Getting to Know Blackjack
Blackjack is one of the most popular card games in both online and land-based casinos. It’s also one of the oldest games, but more on that later. Blackjack’s popularity possibly has something to do with how easy and straightforward it is to play. It also might have something to do with its link to card counting and big wins. Some recent Hollywood movies such as 21 have even glorified this card counting trick, though we should point out that this is highly frowned upon in the casino world. Card counters that get caught are generally banned from land-based casinos. Though this is a definite way to beat the odds and ensure a win, blackjack, like many other games, has a lot of luck involved. This means that it can appeal to a wider group of players – those that like to calculate and figure things out, and those who are simply in it for a relaxing time, guessing on small chances and probability.
A Brief History of the Game
As we mentioned, blackjack has been around for some time. Though there is no complete agreement, blackjack is believed to date back to the 17th century where a French game, Vingt-et-Un (21 in English) was being played. There were differences to the modern game though, and these included only the dealer being allowed to double and there was an extra betting round between each round of cards that were dealt out. Other theories as to its origin include the game being from Spain where a game called One and Thirty was being played. In this game, there was a basic rule that stated players should reach the value of 31 with only three cards. A final theory goes even further back and posits that the Romans were actually responsible for the game. It is believed that they used small blocks with different numbers on them. However, apart from knowing that the Romans did love to gamble, there is little weight to this final theory.
After the French Revolution, the game began to see more popularity thanks to its arrival in the United States through French colonists. At this time, the game was still known as 21. In this game, however, players were rewarded when they held an Ace and the Jack of Spades or Clubs in their hand. If it was an Ace of Spades, they could win ten to one on their bet. This black jack is undoubtedly the reason the game got renamed in its later incarnations, though this peculiar extra payout has long since vanished from the game. Once it had established itself in the States, the game soon began to spread to the rest of the world. It is really rather hard to pinpoint its exact inception as it has been changing over the years. In fact, even now the game continues to evolve with casinos and providers offering new variants, rules and betting options on a regular basis.
How to Play
Blackjack has a number of different variants available to players, however there are basic rules that run through all of the versions. The first thing to remind everyone is that the game of blackjack, whilst often having a full table, is between the dealer and each individual player. Unlike poker, there is no need to be checking out what the rest of the players are doing. There is also only one goal and that is to have a hand at the value of 21. Failing this, the player will want to have a hand that has a value higher than that of the dealer’s without exceeding 21. The first phase of the game involves the dealer dealing two cards face up to each player and two to themselves. However, only one of these will be face up and visible to the players at the table. It is at this point that each of the players must decide what their next move will be.
Each of the cards has a specific value. The numerical cards – two through to ten – have the value of the number on their face. Picture cards are valued at ten. However, the ace is special and can either be an eleven or a one, depending on what suits the player in order to get the best hand. The options of play are as follows: hit to take one extra card, stand meaning no more cards are taken, and bust when the cards are already of a value over 21. There are a few different betting options available as well. A player can buy ‘insurance’ which is a side bet against the dealer having 21. A player can ‘split’ which occurs on the first dealt hand and sees the player get two hands made up of one card from the original. Doubling down is also possible and that is when a player can take the chance at winning a higher stake but comes with elevated risk.
Before we go any further with the nitty gritty details of blackjack, we should just clear up one misconception. Many players, new and old, believe that the aim of blackjack is to get their hand to a value of 21. However, the aim is actually to beat the dealer. Beat the dealer and the player has won, provided they’re not over the value of 21, of course. Now that we’ve got that out the way, there are a number of rules, specifically on the dealer’s side that players need to be aware of. These rules will also vary depending on what the specific casino offers as well, so make sure to read the fine print. Blackjack can be played with any number of decks from one through to eight, though the latter is most common. The lower number of decks in play, the better the house edge will be. Most casinos will clearly label the number of decks used in any blackjack game.
Any hand that doesn’t exceed the value of 21 and beats the dealer’s, is a winning hand. A blackjack is an ace and a card valued at ten held in the hand. We mentioned insurance bets earlier, so now we’ll go into a bit more detail. Insurance bets (if offered by the casino) will occur when the dealer has an ace showing in the single face up card. These bets pay out at 2 to 1 if the face down card, or hole card, holds a value of ten. They are optional though, so players are not required to take it. For the most part, when it comes to the dealers turn, if they have 16 the dealer is required to take another card. If the dealer has an ace and a number of other cards totalling 17, this is known as a soft 17. In some casinos the dealer is required to hit on a soft 17, though this is not consistent.
Strategies for Playing Blackjack
As a general rule blackjack has one of the lowest house edges, which can be as little as 0.28%. However this edge will vary with the game type that is chosen. The house edge can be further manipulated using various strategies. These strategies will also vary depending on the number of decks in the game. Unlike other games, blackjack does have ways to get around the house edge and improve a player’s winning shot. For some, these strategies are easy, for others out there, a lot of memorising is required. These strategies can be found online in the form of convenient tables and detail what players should do with each pair combination in relation to what the dealer has on his or her single card. In order to fully understand these strategies we need to define a couple of terms. A hard hand has no aces, or an ace that can only be counted as one. A soft hand is one that has an ace valued at eleven.
Beginners should always start with a basic strategy and work their way up from there. Here are just a few of the basics. Players should surrender if they hold a hard 16 not made up of a pair of eights and the dealer has a 9, 10 or ace, or if the player holds a hard 15 against a ten from the dealer. Splitting should always be done if the player holds aces and eights. However, never split if the hand is fives or tens. There are a number of other splitting options available but these will depend on what the dealer has in their hand i.e. players can split twos and threes if the dealer has a card between four and seven. Doubling down, again, depends on the dealer’s as much as the player’s own hand. For example, double on a hard nine against a dealer holding three to six. Players should also always hit a hard eleven or lower whilst they should always stand on a hard 17 or above.
If players are smart, they’ll combine the blackjack strategies with a betting one as well, in order to really push up their chances of scoring big. Here we’ll just outline a few of the best betting strategies out there. One of the most commonly used betting strategies is flat betting. This means that players place the exact same amount of money on every bet. Simply put, this means players have control over their bankroll and can maintain a steady stream of bets at a level they can afford. The value of the wager will depend on each individual as well as factors such as how many hands the player intends to play and what can be afforded. The only time players might change from this betting strategy is if they choose to double down within the game and then the bet for that hand will be double. This method does help to slowly gather wins but it does limit the amount that can be won in a winning streak.
There are two further betting strategies – positive progression and negative progression. Positive progression includes the system such as the Martingale where every time the player wins a hand, the bet is increased for the next one. The bets will continue to get larger until the player loses a hand, and then the bet will revert to the original one and the process begins again. This strategy aims to maximise the amount of money that can be won on each hand. However, careful calculation of the increase is needed as well as the discipline to walk away if things don’t go to plan. A negative progression strategy or Reverse Martingale, requires a lot more cash as a starting point and should not be attempted on a small budget. This time, players will increase their bet every time they lose a hand. At some point the player will win a hand with the idea that the bet is large enough to recoup all the previous losses. As with the Martingale, bets then revert back to the original amount.
Finding a Game
Every casino offers a different game selection as they will be using different providers. When a player is looking for the best game, they should bear in mind some of the aspects we have mentioned throughout this article such as the house edge, number of decks and what betting options are available. Added to this, it is important to choose a game that is offered by a quality game provider as this will ensure the game is operating fairly, without bias to either side. In addition, players should also note that the casino itself should have a big impact on the game and where to play. Players should only pick reputable casinos that are recognised as having prompt payouts and fair wagering requirements. If players are really keen to get ahead, they should also choose a casino with a decent welcome bonus, something like a match deposit where they can use the extra money in their bankroll for playing blackjack.
Blackjack is a highly exciting game that can be very lucrative if played right. The simplicity of it does mean that it is accessible to many, and with the advent of online casinos, players can now access it even more easily. If players are sensible in their gameplay, responsible in their gambling and follow the tips, tricks and strategies that we’ve outlined above, then there is no reason for them not to see a little bit of a profit. As we briefly mentioned, though, getting a thorough handle on the game using the virtual demo games is a must. This will allow players to get the game rules and blackjack strategies firmly cemented in their head and ready to begin play in a real-money environment. With so many options to choose from across numerous casinos, players will easily find something that suits their style, budget and skill. We recommend heading out now and having a look to see what is out there.