If you’ve ever played blackjack or other 21 games at home with friends or family, you might be used to a rule known as the 5-card trick or 5-card charlie.
This rule says that if you’re dealt 5 cards and don’t go over 21, you automatically win, no matter what you or the dealer score. I played this rule with my dad many times when I was younger.
In casino blackjack, however, this isn’t the case – getting 5 cards doesn’t automatically mean a win.
In this article, I’ll explain why the 5-card blackjack rules don’t apply in most versions of the game, but I’ll also show you the variations where it does, and how these differ from the standard blackjack rules.
What is the 5-Card Rule in Blackjack?
The 5-card rule in blackjack is an optional rule that says if you’re dealt 5 cards and don’t go over 21, you win – even if the dealer beats your score. This is also sometimes called the 5-card charlie rule.
Why Most Casinos Don’t Use 5-Card Charlie
The main reason that land-based casinos don’t use the 5-card charlie rule is that it’s simply too generous to the player. It can add as much as 1.45% to the player’s RTP.
Blackjack is already a game that offers some of the best odds of any table game in the casino (especially when using basic blackjack strategy), and so adding this rule to a classic blackjack table would potentially remove the house edge entirely and give a positive expectancy to all players.
Clearly, no casino is going to offer a game that they don’t expect to make a profit from.
Blackjack Games that Do Pay Out on 5 Cards
There are, however, some versions of blackjack that do offer a 5-card charlie rule. These include:
In casino pontoon, a blackjack (A+10) hand is called a Pontoon and pays 2:1.
The game also pays out on a 5-card hand, which also pays 2:1 irrespective of the hand value. The dealer only beats a 5-card trick if (s)he has a pontoon.
Any other win is paid at even money as normal.
However, there are a few other rule changes in Pontoon that bring the odds back in the house’s favor. Specifically:
- The dealer wins ties (there is no push)
- The player cannot stand on scores of 14 or less
- Both the dealer’s cards are dealt face down
Nevertheless, Pontoon is a fun blackjack variation that can be quite profitable if you’re lucky enough to get a few 5-card Charlies. I’ve had some good results on this game in the past.
Spanish 21 is another blackjack variation that pays out on a 5-card hand. In this case, the payout is 3:2 just like a normal blackjack.
However, there are also several other rule changes that make Spanish 21 much more favorable to the player than classic blackjack. These include:
- The player can re-split Aces up to 4 hands
- The player can double down on any number of cards
- The player can surrender half their bet after the dealer checks for blackjack
- There are no 10-value cards in the deck (all picture cards and Aces count as 10)
Because of these rule changes, Spanish 21 has a lower house edge than classic blackjack and offers a 99.51% RTP to the player.
How 5-Card Charlie Affects Blackjack Strategy
Normally it’s good for the player when there are more high-value cards left in the deck – in fact, this is the basic logic behind counting cards.
But when the game uses the 5-card rules, it can in fact be beneficial to have a lot of very low-value cards left in the deck, because this gives the player a better chance of landing a 5-card hand.
This means that both traditional card counting systems, and even basic strategy, are of little use in these game variations.
Instead, these general tips will help you to form the most effective strategy:
- Stand on any hard hands of 18 or more
- Split Aces
- Double down on any hard 11
- Remember that the odds of 5-card charlie are around 50:1 so only begin focus on getting this when you already have 3 cards in your hand
- However, when you do have 3 or more cards, consider hitting on a higher score than you normally would. Doing so can help achieve the 5 card payout, or force the dealer to go bust.
The 5-card charlie rule is a fun optional extra which can be added to blackjack games at home. However, in casino blackjack, this rule is very rarely used because it’s simply too generous to the player.
If you’re looking for a blackjack variation that does pay out on a 5-card hand, then you can try pontoon or Spanish 21. Both of these games offer other rule changes which make them more favorable to the player than classic blackjack.
Last Updated on September 29, 2022