A few countries have laid claim to inventing blackjack, however the most popular belief is that it originated in France around 1700 and was called vingt-et-un, which translated to English means twenty-one. The names 21 and blackjack refer to the same games with blackjack referring to the preferred hand of a Jack of Spades and an Ace of Spades which resulted in an extra payout. This rule was introduced to attract players from other games such as poker and craps, and unfortunately is no longer available. The payout for a blackjack is now 3 to 2 regardless of the suit.
It is a game that is relatively easy to learn with simple rules. The difficulty is that unlike other casino games, the rules can vary from casino to casino and even from table to table within the one casino. The number of decks, when the dealer has to stand, when you can double, early and late surrenders, are just some of the variations.
Before sitting at a table or playing online, be sure to understand what rules are being used and what are the minimum and maximum bets. These are usually displayed on a small sign on each table. In games with only 1 or 2 decks, the cards are usually dealt directly from the dealer’s hands. Any more decks than this and they are dealt from a shoe that holds all the decks. Automatic shufflers have also been introduced to speed up the game (by reducing the time taken to shuffle cards, and hence allowing for more games per hour) and to counteract the card counters. If the style of the game is to deal the cards face up, it’s important not to touch the cards.
Blackjack is known as a game where the player can influence the house advantage by adopting styles of play such as Basic Strategy. Casinos have combatted this with the introduction of multiple decks, shuffling machines and rule variations.
The game is played with one to eight decks of cards with the 2 to 10 cards scored according to their face value, all face cards scored as 10 and aces equal to 1 or 11. Obviously the highest hand, known as a blackjack, is an ace and any card scored as 10. The player wins when the score for their hand is higher than the dealer’s score without going over 21. If both have the same score it’s known as a push with bets being returned. If the player or dealer goes over 21 they are said to have bust and automatically lose. If both the player and dealer both bust, the player loses. Note, this contributes to the house advantage.
The payout for blackjack is 3 to 2 and all other winning hands are paid even money. There are numerous side bets which can be introduced, some of which will be covered later.
The game begins with each player placing their bet in the space provided on the table. The dealer then gives each player (moving left to right) plus themselves two cards. Players’ cards are dealt face up with the dealer’s first card face up and the second face down. The former is know as the up card with the latter referred to as the hole card. Now is the first variation of the rules with US casinos checking for blackjack if the dealer’s up card has a score of 10 or higher. If the dealer does have a blackjack then they will collect all losing bets immediately and there will be a push with any player that has a blackjack themselves. Other casinos will not check for blackjack first.
Insurance is one form of side bet offered when the dealer’s up card is an ace. Each player is given the chance to accept insurance and pays 2 to 1 if the dealer has blackjack. The general advice is to avoid the insurance bet except in very limited situations. To accept it simply place chips equal to half your original bet on the area of the table marked for insurance.
Play then continues with each player being given the following options:
- Stand – If the player doesn’t require any more cards they will stand. For the benefit of the dealer and the surveillance equipment the signal if you wish to stand is to wave your hand away from yourself and towards the dealer. Similar to waving some-one away.
- Hit – If the player requires another card they tap the table with their finger. They’re free to do this until they stand or bust.
- Surrender – If the player is not happy with their first two cards they may reduce their potential loss by surrendering. In this case they forfeit half the original bet. Most establishments offer a late surrender which means a player can only surrender after the dealer has checked for a blackjack.
Double – If the player thinks they will need only one more card then they may double their bet and be dealt one more card. This is only offered on the first two cards (maybe the first two after splitting as well) and once the third card is dealt the player automatically stands. To indicate that you wish to double you simply place another bet equal to the original next to it.
Split – If the player’s first two cards are of equal value they can be split into two hands. This requires an extra bet equal to the original, for the second hand. Some venues allow you to split again if the same situation arises. As mentioned before, doubling after splitting is sometimes allowed.To indicate you wish to split, place another bet next to the original one.
Once all players have played in accordance with the above, the dealer then plays their own hand. The dealer doesn’t have the choices a player does and must play according to a certain framework. The usual case is for the dealer to hit on all scores less than 17. Another variation that comes into play is when the dealer has a soft 17 (an ace and any other cards totalling 6). Some casinos require the dealer to hit whilst others require them to stand.
If the dealer busts then all players still in the game win. If the dealer sits then only those with a higher score than the dealer win. Losses are collected, winnings paid out and the process starts all over again.
Without going into all the mathematical calculations associated with the house edge, it’s easy to remember that the greater the number of decks the higher the house edge, if the dealer hits on a soft 17 the higher the house edge, it’s to the player’s advantage to be allowed to double after splitting and being offered the surrender option.