For blackjack players in North America, the ENHC blackjack rule (European No Hole Card) is rarely seen. But the ENHC option is much more prevalent outside of America, especially in the UK, Europe, Asia, and the Philippines. It is often marginally mentioned in blackjack books, at best given an unglamorous negative row in edge tables for basic strategy players.
After receiving a number of questions from players about ENHC, I decided to run some detailed simulations with my own company's blackjack simulator and training products to see how bad ENHC is for the player, and what strategies they could employ to improve their edge (www.HandheldBlackjack.com). I went into this certain that ENHC would prove marginal for the advantage player, and a rule that is best avoided. However, I was surprised to discover that players can do fairly well against it, especially if they can find additional advantageous rules to offset ENHC. In addition, applying more aggressive playing strategies can greatly offset the negative ENHC rule (my experience outside of Sin City is that casinos with marginal game rules tolerate more aggressive advantage play strategies, such as sitting out negative counts or using large bet spreads at high counts).
So, "what is ENHC?" you may ask. With this blackjack rule, the dealer doesn’t get a hole card during the initial deal of cards. Once all the players have completed their hands, the dealer deals himself a second card and completes his hand as usual. Unlike standard American blackjack, the dealer never 'peaks' at their hole card prior to dealing the round when they have a ten-valued card or ace up. Insurance and blackjacks still apply, but the mechanics are a bit different: insurance is still offered but is resolved after the round is done, and player blackjacks are not paid off until the dealer determines that he does not have a blackjack as well (which would be a push if the dealer also has a blackjack).
So what's so bad about ENHC? The problem is when the dealer gets a blackjack (a ten-valued card and ace combination), and the player had unwittingly doubled or split their hand prior. In American rules, the dealer would have peaked before dealing the round, and simply taken the players’ initial wagers immediately if the house had a blackjack (or pushed against the players with blackjacks as well). And if the dealer peaks and does not have a blackjack, then the players get to play their hands with full knowledge that the dealer can’t get a natural (and player blackjacks are paid off immediately). With ENHC, the player is forced to play their hand with that dealer ten or ace looming over them and if the dealer subsequently draws a ten or ace after the players completed their hands, all players secondary bets made in doubling or pair splitting is taken by the dealer. So, if the dealer gets a blackjack with the ENHC rule, the player who doubles or pair splits loses the initial wager and the secondary wager, whereas with the American rule, the player only loses the initial wager.
Be alert to the rare game that appears to be using ENHC, but turns out to be no different from standard American rules. If the house gives back the player's secondary split and double bet in the event that the dealer gets a blackjack, then this game is no different in any mathematical sense from standard American rules blackjack. It's only the player’s splits and doubles when the dealer gets a blackjack that are relevant to ENHC, otherwise it's the same game. (Note: A casino may use a 'fake' ENHC playing method where they take only the original bet and return the secondary wager made when splitting and doubling if the dealer gets blackjack. They do this so that there is no risk of the dealer exposing his hole card to the players in advance of playing out the round.)