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Blackjack: Count to 21, Blackjack is possibly the most popular card game played in land-based and online casinos across the world today.
Modern Blackjack was inspired by a number of different card games throughout history, including versions played by the Romans, ancient Chinese and Egyptians. It is a direct descendant of an 18th century French casino game called “Vingt-et-Un” (“21) that was brought to the new world of North America by colonists from Europe.
21 was a little different back then to what we know today: for example, the early American casinos offered a bonus payout of 10:1 if a player’s hand included an Ace of Spades and a Blackjack (which at the time was a Jack of Clubs or Jack of Spades). The bonuses later fell by the wayside, the definition of Blackjack changed, but the name remained with us to this very day.
Blackjack’s first boom came during the Depression of the 1930s, when Nevada legalized gambling as a way to increase state revenues. This simple but popular card game became a regular fixture at casinos in Las Vegas and around the state, and its popularity spread to all corners of the 50 states of the union.
Although primarily an American pastime, Blackjack has spread across borders in the past couple of decades thanks to the rise of online gambling. The rules have not changed in the past century, but plenty of new forms of the game have popped up – from Online Blackjack to Mobile Blackjack and Live Casino Blackjack for online gamblers.
Blackjack started off as a French game, but very quickly took on an American flavour. Its terminology reflects these origins.
Blackjack: The literal meaning is a hand consisting of an ace and a card valued at 10 (King, Queen, Jack or 10).
Bust: Hand with value of over 21, meaning an automatic loss.
Double Down: Doubling of initial bet in exchange for agreeing to stand down after receiving an extra card.
Hit: Request for another card from the dealer.
Holecard: Dealer’s second card. This is usually dealt facedown and is not flipped until players make their decisions.
Insurance: If the dealer has an ace, the player may take “insurance” before the dealer reveals his hole card. Insurance pays the player 2:1, and covers for the loss of the original bet.
Push: A tie between player and dealer.
Soft: A hand that includes an ace valued at 11 (rather than being valued at 1).
Split: Players may split their first two cards into separate hands if the two cards have the same value. They then play two hands simultaneously, with the dealer dealing cards to both of the hands.
Stand: Player chooses not to take any more cards.
Surrender: Some casinos allow players to stand down at a certain point in the hand. In this scenario, the player receives cashback on half their bet.
Upcard: The card the dealer has facing up.
Blackjack is a game in which the player competes against the dealer to see who can reach a hand value closer to 21, without exceeding 21. Aces are valued at 1 or 11, Kings, Queens, Jacks and 10s are all valued at 10, and numbers 1-9 are all taken at face value.
The game begins with players placing their bets. Each player is dealt two cards facing up. The dealer deals himself two cards, the first face-up and the second “hole card” face down. Once all cards have been dealt, the players choose whether to “hit” (accept more cards), “stand” (take no more cards), “double” their bet or “split” two cards of equal value into two separate hands. Once the players are done, the dealer draws cards until he “busts” (over 21) or achieves 17 or higher.
There are three possible scenarios in a blackjack game: the player can win, the dealer can win, or it is a tie (in which case, the player receives his cash back). The best possible scenario for a player is hit “blackjack” of Ace and 10 on the initial hand. Usually, the casino will pay out higher odds of around 3:2 if the player achieves this.
Blackjack is a very straightforward card game, as the player must concentrate only on beating the dealer. As in poker and other card games, there is a myriad of advanced strategies one can learn when playing blackjack – if you’re mathematically minded, then this can even include counting cards.
If you’re just starting out, it’s best to understand some basic strategy. The most important thing to know is when to hit, when to hand, when to split and when to double (while taking consideration of their own bankroll).
This basic strategy is basically universal, and are based on the laws of probability: if you draw 5-16, you should hit, but if you draw 17-21 you should stand. However, things become a little more complex when taking into consideration the options of splitting and doubling. Splitting is often a good option if you draw two cards of the same value, but you should always keep an eye on what the dealer has too.
It is important to remember a few things when honing your blackjack skills:
- Always check the odds offered by your online casino or gambling operator. Blackjack rules generally don’t vary, but odds can be altered for certain things such as a “blackjack”. Some casinos pay out 3:2 for hitting “blackjack” on your initial hand, while others pay out at only 6:5.
- Play demo version of Blackjack before trying the real thing. Most online casinos allow registered players to try Blackjack for free, without time limits. This allows you to get in plenty of solid hours of practice before putting actual money on the game.
- Be calm: The golden rule for card and table games applies to blackjack. Never play when you are tired, drunk, angry or looking for vengeance – you’ll make worse decisions and end up losing all your money. If you are calm, you will remember the rules, the basic strategies and therefore increase your chances of winning.
- Check out the treasure trove of movies and literature on Blackjack. This card game has featured in popular culture throughout the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century. Movies like 21 and Rain Man will have you thinking of all the mathematical possibilities. The Hangover is another movie featuring Blackjack, and while it won’t satisfy your intellectual curiosity it is great for a laugh.
- Ignore those around you, whether you’re playing at a land-based casino or online. The performance of the other players at your table has no effect on yours. You can learn from their wins and mistakes, but ultimately the only game you need to be concerned on is the one involving you and the dealer.
- The House has the advantage. Players can still end up with a profit, but it is important to understand and acknowledge this fact.