Although gambling is allowed in the state of California, the gambling laws are somewhat restrictive compared to other states. These laws have forced casinos and card rooms to come up with some rather unique variations on standard 21 games in order to please players and stay within the limits of the law.
One of the most creative games unique to California is California Blackjack, sometimes referred to as 21st Century Blackjack or No Bust Blackjack (not to mix with Buster). The game was invented by a man named Roger Wisted in 1989 as a way to get around an 1873 state law that makes house-banked games illegal. This means players can only play against each other, not the house.
California Blackjack is set up in such a way that players are betting against each other rather than the casino or card room dealer. The house then makes their money by charging a fee to each player for each hand, or a taking a rake, just as with poker games. The rake is typically 1% of the bet or $1, whichever is greater.
California Blackjack, or 21st Century Blackjack, plays much like a standard Blackjack game, but there are a few significant rule changes. The object of the game is to get to 22, not 21, without going over. One player will act as the bank, covering the bets of all other players as the house would in a standard Blackjack game. All decks used also include a joker to make 53 cards instead of the usual 52. Of course, just as with any other table game, rules may vary slightly from one establishment to another, but the following are the most common rules.
California Blackjack General Rules
- The object of the game is to get as close as possible to 22 without going over.
- Each deck used contains a joker, which is wild and automatically combines with any other card(s) to equal 22.
- All other card values are the same as traditional Blackjack.
- The best possible hand is a “natural” which can be made from two aces, two jokers, or an ace and a joker. When a player is dealt a natural, he must immediately declare it.
- An ace and ten point card do not outrank any other hand totalling 21.
- The dealer is not permitted to peek at his hole card.
- If the dealer’s face up card is a joker, his hole card is immediately turned over and the action ends. Any player with less than 21 loses their bet.
- If the dealer’s down card is a joker, players will only lose their original bet. Any additional bets made by doubling or splitting will be a push.
- The dealer must hit a soft 17.
- Players can split up to three hands.
- Players can double down after splitting.
- Players can surrender any hand except when the dealer has a joker showing.
- If both the player and dealer go over 22 and the player has a lower total, the bet is a push.
- If both the player and dealer go over 22 and the dealer has a lower total, the player loses.
- If both the player and dealer go over 22 and have the same total, the dealer wins.
No Bust Blackjack Banker Rules
The role of the banker moves around the table, going to each player’s left when a hand is completed. It is the banker’s responsibility to act as the dealer and cover all bets made by other players at the table. He must pay winning players and collects the bets of losing players. If the banker can’t cover all bets, help from the corporation (see below) will be enlisted to cover any remaining bets. Players may decline to act as the banker and pass it to their left.
The “corporation” is a sort of pseudo-player employed by a company that is contracted by the casino or card room. These companies are supposedly non-profit. There will be a corporation player seated at each table, usually in the first seat. The corporation will cover any bets that the banker is unable to cover. This person is not required to play as a player, except for one special situation (see #2 below), and usually doesn’t. They will, however, accept the banker role each time they are given the opportunity.
The following rules apply to any player acting as the banker:
- The most the banker can win is the money he put up to cover player bets. For example, if the banker can only cover $100 in bets, but there are $300 in bets on the table, the corporation will cover the additional $200. In this case, if the banker/dealer wins, he can only win $100, any additional bets won from players would go back to the corporation.
- The banker can choose to make a special wager to “buy action” from the corporation. This forces the corporation player to play a hand with a wager 20 times the amount of the player’s bet at any spot on the table of the player’s choosing. In this case the corporation player will play the hand according to a very strict strategy chart that is usually kept secret.
- There is an option referred to as a “kum-kum” that allows the banker to share the roll with another player at the table. Players will generally fund the bank with the exact same amount of money and then any winnings or losses are split evenly at the conclusion of the hand.
If you’ve never played California Blackjack, the differences in the rules can seem a bit confusing at first, but it’s not as hard to play as it you might think. Most people get the hang of it after just a few hands.
It is important to point out, however, that the rake involved in this form of Blackjack changes a player’s expected winnings significantly. The minimum charge a player can expect from a card room or casino is $1 per hand. If you play $100 per hand, $1 equals 1% of your bet. If you play $20 per hand, it’s 5% of your bet. If you play with a strategy that has a 2% expected return, a rake of 5% means you’ll still lose money. For this reason, gambling experts say you should always bet at least $100 per hand when playing California Blackjack. As a result, it is often a high stakes game and requires a considerable bankroll.
If you’ve got the bankroll for it, it can be an extremely fun variation on classic Blackjack. So if you’re looking for a new game, look for casinos and card rooms offer offering California Blackjack, No Bust Blackjack, or 21st Century Blackjack. They’re all the same game! Don’t forget to check the exact rules at the room where you decide to play.
Good luck at the tables!