11 Oct

Chinese 21: A Casual Game of Blackjack

Learn how to play Chinese Blackjack, a card gaming oddity popularized in casual home games of Southeast Asia.

How to Play Chinese Blackjack, Asia's Most Popular 21 Home Edition

Chinese Blackjack isn’t the type of game I normally write about. This website is mostly dedicated to detailing games found in live, online and/or walk-in casinos; specifically those played here in Canada. Chinese Blackjack (a.k.a. 21-Point, Ban-Luck, or Ban-Nag) fits neither of those bills.

It’s extremely popular in parts of Asia, but is rarely (if ever) played in the western world. You won’t find it at any internet casinos, either. If you want to play this casual blackjack game outside of the eastern hemisphere, you’ll need to teach it to a group of friends, then gather them round the kitchen table with everyone’s respective coin jars in tow.

How to Play Chinese Blackjack

You’ll need two 52-card decks and at least two players – the more the merrier – to play Chinese 21. One person will act as the dealer/banker, and the rest as players. The deal normally rotates clockwise around the table after every three hands of play. The rules of Chinese Blackjack follow standard blackjack in most regards, but not all.

All Cards Dealt Down: All cards, player and dealer, are dealt face down, including hits. No one has the advantage of seeing another players cards, or the dealer’s cards (i.e. no card counting, no insurance, no peeking for blackjack, etc.)

Value of Aces: In this game, the value of an Ace is not simply “1 or 11”, but rather 1, 10 or 11, dependent on the number of cards in the player’s hand at the time. If a player has 2 cards (one being an Ace), the Ace is either worth 10 or 11. By this rule, a pair of Aces (Ban-Ban) can be a good thing, equaling 21 instead of 12. When a player has three cards in their hand, an Ace will be valued at 1 or 10; the higher number that doesn’t bust the hand. If a hand has four or more cards, however, the value of Ace is always 1.

All other card values and the object of the game – to beat the dealer by achieving a hand total closer to 21 without going over – remain the same as Classic Blackjack.

Special Card Combinations

There are a number of special hands a player (or dealer) can achieve. This hands make the game far more interesting than traditional blackjack, and are also a major factor in this game not being available at land-based or online casinos.

Each special hand has its own special name and characteristics, as follows:

Ban-Ban

A two-card hand of Ace-Ace is called a Ban-Ban, and is an automatic winner. The bonus payout for a Ban-Ban is 3 to 1, unless the dealer also has Ban-Ban, in which case the player still wins even money (1 to 1). When the dealer gets Ban-Ban, all player hands lose (except ties).

Ban-Nag

This hand is what we commonly know as a natural Blackjack (Ace + 10 or face card). A Ban-Nag is an instant winner, paying out 2 to 1, unless the dealer has Ban-Ban (player loses) or Ban-Nag (push). If the dealer has Ban-Nag, only a player’s Ban-Ban beats it; player’s Ban-Nag ties; all other hands lose.

Free / Escape Hand

A free hand, or escape hand, is any hand that adds up to exactly 15 points. When a player has a free hand, he can choose to continue or escape. To escape is to reclaim the total bet and forfeit the hand. If the dealer has 15, he may also continue or escape. When the dealer escapes, the hand is immediately over. No one wins or loses. A new hand is dealt.

5 Dragon

Assuming none of the above special hands have impacted the flow of the game, and a player hits enough times to achieve any 5 card hand without busting, it is called a 5 Dragon (i.e. a 5 Card Charlie in traditional blackjack games). A 5 Dragon is an instant winner, paying 2 to 1. If the 5-card total is exactly 21, the player is paid 3 to 1. If the dealer achieves a 5 Dragon, all players are forced to pay the dealer 3x their initial bet.

Chinese 21 Dealer Rules

Another casual aspect of blackjack oddity is that the dealer has the freedom to make his own decisions, in certain situations. The following mandates and choices are available based on the dealer’s total hand value:

Hand value of 14 or below: Dealer must hit.

Hand value of 15: Dealer can claim “free hand” and escape, or continue, in which case he is required to hit the 15.

Hand value 16-20: Dealer’s choice, hit or stand.

Hand value 21: Dealer automatically stands, and all players reveal their cards. Highest hand value wins; tie pushes.

Hand value 22+: Dealer busts. All player hands are revealed. Any player who did not bust wins. Special hands are paid at the bonus rate detailed above. Normal wins are paid even money.

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