Blackjack, also known as Twenty-one, is the most widely played casino banking game in the world. The standard game is played with one or more card decks containing 52 cards. The basic rules of black jack involve adding the value of an initial two card hand in hopes of being dealt a value of twenty-one. If a value of less than twenty-one is dealt, the player may choose to be dealt single cards until the either reach twenty-one, reach a value they feel comfortable to play, or reach a value that exceeds twenty-one. The winner holds a hand with a value of, or nearest, to twenty-one without exceeding it.
Much of Blackjack’s popularity is due to the mix of chance, skill, and the publicity that surrounds card counting (observation of the exposed cards, granting the player with knowledge of how to vary his bets and strategy considering the remaining cards). Depending on the particular Blackjack rules in a given casino, basic strategy reduces the house advantage to less than 1%. Card-counting, if done correctly, can give the player an advantage up to 2% over the house. The game is simple to understand and very easy to learn. Complex strategies like card-counting will be discussed in detail in further articles.
In Blackjack at a casino, the dealer faces one to seven players from behind an arc-shaped table. Each player plays his hand independently against the dealer. The game can be played with anywhere from 1 to 8 decks of cards. More decks mean a larger house advantage.
The game starts as soon as the player pushes in their bet into the appropriate betting circle. Blackjack is played on a points system that gives numeric values to every card in a single deck of playing cards. The objective of the game is to get a higher card score than the dealer's hand, but without going over 21, which is called "busting". Players who beat the dealer’s hole cards will also get paid double their original bet, provided they have a number equal to or less than 21. If the dealer busts, players will also get paid out accordingly as long as they too have not busted. Each card numbered at 10 and below (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10) has a value equal to its actual number. Suits have no effect on the value. Face cards (Jacks, Queens, Kings) all have values equaling 10. Just like numbered cards, different suits have no effect on the value of the face cards or Aces. The Ace has a special value in Blackjack. It can count as either 1 or 11, with the actual number being dependent on what helps out the most with a particular hand. Being dealt an Ace and any face card is an automatic Blackjack and the player will be paid out 3:2 immediately, unless the dealer also has blackjack, in which case the hand is a “push” (tie).
The player’s two initial cards are dealt face-up, while the dealer has one face-up card (an “upcard”) and one face-down card. After receiving his initial cards, the player has four standard options – he can “hit”, “stand”, “double”, or “split”. Some casinos offer a further option, called a “surrender”.
- Hit – when a player chooses to take another card after their initial two are dealt out. Players can hit as many times as they wish, provided they don’t bust.
- Stand – when a player decides to take no more cards.
- Double or Double down – the player is allowed to double his initial bet in exchange for receiving only one more from the dealer. The hand played consists of the original two cards plus one more from the dealer.
- Split – if his first two cards are a “pair” (two cards of the same value), the player can “split the pair”. Basically, both cards are split and a new wager is made – essentially making 2 hands. A further card is dealt on both hands, making it a two-card starting hand.
- Surrender – some casinos give players the option to give up their cards and half their original bet if they don’t see a chance to win with their cards against the dealer’s hand.
When the dealer’s upcard is an Ace, the player is allowed to make a side bet called “insurance”, supposedly to guard against the risk that the dealer has a blackjack (a ten-value card as his face-down card). The insurance bet pays 2-to-1 if the dealer has a blackjack. Unless this is the case, the dealer must play according to predetermined rules. If he has less than 17, he must hit. If the dealer has 17 or more, he must stand (take no more cards), unless it is a “soft 17” (a hand that includes an ace valued as 11 (i.e. a hand consisting of Ace+6 or Ace+2+4). With a soft 17, the dealer follows the specific casino rules which are usually printed on the blackjack table or included in the game rules at an online casino – either hit soft 17 or stand on all 17’s.
The players can hit until they decide to stand or until they bust. If they decide to double, they play with the original two cards and one extra card. After a player has split a pair, most casinos allow him or her to double on either or both of the new two-card hands. Unless everyone else has bust, the dealer then reveals his face-down card and also either stands or draws additional cards (according to the predetermined rules) until he either stands or busts. If he busts, he matches and pays the stakes of those who didn’t. If not, he pays those with a higher count, and wins the stakes of those with a lower. The minimum and maximum bets are posted on the table. The payoff on most bets is 1:1, meaning that the player wins the same amount as he or she bets. The payoff for a player blackjack is 3:2, unless the hand is a “push”.
History of Blackjack
Today it is commonly agreed that the first roots of blackjack appeared during the 17th century in France and Spain. A game called Vingt Et Un was played in French casinos. The name Vingt-et-Un means "21" in French, which evidently was not the first ancestor of blackjack, but it's clear that blackjack originated from it. A written reference for a game called “twenty-one” can be found in a book by Miguel de Cervantes – “Novelas Ejemplares”. The game was played in the beginning of the 17th century in Castilia, Spain and went by the name “Ventuina” (Spanish for twenty-one). The objective of the game was to reach 21 points without “busting” and the Ace could value 1 or 11. The game was played with a Spanish “Baraja” deck of cards, which didn’t include eights, nines and tens.
In the 18th century the game was introduced as “twenty-one” in North America thanks to French colonists. While not widely spread at first, the game gained in popularity when gambling houses offered various bonus payouts to draw more players to the tables. Such a bonus was a 10-to-1 payout if the player’s hand consisted of the Ace of spades and a black Jack (Jack of clubs or Jack of spades), hence the term blackjack. While a Jack is no longer specifically required and any ten-value card with an Ace now makes up a winning hand, the name Blackjack remains as a testimony to the game's origins.
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