Blackjack is a game played with cards, where the aim is to build up a hand with a value as close to 21 as possible without going over it, while at the same time beating the dealers hand total.
Blackjack has a history that can traced right back to ancient times, with versions of the game played by Romans, Egyptians and Chinese thousands of years ago. The modern game is a development of Vingt-et-Un, (literally meaning 21), popular in 18th century France and brought to the United States by European immigrants.
Vingt-et-Un became common in the new casinos that sprang up around the gambling centers of the USA, although the rules have evolved over time. Originally, there was a side bet which paid out at 10:1 if the player received an Ace of Spades and a Jack of Clubs or Spades - the Black Jacks. Although this bet was soon dropped, the name has remained to the present day.
During the Great Depression of the 1930's the state of Nevada legalized gambling as a way of raising money. The cities of Las Vegas and Reno became popular destinations and Blackjack was soon the most widely played casino game of the times. Within a few years, it was played around all 50 states.
In the last few decades, particularly since the advent of online casinos, Blackjack has spread across the globe and can now be found in many different varieties. New ways to play, such as online, on mobile devices and at Live casinos on a PC have made the game more accessible than ever, although the basic rules have not changed for many years.
Although Blackjack originated in France, much of the terminology reflects the American influences on the game.
Blackjack: A hand made up of any card valued 10, (a 10, Jack, Queen or King), plus an Ace. Also known as a natural.
Bust:. A hand goes bust when its value exceeds 21, whereby it automatically loses.
Double Down: A side bet where the player receives one additional card while doubling the size of their initial stake.
Hit: To ask the dealer for a extra card.
Holecard: The second card received by the dealer, placed face down and only turned over once the players have made their moves.
Insurance: A side bet that can be taken if the dealers first card is an ace. This pays out at 2:1 if the dealers hole card is revealed to have a score of 10, and compensates for the loss of the initial wager.
Push: This occurs when the player and dealer both receive cards of equal value.
Soft: Aces can be valued at 1 or 11. If the makeup of the hand determines that the ace is 11, it is called a soft hand.
Split: An optional move that can be taken if the players first two cards are of equal value, whereby they divide those cards into two separate hands and play them both at the same time.
Stand: A request to the dealer for no further cards.
Surrender: An optional move, not possible at all casinos, where the player accepts that they cannot win the hand, and get half of their stake returned to them.
Upcard: The first card received by the dealer which is placed face up.
In Blackjack, the player aims to get a hand of cards with a value closer to 21 than the dealers, without going over 21. Cards 1 - 10 are given their face values, while Jacks, Queens and Kings are also valued at 10. Aces can either be 1 or 11 depending on the other cards.
To start the game, players must first place their stakes. Each one then receives two cards, both face up, while the dealer gives himself two cards, one face up, the second face down. Players then decide whether to 'hit' and get further cards, 'stand' and get no more cards, 'split' their hand if dealt two equal cards, or 'double' their bet size. The dealer then draws cards for himself until his score either equals 17 or more, or he goes bust.
There are three outcomes possible from a game of blackjack. Either the player wins, the dealer wins, or there is a tie and the players stake is returned. The ideal outcome for the player is to get a natural Blackjack consisting of an ace and a card valued 10 with their first two cards, for a payout usually of 3:2.
There are many possible strategies that can be employed to win blackjack, all aimed at beating the dealers hand. As with other games like Poker, these range from the very simple to the highly complicated process of counting cards.
Newcomers to blackjack should learn basic strategy, which dictates when to hit, stand, split and double, although bankroll size must also be taken into consideration.
By following this basic strategy, players should hit if the first two cards equal between 5 and 16, and stand if they equal 17 to 21. It gets a bit more complicated when it comes to splitting hands or doubling, as these depend on what card the dealer is showing, but it is usually advisable to split if both cards are equal.
There are several important points to bear in mind when developing your skills at blackjack -
- Examine the odds provided at your chosen casino, as they can vary from place to place even though the rules remain the same. Some operators pay out 3:2 for a natural 'blackjack' while other ones only pay 6:5.
- As with any online casino game, it is advisable to practice first using the free-play options before staking any real money. Most online casinos have this feature where anyone who has registered their details can play for as long as they like without any risk as they develop their skills.
- Never play any casino games when you are not in the right frame of mind. This includes playing when over tired, stressed, drunk or angry, as you are more likely to make bad decisions which will only make things worse and can lead to even worse decisions being made. If you only play when calm, you are more likely to play correctly and perhaps win more often.
- There are many books and movies that feature blackjack, and reading or watching them can be an enjoyable way to understand the game. While Rain Man and The Hangover both incorporate blackjack into their stories, the movie 21 is about the true life adventures of some MIT students who perfected the art of counting cards to win a fortune.
- Concentrate on the game between you and the dealer. The decisions and performance of anyone else at your table have no influence on the results of your hand versus the dealers hand.
- Understand and accept that the casino will always have an advantage over the player. Although you can still profit from blackjack, the house edge is built into every casino game and cannot be overturned.