In casinos around the world, one of the most popular games is Blackjack. It is not only challenging but also very intriguing because of its rules. As a card game, it follows particular patterns, so players’ odds of winning in a particular situation can be calculated to some extent based on them. Thanks to this observation, a number of strategies have been developed which if applied correctly give them a rough idea of what is their best move according their hand’s total and the dealer’s up card.
Blackjack has been a popular casino game for many years, and its popularity led to the creation of many different variations. One of the most widespread versions of the game is European Blackjack, which has been played in casinos since its introduction. It can be found in a number of oline casinos due to the huge interest many gamblers have in it. In most cases, it is played with two decks – one for the dealer and another for the players – which is why card counters often decide to give it a try.
The game has been known as many things, including Cold Deck and Hole Card. The reduced number of decks significantly increases their chances of gaining advantage over the casino and win. The lower number of decks significantly increases their chances of gaining an advantage over the casino and winning under liberal playing conditions. This variant is played throughout all of Europe and some parts of North America and Australia.
Rules of European Blackjack
European Blackjack is a variation of the classic game of blackjack that can be played in various places. It uses the fundamental principles and rules of the classic game which is extremely convenient for players because they will be able to grasp it moderately easily. It is worth mentioning that, like most variations, some of the rules may vary depending on the place.
The game is played with two decks of cards, which works to the advantage of the player. It is one of the few variations left nowadays that offers such a low number of decks. Fewer decks work to the advantage of the player as long as the rest of the rules are liberal enough to allow for a house-edge reduction. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case in most land-based and online casinos that offer European Blackjack (ENHC blackjack).
In order to make things more interesting, most online variations of European Blackjack use multiple decks that are randomly reshuffled by the software before each new round of play.
In most cases, surrender is not allowed and players cannot double down after splitting the bad cards, although some online versions, particularly those developed by RealTime Gaming (RTG) and Play’n GO, do offer this move. Moreover, doubling down can be made only on the condition that your hand totals 9, 10, or 11. On top of that, doubling down is usually disallowed on soft totals and is possible only on two-card hard hands 9 through 11—for example if you are dealt A-8—which is a soft 19/9.
Resplitting or hitting aces that have been split previously is forbidden under the European set of rules. This has the effect of reducing an advantage players have and adding to the house edge. When a ten-value card falls next to a split ace, and vice versa, this counts as a multi-card total of 21 rather than as a natural. Respectively, the hand pays even money rather than 3 to 2.
In this version of the game, there is no hole card. This means that the dealer cannot peek for blackjacks when their first card is an ace or a ten. This also works to players’ disadvantage. The dealer receives one card face-up and a second one only after players have finished their hands. Moreover, the rules of this variation force the dealer to stand on soft 17 which distinguishes it from versions 1 and 2 above. However, you can find European casinos that require their dealers to hit soft 17, another house-favourable rule.
When players have a blackjack, the payout usually remains the same as in the classic game. If there is an option for an insurance side bet, however, the payout for it is 2 to 1. In situations where neither side wins nor loses, a push occurs and neither party earns or loses anything.
Online players should be aware that some virtual versions of ENHC blackjack, such as Microgaming’s European Blackjack Redeal, do not support buying insurance against the dealer’s aces. This is hardly a big deal because basic strategists never accept insurance anyway.
The early surrender rule is available in a few variations of ENHC blackjack, which allow players to fold bad starting totals against the dealer’s ten or ace before a second card is drawn to the house’s hand. This rule is very player-favourable and mostly unavailable in US-style variations that use hole cards.
We would like to remind readers that RNG-generated blackjack games are not exploitable or vulnerable to advantage play, because the reshuffle after each round prevents an insurance strategy. Respectively, the house edges in ENHC variants of 21 are higher but fluctuate based on the particular rulesets the games are using.
Below, you will find a concise overview of three popular blackjack variants available for online play: those developed by Microgaming, RealTime Gaming (RTG), and Play’n GO.
The OBO, OBBO, and BB+1 Rules
Because the dealer draws their second card after all live player hands have been completed, players are less likely to make successful double downs and splits. The dealer, who takes all wagers from doubles and splits when holding a natural, adds 0.10% to the house edge of ENHC games. Some casinos enforce special rules such as Original Bets Only (OBO) to partially offset this disadvantage and make the games more attractive to casual players.
When the optional penalty option (OBO) is in place, players lose only their original wagers to the dealer’s natural. Any additional wagers on doubling and splitting push with the dealer’s blackjack and are returned to the player. The impact on the casino advantage and optimal strategy plays is the same as playing standard hole-card (HC) blackjack. The presence of OBO adds about 0.03% to a player’s long-term expectation.
Another variation of OBO is the Original and Busted Bets Only (OBBO). In this variation, a player loses only the bets made on busted hands plus one unit from all non-busted hands they have at the table. OBBO adds approximately 0.02% to the casino’s advantage.
Finally, there is the Busted Bets Plus One (BB+1) rule. When BB+1 is in force and the dealer obtains a blackjack, he or she collects only bets made on the player’s busted hands in addition to one unit from all other bets made on non-busted totals.
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Strategy for European Blackjack Players
Playing European Blackjack requires modifications in basic strategy for specific hands. For example, it is not recommended to use a strategy chart intended for blackjack variations where the dealer takes hole cards. There are too many discrepancies between these two strategies. Playing errors will only further reduce your expectation of winning.
One main peculiarity of ENHC games is that players tend to double down and split less often than they would in hole-card variants. This is because putting out extra money on additional bets becomes more volatile in the absence of the peek rule.
The restrictions imposed on ENHC players by the rules of doubling are harmful because they prevent them from doubling on most hard totals against weak upcards and also disallow them from doubling on certain soft ones like A-4 through A-7. In the absence of soft doubles, players have no choice but to deviate from the correct plays and opt for second-best moves with hitting. Of course, this also reflects poorly on the house edge in ENHC games.
When it comes to the limitations on splitting and doubling after a split, we can observe similar negative tendencies. Since most online ENHC variants impose such restrictions, we shall use the following ruleset for our ENHC basic strategy benchmark – 6 decks, S17, DAS, no LS/ES, no RS, no peek, and doubling on hard 9 through 11 only. This set of rules produces a house edge of 0.64%. Note that these moves can also be used in four- and eight-deck games as long as the rest of the listed rules remain intact.
Advantages of European Blackjack
- The game is played with two decks. This means that card counters will be able to apply their chosen system successfully and keep track of the cards easily. Fewer decks mean lower house edges but this works in favor of the player only if all other rules are player-favorable.
- Dealer must stand on soft 17 as it is one of those moves that decreases the house edge. Consider the following: Basic strategy requires that a player draw to A-6 rather than stand, because 17 is generally not a winning total; with an average winning hand in blackjack estimated at 18.5.
- The same applies to a dealer who has a soft 17. If they hit this hand, they will have several more chances for improvement with almost the same number of chances of keeping it the same if they stand by the house rules. This makes ENHC games with the S17 rule better than H17 variants.
- There is no hole card, and the dealer cannot check for Blackjack. This means that players can make additional moves on their hand, but if the dealer gets a natural Blackjack, they will lose all of their wagered money in an instant. Some other rules which increase the house edge include restrictions on splitting and resplitting.
- Card counters can greatly benefit from this version of the game. However, the casinos have thought through the matter and come up with some countermeasures to prevent them from keeping track of the cards successfully.
- Note that some casinos use Continuous Shuffling Machines (CSMs), which makes card counting nearly useless. CSMs should not be mistaken with Automatic Shuffling Machines (ASMs) since ASM-shuffled tables are vulnerable to efficiently counting cards.
European Blackjack Verdict
European Blackjack is an interesting version of the game, which is why many players enjoy playing it online. It gives them significantly good chances of winning as long as they have a reliable strategy and good skills. It is recommended for players to take their time and have a look at the rules of this variation, as there are so many subtleties which can have a great impact on their performance.