Blackjack Variations: The ‘no peek’ European Blackjack Game
The dealer having only a single face-up card, and taking the second and subsequent cards only after the players have acted, does not feel like a major difference for Blackjack games. This does contrast with the US game, where the dealer gets 2 cards and ‘peeks’ for Blackjack before the players have a chance to act. What you will find is that it makes a big difference to your optimal strategy. Put it this way; when you know the dealer does not have Blackjack (as in the US version after the peek), your optimal strategy shifts, since there are fewer winning 2-card hands which can be revealed after the players have acted.
As you will see, this is not the only difference for European Blackjack games – where doubling down is also handled differently. This article goes through the general European rules, highlighting the areas where different casinos will run things differently.
How to Play European Blackjack
This game can be played with as few as 2 decks of cards. Usually, 6 to 8 decks is the norm, this gives the casinos better protection against card counters and prevents having to shuffle too frequently. Before any cards are dealt, players set their bets. Live, the minimum is usually $5 (or equivalent), online you’ll find games for as little as $1.
Cards are dealt one at a time from the dealer’s left (from the right from the perspective of a player at the table). Each player gets 2 face-up cards, and the dealer gets a single face-up card. If the dealer shows an Ace, then players will be invited to take the insurance side-bet. This is half of the main bet stake, and pays out at 2:1 if the dealer gets a Blackjack at the end of the hand – effectively returning the main stake of players. This bet has a large house edge, and expert players avoid it.
Players will be invited to act, choosing whether to take another card (hit), stay with their current total (stand), double down (take one more card only, and add a further bet), or split their hand into two if it is paired. There is not usually a surrender option (giving up for half of your stake back) in the European version of the game.
Once all players have acted, with hands over 21 being removed, along with the stakes, the dealer will act. The rules for the dealer’s decisions are fixed in advance – with the player totals having no influence on these. Some casinos will have dealers stand on a soft 17, while others will hit on that same total. The usual setup is to keep taking cards for totals less than 17 and stand above this. If the dealer busts, then all players with live hands get paid at 1:1.
Details of Splitting and Doubling
Individual casinos, both live and online, will handle splitting and doubling differently. Usually in the European game, you will only be able to double-down with a total of 9, 10 or 11. This contrasts with the US version of the game, where you can choose to double on any score.
Splitting is allowed with any cards with the same rank. You are able to split Aces, however these only receive one card each after a split. If you hit a picture card, this is ‘only’ counted as a 21, and not as a Blackjack (and so does not pay at 3:2). Re-splits will depend on the casino, usually with a maximum of 4, and doubling after a split is not usually allowed – though occasionally you’ll find a casino which does allow this.
Overall, this game has a low house edge, with around 1% possible with optimal play and a casino which hits on a soft 17. Remember, this edge is only achievable if you play a perfect strategy, any deviation from this will cost you a lot of money.
Side Bets in European Roulette Games
Many casinos offer side bets (separately from the insurance) to liven things up at the tables. These give you the chance of a bigger win, though it is at the expense of giving a bigger house edge – often in the 6% to 7% range, which is high by casino game standards.
The most common side bet is ‘Perfect Pairs’ where you will bet on being dealt a pair. The payouts improve for pairs of the same color and the same suit. 7’s is a side bet which can involve a big jackpot payout, for hitting 7 suited 7’s at the same time that the dealer has a 7 up card. Another variation is Bonus Blackjack, which pays extra for Blackjack hands, especially Ace and Jack of Spades.
These bets can certainly liven up a session of European Blackjack, the extra cost (in house edge) should be balanced with the chance of a welcome windfall.