American vs European Blackjack - Learn the Difference

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01/07/2020

The origins of Blackjack are not certain, but it is widely thought that the Blackjack game as we know it today originated in France during the turn of the 17th century as a card game named Vingt-en-Un, which translates to twenty-one. It did not take long for the game of Blackjack to become a daily part in the social lives of Europeans, and was then brought to North America by French colonists in the 18th century. First gaining popularity in the legal gambling halls of New Orleans and from there spreading across America, blackjack arrived at Nevada and exploded in popularity with the casino revolution of the 20th century.

Local adaptations created new game variations, making American Blackjack vs European Blackjack a topic for passionate debate amongst gamblers, including those who prefer to play at an online casino. Looking closely at American vs European Blackjack, this review includes the rules of each game, a comparison between Blackjack variations, the advantages and disadvantages of each and a conclusion on which game is best for you and should aid you when formulating your Blackjack strategy. Nowadays you can play Blackjack whenever you want on the go at mobile casinos, so this guide is sure to come in handy.


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European Blackjack Rules

In any game of classic Blackjack, or online Blackjack, the underlying goal of the player is to come up with a hand that is higher than the dealer's hand and has a total sum that is close to, but not higher than 21. But beyond the basics, there are many differences between the European and American versions of the game.

  • Following are the rules for European Blackjack:
  • Two decks of cards are used.
  • European Blackjack payouts are fixed at:
  1. 1:1 in the event of a tie the stake is returned (this is called a push).
  2. 3:2 for Blackjack (effective pay out of one and half times the stake plus your stake, the odds are 1.5 to 1).
  3. 2:1 for an insurance bet (if you take insurance correctly against the dealer getting blackjack this is 2 times your stake payout).
  • The dealer does not get to peak for Blackjack, as there is no hole card.
  • The dealer's Blackjack always wins over the player's hand at the sum of 21.
  • If both player and dealer have a Blackjack, it is considered a push and bets are returned.
  • The dealer must stand on a soft 17.
  • The dealer must hit for a hand value of 16.
  • Players can double down only on a hard hand of 9, 10 or 11.
  • Players can split a hand only once.
  • Players cannot split 4, 5 or 10-value cards that are different.
  • Players cannot double down on a split hand.
  • Players cannot surrender if the dealer's face card is an Ace.

American Blackjack Rules

Unlike European Blackjack that is standard across the board, American Blackjack is comprised of many game variations that were created in North America over the years such as Atlantic City Blackjack, Vegas Strip Blackjack, Vegas Downtown Blackjack, Spanish 21 and many other versions of the game.

Following are the standard rules for most American Blackjack variations:

  • Six or eight decks of cards are used.
  • American Blackjack payouts for Blackjack are 3:2 or 6:5.
  • The hole card allows the dealer to peek for Blackjack on Ace up-cards and 10s.
  • The dealer must stand on a soft 17.
  • Players can double down on any hand sum.
  • Players can split hands up to three times.
  • Players can double down after a split.
  • Players can split Aces only one time.
  • 10-value cards can be split, even if they are different.
  • Players can surrender late.

The Main Differences between European and American Blackjack

When comparing American vs European Blackjack, it is important to know the rules and understand the differences between the two games, just like it is with all casino games. Even small differences can have a big impact on the strategy the player should adopt and the outcome of the game.

Find below a summary of the main differences between European and American Blackjack:

European BlackjackAmerican Blackjack
Card Decks Used26 to 8
Hole Card GameNoYes
Blackjack Payout3:23:2 or 6:5
Late SurrenderNot AllowedAllowed
Double DownAllowed on 9, 10 or 11 total hand amountAllowed on any hand
Double Down on SplitsNot AllowedAllowed
Rules ConsistencyMostly consistent throughoutChanges across game variations

Decks in Play in American vs European Blackjack

One of the basic differences between the two games is the number of card decks used in European vs American Blackjack. As European Blackjack is played with two decks of cards compared to six or eight decks in American Blackjack, the lesser number of decks in European Blackjack makes it easier to keep track of remaining cards. Some players view European Blackjack as favourable because of the house edge that is considered lower than in American Blackjack. Still, many casinos enforce strict house rules that are aimed at offsetting this player advantage.


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The Hole Card in European and American Blackjack

On an American Blackjack table the dealer will deal two cards, one is dealt face up and the other face down. This second card is known as the "hole card", or "face down card". The dealer will receive the first, face-up card and if it is an Ace, the dealer can check the hole card for the possibility of Blackjack prior to the player's hand being complete. There is no hole card in European Blackjack and no second card is dealt until the player receives his full hand. So in some instances, it gives players the ability to play their hand and win before the dealer hits. But it also means that players may make additional losses before the dealer plays out their hand.

Doubling Down Rules in Different Blackjack Variations

When the player feels confident about a potentially-winning hand they can "double down", which means doubling the initial bet they placed on the player's hand. Double down rules vary in European vs American Blackjack. In American Blackjack, the player is allowed to double down on hands of any value, unlike in European Blackjack where doubling down is only permitted on hands with a value of 9, 10 or 11. This gives American Blackjack players a wider array of betting possibilities with better chances of winning. It also makes European Blackjack more challenging and requires more player skill and focus on the cards that are being played.

Splitting in European and American Blackjack

A Blackjack "split" allows the player to divide his/her first two cards into two separate hands and double the wager. American Blackjack allows splitting a hand up to three times and into any pair whilst European Blackjack allows to split the cards only once on alike cards that equal to the amount of 10 (i.e. 10s, Jacks, Queens and Kings).

Late Surrender Opportunity in American Blackjack vs European Blackjack

American Blackjack gives the player the option to "surrender" after the first two cards are dealt. So in case a player finds him/herself in a difficult position to win after placing a high bet on a hand, he/she can surrender and lose only 50% of the original bet as opposed to the entire wager. European Blackjack does not offer the option to surrender. Although some players view this feature as a sensible way to control their losses, others regret using it too quickly, just to realize after the fact that they surrendered what could have been a winning hand.

Insurance Bet Rules in Different Types of Blackjack

An "insurance bet" is a bet offered when the dealer's face card is an Ace. In American Blackjack, if the player opts for insurance the dealer will check the hole card. If the dealer has a Blackjack, the player loses the bet but wins the insurance. A negative Blackjack will allow to continue playing the hand. Since there is no hole card in European Blackjack, the player will complete his/her hand before knowing if the dealer got a Blackjack. This is a vital strategy that any casino player should take into account.

House Edge and Odds for European and American Blackjack

"House Edge" is referred to as the difference between the player's odds of winning a bet and what is actually paid out for that win. So it is not the actual amount the casino will earn at the table for each game, but rather a measure of the expected profit margin. For Blackjack, the house edge is typically around 1% and fluctuates between casinos, game variations and tables.

Rules that Decrease Player's Odds

As Blackjack is considered a game with a low house edge compared to other games on the casino floor, many casinos introduced at their Blackjack tables rules that improve the house edge and have a negative impact the player's chances of winning. Following are a few rules that increase the house edge and sway the chances of winning to the benefit of the dealer:

  • Lower odds for payout: While European Blackjack odds are 3:2 and American Blackjack odds are 3:2 or 6:5, many casinos now offer at their Blackjack tables lower odds.
  • Dealer can push at 22: In some casinos, especially in Australia, a controversial rule was introduced that allows the dealer not to go bust at 22 (contrary to the player that will go bust), and push all live player hands except 21.
  • Player loses at 17+ tie: Some casinos award the dealer a winning hand in case of a tie with a player on hands with a value of between 17 and 21 (as opposed to a push where the bet is returned).
  • No splitting: Some casinos do not allow splitting on their Blackjack tables, others limit splitting to certain hands.
  • Limited double downs: There are casinos that limit double downs to hands of certain values whilst others limit doubling altogether.
  • Dealer hits on soft 17: Traditionally in Blackjack, the dealer will stand when his/her hand value reaches 17. However some casinos allow the dealer to hit if they have an Ace (which can be played for 1 or 11 points).
  • Hole card rules: In some American Blackjack tables, the dealer will take a hole card but not check for Blackjack until the players have been dealt their hands.

These rules have been put in place mostly for providing the dealer with more choices to play hands, whilst limiting the choices that the player has. This decreases the player's chances of winning and boosts the house edge.


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Rules That Increase Player's Odds

There are still Blackjack rules that inherently give the player more advantage than other casino table games. Most of the upside comes from the fact that when the player is dealt a hand he/she can hit, stand, split or double down, whilst the dealer does not have these options and must usually follow the same steps with every hand. Below are some blackjack rules that inherently boost the player advantage and hurt the house edge.

Charlie: This used to be a common rule that brought great value to players, but many casinos barred it. Charlie means that if the player draws a certain number of cards without a bust (usually 5, 6 or 7), he/she automatically wins.

Surrender: Will allow the player to forfeit a hand in return for half of the bet. Although opinions are mixed on the value to the player, as early surrender may hurt the odds of winning in the long run.

Triple Up: This rule allows the player to triple the bet once he/she had seen their first two cards to try and multiply their real money winnings.

Conclusion - Which Game is better?

When looking at American Blackjack vs. European Blackjack, the first noticeable difference is the amount of choice and selection of game variations available in American Blackjack, compared to European Blackjack that offers a more standardized format. Beyond the fun of exploring many different game styles and variations, American Blackjack gives players a range of options to increase their chances of winning by executing a thought-out, aggressive strategy. Notably, one of the biggest advantages to players in American Blackjack is the hole card, which lets the dealer peak for a natural Blackjack before the player makes a bet. This can save the player expensive, unwanted double downs and splits.

Players that are looking for a more straight-forward game will prefer European Blackjack which also has many advantages. The use of only two decks lowers the house edge, and for some makes it easier to try and count cards. Fewer game variations and simpler, common rules make European Blackjack easier to learn and master. So no wonder that European Blackjack has been so popular around the world for nearly three centuries.

If you are a strategic player that is looking to increase your chances of winning by developing skills and employing aggressive tactics, American Blackjack is the game for you. But if you are after a fun, mind-clearing experience at the casino table which also involves the exciting prospect of winning, you should probably start with European Blackjack.

Most importantly, enjoy the game and keep it fun and safe with whichever version of Blackjack you choose.

 
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