Blackjack Variations WorldWide
The game of blackjack is a few hundred years old, though the game as it was invented is very different from the blackjack games we know and love. Games are like that–as they move from one region to another, they take on new rules and new identities, often reflecting the personalities and customs of the cultures they pass through. No one has yet found the true beginnings of blackjack, though everyone agrees that one early ancestor is a French game from the 17th century called “Vingt Et Un.” Vingt Et Un means “twenty-one” in French, a clear indicator that this game was modern blackjack’s grandfather.
The game Vingt Et Un was played in old French casinos, with a similar set of rules to today’s blackjack. If you were to travel back in time and watch a round of Vingt Et Un, you’d probably see a game very similar to our blackjack. Major differences: only the dealer was allowed to double down, and there was an additional betting round after each card dealt. The top hand in Vingt Et Un was a Jack paired with the Ace of Spades, hence the name “black jack.”
From this game came the English game known as Pontoon, still a popular game around the world. The name “Pontoon” comes from the sound of the French phrase “Vingt Et Un.” The biggest difference between Pontoon and our modern blackjack game is that a hand of five cards that doesn’t bust is the second most valuable hand after a Pontoon, what we’d call a blackjack. A similar game appeared in Spain and Spanish-speaking nations after Pontoon, with rules even more similar to our modern game, including the player’s ability to double down, surrender, and even the addition of late surrenders. Sometimes called Spanish 21, this game is still played in some American casinos or online gaming sites.
The most popular blackjack game in America is Vegas Style blackjack, with a standard set of rules including that the dealer stands on a soft 17, players cannot double after splitting, etc. Vegas Style blackjack almost always uses multiple decks (at least 4) and pays 2:1 for a player blackjack, offering insurance to players against a dealer’s blackjack.
The game of blackjack played in Atlantic City (sometimes called Atlantic City blackjack) allows for players to double down after splitting but only pays the player 1.5:1 for a blackjack. This game is favorable for players in some ways and less than favorable in others, but Atlantic City blackjack rules are regulated by the state government of New Jersey unlike in Las Vegas, where blackjack rules vary from casino to casino and even from table to table.
Blackjack is also a popular game in Germany, where it is called “Siebzehn und Vier,” which means “Seventeen and Four” in German. The German game, like the French Vingt Et Un, doesn’t allow for splitting, and therefore is much less favorable for players. In China, so called “Village blackjack” has a number of strange rules that vary greatly from game to game. One of the strangest features of Village blackjack allows the dealer to pay a premium to reveal a player’s hand. Other rules of Village or Chinese blackjack–no splitting, players and dealer must reach a total of at least 16 or face a penalty, and any hand including 5 cards that doesn’t bust is more valuable than an outright blackjack.
Blackjack is such an adaptable game, it is no surprise that many different variations and national versions of the game exist. For the most part, the game played in Las Vegas and Atlantic City is the game most favorable to blackjack players, due mostly to the ability to split pairs and rules governing the rank of hands.