Updated on 3rd March 2021
Blackjack, also commonly referred to as twenty-one, is the most popular casino card game in the world. It is, in general, a comparing card game between the player and the dealer. This means that players compete against the dealer and not against the other players.
Blackjack is played with one or more classic decks of fifty two cards. The object of the game is to beat the dealer, which can be done in several ways:
1. Get to twenty-one points on the first two cards you receive, without the dealer having a blackjack
2. Reach a final score that is closer to twenty one than the dealer’s hand, without going over twenty one.
3. Let the dealer draw additional cards until his hand goes over twenty one.
The cards from two to ten have the numeric value of their number. Face cards, which are kings, queens, and jacks, are counted as ten points, and the ace can be either one point or eleven points. The players are each dealt an initial two card hand and add together the value of their cards. After the initial dealing, players have the option of either choosing a “hit”, which means taking an additional card, or they can choose to “stand”, meaning sticking to their two initial cards.
Scoring higher than twenty one is called a “bust” and results in a loss.
A soft hand is a hand where the player can take an additional card and not go bust, where as a hand that would go bust with an additional card is referred to as a “hard hand”.
The dealer plays by set rules. He or she must take hits until their hand has a total of seventeen or more points. Players win if they do not bust and if their total hand is higher than the dealer’s. The dealer loses if he or she busts or has a lesser hand than a player who has not gone bust. If the player and the dealer have the same point total, this is called a “push” and the player typically does not win or lose money on that hand, but rather gets their bet back.
There are many rule variations that have occurred and accumulated over the years, and the game has actually inspired many other games such as Pontoon and Spanish twenty one.
The origin of Blackjack is unknown and the first written reference to it can be found in a book by the Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes, most famous for writing Don Quixote. The story was written between the years 1601 and 1602, implying that the game “ventiuna” (which means twenty-one in Spanish) was played in Castilla since the beginning of the 17th century or earlier. Later references do exist and come from France and elsewhere in Spain.
Upon arriving in the United States, gambling houses offered payouts to stimulate the interest of United States players. One bonus was the ten to one payout if the player’s hand was made up of the ace of spades and a black Jack (either a Jack of clubs or the Jack of spades). This hand was called the “blackjack” and that was how the Spanish “Ventiuna” got the name “blackjack” and it just stuck, even though the ten to one bonus was soon withdrawn. The term “blackjack” today refers to any hand of an ace and a ten or a face card, regardless of suit or color.
How To Play Blackjack:
In the 1960s, a system called “counting cards” was developed and people started believing that blackjack was the one game in which you can beat the casino. In reality, few players ever learned how to truly beat the dealer, but also, the casinos have changed their ways and found techniques such as using more than a deck at a time or cutting a percentage of the cards out of play so that a card counter never sees them, to beat these card counters.
But even though most players do not have the abilities to win consistently, the myth that blackjack was the easiest game to beat sparked an increase in the game’s popularity. It is now, by far, the most popular table game at casinos.
Most players do not have the patience, the concentration, the memory, or the persistence necessary for counting cards, or the bank roll to make it work. But they can still decrease the house advantage to less than 1 percent in blackjack. The secret is to learn the basic strategy for choosing the moves and the bets placed. In this article you will find an explanation of some strategic moves for hitting, standing, doubling down, and splitting pairs in order to increase your odds of winning.
To play blackjack, you must have at least one standard 52-card deck. Each card is assigned a point value, with the numbered cards (two through ten) worth their face value, all face cards (king, queen, and jack) are worth ten, and the ace can be worth either one or eleven.
The objective of the game is to have cards totaling closer to twenty-one, without going over, than the dealer’s cards.
The best card combination is a two-card twenty-one, also known as “blackjack”. Blackjack pays 3-2 which means that a two-card twenty-one on a five pound bet will win £7.59 instead of the regular five pound even-money payoff on other hands. But if the dealer has a two-card twenty-one as well, you just get your original wager returned. If the dealer goes to draw a twenty-one in three cards or more, your blackjack of a two-card hand still wins with a 3-2 payoff.
The set up of blackjack is as such: a half-circle shaped table with seats for up to seven players on the round outer edge, and a spot for the dealer on the center of the straight side. At one corner of the table there is a sign that states the maximum and minimum bets at the table, and any variation in common rules. Here is an example of what a placard might say: “Blackjack, £5-£1,000. Split any pair three times. Double on any two cards.” This would mean that the minimum wager at that table is five pounds, and the maximum is one thousand pounds. It then states that pairs may be split according to the rules (which will be described below) up to three times for a total of four hands. The player may double their initial wager and receive just one more card on any two card total.
Most games use four, six, or eight decks for a game. Upon being shuffled, the cards are put into a machine called “the shoe” and from there the dealer can slide out one card at a time. Single or double-deck games can be dealt directly from the dealer’s hand.
A play starts when a player places his or her wager by stacking a chip or chips on the betting square on the table directly in front of them. Once all bets have been declared, the dealer hands out two cards per player and for himself. In a game where a shoe is used, all player cards are dealt face up and players are not allowed to touch their cards. In a single or double deck game dealt straight from the hand, cards are dealt face down and players can look at them with one hand. In both cases, the dealer’s cards are turned face-up so that all players can see them.
Upon receipt of cards, players can decide how to play out their hands. After all players have finished, the dealer plays according to set rules. If a dealer’s hand has a total of sixteen or less, he or she must draw more cards. If the dealer draws seventeen or more in his two cards, he must stand, which means stay with just those two. If you see that the dealer has this hand, that is how you can make a strategic decision on whether to hit or to stand, and where it will get you in terms of winning the game and getting closer to twenty one but not above it. If the dealer stands, you really just need to get above seventeen in order to win.
Terms of Blackjack:
You must know what your options and terms of this game are before you start playing! Here are the general terms you must know:
Hit: This is when you choose to take another card (or cards) in order to try to get closer to twenty-one. If your total goes over twenty-one once it is hit, the player is said to “bust” and loses the bet. In games played with a shoe, the player must signal a hit by pointing to his or her cards, or scratching, or waving towards him or herself. In facedown games, the player must signal a hit by scratching the table with the cards. If you verbally say “hit”, this is not accepted. The physical symbols are used in order to be caught by the security cameras in order to settle possible disputes.
Stand: If you stand, it means you have chosen not to accept any more cards in hopes that your current total will beat the dealer. You signal this choice by holding your palm flat over your cards in a face-up page or sliding your cards beneath your bet in a face down game.
Double Down: You can choose to double your initial bet and receive just one more card regardless of its denomination. Some casinos will limit doubling down to hands where your first two cards total ten or eleven. Other casinos allow you to make this choice regardless of your cards. You signal doubling down by taking a chip or chips equal to the amount of your original bet and placing them by your current one. In a face-down game, you must also turn your original cards face-up.
Split: If the first two cards you receive are of the same denomination, you can choose to place a second bet of equal value to your first and split the pair, creating two separate hands. For example, if you get two eights, then put a second card on the first eight and play that hand out in normal fashion until you either stand or bust. Then the dealer puts a second card on your second eight, and you play that one out as well.
Insurance: If one of the dealer’s cards is an ace, you can take “insurance” which basically means a bet that the dealer has a ten-value card down to complete a blackjack. Insurance, which may be taken for half of the original wager, pays 2-1 if the dealer has blackjack. The net effect is that if you win the insurance bet and lose the hand, you come out even. For example, if a player has an eighteen and has placed a ten dollar wager on the game. The dealer has two cards, and his face-up card is an ace. The player then adds a five dollar insurance wager. If the dealer has blackjack, the player loses the ten dollar original bet on the hand but wins the ten dollars with the 2-1 payoff on the five dollar insurance bet. Most dealers will advise players to take this insurance bet if the player has a blackjack. This can be done by calling out “even money” because if the dealer does have blackjack, the player gets a payoff equal to the player’s bet instead of the normal 3-2 paid on blackjack. But only 30.8% of the cards have a ten-value so taking an insurance wager is a bad percentage play, no matter what the player totaled, unless the player in a card counter who knows that an unusually large concentration of ten-value cards are yet to be played.
Variations of Blackjack:
There are different versions and variations of blackjack. Some rule variations are beneficial to players and some are not. The shifts in the house edge may seem minute, but they make critical differences in a game where the total house edge is less than one percent against a basic strategy player. Here are some variations and how they affect the house advantage:
Double Downs after splitting pairs permitted: A rule that greatly benefits the player as it cuts the house advantage by .13 percent. Try to find places where this is a rule.
Resplitting of aces permitted: Many casinos that allow split aces but that players receive only one more card on each ace. But if the player gets an additional ace, some casinos will permit the resulting pair to be split as well. This option cuts the house edge by .03 percent. It is rare to find a game that persists even further by allowing the player to collect more than one card to a split ace, an option that cuts the house edge by a whopping .14 percent.
Early Surrender: When a dealer’s face-up card is an ace, the dealer checks to see whether the face-down card is a ten that completes a blackjack before proceeding with the play. If the house allows the player to surrender half the original bet instead of playing the hand before the dealer checks for blackjack, that is called an “early surrender”. This rule is great for the player but it is very rare to find. It cuts the house edge by an incredible .624 percent. But be careful and do not misuse this. Most beginner players do.
Late surrender: This is a more common rule than the early surrender, but still not seen often. It allows the player to give up half the bet instead of playing the hand after the dealer checks for blackjack. This decreases the house edge by just .07 percent in a multiple-deck game, and by .02 percent in a single deck game.
Double downs limited to hard eleven and hard ten: Some casinos will not permit a player to double a bet on totals of less than ten or on soft hands. The net is a .28 percent increase in the house edge.
Dealer Hits soft Seventeen: if the dealer hits on hands of seventeens if the hands include an ace or aces that can be totaled as either seven or seventeen, instead of standing. This rule increases the house edge by .2 percent.
Blackjack pays six-five: This is more common on single-deck games on the Las Vegas Strip, this is a bankroll breaker for players. This would mean that a two card twenty-one pays just six dollars for a five dollar bet instead of seven and a half dollars. This adds an enormous 1.4 percent edge to the house, which is more than even the usual house edge against the basic strategy of seasoned players in nearly all games with the normal 3-2 return.
These rules are very important to note so make sure to consider them when choosing a table at a land based casino, or choosing a website/game version on an online casino. Make sure you are familiar with the basic rules, and with these little changes in rules, and be sure to enjoy yourself...