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How to Play California Blackjack

Free Blackjack at Rushmore CasinoIf you want to learn how to play California Blackjack, then this page will get you started.

California Blackjack and the Law

California Blackjack, or ‘no-bust blackjack’, is a variation of regular blackjack that was first played in the casinos in Los Angeles, California. California Blackjack was created in response to a California law that explicitly outlaws the game ‘twenty-one’ (or blackjack). So enterprising casinos came up with a new variation that was legal to run and operate.

California Blackjack Rules

California Blackjack RulesCalifornia Blackjack rules are mostly the same as regular blackjack rules: try to obtain cards with a higher value than the dealer’s without going over 21.

California Blackjack Decks - California Blackjack Cards

California Blackjack uses a six-deck shoe. California Blackjack deck have 53 cards and an extra joker. In this variation, the highest hand in the game is called a ‘natural’, which consists of two jokers, or an ace and a joker. The object of California Blackjack is to get a hand whose total does not exceed a natural hand but whose value is greater than the dealer’s.

If a player gets a natural as a hand, he must declare it immediately. Each player takes a turn as a dealer. Cards are dealt clockwise from left to right and the dealer for the turn gets his cards last.

California Blackjack Jokers - California Blackjack Wild Cards

California Blackjack JokersIn California Blackjack, jokers are wild. If they are in a combination with any other card, the player’s hand is a hard 21, and the player may not be dealt any more cards. The joker will always be whatever number is needed to reach 21.

For example, if a California Blackjack player gets a 2, then the joker counts as 19.

California Blackjack Wagers - California Blackjack Bets

If a player is dealt a natural hand with two jokers or a joker and an ace, then it beats all other regular 21 s instead of ending in a push. With a natural hand, a California Blackjack wager pays out 2 to 1.

If the dealer has a joker face up, then she will immediately turn over her hole card. If this happens a player may not draw and all players with hands under 21 automatically lose. If it turns out that the dealer’s hole card is a joker, then the player can only lose the original bet amount. If there are any additional bets from doubling or splitting, then it will be a push.

If a player’s hand goes over 21, he does not automatically lose his bet. Instead the bet is marked as having gone over 21, and the game resumes as normal. When the dealer draws out her last card and the game ends, if the dealer busts but has a higher hand total than the player who went over 21, then it counts as a push for the player and the player gets his original wager back.

If the dealer busts over 21 but has the same or lower hand value than the busted player, then the player loses.

California Blackjack - Doubling Down, Splitting, Surrendering

In California Blackjack, a player can still double down or split just like a regular game of blackjack. A player may surrender on any two cards unless the dealer has a joker face up. Another difference in California Blackjack rules is  when there is an ace and a face card. This hand counts as 21 points but it does not outrank other 21 point hands like in a regular game of blackjack.

California Blackjack Dealers - California Blackjack Bank

California Blackjack does not have a house dealer. The game features what is called a “house button” (normally labeled Bank but depends on what casino the player is in) which is passed from player to player.

Each player can act as the California Blackjack dealer for one or two hands before passing the button to the next player. When a player is acting as the "California Blackjack Bank”, she does not receive any cards as a player’s hand. Instead, her cards are considered the dealer’s hand.

If the player acting as a dealer wins the round, she receives the innings. If she loses, she must pay each other player.

The house charges a fee to play California Blackjack, either as a player or a dealer. The house may even provide access to a person (such as an employee) who has a large enough bankroll to cover the table’s bets. This person, known as the “corporation”, sits at first base and is usually employed with a contract company for the casino.

In case the person acting as dealer does not have enough winnings to cover the losses, the “corporation” person steps in and cover the remainder, thus splitting the wins or losses with the dealing player. The corporation generally does not bet when  not acting as the Banker. But they do play the banker every time their turn comes around. The most that the Banker can win is even money for the total amount that they put up to bank with. So if a player put up $100 to bank with, the most they can win back is $100.

California Blackjack is a decent variation of the standard game of blackjack. Having the chance of at least getting one’s wager back if both the dealer and the player go bust over 21 is an interesting twist. The player acting as the dealer is certainly not unheard of in games, particularly private poker games, but the advantages are solely dependent on the skill level of the other players and how much they bet.

California Blackjack Strategy - California Blackjack Tips

The following California Blackjack strategy is a little bit less than optimal, but it's easy to remember. This is actually less of a "California Blackjack strategy" than a list of "California Blackjack tips".

How to Play Various California Blackjack Hands

California Blackjack Strategy for Hard Hands

  • Always hit a hard 8 or less.
  • Double down on a hard 9 if the dealer has a 4, 5 or 6.
  • Double down on a hard 11 if the dealer has a 9 or less, and double down on a hard 10 if the dealer has an 8 or less.
  • Always hit a hard 12, 13, or 14.
  • Hit a hard 15 or 16 versus a dealer 7 or higher, otherwise stand.
  • Always stand on a hard 17 or higher.

California Blackjack Strategy for Soft Hands

  • Always hit a soft 13.
  • Double down on a soft 14, versus a dealer 6, otherwise hit.
  • Double down on a soft 15 versus a dealer 5 or 6, otherwise hit.
  • Double down on a soft 16 versus a dealer 4,5 or 6, otherwise hit.
  • Double down on a soft 17 versus a dealer 3, 4, 5, or 6, otherwise hit.
  • Double down on a soft 18 versus a dealer 6 or less, stand versus a dealer 7 or 8, otherwise hit.
  • Always stand on a soft 19 or higher.

California Blackjack Strategy for Splitting Pairs

  • Split 2's or 3's versus a dealer 8 or less, otherwise hit.
  • Never split 4's, 5's, or 6's - treat them as the appropriate hard hand.
  • Split 7's versus a dealer 7 or less.
  • Split 8's versus a dealer 10.
  • Split 9's versus a dealer 9 or less.
  • Never split 10's.

California Blackjack Exceptions

  • Surrender versus a dealer ace if you have a hard 14-18, including pairs like 77, 88, and 99.

California Blackjack Casinos

California Blackjack can be found at almost any casino in Los Angeles.

See also:

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