European Blackjack Strategy Guide
European Blackjack strategy centers almost completely around making adjustments for the no peek rule. It’s a small rule that drastically changes how some of the most common and most important situations have to be played, and if you don’t make the right adjustments, you can fall into a trap of having a very high house advantage.
Introduction to European Blackjack
There are certain rules that we think about with games like blackjack that we never really assume will change. As a result, that can cause us to go a bit on auto-pilot when we’re playing and not make proper adjustments if we happen to run into a situation where one of these rules has been switched around.
European Blackjack is what happens when a key rule of the game is changed in what’s basically an attempt to trip players up and keep them from playing well.
If you’re the type of player who really likes to learn the details of how to play against various types of rule changes, then this is an excellent game to learn inside and out because the adjustments you use here can come in handy in a few other styles of blackjack as well.
With that said, we want to give players a very serious warning before we even get started: If you play this game without fully committing to making the correct strategic adjustments, then you can very easily end up with a house edge that’s higher than almost anything else the casino has to offer.
House Advantage and Payout Rates
The best-paying blackjack games usually have a house advantage in the range of 0.5 percent or so for a payout rate in the neighborhood of 99.5 percent. The European Blackjack house edge is in this range at about 0.62 for correct play, and that means you can get your payout rate up to around 99.38 percent if you learn the strategies that we’re about to cover.
If we account for the occasional mistake that we’re bound to make because we’re human, we’re still hitting well over 99 percent here, which is the range that we’re really looking for in strategic games that require a bit of practice and preparation.
Again, we want to reiterate how important it is that you do not just run and jump into this game playing a standard multi-deck strategy. If you do that, even if you play that normal multi-deck strategy perfectly, you can end up with a house advantage of 5 percent or more, which is absolutely terrible.
Important Rules for European Blackjack
The basic idea behind the adjusted rule set for this style of blackjack is that you have one change to the no peek rule that gives the house a sizeable advantage, and this is also the rule that you have to adjust to so much strategically. The rule is as follows:
The dealer does not peek for blackjack when holding a ten-point card or ace.
However, to compensate for that, you get a rule that gives you back some of that edge:
Players can double after splitting.
These two rules require some serious adjustments. However, there are a few other rules that are worth mentioning as well:
- The dealer always stands on a soft 17.
- Players can only double with totals of 9, 10 or 11.
- The game always uses six or eight decks.
On this short list, the first rule is good because it gives a better payout rate than the alternative. The second rule isn’t great because it removes a lot of opportunities to double with soft hands, but it’s not the end of the world. Finally, the third rule is important because it means players won’t get swerved with games that only have one or two decks, which would change the correct strategies in a number of situations.
Strategies for European Blackjack
The main thing to keep in mind with European Blackjack is that if you go on “auto-pilot” during your sessions, you’ll almost always make some big mistakes in certain common situations that are very common. This means that you’re ultimately having a battle with yourself while playing this title that centers around staying mindful of what’s going on and of the game that you’re playing.
Aside from that, the strategies for this game aren’t particularly difficult, and the lack of doubling with totals of 12 or higher actually simplifies things quite a bit for soft hands in particular, which are often some of the most difficult hands for players to learn because of all of the possibilities.
Adjusting to the No Peek Rule
The essence of the traditional peek rule is that the dealer will check for blackjack before play actually starts. The idea behind this at regular blackjack tables is that it makes play go more quickly if the dealer has a natural 21 since the house doesn’t have to wait on everyone to make their plays only to find out they’re losing to a dealer blackjack.
In European Blackjack, this rule is not in effect. That may not sound like a big deal at all until you realize the implications when you’re facing a ten or ace:
With the traditional peek rule, you’ll never play your hand when facing a ten or ace when the dealer has blackjack. However, you will face the possibility of a dealer having a natural 21 in European Blackjack.
As a result of this rule change, you have to play very carefully and conservatively when you’re up against a dealer showing a ten or ace. This is so much the case that we’re actually going to offer a completely different section on how to play against these hands when we talk about hard hands or paired hands because the play is so much different from the usual multi-deck strategies.
Playing Hard Hands and Doubling
With an eight or lower, you’ll always hit, as is normal in virtually all forms of the game. With a nine, you can double against a 3-6. If you have a 10 or 11, you’ll only double when facing a 9 or below.
And this brings us to an important point for the game in general:
You’ll never double at any point in this game whatsoever when you’re up against a dealer showing an ace or a ten-point card, because of the effects of the no peek rule and the massive disadvantage it puts you at because of the chances that you’ll run into a blackjack.
With that having been said, playing other hard hands with totals of 12 and up is pretty easy. If you have a total of 17 or more, or if you’re facing a dealer with a 2-6, then you stand. The exception to this is that you should hit if you have 12 and are facing a 2 or 3, which is a normal adjustment in most multi-deck games.
However, if you’re facing a seven or higher with a total of 12-16, you’ll always stand, and that’s because there is no surrendering available in this game.
Soft Hands and the Lack of Doubling
Since you can only double with a total of 9, 10 or 11 in this game, doubling with any soft hands is out of the question. That actually leads us to having a pretty simple strategy that’s really easy to learn when it comes to playing soft hands in European Blackjack:
- With soft totals of 13 to 17, you will always hit.
- With soft totals of 19 to 21, you will always stand.
- If you have a soft total of 18, you’ll stand when facing 2-8 and hit when facing a 9, 10 or A.
That’s really it for the soft hands. While your payout rate is slightly lower for not having doubling options with soft hands, the resulting simplicity of the strategy is a silver lining on that particular cloud.
The first question you have to ask yourself when dealt a paired hand in this game is if you’re going to split or not. If you aren’t planning on splitting, then you will play the hand normally as a hard total (with one exception that you’ll see below).
The only real way to learn a splitting strategy is to know when to split with each possible pairing. The problem with that in European Blackjack is that there are a number of “ironclad rules” that strategic players learn to always go by, and some of those rules do not apply at all in this game.
For example, there’s a well-known adage about blackjack that you should always split with aces or eights. If you do that in this game, then you’re going to have a bad time.
With all of that said, here are the basic rules to follow for splitting in European Blackjack:
- 2s, 3s, 7s – Split when facing 2-7 only.
- 4s – Split when facing 5-6 only.
- 5s, 10s – Never split either of these.
- 6s – Split when facing 2-6 only.
- 8s – Split when facing 2-9 only (we don’t split against 10s or As because of the no peek rule).
- 9s – Split when facing 2-6 or 8-9 only (the typical situation of not splitting 9s against a 7 because of the chance to have an 18 against a dealer 17 for an immediate win is so high).
- Aces – Split when facing anything but a dealer ace.*
* Note: This is the only situation where you will split or double against an ace or ten in the entire overall strategy for European Blackjack.
The splitting strategy is a bit more complicated than the rest of what this game has to offer, but at the same time, it’s also the part of the game that you’ll see the least often. As such, we think players should learn this part of the game last since it requires the most effort for the smallest gain to your payout rate provided that you do not split against a ten or ace except with aces against an ace specifically.
Overview of How to Win at European Blackjack
Everything regarding the correct strategies for European Blackjack involves adjusting to the fact that the dealer does not peek before you start making your plays, and that means that you can be facing a dealer blackjack when up against a ten or an ace.
If you adjust to that properly, and if you keep yourself from accidentally going on “auto-pilot,” then this isn’t a very difficult game to learn to play well, and the lessons that you learn from it can apply to a number of other blackjack titles.