Classic Blackjack has been a popular pastime for centuries, with the first known records of the game in the 17th century. As with many games, there’s a very good chance that Blackjack dates back even further, as the specifics of its origins are not totally clear. Because some of the details of the history have been lost, there are many variations of this game. However, the version that most people are familiar with is the European version.
European Blackjack has been known by many names over the years, with 21 being the most common (which is what it is still called in Italy). The history of the game is rich, from Miguel de Cervantes describing it as one of the most popular pastimes amongst the men of his time to its current popularity in American casinos.
European emigrants brought their beloved 21 across the pond to the United States, where it quickly gained popularity amongst Americans. Once prohibition began, there was a decline in popularity, but that was short-lived once 21 made its way to one of the biggest gambling spots around Las Vegas. Club managers along the strip were set on giving the game a new life now that it’s survived prohibition. With the promise of free drinks for those that have held a blackjack during a game of 21, not only did the game become a hit again, but the name Blackjack was born.
How to Play European Blackjack
Blackjack varies from version to version, but the general rules are essentially the same across the board. Before we get into the specifics of the European version, it’s best to learn these basic rules.
To win the game, the player that is up against the dealer needs to reach the score of 21 without surpassing it (or, “goes bust” if you’re using technical jargon). If nobody gets a 21, then the player that gets closest without exceeding 21 wins.
Each card has its own value:
- Numbered cards are worth the value presented on the card (1 is 1 point, 2 is 2 points, and so on)
- Picture cards, or face cards, are worth 10 points
- The ace is worth either 1 or 11, depending on if the player has a soft hand or hard hand
Hard Hand vs. Soft Hand
How do you know what type of hand you have? If you are dealt a hand with an Ace, then you have a soft hand because it is easier to work with as the value of the Ace can be either 1 or 11. For example, if you are dealt an Ace and an 8, your hand can be valued at 9 or 19.
If you are dealt a hand without an Ace, your hand is considered hard, since the total can’t vary. An example would be if you are dealt two 4 cards, the total is and can only be 8.
The game dynamics are pretty simple. Whoever is closest to 21 without surpassing it wins. Two cards are dealt to the player, with both facing down and two to the dealer, with just one facing down. From here, the player can make one of 4 choices:
- Hit card: Request another card to increase the total of their hand
- Stand: Stops here with the total they have in their hand
- Double down: Doubles the bet. This gives them one more card to add to their hand, putting everything on that card
- Ask for insurance: If the dealer’s up card is an Ace, the player can ask for insurance, which costs half of their initial bet
In response to the player’s actions, the dealer can choose from one of the following options:
- If the player busts or surrenders, the dealer automatically wins
- The dealer wins if their score is the closest to 21
- If the dealer’s score is 16 or less, they must hit
- If the dealer has a score of 18 or more, they must stand
- If the dealer rolls a hard 17, they must stand
- If the dealer hits soft 17, they hit
Now that we’ve covered the basics, how does European Blackjack differ from the American version?
European Blackjack Characteristics
When playing European Blackjack, 8 decks of cards are used and shuffled after each turn. This is done to reduce the players’ ability to precisely count the cards.
If a player receives two cards of the same value on their initial hand, they can split them into two separate hands. This is called a split. From here, the cards are played independently. In European Blackjack, 4s, 5s, and 10s cannot be split. This rule is in place because the casino needs to avoid excessively accurate calculation forecasts.
A key difference in European Blackjack is that the dealer can only look at their face-down card after all of the players have defined their game. In some cases, the dealer doesn’t get their second card until after each player has decided what their move will be. This isn’t always positive for the player, as it makes it much harder for the player to guess the dealer’s second hand and the dealer may get Blackjack and not know it until the end.
While these differences between the many versions of Blackjack are small, they can actually have huge impacts on the player. Additionally, the rules of European Blackjack are essentially the same at almost all casinos with minimal variations.