How well do you know the rules of blackjack? If you’ve read our article in How to Play Blackjack, you should feel pretty comfortable playing in most blackjack games. However, blackjack rules can very between casinos, meaning that what you’ve experienced in one blackjack game might not be what you see at the next table.
While most of these changes are relatively minor, you’ll still want to understand how different blackjack rules can affect the game. After all, there’s nothing worse than making a mistake and losing money because you misunderstand the rules of the game. Here are some of the most important blackjack rules, along with some common variations you might see.
Common Rule: Players may split any time they begin a hand with a pair. This allows them to play two separate hands, each of which will be dealt a new second card. Players may split to up to four separate hands if they continue to receive pairs. However, there are some restrictions; for instance, players are typically not allowed to play their hands after splitting with aces (much like when doubling down, they are forced to stand), and if they do receive a ten to go with an ace, it will not count as a blackjack.
Alternative Rules: Many casinos make slight alterations to what the player may or may not do after splitting their hand. In some cases, players have some options after splitting aces; they may be able to split the hand again if they receive another ace, and in some cases, they may even be allowed to play the hands as normal.
Also, some casinos cap the number of hands a player can split to. It’s not unheard of for a casino to allow players to only split to three hands at a maximum, or even to not allow re-splitting at all, meaning a maximum of two hands are allowed.
Common Rule: Players may double down with any two card hand. They do so by making a second bet equal to their original bet. The player receives one additional card and then must stand.
Alternative Rules: Some casinos put restrictions on when players may double down. While it’s usually permitted to double down after splitting your hands, some casinos do not give the player this option. In a few casinos, the player may only double down on hands with scores of 9, 10 or 11. Promotions occasionally exist that allow players to “triple down,” which allows the player to put even more money on the table when the odds are favorable.
Common Rule: There is a lot of variation in surrender rules. Perhaps the most common rule is “late surrender.” This allows the player to surrender their hand after the dealer checks for a blackjack. If the player surrenders, they immediately lose half of their bet, and the hand is over for them. The player usually invokes this rule in situations where the dealer has an overwhelming advantage, and saving half of the original bet is preferable to risking the entire bet.
Alternative Rules: In many casinos, surrendering is not offered. In others, the surrender rules are more favorable to the player. This occurs in cases where the player may surrender before the dealer checks for blackjack, an option known as “early surrender.”
Common Rule: The dealer deals out two cards to himself at the beginning of the hand. The dealer immediately “peeks” to see if he has blackjack; if he does, it is revealed, and all player bets lose (except for blackjacks, which push). If he does not have blackjack, the hand continues as normal.
Alternative Rules: In some cases, the dealer will not check for blackjack until after all players have finished playing their hands. Usually, this means that in the case of a dealer blackjack, players will lose all bets made, including splits and double downs. Some casinos limit how much the player can lose in these cases, with one rule being that the player will lose all bets on hands that busted, as well as the bets on hands that were split, but not any bets made from doubling down on a hand.
Some casinos also mix these rules, having the dealer peek for an ace (when a blackjack is fairly common), but not peek if the dealer is showing a ten.
Common Rule: Player blackjacks win at 3-2 odds. If the dealer also has a blackjack, the bet is considered a push.
Alternative Rules: Unfortunately, most alternative rules dealing with player blackjacks work in the casino’s favor. Some casinos offer less than 3-2 odds on a blackjack; 6-5 is common, though 1-1 and 7-5 can also be seen occasionally. On the bright side, some blackjack games allow the player to win even if the dealer also shows a blackjack, and promotional deals sometimes allow suited blackjacks (or even all Blackjacks) to pay at higher odds, such as 2-1.
Dealer Playing Rules
Common Rule: The dealer must stand on all hands of 17 or more, and hit on all hands of 16 or less.
Alternative Rule: In many casinos, the dealer also hits on a soft 17. This rule has a small effect on player strategy and favors the house substantially.