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The Game of Blackjack

People have been playing card games for centuries; they originated from China and then spread to India and Persia, to Egypt, and from there into Europe through both Italian and Iberian peninsulas during the second half of the 14th century. But it’s blackjack, also called 21, which is without a doubt the most popular table game in land-based and online casinos combined. Actually, one of blackjack’s biggest fans was none other than Napoleon Bonaparte! He preferred it over any other table game.

A reason behind its undeniable popularity is that out of all the table games, blackjack is the one that is the most possible to beat. In fact, it is thanks to the rising popularity of blackjack that card counting has come into being, along with people’s attempts to beat the dealer – you’ll see why soon enough. Much like poker, blackjack is a game of skill and chance.

Why play blackjack?

  • Blackjack has fairly simple rules
  • The game has one of the lowest house edges of all casino table games
  • It’s a one player game, so you don’t need other players

The History of Blackjack

Blackjack was born in France and Spain at which point several different variations of the game were played. The version which took Europe by storm was called “Vingt-un” or “Vingt-et-un”, which is Twenty-one (21) in French. It’s very likely that the game preceded games like the French “Quinze” (meaning fifteen) and the Italian game “Sette e Mezzo” (seven and a half). According to historians, blackjack’s oldest predecessor is the Spanish game “Trente-un” (Thirty-one) which came into play as early as 1440. The card game was referenced again in a collection of short stories later in 1570 by Miguel de Cervantes who was also the famous author behind the great work of literature Don Quixote. What do all these games have in common you may ask? They all involved cards first of all, with the prime objective being to get as close to a certain number without going over it. The game commonly known as Twenty-One spread through French casinos in the 1700s before reaching America. Despite this, the actual game of blackjack which most of us play today was invented by Americans.

Playing Blackjack

In blackjack, every hand has an amount of points. The hand with the highest total wins, as long as it doesn’t exceed 21 (hence where the game gets its name from). Not only that but in order to win your hand must be more than that of the dealer. Each player has an independent game with the dealer so it’s possible for the dealer to lose to one player but still beat the other players in the same round.

A game of blackjack can typically involve up to seven players and eight decks. That said, regardless of how many people are at the table, the sole objective of the game is to play against, and in turn, beat the dealer, not simply to get 21 (in fact, most games are won by simply having a better hand that excels that of your opponent). Having several decks mixed together, this is called a ‘shoe’, the game automatically becomes faster as you don’t have to reshuffle after every single hand and the chances of card counting are significantly reduced.

The good thing about blackjack is that there is only one set of simple of rules which applies to all variations of the card game. Below are the basics of the game so as to ameliorate your pay-out.

Every card in the player’s hand has its own value. The face cards (those playing cards which generally depict a face), king, queen, and jack are all counted as 10 each. Cards two to ten have values according to their own numbers, leaving the ace to play a dual role; it can be played as either a 1 or 11, depending on what is needed to form the best hand. A hand containing an ace played as an 11 is considered a ‘soft’ hand as it cannot be busted if the player draws another card. A ‘hard’ hand is when the ace is played as a 1 if there’s a chance of going bust. As you’ve probably gathered, ‘going bust’ in blackjack means that you lose.

At the start of each round, bets are made and a card is dealt face down to every player including the dealer (the minimum bet varies from casino to casino). The players may look at their cards but the dealer cannot. A second card is dealt face down to all the players, whereas the dealer’s card is placed face up for everyone to see. This is called the “hole card”. Now here’s where anticipation seeps in and it all gets exciting! Everyone has two cards and has no idea what the dealer’s first card is.

What’s your next move? There are a couple of tactical manoeuvers under your belt. Well, if you’re lucky enough to have a two-card hand of 21 (an ace and a ten-value card), you’ve won the round. This hand is called a “blackjack”, “natural” or “snapper”, it occurs every 20 hands and pays back 3:2 your bet. Whoever has blackjack, be it the player or the dealer, wins the round. If both the dealer and the player have blackjack, then it’s a push, that is, your stake is returned and you neither win or lose. If neither side has the winning hand, then each player plays out his hand, one at a time. Only when all the players have finished will the dealer play his hand. Your options now are as follows:

Hit- take another card in the hopes of getting closer to 21. Verbal calls are not accepted during a game of blackjack, so signals are used instead. To signal a hit, the player scratches the table with the cards.

Stand- take no more cards. A stand is signalled by holding a flattened palm over your cards or by sliding your cards under your bet.

Double down- double your bet on your first two cards, take one more card regardless of its denomination and then stand. This should be done when you have a hand that cannot be busted or the dealer is holding a hand that could easily lead a bust.

Split- if you have two cards that are of the same value, you can double your bet and separate the cards into two different hands to play them individually.

Surrender- if you’re not confident in your cards you can choose to forfeit and take back half your bet. Unfortunately, not all casinos are big on this rule and don’t follow it.

Insurance- you can do only do this if the dealer’s face-up card is an ace. If you think that the face down card is worth 10, you can take ‘insurance’ on half the original bet if the dealer has blackjack. You can do so by simply calling out “Even money” – many dealers will advise you to do so. This, however, is bad advice as the dealer will only have blackjack 33.3% of the time, making it a bad percentage play.

Next, it’s the dealer’s turn to get in on some of the action. He can finally see the card which was dealt face down in order to decide whether to stand or to hit. In the basic variation, the dealer must hit or take another card if his score is 16 or less. If his total is 17 or higher, he has to stand. Finally, all cards are revealed and the player with the highest score wins.

Beginners’ Tips

Blackjack is a game of mathematical probabilities, skill, and chance. If you come prepared, know the rules and exploit the strategies at hand, you can easily walk away a winner. Remember, the odds are in your favour – this is a game which gives you a choice on what to do and how to play. Just the same, here are some valuable tips to aid you in your cause.

Instead of hitting again, many people like to stick with a 16, although statistically, 16 is the worst hand in blackjack, followed closely by 15 and 11. Always hit if your hand totals to 11 as you cannot go bust. Standing on 17 or higher is ideal. A fun statistical fact is that the dealer will win 48 hands for every 100 played.

Never take insurance, it’s a loser’s bet as the odds are against you. You’re more likely to beat the dealer if he has to stand on all 17s rather than hit, and tens are hugely common (there are four times as many as any other card in the game).

Don’t split pairs of 10-value cards (ten, jack, queen, king), split pairs of eights (remember a pair of eights gives a total of 16 which is the worst hand in blackjack) and aces instead (a pair of aces is worth 2 or 22 which is nowhere close to a winning hand).

Variations of the game

Not all blackjack games are the same. Some variations work in favour of the player whereas others work against. Variations may crop out from one continent to the other. For example, in European blackjack, the hole card, that is the dealer’s second card, isn’t actually dealt until all the players play their hands. Here are some variations of the game and their effect on the house advantage.

Double-downs after splitting pairs permitted: this is extremely advantageous for the player as it cuts the house advantage by 13%. It’s good to choose casinos which allow this.

Re-splitting of aces permitted:what usually happens when a player splits an ace is that they receive one more card on each one. However, if the player receives a third ace, some casinos allow the new pair to be re-split.

Early surrender: when the house allows the player to surrender half the original bet instead of playing the hand before the dealer checks for blackjack. Remember, the dealer will have an ace laying face up.

Late surrender: this occurs more often than early surrender but isn’t customary. This gives the player the chance to concede half the bet after the dealer checks for blackjack. This lessens the house edge by as much as 0.07%.

Double-downs limited to hard 11 and hard 10: some casinos do not allow the player to double on totals of less than 10 or on soft hands. The net is a 0.28% increase in the house edge

Dealer hits soft 17: if instead of standing on all 17s, the dealer hits hands including an ace or aces that can be totalled as either 7 or 17, the house edge is increased by 0.2%.

Blackjack pays 6:5: this variation is very popular on single-deck games in Vegas and is commonly known as a bankroll breaker. This is how it works; For example, a two-card 21 pays only 6 credits for a 5-credit bet instead of the usual 7.50 credits, which adds 1.4% edge to the house – more than the usual house edge against the basic strategy of experienced players in nearly all games with the normal 3:2 return.

Different places to play blackjack

Land-based Casino:A casino is one of the most exciting places to play a game of blackjack. Some of the most popular in the world are found in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Macau and casino boat cruises. If you don’t want to wander so far, you can always check out your local. It’s important to note that there are certain rules of etiquette that real casino blackjack players adhere to (like asking to join a table). Remember that land-based casinos only offer real money games.

Online Casinos: With the dawn of the internet, nowadays you don’t need to venture far and wide to win real money playing blackjack. With just the click of a mouse, you can play online on a virtual table against computer software run by casinos or even in front of a live dealer. However, online casinos don’t only offer real money games, you can also play for free to practice your skills before making a deposit at a casino.

Live Dealer Casinos Online:You can play blackjack and win real money from the comfort of your home while you interact with a live dealer, giving your gaming experience a real casino feel. It’s the same as playing for real money in your local casino. If you’re interested in this kind of play, it’s important to know that most real dealer tables won’t offer free play, mostly due to the additional cost of having live dealers.


Is there any advantage to playing more than one spot at blackjack?

Bear in mind that you will decrease your variance when you play more than one spot. However, you will get more play time betting two spots rather than one, as sometimes you will win or push one hand while the other might lose or push.

As a beginner, is it better to play blackjack online?

Playing over the internet is often a wise choice for players that are already quite good at managing their play since the rate at which the hands can be dealt is much faster than in a traditional casino setting. That said, some casinos allow you to play online for free until you learn the rules and get used to how the game works.

Are there differences when playing blackjack for free or for real money?

You won’t find many differences between the way real money and free money blackjack are played. As a matter of fact, most games look and play exactly the same. The major difference is that you’re playing with real money and therefore stand the chance of winning real cash, that’s the risk, but you also can get a deposit or reload bonus at some online casinos when you make a deposit.

What are my chances of winning at blackjack?

The probability of an overall win in blackjack is 42.22%, a tie is 8.48%, and a loss is 49.10%, assuming you wish to ignore ties for purposes of the streak. In that case, the probability of a win, given a resolved bet, is 46.36%.

Is blackjack available to play on mobile?

Yes, you can. Most casinos offer both free and real money games for mobile and tablet devices as well as on desktop.

Is it required to tip the dealer?

Blackjack dealers only earn minimum wage, so tipping is very important for them in making a living. Fortunately for them, you can also tip when playing online for real money. Even though you are not obliged to tip, most players do so if the dealer has been friendly and helpful throughout and has provided you with a pleasurable experience. Tipping also gets the dealer on your side, which is never a bad thing. Remember to base your tip on how much you’re betting; for a 5-credit bet, a 1 credit tip would suffice. For a larger bet of 25 credits, making a 5-credit tip bet would also be enough. There are two prevalent ways of tipping. One way is by simply placing the chips anywhere on the table at any point in time and telling the dealer, “This is for you.” The second way is to make a bet for the dealer on your hand by placing the chips you want to bet just outside the betting area. If you’re in luck and your hand wins the dealer will pay off both your winning chips. After the dealer clears the table, the dealer will pick up the spoils from the bet you made for him/her, hopefully, thank you for the bet and place the chips in the toke box (tips are often shared amongst dealers on same shift). If your hand loses, the dealer receives no tip. Instead, your bet goes into the casino’s chip tray. However, even if your hand loses, most dealers will appreciate the gesture.

Important: US residents are only permitted to play for real money at casinos that are licenced and regulated by the State they reside in. Please ensure you are familiar with your local laws if you intend to play slot games online or take part in any other form of online gambling for real money.