In this chapter, we will take a look at what players can expect should they find themselves playing blackjack abroad. There are subtle changes around the globe in how the game is played. These changes can also be experienced when playing online if not using a UK-based site.
In this article, we're going to discuss:
For example, casinos around the world tend to use six-decks on tables, with 1 or 2 decks rare, but in the US, smaller decks are more prevalent. Another aspect where the US differs from many other countries is its tendency to pay only 6/5 for blackjack including in the variants mentioned in the previous chapter. In the UK, a pay-out of 3/2 is more likely, and variants of the game are harder to find. Always check odds for blackjack abroad.
In the following sections, we will examine three key aspects of the game that can vary according to where you are: the dealers down card, surrender and insurance.
DEALER'S DOWN CARD
In most UK and European casinos, and online casinos too, that have the European No-Hole-Card Rule (ENHC), when a player decides to split a pair or double down and then loses to a dealer blackjack, the player loses all stakes.
The US is different in most casinos, as the dealer looks at the down card and if they have blackjack, players cannot split or double. The dealer also takes their second card before players decide what to do. In the UK, the dealer tends to wait until players act on hands. This is known as the No Hole Card rule, an important rule to know when playing blackjack abroad.
The ENHC is thought to increase the house edge by 0.11%, and requires certain changes to the basic strategy. For example, with six decks, dealer hitting on s17, no surrender and doubling after pair splitting, the following changes would need to be implemented:
1. Hit Ace-Ace vs dealer Ace (rather than splitting)
2. Hit hard 11 v dealer 10 (rather than doubling)
3. Hit pair of 8s v dealer 10 and Ace (rather than splitting)
So as the example suggests, with no hole card, it is rarely the right basic strategy to double or split against a dealer ten or ace. This is because a dealer blackjack will result in the loss of the split and double stakes. The only exception is with a pair of Aces against a dealer 10. In this example it is still correct to split.
The major change can be seen when a player gets a hard 11 against a dealer's 10. As example two shows, with American rules you double, as the player knows the dealer does not have an Ace as a hole card, (they peeked to check). With ENHC, the dealer can still draw an ace for a blackjack. The increase to the house edge increases due to hands lost to a dealer’s blackjack after doubling and splitting pairs. This is why in certain hands, as detailed above, players hit instead of increasing stakes. Such strategy changes are advised with the assumption that the surrender option is not available.
As you can see, the ENHC does favour casinos more than players, though it can also add to the excitement of the game.
SURRENDER & INSURANCE
Again, we need to illustrate the difference between US casinos and much of the rest of the world should you play blackjack abroad. More common in the US is the late surrender option, which allows for half the player’s stake to be lost when giving up a hand, but only after the dealer checks they do not have blackjack.
In Europe and Asia, and online, there is a greater chance of being offered early surrender, whereby players can surrender before the dealer peeks at their hand. Early surrender favours players more. In Arnold Snyder’s The Big Book Of Blackjack, he calculates it gains players 0.63% in a S17 game, or 0.72% in a H17 game.
If the rules allow a player to surrender only against a 10 upcard, there is a 0.24% advantage. Late surrender only gives 0.07% and 0.09% gains for S17 and H17 games respectively.
Let us look at the strategy in a multi-deck game (S17) when early surrender is allowed:
- Against a dealer 10, players should surrender on a hard 14-16, including pairs of 7s and 8s.
- Against a dealer Ace, players should surrender on a hard 5-7, including a pair of 3s, and also on 12-17, including any pairs of 6-8.
- Against a dealer 9, players should surrender on a hard 10/6 and a 9/7 hand.
As covered elsewhere in the guide, all types of surrender help reduce the house edge and keep players’ bankrolls on a more even keel.
In the UK, usually you can only make the insurance bet when you have blackjack, which equates to taking even money irrespective of the dealer's hand. In most US casinos however, the insurance bet is only offered when the dealer has an Ace upcard. A few will allow it with a 10 upcard too. Blackjack abroad rules often have subtle alterations.
The main variation in rules when playing blackjack abroad will occur in US casinos or on US-based websites. Numerous other variations can be found in individual casinos though. The main areas where rules can vary relates to pay out odds on blackjack, rules on the dealer’s down card (when it is dealt and when the dealer can look at it), and also those on surrender and insurance. The European No Hole Card Rule increase the house edge when players double down and/or split against a dealer’s blackjack.
As always, players should always check blackjack rules abroad before betting and find the rules that suit them best. If possible, find a table that supports early surrender and a 3/2 blackjack payout. When necessary, adjust your strategy to suit your location’s rules. Insurance rules are of less importance as the basic strategy does not advocate its general use.