Casino Gambling Worldwide: Quirky Regional Blackjack Rules Variations
Apr 1, 2014
Unique variations on the world’s most popular casino table game can be found everywhere from the British Isles to the Caribbean to the Far East. Some favor the player and others favor the house.
Most of us think of blackjack as a one-size-fits-all game. If you play in Vegas, Atlantic City, Macau or at most online casinos this largely holds true. The same blackjack strategy at one applies equally well elsewhere. But if we look with an international scope there are numerous interesting variations on blackjack to be found, some in unexpected places. This piece will introduce just a few of them.
Costa Rican “Rummy”
Costa Rica is laissez-faire when it comes to many things, gambling included. The small Central American nation features 50 land-based casinos which operate largely free of regulation. But in a strange quirk, it is illegal for casinos to host blackjack games. No worries though, because they feature a regional variation called Rummy which is almost the same thing, while adding a few touches which we think increases the fun.
So what’s the difference? One rule is that dealer’s are required to stand on a soft 17. Mathematical analysis shows that in most cases it is advantageous to hit on a soft 17, so banning the dealer from doing so ups the players chances of winning. Another is that players are allowed to double down on any combination of cards, something that some variations only allow when the player has a hand of 10 or 11. Doubling down involves doubling the initial bet while agreeing to be dealt only one additional card. Rummy rules also require the casino to allow you to double down after splitting, another rule which is seen as advantageous to the player.
What is most interesting about Rummy is that it combines some rules most commonly found in poker games. For example, if the player scores a 21 with three 7s the casino pays out 5 to 1. Any other 3-of-a-kind pays out 3-1. If the player lands a three card straight flush the casino also pays out 3-1. So Rummy appears to be an interesting mixture of blackjack and poker.
All in all Rummy appears to be more player-friendly than most blackjack rule variations. Dealers are required to stand on a soft 17 and players have more freedom to control their own destiny. The only downside? Casinos only pay even money on a blackjack, something that is unheard of in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. It is one way they recoup the house edge lost by giving favorable rules to the player.
China’s unique blackjack rules variation
Despite a nationwide ban on gambling everywhere except in autonomous city of Macau, the ancient activity is inextricably linked to Chinese culture. One way this can be seen is in the country’s unique take on blackjack. Chinese blackjack is commonly referred to a 21-point, Ban-Nag or Ban-Luk. The rules are not wholesale different from traditional European or Vegas versions of the game. The main variation is that some hands allow the player to win automatically.
Ban-Ban occurs when the player is dealt two aces to start the hand. At most casinos two aces add up to either 2 or 12, and the majorities split the cards in such a situation. But in Chinese blackjack Ban-Ban means an automatic win for the player and a 3-1 payout. There is also a 5-Dragon, a hand in which a player receives five cards without busting. They are paid 2-1 if the hand is less than 21 and 3-1 if it is exactly 21.
But besides that the Chinese blackjack cards are weighted heavily in favor of the dealer. For example, if the dealer has a hand between 16-20 they have the option of viewing the hands of a certain amount of player before choosing whether to hit or stand. In addition, a dealer 21 is an automatic win for the house and loss for all of the players, even if they had 21s as well. Things are especially bad for the player if the dealer lands a 5-Dragon. In this case the players all lose and have to pay the dealer 2-1 or 3-1.
Given the massive house edge, Chinese blackjack is usually played in intimate groups where players take turns being the dealer. This evens out the advantage over the course of the game.
In a stubborn refusal to conform to its neighbors in Europe and the US Britain is home to a unique take on blackjack called pontoon. Pontoon is not wholesale different from standard blackjack but has some interesting variations. There is something called a 5-card trick (similar the 5-Dragon in Chinese blackjack). This hand beats all except the pontoon (the British term for blackjack) and the house pays out 2-1. In addition, players have the option to hit after doubling down, a maneuver which is not allowed in most variations of blackjack.
Aside from these player-friendly variations, the main difference between pontoon and blackjack is terminology. A hand with an ace and 10-value card is referred to as a pontoon instead of a blackjack, hitting is referred to as “twisting” while standing is called “sticking.” In addition, doubling down is “buying.” Oftentimes people play blackjack merely using pontoon terminology and believe that they are actually playing pontoon.