Blackjack is a card game with simple rules, that evolved from the game that was known as “twenty-one”, which probably originated in the 17th century. The first written reference comes from the stories of Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes. In France, blackjack was known as “twenty-one” or “Vingt-et-un” and was played in French casinos in the 18th century where it became very popular.
The name “blackjack” was derived from the special bonus that a player obtained after receiving a combination of an ace of spades and a blackjack. This aspect of the game has over the years become obsolete and is no longer part of the rules, but the game has retained its name.
How to play Blackjack
It is up to the player’s ability in strategy and decision making that determines whether he wins or loses, which is why it’s extremely important to know how blackjack is played. The advantage of the casino can be reduced depending on the player’s ability to play the game optimally. This is the reason why the game is so popular amongst strategically-minded people.
For many players, blackjack has become a lifelong passion, which is proved by the existence of a large number of books and various strategies.
If you want to play blackjack, I suggest you try the game with a real dealer. Not only will you play with real cards, but the game will be a more pleasant experience if the cards are dealt with by a real dealer, whether it’s online or in a brick-and-mortar casino. However, your time for making decisions in this type of blackjack is limited. That is why we do not recommend trying it until you have mastered at least the basic strategy.
When playing tournament blackjack you can also compare your skills with other players. Furthermore, applying advanced strategies can lead to obtaining a long-term advantage over the casino, but do not expect blackjack to make you rich. Enjoy it as a way of entertainment which can keep you amused longer than most other casino games.
Also, if you want to try out card counting in free blackjack games, you can practice how the strategy is used, but you will not be able to get the advantage to your side, because the virtual deck is shuffled after each game round. To be able to see results, you need to play real-life games or at least live dealer blackjack, in which a number of game rounds are played with the same unshuffled deck.
Blackjack is most often played with six decks of French cards (the number of decks may vary from 1 to 8), with each deck consisting of 52 cards – from a two to an ace in four suits (including two black – spades and clubs and two red – hearts and diamonds).
Cards from 2 to 10 have their face value, the cards from jack to a king are worth 10 points and an ace is worth a variable value of 1 or 11. An ace has the ability to create so-called “soft” combinations, which practically means that, given an ace and 8, the total can be either 9 or 19. This is called “soft 19”. This value of the combination at the start of the hand counts as 19, but if a player draws another card and the sum exceeds 21, the value of the ace is reduced to 1.
The combination of an ace and a 7 is called “soft 18”. It has a value of 18, but if the player decided to get another card and got an eight, the value of the ace would automatically become 1, making the entire hand worth 16.
Blackjack is played against the dealer, with the player aiming to obtain a higher value hand than the dealer, but not exceeding the value of 21. If you exceed 21, the game is over regardless of the sum the dealer has reached. If the dealer exceeds the limit of 21, the player wins, but only if the player hasn’t exceeded the limit of 21 himself or herself.
The basic win in blackjack is in the ratio of 1:1. If the player gets a combination of an ace and a card worth 10, the player receives a reward for blackjack usually in the ratio of 3:2 (a bet of $1 wins $2.50, including the wagered $1).
There is also a rule that after reaching the sum of 17, the dealer does not draw another card. However, with soft 17 it’s not automatic. This rule may be applied differently, so the dealer might draw another card or stand on soft 17, depending on the specific rules used in that game. If you play online, the instructions and rules in play are always displayed. Usually the instruction says “Dealer stands at soft 17” and “Blackjack pays 3 to 2”.
If you happen to come across a type of blackjack, where the blackjack is rewarded at a ratio lower than 3:2 (mostly when playing with only one or two packs of cards), you should be aware that casino’s edge is much higher when this rule is applied.
When the dealer draws a face-up ace, the player can take an “insurance“. This is a side bet that the player wins if the dealer’s hand turns out to be a blackjack. In this case, the player wins the ‘insurance bet’ at a ratio of 3:2, but loses the original bet. Mathematically, insurance is more profitable for the casino; therefore it is never used in the basic strategy.
If the player was dealt a pair, for example, two tens, he or she can make two new combinations by splitting the hand. The player will then be dealt two new cards, one to each hand, to make two new hands with two cards in each of them. The rule on how many times the cards can be split this way depends on the rules of the particular game.
In the situation where the sum of the player’s cards totals 9, 10 or 11, the player has the option to double the bet in return for getting just one card. This action is called “double down”. Doubling bets is another variable influenced by the specific rules in play, for example, whether doubling is allowed after splitting a hand. In some Blackjack types doubling is possible on any total.
A rule used in the basic strategy, if available, is to “surrender”. The player has this option after the first cards are dealt. If the player surrenders voluntarily, he or she is refunded half of the wagered amount. The situation when surrendering is the best solution occurs when the sum the player has is 16 and the dealer’s upcard is an ace or 9 or 10.
The attractiveness of the game can be increased by blackjack tournaments, in which players compete against each other and the winner is the one with the most chips after playing a certain number of rounds.
When there is a large number of players and the buy-in is high, the tournament winner can pick up a really interesting amount of money. In order to win such a tournament, it is not only essential to know the basic strategy but also to choose the size of each bet wisely (bet low or high or even go all in). This decision is influenced by several factors: the number of chips the player has, the amount the opponents have, and the player’s position at the table.
When playing tournament blackjack it is thus important to have both luck and a deep understanding of the game to win. A player playing this type of the game can come out at the end as a long term winner. Unfortunately, online blackjack tournaments are not very widespread and they are only available in few online casinos.
American and European Blackjack
Blackjack has several different styles – American and European. In the American blackjack, the dealer draws 2 cards, one face up and one face down. If the face up card is an ace, the second card is checked by the dealer and revealed in case it has a value of 10 and completes a blackjack. If that’s not the case, the game continues and the face down card is shown to the player when it’s the dealer’s turn to draw another card or stand.
In European blackjack, the dealer receives only one card face up and draws only after the player has completed his hand.
There are many other variations of blackjack. These can differ by rules concerning the dealer and sometimes the player as well. However, in practice, the rules are always set to favour the casino.
The most common types of blackjack involve the following:
- Blackjack switch – The player plays two combinations with two cards simultaneously. The player is allowed to swap his second card between his two hands. If the dealer reaches 22, the player gets his bet back. It means he does not win, as would be the case under standard rules, but the game basically results in a draw. Also, the player is paid a reward for blackjack only in the ratio of 1:1, not 3:2 as is the case in standard blackjack.
- Vegas strip – This blackjack variation is played with four decks of cards. The player may split two aces only once, but at the same time he or she can double down on any two cards. The player also loses the insurance if he or she splits his or her cards. After splitting, the player can double the bet only if the cards that were split were two aces. If the player gets a total of 21 after splitting, it is not considered to be blackjack. If the player splits two aces, he or she will receive only one extra card and doesn’t have the option to get another one.
- Double exposure blackjack – The dealer’s cards are both face-up. As the player’s advantage increases because of this, the other rules serve as a compensation for such an advantage. The players lose their bets when tied with the dealer and blackjack is paid only to the ratio of 1:1. Additionally, the player is allowed to split his cards only once.
- Perfect pairs – The standard game is enriched by the option to place a side bet on the “perfect pair”. The player wins the bet only if his first two cards form a pair (e.g. two sevens, two tens, etc.). The winning amount is higher if the pair is of the same colour and the highest if these cards are of an identical suit.