European Blackjack

One of the most popular games played in casinos globally is Blackjack as it is not only challenging but also very intriguing. As a card game, it follows particular patterns and therefore, 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.

For many years the game has been a centre of attention to many passionate players which led to the invention of a number of different variations. Some of them grew in popularity so much that nowadays they are offered in many casinos along with the classic Blackjack. This diversity gives players the opportunity to choose the one that suits them best and enjoy its different rules.

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One of the most widespread versions of the game is the European Blackjack which can be found in a number of casinos due to the huge interest many gamblers have in it. In most cases, it is played with two decks which is the reason why players, especially card counters, often decide to give it a try.

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. Despite its name, this variant has made its way outside the Old Continent. Similar no-hole-card games are available in some North American and Australian landbased casinos as well.

Rules of European Blackjack

European Blackjack uses the fundamental principles and rules of the classic game which is extremely convenient for the players as they will be able to grasp it moderately easily. It is worth mentioning that just like the rest of the variations, some of the rules may vary depending on the place.

The game is played with two decks, which works in favour of the players. 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 landbased and online casinos that offer European Blackjack (henceforth referred to as ENHC blackjack).

With that in mind, most online variations of European Blackjack, including the one supplied by Play’n GO, deploy multiple decks that are randomly reshuffled by the software before each new round of play.

In most cases, the option to surrender is not allowed and also players cannot double down after splitting, 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, i.e. if you are dealt A-8, which is a soft 19/9, you usually cannot double.

Players can split pairs only once and there are restrictions regarding the allowed splitting pairs – when it comes to ten-value cards, only two identical cards can be split in many cases. For instance, players can conduct this move if they have two queens in their hand but are not allowed to do so if they have a queen and a king, even though they are both counted as 10.

Resplitting or hitting aces that have been split previously is also impossible under the European set of rules. All these restrictions take away from players’ advantage, 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 instead of 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 meaning that the dealer cannot peek for blackjacks when their first card is an ace or a ten. This also works to the 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 the rest of the versions. However, it is possible to come across European casinos that require their dealers to hit soft 17, another house-favourable rule.

Whenever players have a blackjack, the payout usually remains the same as in the classic game, i.e. 3 to 2. If there is an option for an insurance side bet, the payout for it is 2 to 1. In situations where the dealer or the players tie, the result is a push and neither side wins nor loses.

Few variations of ENHC blackjack support the early surrender (ES) rule whereby the players can 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.

Online players should keep in mind that some virtual versions of ENHC blackjack, such as Microgaming’s European Blackjack Redeal, do not support buying insurance against the dealer’s aces. Then again, this is hardly a big deal because insurance should never be accepted by basic strategists.

On a side note, we would like to remind readers that RNG-generated blackjack games are not exploitable or vulnerable to advantage play because of the reshuffle after each round, hence, the lack of insurance is no big deal. 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 concise information about three of the most popular ENHC blackjack variants available for online play, namely those developed by Microgaming, RealTime Gaming (RTG), and Play’n GO.

Side-by-Side Comparison of Playing Conditions in Popular Online ENHC Blackjack
Ruleset Play’n GO Microgaming RealTime Gaming
Deck Number 6 2 Varies
Blackjack Odds 3 to 2 3 to 2 3 to 2
Dealer Rules S17 S17 S17
Hands per Round Up to 3 hands Single-handed Single-handed
Table Limits £1 – £100 Varies £1 – £100
Doubling Rules On hard 9, 10, and 11 only On hard 9, 10, and 11 only On hard 9, 10, and 11 only
Double after a Split (DAS) Available N/A Available
Resplitting (RS) N/A N/A Up to 3 times
Hitting Split Aces (HSA) N/A N/A N/A
Late/Early Surrender (LS/ES) N/A N/A N/A
Insurance Pays 2 to 1 Pays 2 to 1 Pays 2 to 1
Return to Player (RTP) 99.37% 99.62% 99.43%

The OBO, OBBO, and BB+1 Rules

Since 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 versus certain upcards. The dealer, who takes all wagers from doubles and splits when holding a natural, adds 0.10% to the house edge of ENHC games. With that said, some casinos enforce special rules such as Original Bets Only (OBO) to partially offset this and make the games more attractive to casual players.

When OBO is in place, the players lose only their original wagers to the dealer’s naturals. 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 the optimal strategy plays is the same as playing standard hole-card (HC) blackjack. The presence of OBO adds around 0.03% to players’ long-term expectation.

Another variation of OBO is the Original and Busted Bets Only (OBBO) on dealer naturals. As the name implies, the player loses only the bets made on busted hands plus a single unit from all non-busted hands they have at the table when the dealer draws to a natural. 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, they would collect only the bets made on the player’s busted hands in addition to one unit from all other bets the player has posted to double down or split on non-busted totals.

A Glance at Microgaming’s Bespoke European Blackjack Redeal Variation

Microgaming’s European Blackjack Redeal is such a bespoke variation of ENHC blackjack that we believe it deserves a special, albeit a brief mention here. The piping-hot graphics are hardly the main attraction here although they certainly improve the quality of one’s gameplay.

This unique variation offers the following set of rules – 2 full decks, a dealer standing on all 17, no peek, no insurance, no doubling after a split, splitting once to up to two hands, and doubling only on hard totals of 9, 10, and 11.

We know what you’re thinking. What a lousy set of rules, right? The variation compensates for all these restrictions with more liberal rules where splitting paired aces is concerned. Unlike most other online ENHC variations, European Blackjack Redeal allows you to take as many hits on your split aces as you like. However, unlike ten-value cards, such as K-10, cannot be split.

This variation’s biggest claim to fame, however, is the redeal option. It gets activated after each initial draw of the cards, granting players the opportunity to change their first two cards or the dealer’s upcard. While this sounds great when you end up with lousy stiffs, using the feature normally comes at a cost.

The exact price you have to pay for a redeal varies depending on the dealer’s and player’s odds of winning, i.e. the strength of the player’s hand in relation to the strength of the dealer’s upcard. The software displays the cost of using the feature on each hand.

The redeal is free on certain hands. For example, we were offered a redeal at no cost when dealt K-8 versus a 5. Then again, who would like to throw away this advantageous hand when the dealer is in a bust mode, right?

Also, the feature gets deactivated after the player decides to split a pair. You are entitled to a maximum of five redeals during a single round of play. As for the house edge under this ruleset, it is estimated at 0.40%, which basically coincides with the edges of most ENHC variations.

Strategy Suggestions for European (ENHC) Blackjack

As is the case with most blackjack variations that deviate from the conventional ruleset, European Blackjack requires certain modifications in basic strategy for specific hands. Under no circumstances should you use a strategy chart intended for blackjack variations where the dealer takes hole cards. There are too many discrepancies in the two strategies. Playing errors will only reduce your expectation further.

One main peculiarity of ENHC games is that the basic strategist is inclined to double down and split less often than they normally 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 doubling are harmful to ENHC players because they prevent them not only from doubling on most hard totals against weak upcards but because they disallow doubling on certain soft ones like A-4 through A-7. In the absence of soft doubles, the player has no other choice but to deviate from the correct plays and opt for the second-best move, which is hitting. Of course, this also reflects poorly on the house edge in ENHC games.

Similar negative tendencies are to be observed when it comes to the limitations on splitting and doubling after a split. Given that most online ENHC variants do 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. One such set of rules produces a house edge of 0.64%. Note that the moves below can also be used in four- and eight-deck games as long as the rest of the listed rules remain intact.

Basic Strategy for Multi-Deck ENHC Blackjack
Player’s Hard Total Dealer’s First Card
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Ace
Hard Player Totals
5, 6, 7, 8 H H H H H H H H H H
9 H D D D D H H H H H
10 and 11 D D D D D D D D H H
12 H H S S S H H H H H
13, 14, 15, 16 S S S S S H H H H H
17 S S S S S S S S S S
Soft Player Totals
Player’s Soft Total Dealer’s First Card
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Ace
A-2, A-3, A-4, A-5, A-6 H H H H H H H H H H
A-7 S S S S S S S H H H
A-8, A-9 S S S S S S S S S S
Paired Cards
Player’s Pair Dealer’s First Card
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Ace
2-2, 3-3 P P P P P P H H H H
4-4 H H H P P H H H H H
5-5 D D D D D D D D H H
6-6 P P P P P H H H H H
7-7 P P P P P P H H H H
8-8 P P P P P P P P H H
9-9 P P P P P S P P S S
10-10 S S S S S S S S S S
Ace-Ace P P P P P P P P P H
H = Hit; S = Stand; D = Double down; P = Split

Advantages of European Blackjack

One of the advantages of this version is that as already mentioned, the game is played with two decks. This is good news for card counters as they will be able to apply their chosen system successfully and keep track of the cards easily. Fewer decks mean lower house edges. Nonetheless, this works to the benefit of the player only on condition the rest of the rules are player-favorable.

This will also help them derive valuable information from the card counting process and make better choices for their moves and bets. Nowadays, there aren’t many variations of landbased blackjack that involve such a low number of decks because they benefit players. Single-deck and double-deck variants with relatively decent rulesets are readily available online, though. In general, the lower the number of decks in use, the better chances they have of gaining an advantage over the casino.

Another rule which favours the players is that the dealer is required to stand on soft 17 as it is one of those moves which decreases the house edge. Consider the following – basic strategy always requires the player to draw to A-6 rather than stand. This is because 17 is generally not a winning total, with the average winning hand in blackjack being estimated at 18.5.

The same applies to a dealer with a soft 17, who is at a disadvantage when bound to stand by the house rules. If they do hit this hand, they will have several more chances for improval with almost the same number of chances of keeping it the same. Hence, ENHC games with the S17 rule are better than H17 variants.

Another benefit of ENHC blackjack is that it is one of the most famous variations which resulted in its appearance in many of the reputable online casinos nowadays. Players can enjoy it in the comfort of their homes whenever they want. They can even practise playing it before they risk their own money as many websites offer the demo option.

Disadvantages of European Blackjack

One major drawback of this variation is that there is no hole card and the dealer cannot check for Blackjack. This means that players can make additional moves on their hand and lose all of their wagered money in an instant if the dealer gets a natural Blackjack. Some other rules which increase the house edge are the restrictions imposed on splitting and resplitting.

As previously indicated, card counters can greatly benefit from this version. However, the casinos have thought this matter through which resulted in imposing some counter-measures in order to prevent them from keeping track of the cards successfully.

Players should bear in mind that some places use Continuous Shuffling Machines (CSMs), which makes the card counting process altogether ineffective. CSMs should not be mistaken with Automatic Shuffling Machines (ASMs) since ASM-shuffled tables are vulnerable to efficiently counting cards. Therefore, it is always best to double-check the rules of the game in the particular casino in order to avoid any added changes which favour the casino even more.

Player is dealt a 14 Hand. Dealer’s Up card is an Ace. Player decided to Hit and was dealt a 5. With a total of 19, Player decided to Stand. However, Dealer draws a 10 and wins with a Blackjack.

Conclusion

European Blackjack is undoubtedly one of the most interesting versions of the game which is the reason why players can find it online as well. 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.

If they want to win in the long term and make a profit while playing this version, it is advisable to first get familiar with the classic Blackjack as it uses its fundamental principles. Moreover, it is a variation which is beneficial for card counters and card counting systems are considered to be more advanced and this is the reason why players should prepare themselves as much as possible beforehand.