The 5 Most Popular Blackjack Variations

Many online and land based casino visitors have a basic understanding of blackjack, where you try to beat the dealer’s score without going over 21.

And those who do play blackjack are often used to North American casino rules, which include dealers peaking for natural blackjacks with aces, and 10 value cards, dealers hitting on a soft 17, players doubling down on any two cards, and players doubling down after splitting.

But have you ever tried some of the other exciting blackjack variations that are available throughout the world?

If not, then you should keep reading as we cover 5 of the most popular blackjack variations and discuss which ones are the best for players.

1. European Blackjack

As the name implies, European blackjack comes from casinos in Europe. However, you don't have to be from this continent to play because European blackjack is available at many online casinos.

This game is largely the same as traditional 21 blackjack, but below you can see a few key differences that make European blackjack unique:

European blackjack is a good game to try if you're new to different blackjack variations. The rules are pretty similar to standard 21, and the house edge is only 0.39% with the rules listed above. Regarding the latter, European blackjack has an advantage over standard 21 because it only uses 2 decks as opposed to 6 to 8 decks.

2. Spanish 21

Contrary to what the name suggests, Spanish 21 was actually created by a Colorado gaming company called Marquee Publishing. It's only been around since 1995, but has already spread to casinos on other continents.

The key difference in Spanish 21 from most other blackjack variations is that all 10s are removed from the decks.

Typically this would make Spanish 21 a bad game for players because 10-value cards lower the house edge. But you can see that some of the following rules still make this a playable game:

Regarding the latter, you can earn 2 to 1 payouts on 6 card blackjacks and 3 to 1 payouts on 7 card blackjacks, provided you haven't doubled down or split any hands. You can even get bonuses, such as 40x your bet if the dealer has a 7 face-up and you get three suited 7s.

Spanish 21 offers a house edge as low as 0.34%, but this all depends upon the exact bonus payouts being offered.

3. Pontoon

Having been around since the twelfth century, if not earlier, pontoon has developed widespread popularity in Asia, Australia and the UK.

Pontoon is actually very comparable to Spanish 21 in terms of rules because neither game has 10s in the deck. But in contrast to Spanish 21, this game offers higher blackjack payouts and a few other differences that you can see below:

As you can see, pontoon contains some very unique rules like you having to hit until 15, and both dealer's cards remaining face-down until your betting actions are finished. Given these rule differences, the pontoon house edge normally ranges from 0.34% to 0.42%.

4. Perfect Pairs

Invented by Australian dealer John Wicks, Perfect Pairs has become popular because it's just like standard 21, but you can make side bets to win additional money.

The side bet is placed before you're dealt any cards, and you can win the following payouts:

Red / black pair, or two cards that have the same rank but different colors, e.g. jack of hearts and jack of spades. A red/black pair can pay either 5:1 or 6:1.

Colored pair, or two cards that have the same color and rank, e.g. queen of diamonds and queen of hearts.

Perfect pair, or two cards of the exact same suit and rank. This pays 30:1 in many casinos, but sometimes only 25 to 1.

If you're already familiar with normal 21 games, then Perfect Pairs is a fun way to spice up your blackjack play. However, the big downside is that the side bet carries a 6.76% house edge, making it a pretty bad wager.

5. Face Up 21

As the name implies, Face Up 21 sees the dealer's first two cards exposed. This is definitely to your advantage because you don't have to base decisions off a single, or no, up card.

However, the downside is that some of the rules are changed to accommodate casinos, which you can see here:

The dealer wins all ties

Dealer hits on a soft 17

Natural blackjacks pay even money

You can only double down on a hard 9, 10, or 11

You can double down after splitting

Some of these rules are unfavorable while the ability to see the dealer's first two cards is easily in your favor. It all combines to create anywhere from a 0.69% to 0.85% house edge depending upon rule nuances.


So which of these variations should you play?

Based purely on house edge, European blackjack, Spanish 21, and pontoon are games that give you a good chance to win. As far as ease of learning goes, European blackjack, Perfect Pairs, and Face Up 21 are all very close to regular 21.