

The house edge, of course, is a way to statistically measure the casino’s advantage over the player. It’s expressed as a percentage of each bet that the casino expects to win in the long run—meaning over the course of thousands of hands. The amount of money the casino expects to win in the long run bears little resemblance to the results you’ll see in the short run. On a single hand of blackjack where you’ve bet $100, you’ll lose $100, win $100, or win $150. But the house edge is 0.5%, which means the house expects you to lose 50 cents on that hand on average. That’s over the course of thousands of hands.

The house edge is also a rough reflection of how hard or easy it is to walk away a winner in a particular session, especially in a low volatility game like blackjack. All of which leads me to the point I’m trying to make—I’ve researched and found the 10 best variations of blackjack based on their house edge, as well as by how much fun they are to play.

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1- Blackjack

Basic blackjack is often the best blackjack variation you can play. Of course, the table conditions vary from one game to another and from one casino to another. But with the right table conditions, the house edge for a blackjack game can be well under 0.5%.

For example, the Bellagio deals a blackjack game with a house edge of just 0.19%. The game is dealt from 2 decks, and the minimum bet is $100 per hand. The dealer has to stand on a soft total of 17, and you’re allowed to double after splitting. If you’re playing 80 hands per hour at that table, you’re putting $8000 into action each hour. But your expected loss on that action is only $15.20.

When people describe the house edge for a standard blackjack game, they’re assuming that you’re using perfect basic strategy. If you’re not familiar with the concept of basic strategy in blackjack, you should get familiar with it. Basic strategy is the mathematically optimal way to play every possible hand in every possible situation in blackjack.

That might sound like it would be overwhelming, but the number of potential situations in blackjack is smaller than you might think. After all, the dealer can only have 1 of 10 possible cards showing face-up. And you can only have a limited number of totals, many of which can be lumped together into one category.

For example, you don’t need to memorize a separate strategy for any hard total of 11 or less. You’re always going to hit such a hand, because it’s impossible to bust such a hand. You’ll also always stand on any total of 18 or higher. There’s no possible situation where hitting that hand makes sense. You’re too likely to bust. This leaves you with decisions to make on totals between 12 and 17.

You can memorize basic strategy or buy a strategy card in the gift shop of the hotel. Regular ol’ blackjack is plenty entertaining without rules variations, too. You should know, too, that if you ignore basic strategy and just use your “good judgment,” the house edge is closer to 2.5%.

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2- Blackjack Switch

In Blackjack Switch, you must play 2 hands at a time. You start by placing 2 bets, one for each hand. But the reason it’s a “variation” is because you have an option in this game that would be considered cheating in a regular blackjack game:

You can switch a card from one of your 2 hands with a card from the other hand. Most blackjack variants have one simple change which benefits the player, and Blackjack Switch is an excellent example of this. But to maintain the house edge, the casinos also change some of the other rules to make up for this change. In the case of Blackjack Switch, a dealer total of 22 is no longer considered a bust. It’s a push against any player hand that didn’t bust. They also add one other wrinkle that has a major effect on the house edge—blackjack only pays even money instead of 3 to 2.

If you’re new to the game, that might warrant a little explanation: In a standard blackjack game, a 2-card hand totaling 21 is considered a “natural” or a “blackjack.” It pays off at 3 to 2, normally. This means if you’re betting $100 a hand, a blackjack pays off at 3 to 2, or $150. That’s a huge part of why blackjack has such a low house edge.

To top that off, Blackjack Switch also has an extra layer of strategy compared to other blackjack games. You must decide if and which cards to switch. It’s fun, but it’s harder to play perfect cards with these variant rules in place. The house edge is around 0.6% if you use perfect basic strategy and switch cards in an optimal way.

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3- Spanish 21

One of my favorite blackjack variations is Spanish 21, in no small part because of the multiple changes to the regular game. Also, if you learn to play with appropriate strategy, Spanish 21 has great odds for the player. The first difference is that Spanish 21 uses a “Spanish deck.” That’s a 48-card deck, and it’s the same as a standard deck with the 10s removed. (The jacks, queens, and kings are still worth 10, though, and they’re still in the deck.)

A natural is always a winner, regardless of what the dealer has, and it always pays off at 3 to 2. You’re always allowed to split after doubling. You can split up to 4 hands, even if you have aces. Spanish 21 also has late surrender, the most generous rule related to surrendering that you can use. You can double down on any total. A player with a total of 21 always wins.

You also get bonus payouts for totals of 21 with certain numbers of cards in them:

  • A 5-card total of 21 pays off at 3 to 2.
  • A 6 card total of 21 pays off at 2 to 1.
  • A 7-card (or higher) total of 21 pays off at 3 to 1.

There’s also a big bonus payout for hands with 777 in them. This is called the super bonus, and it pays off when a player has 777 of the same suit versus a dealer’s 7.

You get $1000 for any bet less than $25, and you get $5000 if you’re betting more than $25 per hand. The other players at the table get a $50 envy bonus. With all these rules that favor the player, it might seem like Spanish 21 is a no-brainer for the player. In fact, one might wonder how the house has an edge at all.

But the removal of those 10s has a major effect on the house edge. It gives the house 2%, which is more than enough to pay for all the other rules. Spanish 21 has its own basic strategy, and if you use perfect basic strategy, you can keep the house edge to between 0.5% and 0.7%. The variation is based on game conditions like whether the dealer hits a soft 17 or not.

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4- Pontoon

There are actually 2 different card games that go by the name of pontoon. In some countries—Australia, for example—pontoon is the same game as Spanish 21. In the United Kingdom, pontoon resembles traditional blackjack, but it has some different jargon. You won’t hear the words “stick” and “twist” at an American blackjack table, but that kind of language is used when discussing pontoon.

Since I already covered Spanish 21, I’ll discuss the British version of blackjack here in the section on pontoon. The first thing to know is that pontoon is played with a single deck.

It also uses the following playing options instead of “hitting” and “standing”:

  • Twist – This is the same thing as hitting
  • Stick – This is the same thing as standing.
  • Buy – This means you’re doubling your bet, but it’s not the same thing as doubling down.

You can “buy” on any hand as long as it has 4 cards or less. You can also twist after buying. The cards are worth the same as they are in blackjack. A pontoon is the same thing as a “natural” or a “blackjack.” It’s an ace and a 10—a 2-card hand totaling 21. A 5-card trick is any 5-card that didn’t go over 21. You can also have a hand of 4 cards or less with fewer than 21 points. These hands are worth whatever the point value is.

Any hand of 22 points or more is considered a bust. If the dealer has a pontoon, he immediately wins all bets on the table. The house edge for pontoon is lower than 0.5% at most online casinos. I’ve heard that they don’t really play pontoon in England anymore, but I have no first-hand experience with British casinos.

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5- Double Exposure

In a standard blackjack game, the dealer has one card face-up and another card face-down. But in Double Exposure, both dealer cards are dealt face-up. This, of course, gives back some percentage to the player, so the casinos have other variations of the rules in place to compensate for that and maintain their house edge.

The dealer wins all ties, for one thing—unless you have a blackjack. You also only get even money when you get a “natural” or a “blackjack.” Depending on the other rules variations in place, the house edge for Double Exposure is between 0.7% and 1.5%, These rules variations include all the usual conditions that can change from one table to another, like whether the dealer hits a soft 17 and how many times you can split.

Some basic strategy decisions become much clearer when you know the dealer’s total, but there’s still a mathematically optimal play for every potential situation. You should memorize the basic strategy for the game and never deviate. Otherwise, the house edge skyrockets—for the average player, by about 2%.

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6- Super Fun 21

This is another blackjack variation where they make up for everything they give to the player by only paying even money on a blackjack.

Here are all the cool things you get to do in exchange for that reduced payout, though:

  • You can double after splitting
  • You can res-split pairs—even aces—up to 4 hands.
  • You can double down no matter how many cards you have.
  • You can use the late surrender option no matter how many cards you have.
  • You can also use “double down rescue,” which means you can surrender after doubling.
  • A 6-card hand with a total of 20 or lower is an automatic win.
  • A 5-card hand totaling 21 is also an automatic win, AND it pays off at 2 to 1.
  • If you get a suited blackjack in diamonds, you get a 2 to 1 payout.

These all sound like great options for the player, and they are, but they are compensated for and then some by the reduced payout on a natural.

In fact, the house edge for Super Fun 21 isn’t great compared to the other games on this list. Even with perfect basic strategy, the lowest house edge you can get at this game is 1.16%. That’s better than most casino games, but it doesn’t compare to a traditional blackjack with favorable rules, either. And if you stick with traditional blackjack games, you don’t have to memorize a new basic strategy like you do with Super Fun 21.

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7- Zappit

Zappit blackjack is one of the newer blackjack variations on this list. Basically, if you have a 15 through 17 (or, in some casinos, 18), you can discard your hand and start over. This is called “zapping” the hand.

If the dealer gets a total of 22, instead of busting, his hand is treated as a push. If you play with perfect basic strategy, the house edge is right around 1.2%. You’ll “zap” probably 1 out of 5 hands. Like any other variation of blackjack, casinos have some condition that change from one casino to another.

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8- Free Bet Blackjack

Did you know that 3 of the games on this list were invented by Geoff Hall? He’s responsible for Free Bet Blackjack, Zappit, AND Blackjack Switch. I’ve already covered those, but Free Bet Blackjack warrants mention, too. The reason it’s called “Free Bet” Blackjack is because you can split or double without having to put up the extra bet that you’re normally required to place. And if the cards go your way, you get paid as if you HAD put up that money.

If you’ve learned nothing from the other game descriptions on this page, you’ve probably figured out that the gods of blackjack don’t give you anything for free. If a new rule favors you, there’s another new rule that favors the casino as much or more. In Free Bet Blackjack, the dealer pushes on a total of 22 instead of busting. (Yes, this is the same rule that gets the house edge back up to where it needs to be in Blackjack Switch.) You don’t get free doubles or free splits on every hand, though—your hand must qualify.

To qualify for free doubling, you must have a total of 9, 10, or 11. You can still double on other totals, but you must put up the extra wager to do so. If the player wins, he gets paid off as if he had put up the extra bet, even though he didn’t. To qualify for free splitting, you must have any pair that’s NOT a pair of 10s. The casino uses a “free bet” chip on your split hands. This chip is replaced with a chip worth what your original bet was—assuming it wins. If your hand lost, it doesn’t matter anyway.

Something else to keep in mind is that a push is just as bad as a loss when it comes to the free bet. You don’t get to replace the free bet chip with a chip that has value in the event of a push. This creates some basic strategy changes for the free bet. Mostly, you play more aggressively (risk busting) than you would otherwise. The house edge is about 1% if you play with correct basic strategy,  but don’t forget that you must adjust your strategy accordingly because of the new rules.

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9- Most Liberal 21

Most Liberal 21 is one of the rare blackjack variations, but I think it might catch on and become more popular. One of the rules variations for this one is that you get a 2 to 1 payout with a suited blackjack—this means that the 10 an ace in your hand are of the same suit—clubs, diamonds, hearts, or spades.

Another option you have in Most Liberal 21 is the option of doubling on your first 2, 3, or 4 cards. You can also split an unlimited number of times. You can re-split, hit, and/or double down on aces, too. Late surrender is also the order of the day. But blackjacks (naturals) only pay even money if they’re not suited. This more than compensates for all the other perks. The house edge is 1.33%. The basic strategy is different, too.

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10- Perfect Pairs

This is more of a side bet than a separate game, but it’s significant, reasonably common, and lots of fun, so I’ve included it here. The only difference between regular blackjack and Perfect Pairs Blackjack is the side bet.

It pays off if you get a pair, and the payouts are based on the kind of pair, as follows:

  • The payout is 5 to 1 for a pair unless it qualifies for one of the bigger payouts.
  • The payout is 10 to 1 if the pair is made up of cards of the same color.
  • The payout is 30 to 1 if the pair is made up of cards of the same suit. (This is the eponymous perfect pair.)

Some casinos offer different-sized payouts. The house edge is between 2% and 11% depending on the pay table. This is mostly a novelty bet, but a lot of players think it’s fun.

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If you take nothing away from this list of the best variations of blackjack, remember this: No matter how good the new rules are for the player, there’s at least one rule that compensates for it—and usually then some.

Regular ol’ single deck blackjack will almost always have the best house edge and the easiest basic strategy to learn. But if you’re bored and want to try something different, you have plenty to choose from. Are there any unique variations of blackjack that I left off this list that you enjoy?

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