Played in hundreds of casinos around the world and online, blackjack is a widely known gambling game that fascinates with its obvious simplicity and the mystery surrounding the practice of card counting. This game is fast, a spectacle to watch, and it involves an element of skill so it is no wonder it attracts professional gamblers and casual casino-goers alike.
Often compared to poker for the skill factor in both of them, blackjack is much simpler and is played against a dealer rather than against other casino patrons who are likely to be more experienced than you. As with most gambling games and most things in life, blackjack is easy to learn but difficult to master. In fact, perfecting one’s skills often takes years, hard work and a lot of dedication. But this should not stop gambling enthusiasts from trying to improve in blackjack.
On the contrary, with the right sources of information, most people manage to easily learn the game and how to win consistently. Knowing the fundamental rules and principles is key to improving one’s skills but it is also fascinating to get a glimpse into the origins of blackjack and how it changed through time.
History of Blackjack
1Origins of Blackjack
The origin of blackjack is the subject of a lot of debate and there would probably be no consensus on how, when and where exactly the game started. What we do know is that it was not created by any single person at any particular point in time. Most researchers believe that the precursor to modern-day blackjack is a game, known as Vingt-et-Un. This translates as Twenty-One from French and this game was played in gambling houses in France in the 17th century.
But similar gambling games existed even before that and one of the examples that we know of today is Ventuina. The game was described in a series of the Spanish novellas Novelas Ejemplares, which were written between 1590 and 1612 by Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote. An earlier form of this game in Spain was Trente-un, or Thirty-One, a game with very different rules, yet clearly related to blackjack. We can find examples of similar games across Europe such as the French Quinze (which translates as Fifteen) and the Italian Sette e Mezzo or Seven and a Half.
In the 18th century, French colonists brought Vingt-et-Un to the Americas and eventually, the game spread in gambling establishments. It was later popularized by the licensed gambling halls in New Orleans although its rules varied and cheating was widely practiced by both players and dealers. The game was offered all across North America in the 19th century but the name blackjack would not arrive until decades later.
2Development of the Game
In the 19th century, gambling was illegal in France so the game of Twenty-One did not evolve there. It changed and transformed into the modern game in the United States after Nevada legalized gambling in 1931.
3Las Vegas and House-Banked Blackjack
Until the legalization of gambling, Las Vegas was a small settlement but in 1931, the construction of the Hoover Dam brought thousands of young male workers and gambling was legalized by local authorities who saw the potential for revenue. The newly licensed casinos and the authorities then realized that they needed game standards, as well as regulation.
At this point, the game of 21 was extremely popular and to attract customers, casinos offered various bonus payouts. One of these extra rewards was a payout of 10 times the bet when the player held an Ace of spades and a black Jack. This hand was called blackjack and although casinos stopped giving the 10:1 payout, the name remained.
4Edward O. Thorpe and the Beginning of Card Counting
Blackjack easily became gamblers’ favorite game and many claimed they could track the cards and gain an advantage over the casino. In the 1940s and 1950s, many legendary players were known to use various systems that seemed more mysterious and magical than practical. Soon, mathematicians also became fascinated with the game of blackjack and the theory behind it.
One of them, Edward O.Thorpe, started analyzing the game using IBM 704, one of the earliest computers that could process complex mathematical equations. Thorpe developed a game theory and managed to prove mathematically that the house edge in blackjack could be eliminated by card counting. In 1962, he described the Ten-Count system in his book Beat the Dealer, which marked the start of card counting. Of course, the probability theory that he used also became fundamental in the development of blackjack strategies.
What Is Blackjack Today?
Today, blackjack is a gambling game that uses one or more standard decks of 52 cards where the Jokers are removed. Standard, American blackjack is played with 6 or 8 decks but there are also games with 1, 2, or 4 decks, as well. While the four suits are irrelevant (except for bonus payouts in some variations of blackjack), the value of the cards is what matters as this is a comparing game. In other words, players compare their hands to the hands of dealers to try and beat them.
Typically, a game of blackjack is played on a special, semicircular table where the dealer sits opposite of five to seven player seats. Each player has a betting position displayed on the table layout with additional boxes for side bets in some blackjack variations. As this is a banking game, casino patrons play against the dealer – in comparison, poker players compete against each other.
Basics of the Game
The objective of the game is to beat the dealer by having a hand with a value that is as close to 21 as possible. If the hand exceeds 21, this is called “busting” and the player immediately loses. The strongest hand is called blackjack and it comprises of a Jack and an Ace of any suit.
The cards have different point values – cards from 2 to 9 are counted at their face values, whereas cards from 10 to King count as 10. The Ace, on the other hand, can be 1 or 11. The blackjack hand – an Ace and a 10-value card, has totals 21. Of course, not all 21 hands are blackjack.
Once players make their bets, the dealer deals 2 cards face-up to each of the players and himself. In American blackjack, only the first card of the dealer is exposed – the second one is dealt face-down so that players cannot see it. The dealer, however, is allowed to peek if his first card is an Ace or a 10-value card, i.e. if the dealer has a chance for blackjack.
Each player then has several options – to draw one more card, which is called “hitting”, to refuse any more cards, which is referred to as “standing”, or to double his or her bet. Those who choose to double receive one more, final card and their turn ends, while their bet is doubled. Players who receive 2 cards of the same value can also choose to “split” the pair into two hands – an additional card is then dealt to each of the new hands. Of course, this second hand also requires a second bet to be placed and it will be equal to the size of the original stake.
Some games also allow players to buy Insurance and bet that the dealer will have a blackjack, while others have the option to surrender half of your bet and end your turn.
Once casino patrons play out their hands, the dealer also has the option to hit or stand – these moves are determined by the rules of the specific game. However, the dealer cannot double down, surrender or buy Insurance. Usually, the rules specify whether the dealer is required to stand or hit on 17 and the type of 17-value hands.
Most variations of blackjack pay the same amount of money for winning. Typically, players who get blackjack in the beginning win immediately and receive a winning that is 1.5 times the amount they have wagered. This is usually expressed as 3:2 in the paytable of the game. When the player gets a hand that is stronger than the dealer’s but without going over 21, this is a regular win and even money is paid.
Blackjack tables tend to display the payouts for two possible outcomes of each round. One of these is the 3:2 blackjack payout and the other is the payout for Insurance, which is 2:1. If there are any side bets in the game or bonus payouts for having some specific hands, they will also be displayed on the table itself.
Blackjack vs Other Casino Games
The best casino game
Since blackjack is a form of gambling, it will always be compared to games such as roulette and slot machines. While it has its fans, many people actually prefer slot machines because they are extremely easy to play – there is no skill element involved so you simply rely on chance to hit a winning combination. So, which is the best casino game?
The answer to this question lies in casino patrons’ individual tastes and preferences. Some casino patrons love the simplicity of slots, others are fascinated by the elegance of roulette, and there are people who prefer the challenging nature of table poker.View more...
Online blackjack is played much like traditional table blackjack – it follows the same rules and offers the same payouts. Online blackjack is available in hundreds of online casinos and often, it can be played without even betting real money. Due to the popularity of the game and the rise of gambling sites in the past couple of decades, software development companies have created more variations of blackjack than you could find in any land-based casino.
In its virtual form, blackjack is much more accessible than the traditional game offered only in licensed gambling establishments. It was designed to simulate the real-life game so players are presented with the familiar blackjack table, virtual chips, and cards that are dealt from a 6 or 8-deck shoe. When played online against a computer, the game is completely fair and players are free to use any strategies or betting systems they prefer.
Each deal of the cards is random, which is guaranteed by the use of complex computer software known as Random Number Generator or RNG. In fact, RNG is the basis of a huge number of computer games but in gambling, it is used to recreate the randomness of a shuffled deck of cards, for example. RNG-based blackjack lacks any patterns and sequences of cards, which is why it eliminates the usefulness of card counting, card tracking and any other type of advantage play that is still possible in brick-and-mortar casinos.
Live Dealer Blackjack
Online blackjack players are also given the option to play against an actual dealer. Live casino lobbies combine the best of the two worlds – the thrill of real-life gambling with the convenience and ease of online games. Here, high-rollers can bet hundreds and thousands of dollars as the table limits are much more liberal.
Live games are usually streamed from professional studios but sometimes, they are hosted by land-based casinos with dedicated live tables. Multiple camera angles, live chat options, and elegant casino settings create the atmosphere of being in an actual casino. The cards are dealt by professional dealers and the tables have 7 seats – just like in Las Vegas casinos.
The games are not as fast-paced as RNG blackjack and players can enjoy the betting experience in full. Usually, they can choose tables with different betting limits and languages other than English. Unlike virtual blackjack, however, live tables are not always available 24/7.
This is the second-best hand and it comprises of three or more cards with a total value of 21. If 2 two cards have the same value, this is blackjack.
Advantage players typically use strategies or track the cards to gain a mathematical advantage over the house.
This is the player’s specific amount of money dedicated to playing blackjack (or any other casino game). The bankroll does not include funds for meals, drinks or tips in the casino.
Any card counting system where the sum of the negative and positively valued cards is zero.
This is the optimal, mathematically proven strategy for playing blackjack, which may vary depending on the specific rules, side bets, and payouts.
These are the minimum and maximum bets that can be placed in every blackjack round.
The best hand in this game and it includes an Ace and 10-value card (10, J, Q, or K).
This is the first card of a new deck after a shuffle. The burn card is placed in the discard tray is not used for play.
Players or dealers having a total over 21 are said to bust, losing immediately.
This is the practice of tracking and counting of the cards that have been dealt according to one of many available systems. Some systems require card counters to track the high and low cards in the deck and how likely a high card is to be dealt next.
This brightly colored plastic card cuts the cards in the shoe and when the dealer reaches it, he reshuffles.
The dealer is the casino employee who deals the cards on the blackjack table. In RNG blackjack, the dealer is simply a representation of the casino that competes against the player.
Blackjack uses standard decks of 52 cards – four suits of 13 cards from 2s to Aces.
This term is used to show the percentage of cards that have been in play before a reshuffle.
Doubling or Doubling Down is usually allowed on the first two cards. Players who choose to Double Down are dealt one more card and their hand is compared to the dealer’s total. The bet is, of course, doubled.
Some blackjack variations allow players to surrender half of their bet and not play out their hand before the dealer peeks for blackjack. This option is called Early Surrender.
The standard payout for a regular win is equal to the bet size. This is even money and is represented as 1:1.
Jacks, Queens, and Kings are face cards and their value in blackjack is always 10.
Five Card Charlie
A rule in some blackjack games, according to which the player wins automatically if he holds 5 cards without busting. Variations of the rule include Six, Seven and Ten Card Charlie.
Flat betting is the practice of wagering the same amount of money throughout the entire gaming session without increasing or decreasing the bet.
Hard hands or hard totals either do not include an Ace in them or the Ace can be counted only as 1 and not 11 to avoid going over 21.
Players who place large bets are called high rollers.
When the player wants another card to the initially dealt hand, he Hits.
The dealer’s second card in standard blackjack is dealt face-down and is called a hole card.
Every casino game, including blackjack, has a built-in advantage determined by the specific rules and payouts. This advantage is referred to as house edge and is expressed as a percentage.
This is a side bet that can be made if the dealer’s first card is an Ace. It is half of the original bet and it pays 2:1 if the dealer gets blackjack.
Some tables allow players to surrender after the dealer checks for blackjack and this rule is referred to as Late Surrender.
Players who receive an Ace and a 10-value card initially are said to have a “natural 21” or blackjack.
Hands totaling 17 or more are called pat hands, as players always stand on such hands, i.e. they refuse to take additional cards.
This is a side bet in many blackjack games and it wins if the player receives two cards of the same rank. Pairs could be mixed, colored or perfect. The perfect pair consists of 2 cards of the same rank and suit and it pays the most.
Progressive systems or simply progressions help players determine when to increase or decrease the bet size. There are positive, negative, and flat betting systems.
When the player and the dealer hold cards that are equal, the two hands are tied and this is referred to as a “push” – the bet is returned to the player.
All card decks used in a game are placed in a device called a shoe.
After a certain percentage of the cards in the shoe have been used in play, the dealer shuffles all decks to mix them. Shuffling is essential because it helps to deal random cards and prevents card counting.
Soft hands or soft totals include an Ace, which can count as either 1 or 11. Soft hands are more versatile and give players more freedom than hard totals, where an Ace is 1.
Spanish decks include 48 cards. These are standard decks but with all 10s removed.
When players receive two cards of the same rank, they can separate them into two single-card hands with the Split option. If they split a hand, they place a second bet that is equal to the original stake.
Players, who believe their hand is good enough, can choose to Stand and refuse taking additional cards.
Any hand that can easily bust (go over 21) when drawing one more card. Hard hands totaling 12 to 16 are stiff.
Some casinos allow players to forfeit half of the original bet to avoid losing it entirely when the dealer’s face-up card is high.
When the player and the dealer’s hands are equal in value, they are tied. Tie is synonymous with Push or Standoff.
This is the minimum, base bet a player is placing in the game. The term is typically used in strategies and progressive systems.
This is the dealer’s first, face-up card.
The term is used as a synonym for a bet.