Also known simply as 21 (twenty-one), European Blackjack is quite similar to traditional Blackjack. It is easy to learn the basics, and the house edge under standard rules is about 0.62%, which is comparable to most U.S. based Blackjack variations.
As in all versions of Blackjack, the goal of European Blackjack is to obtain a hand valued higher than the dealer’s without exceeding a total of 21. Typically, six decks of 52 cards each are used in play at casinos, although tables using fewer may be found.
After bets are placed, two cards are dealt to each player face up and the dealer receives one card showing face up for all to see. There is no hidden “hole card.” Instead, the dealer’s second card is dealt only after all player hands have been completed.
The dealer must stand on all totals of 17 or higher, including “soft 17” totals containing an Ace. Although insurance may be offered when the up card is an Ace, the dealer does not “peek” at the hole card. All hands are played out till the dealer stands or busts. This means that doubles and splits are automatically lost when the dealer has a natural blackjack (21 on two cards).
For players, doubling is permitted only on hard totals of 9~11 for the first two cards dealt or following a split. Re-splitting up to three hands is allowed, except Aces, which may be split only once and not doubled. Early surrender is offered at some tables in Russia and Macau, as well as online. If the player’s total exceeds 21, the hand is a “bust” and any amount wagered is forfeited, including any insurance purchased. Pushes (ties/draws) result in neither the dealer nor the player winning, and the player’s wager is returned.
Some casinos modify these rules a bit to allow doubling down on split Aces, prohibit re-splitting, or play with just two decks. In the latter case, a shuffle is usually required after each deal, which slows the pace of the game considerably.
Some tables allow players to wager on more than one hand, while others strictly limit play to one betting position. Most prohibit splitting unlike 10 value cards, such as a King-Jack or Queen-10. Depending on the combination of rules, some European Blackjack tables feature a house edge of just 0.39%, so it is worth doing a bit of shopping around before sitting down to play.
One obvious strategy when playing European Blackjack is to avoid taking insurance. Whether the dealer makes a total of 21 or not, the player must take all associated risks, including doubling and splitting, prior to the dealer’s second card being dealt. If early surrender is available, it may be the better option, but it is typically offered only when the up card is not an Ace.
Most European Blackjack tables do offer the “even money” option for blackjacks facing an Ace. This means the player may elect to receive a 1:1 payout for a Blackjack instead of 3:2, but again no results are known till the dealer’s turn comes at the very end.
Quite recently, a new variant of European Blackjack has appeared online. Known as “Hi Lo 13,” it follows European Blackjack rules, but provides an optional side bet. The player may wager on the combined value of his her first two cards. Will the total be over 13, less than 13, or exactly 13? The payouts are 1:1 for successful over/under bets and 10:1 for correctly predicting a tie. Three special betting areas appear on the table for making these side wagers, which have no affect whatsoever on the Blackjack aspect of the game.