All variations of blackjack can be traced back to an early 17th-Century game called “Veintiuna”, which is Spanish for “Twenty-one”. The first reference to the game came from the Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes, most famous for his now-classic tale of Don Quixote.
Twenty-one took hold of Europe, especially in France and England, and was then brought to North America during the early 20th century. While North American gamblers were first unimpressed by what they saw as low payouts, Nevada casinos were able to see the potential in the game. After making some payout changes, the game we now know as blackjack became an instant hit in America and beyond.
Since then, several blackjack variations have formed with different mechanics and appeals to draw in different types of players. European blackjack is one such variation.
What is European blackjack? American vs European blackjack
European blackjack is one of the most common variants of the blackjack game, often sitting side by side in popularity with American blackjack.
While the core of the game remains the same between the two variants, there are quite a few small differences that can really change up the viable strategies applicable to each round.
To illustrate how to play European blackjack and what makes it unique, we will need to contrast it with American blackjack to show what sets it apart.
Let’s start with the deck count. The European Blackjack game variant only uses two standard decks of cards in a game, rather than the six to eight decks used in the American variant. A larger deck count makes it harder to count cards and increases the house edge.
This makes the European ruleset more favorable for players in this regard. Despite this, American blackjack is generally seen as more flexible, as players are given additional options to tailor their bets from round to round. This combats many of the negative effects of a higher house edge.
This last can be clearly seen in the limitations players have when it comes to splitting and doubling down in the European version. Players can only double down on hands valued at a 9, 10, or 11, for example, while splitting can only occur once for cards with a value of 10. Playing American blackjack gives you a lot more options here and also features the hole card. This essentially prevents further betting when the dealer’s opening two cards equal to 21.
How to play – European blackjack rules
While the above-mentioned ruleset of European blackjack is the most commonly available, it is important to keep in mind that different sites and venues may offer further niche variants of the game.
It is, therefore, important that you keep in mind that any table you enter may have additional European blackjack rules.
With that out of the way, if you are new to blackjack, then European variants are generally a good place to start. It may first appear that the American version has way more benefits, but it typically favors more experienced players with a firm grasp of all of the rules, payouts, and quirks of the game.
Simplifying the ruleset makes it a lot more inviting for newer players and allows them to focus more on the core mechanics of the game.
In blackjack, everyone plays against the dealer, unlike poker where players are competing against each other. To win against the dealer, you must have a hand that adds up to a higher score than the dealer without going over a score of 21.
Numbered cards are equal to their value, so a 7 of any suit would equal seven points. Face cards are worth 10. Aces can either be valued at one or 11, depending on what is most advantageous.
The best opening hand you could hope for is a 21 from an Ace and a face card. This results in an automatic win with a higher payout.
During each game round, players have a number of betting options they can make: Stand, Hit, Double Down, Split, and Surrender.
In essence, the European variant stays true to the core tenants of blackjack. And it’s the conditions that need to be met before a player can make certain decisions that make this ruleset distinctive.
In order to effectively formulate a European blackjack strategy, you will first need to know about the payouts.
The good news here is that it is all pretty simple, and most wins will result in a payout of 1 to 1. The only exception to this is being dealt a natural blackjack of 21 from two cards, which provides a payout of 3 to 2.
Tables that offer insurance wins will generally provide a payout of 2 to 1. These three different payouts are standard across all variants of blackjack. This makes it easier to remember, should you ever decide to hop from one variant to another.
You may come across tables that offer a much lower payout rate of 6 to 5 (instead of 3 to 2) for a natural blackjack. However, it is generally advised to stay away from such tables.
European blackjack strategies and other helpful tips
A big proponent that dictates the strategies viable in European blackjack is the lack of any hole card. While this makes the dealer’s hand a lot less predictable, they still have to follow the same standard rules of always hitting until reaching a value of at least 17, where they will then stand.
Understanding the dealer’s play conditions is the first step to building up a strategy to beat them. From there, you can follow some of the following tips and tricks that we’ve compiled.
GoodLuckMate’s best tips for playing European blackjack:
- Always create a budget before committing any of your funds
- Splitting and Doubling Down are generally avoided, due to the lack of a hole card
- Splitting is still best done with cards with a value of 10
- 10 is the most common card value and should be taken into consideration when deciding whether to Hit or Stand
- Aces can be invaluable, due to the fact that they can be valued at either 1 or 11 points, allowing you to be more aggressive with your Hits
- The “Martingale System” is a famous strategy that we would recommend avoiding. It requires a player to double the wager of their last hand, as a form of recouping losses. This method has a tendency of creating a chase after losses that has a big potential for sinking you deeper
House edge – what are your chances of winning?
Blackjack is very popular, due in part to the low house edge. European variants have a slightly higher house edge than the American variants, thanks to there being no hole card.
This pushes the edge from 0.35% to 0.40%. However, this is still remarkably low compared to slots and even roulette, for example.
Another variable that affects the house edge in different variants is the number of decks used. A higher number of decks will increase the house edge. This is because strategies that involve card counting become too complex for players to adhere to.
The number of decks used at land-based casinos will generally stay relatively high, while playing European blackjack online can present you with a diverse range of rulesets, including various deck counts.
This means that it is well worth shopping around when playing online, in order to find the perfect setup for you.
Play European blackjack online
There are plenty of choices when looking for an online European blackjack casino. Any site that offers virtual table games or live casino action will more than likely have a variety of blackjack tables to choose from.
Only the online roulette game is comparative in its availability and variations.
Rulesets can vary depending on the casino, game provider, and the specific table. Some providers may favor larger deck counts, while others may try to introduce additional betting or payout rules.
It is important that you always make yourself familiar with the specific rules of a table, as it may not always be clear from the game’s thumbnail or user interface.
Many sites also have special promotions running for their table games. These could include getting a bonus on a specific card draw or receiving cashback after a certain amount of losses. It is always worthwhile taking the extra time to find a site that will adequately reward you for playing your favorite games.
Additionally, you can always check out our expert casino reviews here at GoodLuckMate to find out if a casino is right for you.
Live dealer games vs RNG games
There are lots of different sites and providers offering up free European blackjack online, in either virtual or live casino formats.
Virtual table games are built on random number generators (RNG), which are algorithms that are designed to provide truly random results. Everything is entirely managed by software, and tables will only ever consist of you versus the computer.
While many players feel much more comfortable playing with a real dealer, there is something to be said for the removal of any possibility of human error from the dealer’s side, as well as the serenity that comes with not having to constantly listen to other players’ frustrations.
But then again, isn’t it these human emotions that breathe life into the game in the first place?
Well, live dealer blackjack games provide unparalleled online interactivity between players and dealers alike thanks to the help of sophisticated technology. Multi-cam streaming, ambient studios, and approachable dealers are part of the package here.
Live casino games allow you to get as close to a Las Vegas or Monte Carlo experience as possible – all from the comfort of your own home.