Blackjack, also commonly known as “21”, is one of the most popular casino card games. This is because it has been around for ages, and is also one of the easiest games to learn.
The name comes from a bonus offered by casino houses in America when the game was first introduced, where a player would win a ten-to-one payout if their hand contained a “blackjack”, which was either the jack of clubs or the jack of spades.
In person or online
Every casino worldwide has numerous blackjack tables, with varying values of bets. But there has also been a sharp increase in online casinos offering the game, primarily due to its popularity and ease of play.
Blackjack is played at a table, with a dealer facing the players in a semicircle. Numerous 52 card decks are shuffled together. The more decks used, the stronger game the house (i.e. dealer) is likely to have. Players play individually against the dealer.
Traditionally, a table will have a minimum bet amount, and you may find various tables within a casino with varying minimum bet amounts.
The object of the game is for the player to create card totals that do not exceed twenty-one, but that are higher than the total of the dealer’s cards.
Numbered cards have their standard value, jack, queen and king are numbered as 10, and aces are numbered at either 1 or 11 (the player may choose which denomination is applicable).
A hand with an ace is “soft”, meaning that should the player take an additional card, the ace can be valued at 1 and the player will therefore not be bust. A hard hand is where a player does not have an ace, and taking an additional card could result in a bust.
The dealer will deal a player a card, and the player will then have an option to “hit” (take another card) or stand (end their turn). These are the two basic moves in a game of blackjack. Whether the player chooses to hit or stand will depend on the value of the cards already dealt, the value of the cards held by the dealer, and whether the player is risk-averse or not.
Blackjack has become known for the use of hand signals in play, with hit being a tap on the table, and stand being a horizontal wave of the hand over the cards.
In addition to hit and stand, a player also has an option to “double”, meaning to double their bet. One can also choose to “split”, which means that if two cards have the same value, a player may split the cards into two separate hands. Finally, the player may “surrender”, which is to retire from the game and forfeit half a bet.
If the player’s total card value exceeds twenty-one, then their hand is a “bust”. The dealer then wins and the player forfeits all bets to that point. If the dealer busts, then all players with active hands will win. Wins are paid out 1:1, meaning a win is equal to the bets placed by the player.
Players can also partake in side bets, such as betting that a player’s hand will be a pair or suited.
These side bets are placed separate to the main bets and are often used when groups or teams are playing. Insurance is a form of a side bet, that pays 2:1 and becomes available when the dealer holds an ace.
The concept is that it is highly likely that the dealer could deal themselves a ten-value card for a total value of twenty-one.
The player can then “insure” against this possibility by making a side bet, with the notion that if the dealer does in fact deal themselves a twenty-one, the player will receive payout of this “insurance” which in theory will cover the player for their loss.
Tips and strategy
Like most casino games, a player’s chance of winning is strongly based on luck. That being said, skilled players are able to calculate and use their experience to present favorable outcomes.
Some of these strategies include:
- Taking a hit if you are holding an 11 or less.
- Never splitting pairs of 10 value cards.
- Always hit with a soft 17 (an ace and a 6).
- Never playing if you are drinking (you need to be able to properly concentrate!).
- Find out how many decks are being played by the dealer and try and avoid tables where there are more than 5 decks being played.
- Because of the 1:1 outcome in blackjack, the more you bet, the more you can win. But remember, this also means that there is more to lose.
- If you want to be really prepared, consult a basic strategy chart, which can help you learn and memorize various hits, stands, doubles and split combinations you may be faced with, and how you should deal with them.
- Not playing the insurance side-bet. Most skilled blackjack players agree that while tempting, insurance is not as beneficial as it seems, and will likely only result in a payout to a player less than 30 % of the time.