Care for a game of blackjack, Chinese style? Also known as 21-point, ban-luck, or ban-nag, Chinese blackjack is a popular pastime during the Chinese New Year. Traditionally, this is a festival that’s expected to bring luck, and Chinese-style blackjack is one of the ways that families and friends put their luck to the test. It’s based on classic blackjack but with a few important differences resulting from its social nature. Chinese blackjack doesn’t feature in the usual repertoire of casino games online, but you can play it in Asian casinos. Keen to learn how to play this intriguing blackjack variant? Keep reading.
This Chinese blackjack variant is played with one or two standard decks of 52 cards — one deck for four players or fewer and two for five or more, up to a maximum of 20 players.
Before dealing begins, players all place a predetermined ante into the center. A dealer is then chosen at random. The dealer shuffles the deck, a player cuts the deck, and the dealer deals two cards face-down to each player, the dealer included.
Unlike classic blackjack, the cards are shuffled between each deal, and the dealer position moves clockwise around the table.
The aim of the game is the same as in classic blackjack: To form a hand with the closest value to 21 (ban-luck or blackjack).
Players have to reveal their cards to declare blackjack and can do so at any time. Unless players reveal blackjack or have special combinations (more on that later), players will hit, stand, double down, or split, the same as a classic game of blackjack, with one important difference: Players have to hit on 14 or less.
The dealer acts last and can force players to reveal their cards for a showdown against their cards. The dealer can do this repeatedly and still hit before the final showdown.
Cards have the same values as in classic blackjack, with the exception of aces.
To determine the value of an ace, you have to look at how many cards there are in your hand.
An ace in a two-card hand can be worth 10 or 11.
In a three-card hand, an ace can be worth 1 or 10.
An ace in a four- or five-card hand is always worth 1.
In classic blackjack, a hand of 2-2-2-3-ace has a total value of 21, but not in Chinese 21. That said, it’s still a winning hand. The reason is that it’s one of the special combinations that make this game so intriguing.
Special combinations can be either five-cards or melds.
A meld is a specific arrangement of specific cards in the hand. Players can reveal them at any time to secure various advantages.
No Man’s Land
If your initial two cards total 15, you can choose to surrender your cards and have a free push (your stake is returned).
If your starting hand contains an ace plus a face card or a 10, it’s Ban-Luck (blackjack), an instant win that carries a 2x payout. If the player and dealer both have Ban-Luck, it’s a tie.
A two-ace hand can be revealed to win a 3x payout. Important: Ban-Ban beats Ban-Luck.
If you have a pair of 7s, hit on your turn, and receive a third 7, you have a triple 7. Congratulations — it’s worth anything from 7x to 21x your stake, depending on the house rules.
In addition to the melds, Chinese blackjack has two five-card combinations.
If you’re holding four cards and haven’t bust yet, you can reveal your hand and hit for a fifth card. If you go bust, you lose double your stake, but if you don’t (and your hand doesn’t equal 21), you have the Five-Dragon and receive a 2x payout. Beware: If the dealer gets a non-blackjack Five-Dragon, all players lose and have to pay 2x their stake.
If you hit for a fifth card and your hand totals 21, it’s the Five-21, and you immediately receive a 3x payout. And if the dealer gets Five-21? You guessed it, all players lose and pay the dealer 3x their stake.
Chinese Blackjack Odds & Strategy
As you can see, the rules of Chinese 21 make for a significantly different gaming experience that calls for a different approach from the classic blackjack strategy. In this regard, a knowledge of Chinese blackjack odds is essential. Here is some basic food for thought:
- The probability of getting Ban-Ban is +17757.
- The probability of getting Ban-Luck is +1970.
- The chance that the initial hand will be between 17 and 20 points is +233.
- The player’s odds of busting if they hit on 16 points are -163.
- If a player doesn’t hit on 16 points, the dealer has a chance of winning at -201.
As you can tell, with the risk of having to pay the dealer 3x your stake, the Chinese blackjack house edge is much higher than classic blackjack. Fortunately, everybody gets a chance to be the dealer.
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