June 4, 2009 Update: The rules as shown on this page are long gone.
California Blackjack is a player-banked blackjack variation played at poker casinos in Los Angeles County. The rules may vary from one casino to another. For example, some casinos use more jokers or treat jokers as 2 or 12 points.
- The rules are the same as conventional blackjack except as noted below.
- Six 53-card decks are used. Each deck contains one joker.
- The highest hands, called "naturals", are in no particular order:two jokers, two aces, an ace and a joker. The player must declare any natural immediately.
- If the player has two jokers, and the dealer does not, then the player shall win 2 to 1.
- An ace and a 10-point card counts as 21 points but does not outrank other 21-points hands, as in conventional blackjack.
- Jokers are wild. A joker with any other combination of card(s) counts as 21 points and standing is mandatory.
- If the dealer has a joker face up then the down card will be turned over immediately. Players may not draw in this situation. All player hands under 21 points will lose.
- The dealer never peeks at the hole card.
- Player may surrender on any two cards, except when the dealer has a joker up.
- If dealer's down card is a joker then the player can only lose the original wager. Additional bets by doubling or splitting shall push.
- Dealer hits a soft 17.
- Double after split allowed.
- Player may split to up to three hands.
- If both the player and dealer bust and the player has a lower total then the bet is a push.
- If both the player and dealer bust and the player's total is higher or equal to the dealer's total then the player shall lose.
- Player may bet $10 to $600 per hand, with a $1 fee (the"collection") per $100 bet. The fee is always rounded up to the nearest$1 and the house gets it.
- Banker must pay a flat $3 fee.
- Option to bank rotates around the table in turn. Player-banker has the opportunity to bank two hands before the turn passes. The banker then is playing the dealer's cards against the other players.
- The most the banker can possibly win is even money for the total amount that they put up to bank with (if you put up $100 to bank with, you can only possibly win $100... even if the players' cumulative loss is $1,000). In this situation, the "corporation" will take up the slack.The corporation is a heavily bankrolled pseudo-player who sits at each table at first base and is employed by a company that the casinocontracts. These companies are allegedly non-profits. The corporation"banks behind," meaning that it covers all wagers that the player-banker cannot cover. They can but typically do not bet when it is not their turn to bank, and are not required to do so (with the exception noted below). However, they do take the banking opportunity every time it comes around to them. If they do play, they follow a strict strategy card.
- If a player-banker does not have enough money to cover all wagers, the corporation will cover the balance of the outcome of the hand. How this works is however complicated. Based on the dealer's second card, an "action" marker is placed on one of the players hands counting around from the bank location. Then, the dealer begins to pay the players in turn around the table beginning at the "action". When all of the player-banker's money has been wagered (i.e. put at risk and either won or lost), the dealer then continues to pay off or collect from the remaining players using the corporation's money. Thus, if the player-banker did not cover all the bets on the table, they may win when most of the table is losing, or lose when most of the table is winning, based on the luck of where the action falls.
- The player-banker may elect to "buy action" from the corporation.This means that the player-banker can pay $5 to the corporation and force them to bet $100. They may do this cumulatively, i.e., pay the cooperation $20 and have them bet $400, on any of the spots on the table, as chosen by the player-banker. The corporation has control over these hands and plays them according to their basic strategy charts.They keep these charts secret.
- One more option is called "kum-kum." If a player has the opportunity to be banker, they may allow any other player(s) at the table or the corporation to kum-kum with them, which means to split the banker's roll between them. For instance if Joe is banker and he has $75 he is putting up to bank, he may allow Dave to put up $75 with him as well. They then split the winning or losing between them. To kum-kum, all players must agree and generally put up the exact same amount of money. Other players may also opt to "second bank", that is to cover bets not covered by the player-banker's "first bank".
- The bank option goes around the table to each spot for two hands unless declined, in which case it moves to the next spot.
- A player can only bank in a spot if he just bet on it the hand before.
Also see the rules at the Hustler Casino. As far as I can tell the playing rules are the same at the Hustler Casino, except the number of decks.
Following is the basic strategy for the Hollywood Park Casino rules.
According to my calculations the player has an advantage of 0.56% before considering the 1% commission. Assuming a 1% commission the house edge would thus be 0.44%. It should be emphasized that the rounding rules on the commission would cause small wagers to carry a very high house edge. My advice is if you can't bet at least $100 then don't play at all.
It is hard to speculate on the advantage or disadvantage as dealer because it would be strongly dependent on the level of skill of the other players and how much they are betting. After considering strategy errors if the actual house edge was 2% then it would take $150 in action to compensate for the $3 rake. At a 3% edge it would only take $100. When I was observing a similar game called "Hawaiian Blackjack" at the Hawaiian Gardens Casino, there were many Asian players betting small stacks of black ($100) chips.
I think a well financed player should bet $100 per hand as the player and take full advantage of the option to bank in turn. It would be best to play at a table where most of the other players declined to bank.
I would like to thank Bryan Mitchell for explaining the rules to me. It had previously been difficult to get a clear explanation of the rules in full.