An interesting combination between blackjack and pai gow poker, Double Blackjack is a relatively new casino game found in just a few Nevada gambling establishments. Although it is slower than classic blackjack and has a lot of pushes like pai gow, the game has managed to attract blackjack fans from all across the United States.
Double Blackjack was invented by Dan Lubin and Al Lwin and was offered for the first time at the Green Valley Ranch Casino in 2015. As it is an unconventional form of blackjack played with two hands and 5 cards in total, it is often considered to be too complex. Once we break it down, however, it is simpler than it seems and should be quite interesting for players who know the basics of pai gow and blackjack.
Basic Rules of Double Blackjack
The game uses a single 52-card deck and all cards are counted as in blackjack. The action starts when the player makes two bets of equal size and the dealer and the player each receive 5 face-down cards that need to be arranged in two hands – a two-card hand and a three-card hand. There are no restrictions on the values of the two hands as in pai gow poker where the player must have a high and a low hand.
The goal in Double Blackjack is to get two hands that will be able to beat the dealer’s cards just like in blackjack – the higher hands win and going over 21 results in busting. However, setting your cards is not as simple as each of your hands must be exactly between 17 and 21.
Cards from Twos to Tens are counted as their face values, while Jacks, Queens, and Kings count as 10. Aces, on the other hand, can be valued either 1 or 11. Players should know, however, that there is no blackjack hand (Ace plus a 10-value card) and all 21 hands are equal.
Often, players find themselves unable to set their cards properly – indeed, sometimes this is simply impossible. If a hand is under 17 and over 21, it is called a “fouled hand” and it loses immediately. Hands between 17 and 21 are called “pat hands”. If both the player and the dealer have fouled hands, the dealer wins.
When players set their hands, the dealer also arranges his 5 cards based on pre-set rules, usually referred to as the House Way. Then, players’ two-card hands are compared to the dealer’s two-card hands. The three-card hands are compared in the same manner. Note that all fouled hands lose and there are no blackjack hands. If a player has two 21 hands, they receive a bonus winning of half their individual stake in addition to the payout for the win against the dealer.
Double-21 and Double-21 Progressive Bets
There are two optional side bets, namely the Double-21 and the Double-21 Progressive. They are resolved after the main bet has been resolved and they are completely separate from it.
This side bet wins if the player’s two hands are both 20 or better. However, there are several different payouts, depending on the specific cards that form these hands. The highest payout is 500:1 for having two Aces and three Kings (AAKKK), which is effectively the highest Full House in poker. Of course, the hands here would be set as follows – AKK and AK, both at a value of 21.
- AAKKK – The highest Full House, 500:1
- AA101010/AAJJJ/AAQQQ – Full House with Aces and 10-value cards, 100:1
- Double 21 with Soft three-card hand – 50:1
- Double 21 with Hard three-card hand – 10:1
- 21 with 20 or double 20’s – 5:1
Progressive Double-21 Bet
This progressive bet is the last to be resolved and it wins if the player’s both hands are 21. Of course, this bet is also optional. The progressive jackpot is paid in full (100%) only if the player has the following cards – AAKKK. There are fixed payouts for lower hands of 21, as well:
- Double 21 with AAKKK – 100%
- Double 21 with AA101010/AAJJJ/AAQQQ – $500
- Double 21 with Soft three-card hand – $100
- Double 21 with Hard three-card hand – $15
The House Way
When setting his two hands, the dealer is required to follow several rules dubbed The House Way. They are incredibly important for players, too, as they can help them set their cards in an optimal way. These are the rules the dealer will follow:
- The dealer makes the best three-card hand that allows for the forming of a two-card pat hand.
- If this is not possible, the dealer sets the highest three-card hand with a fouled two-card hand.
- If this does not work, the dealer sets the highest two-card hand with a fouled three-card hand.
- If no pat hands can be formed, the dealer has no alternative but to set two fouled hands.
Optimal Strategy for Double Blackjack
Since the dealer will always try to optimize the three-card hand, the two-card hand will be his weak point. To take advantage of this, players should make a pat hand with the two cards and leave the three-card hand losing. This would result in a push but it is the best strategy if only one pat hand can be made. There are, however, a few exceptions. First of all, if a three-card hand of 21 is possible, you should make it over a two-card pat hand. You should also make a 20 three-card hand over a two-card hand of 17.
But if you can make two valid hands, the strategy will be different – you should maximize the three-card hand by making it either 21 or 20 even if the other hand busts. In addition, if you can make a two-card 21 out of two hands of 19 or less, you should do that, even if the three-card hand is fouled. The house edge with this strategy is around 2.1% for the combination of the two bets. If the player decides to make any of the side bets, the house edge jumps to 6.54% and if both side bets are made, it increases even further.