21st Century Blackjack (abbreviated 21CB below) is a variant of blackjack that is legal to play in California cardrooms.
California law explicitly outlaws the playing of "twenty-one", and courts have ruled that this is the game of blackjack, as is commonly played in Las Vegas and elsewhere. But card gambling itself is legal in California, so an enterprising company in Irvine invented a form of blackjack which was just different enough to not qualify as "twenty-one" in legal terms. This new form is called "21st Century No-Bust Blackjack" and is legal to be spread in any licensed California cardroom.
21st Century Blackjack plays very similarly to 21 in most respects, but differs from blackjack in a number of ways (it's these differences that keep the game legal in California). The basic goals of the game remain the same: as a player, you are trying to get a set of cards whose value totals as close as possible to 21 without going over, and you are trying to do better than the dealer in that regard.
The differences are:
- 21CB is played with a multi-deck shoe, and usually even a continuous shuffler. There is no such thing as single-deck 21CB.
- 21CB is played with the jokers in play. If a player gets a Joker, they immediately have 21: it counts as a wild card with a value of whatever is needed to get the player to 21. If you have a 2 and a joker, the joker acts as though it had a value of 19.
- Getting two jokers, or a joker and an Ace, is called a "natural" (or sometimes, a Natural 22), which is a kind of "super 21", and even beats any other 21 (instead of just pushing as it normally would). In some casinos, getting a hand of two jokers is a bonus hand and pays extra jackpots.
- If a player goes over 21, their hand is not discarded or dead. Instead, it is marked as having gone over 21, and the rest of the play resumes at the table. When the dealer eventually completes their hand (as is typical in blackjack, the dealer draws cards last), if the dealer ends up busting but has a higher hand total than a busted player, it counts as a push for the player (they get their bet back). If the dealer busts with the same or lower total than the player, the player loses. As you can imagine, this alters the strategy for such things as hitting a 12.
- Doubling down and splitting are still valid in 21CB, just as in normal blackjack.
- The house does not participate as the dealer. 21CB has a "dealer button" (normally labelled BANK) that rotates among the players, each of whom may choose to act as the bank (or act as the house) for one or two hands, depending on house rules, before passing the button on to the next player. When a player is acting as BANK, they get no cards and do not "play" in the typical sense: instead, their hand is the dealer's hand. The dealer plays the hand as usual, and if the dealer wins, the money goes to the player acting as BANK; if the dealer loses, the BANK player must pay all the other players.
- The house charges a fixed per-hand fee to play each hand (usually $1 to play a hand, or $2 to act as BANK); that is how the casino makes money on this game.
- Usually, the house also provides access to an employee or other person who has a sufficiently large bankroll (usually stacked in front of them) to always cover all bets on the table. If a player wishes to act as BANK but does not actually have enough money to cover all bets on the table, the large bankroll person steps up and covers the remainder, then splits the gains or losses with the BANK player.
- A player may generally place up to three bets on their hand - this is usually because there are per-bet betting limits in place at most casinos, so if a player wishes to bet more, they can place bets in each of the three "betting circles" in front of their hand.
- Other players may also bet on your hand, by placing their bet in a betting circle on your hand. If you win, they win too. If you lose, they lose.