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Blackjack is the single most popular casino card game to have ever come into existence. The game is entertaining, simple to learn, and is widely available at gambling venues the world over. The immense interest it attracts can also be explained with the fact it is among the few casino games to offer players good odds at beating the house.

It is impossible to say with absolute certainty where and when blackjack first sprung into existence. While the origins of the game spark off heated debates to this day, there are several theories as to when blackjack emerged. A reference to a similar game was first made by Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes in a short story of his, called Rinconete and Cortadillo. It relates the adventures of a couple of crooks cheating at veintiuna, a game with similar rules and objective as these in blackjack since players aimed at forming a hand whose total comes close to 21 without exceeding it.

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Many historians argue that a variation of blackjack first appeared in France in the 18th century, where it was referred to as vingt-et-un, meaning twenty-one in French. According to this theory, blackjack is a derivative of two other card games which were hugely popular throughout France at the time, French Ferme and Chemin de Fer. Others are of the opinion blackjack originated from a Spanish game with similar rules where the object was to reach a hand total of 31 with at least three cards. Some people even believe a predecessor of blackjack was played in the Roman Empire where instead of cards, the soldiers used wooden blocks with different values.

Regardless of its roots, the game was given its modern name in the United States. When twenty-one crossed the ocean and was introduced in the New World for the first time by the French colonists, it spread throughout the continent like wild fire. In the 1930s, it finally made it to the floors of gambling venues in Nevada where casino managers lured players with a special promotion to pique their interest. A total of 21 made with an ace of spades and a black Jack offered a tasty payout of 10 to 1, causing the card game to be dubbed “blackjack”. The promotion did not last for long, but the name stuck.

One thing is certain – blackjack was not “invented” by one individual person at any particular point in time. It underwent dramatic changes over the course of several centuries and continues to evolve to this very day. Thanks to the technological progress we have witnessed in the last decades, many online casinos have introduced new, enticing blackjack variations, thus further fueling the interest towards this centuries-old game. Players are now granted the unique opportunity to play blackjack in live dealer casinos from the comfort of their surroundings, without having to drive around for hours to find a landbased casino where the game is available.

Blackjack Rules

Blackjack RulesAsk any skilled blackjack player out there and they will tell you, the rules take ten minutes to learn but mastering the game requires what seems like a lifetime. Recreational players, however, will be greatly pleased by the game’s simplicity. Blackjack can be played with one to eight standard decks, of 52 cards each. Whenever multiple decks are in play, these are normally placed in a device, called a “shoe” to reduce the chances of cheating and the time between shuffles.

Before play commences, the dealer shuffles the cards and asks one of the players to cut the pack. The top card from the deck or shoe is then “burned” or placed either at the bottom of the deck or in the tray with the discards. Each player makes a bet and is dealt two cards, with the dealer being the last to receive their two cards, only one of which is facing up. The goal of the players is to form a hand that comes the closest in total to 21 but without going over. Meanwhile, the dealer is forced to obey by fixed rules and draw to a predetermined hand total, which varies between tables.

In blackjack, each face card, along with the ten, is assigned a value of 10. The remaining cards are assigned their face value, with the exception of the ace, which can be counted either as 1 or as 11. A hand that totals 21 in value, formed with an ace and a ten-value card is called “blackjack”, or a “natural”, and offers the highest payout, usually of 3 to 2. Other winning hands normally return even money. Whoever exceeds the total of 21 loses the hand or “busts”. When both the dealer and the player obtain the same total, they push and the player neither wins, nor loses.

Soft and Hard Hands

blackjack soft 15 image

In the context of blackjack, there are two types of hands. Soft hands are more desirable for players as they consist of an ace, which can be assigned a value either of 1 or of 11. This way, the player is guaranteed not to bust if they draw one more additional card.

Side Bets in Blackjack

blackjack side bets image

Apart from hitting, standing and possibly surrendering, blackjack players are allowed several other actions but as these go hand in hand with side bets, we have decided to place them in a category of their own.

House Edge in Blackjack

blackjack house edge imageThose who have more extensive experience with gambling have probably noticed one very interesting tendency. The easier a given game is to play, the more it tilts the odds in favor of the house. The good news is there is one game to which this rule does not apply and this is the game of blackjack.

The house always holds a certain advantage over its patrons which is normally built into the payout percentages for winning bets. In games of chance like roulette, this advantage remains constant because the odds of winning never change – each spin of the wheel should be viewed as an independent event and as such, has no effect on the results to follow. Therefore, all players are fighting against the same house edge.

This is not the case with blackjack, which is a game of dependent events. What this means is that each card dealt out of the deck or shoe affects the odds of winning (or losing) with subsequent hands. The richness of ten-value cards tips the scales in favor of the player while low-value cards work to the benefit of the dealer as they reduce their chances of going bust. Therefore, the ratio of high and low cards changes every hand and so does the house edge. Many skilled players know how to exploit this through advantage play.

The Basic Strategy Chart

By using basic strategy, players can reduce the house edge and transform blackjack into a game of almost even chances. Basic strategy is presented in the form of a chart which contains the optimal decisions players need to make if they are not using more advanced advantage play techniques. Therefore, these optimal decisions are based solely on the two initial cards players are dealt and the one face-up card the dealer is showing.

There are two types of basic strategy. With total-dependent basic strategy, players’ decisions are based solely on the up card the dealer has and the overall total of their starting hand. Many players attack the blackjack tables with composition-dependent basic strategy, which certainly is the more accurate approach since playing decisions rely on the dealer’s up card and the numerical values of the cards the player is holding.

Each column in the basic strategy chart represents the card the dealer is showing while the rows correspond to the cards the players are dealt. The sections where the rows and the columns intersect designate the optimal playing decisions for all possible hand combinations in blackjack. In other words, basic strategy helps players decide when to hit, stand, split, or double down.

Players who follow perfect basic strategy are said to win 49 out of every 100 hands played in any given session, which corresponds to a house advantage between 1.50% and 2.00%. Please do have in mind that there are deviations in basic strategy, depending on the peculiarities of the blackjack variant you play, such as the number of decks in use, whether surrender is an option, and so on.

Blackjack Basic Strategy Chart
Players’ Hand Dealer’s Up Card
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A
8 H H H D D H H H H H
9 H D D D D H H H H H
10 D D D D D D H H H H
11 D D D D D D D H H H
12 H H S S S H H H H H
13 S S S S S H H H H H
14 S S S S S H H H H H
15 S S S S S H H H H H
16 S S S S S H H H H H
A-2 H H H D D H H H H H
A-3 H H D D D H H H H H
A-4 H H D D D H H H H H
A-5 H H D D D H H H H H
A-6 H D D D D H H H H H
A-7 S D D D D S S H H H
A-8 S S S S S S S S S S
A-9 S S S S S S S S S S
4-4. H H H SP SP H H H H H
5-5. D D D D D D H H H H

Advantage Play in Blackjack

blackjack card counting imageSome players have upped their skill level to such an extent that they can completely destroy the house edge when they take a seat at the blackjack table. Such people are known as “advantage players” but from the house’s perspective they are labeled “undesirables”.

One such technique to gain an advantage is card counting. It relies on the idea that players can eventually beat the house by keeping track of the ratio of high and low cards remaining in the deck or shoe. High or face cards are beneficial for the player while low cards give the dealer a slight advantage. Therefore, whenever a shoe is “hot” i.e. rich in high cards, the odds sway in the card counter’s favor. The colder the shoe grows, the worse for the player.

Card counters exploit this by adjusting their bet size depending on the current advantage they hold over the house. They bet big on rich shoes and reduce the size of their stakes on cold shoes. In unfavorable situations, they would get up and leave the table altogether. Highly-skilled card counters are also known to keep side-counts on key cards like the aces.

Variations of Blackjack

Blackjack is the most widely played card game in the world, so it is hardly surprising that many enticing variations have emerged ever since it was first introduced in Nevada casinos in the 1930s. Each variant has its own peculiarities in terms of rules and even bets.

Double Exposure

double exposure blackjack imageOne of the most popular blackjack variations is Double Exposure. As the name implies, in this variant, the dealer receives their two cards face-up so that players can see them. At first glance, this seems like a fantastic opportunity for players, card counters especially. If only there were no adjustments to the rules! In Double Exposure, a natural pays even money instead of 3 to 2. Players are not allowed to re-split and lose all ties, save for those with naturals.

Perfect Pairs

perfect pairs imageAnother popular variant is Perfect Pairs where there is an interesting twist since players are allowed to make several side bets to spice up their sessions a bit. It is possible to bet on receiving a pair on the initial deal. Mixed pairs offer a payout of 5 to 1, same-color pairs return at the rate of 10 to 1, and “perfect” pairs, i.e. pairs consisting of suited cards return 30 to 1.

Blackjack Switch

blackjack switch imageIn Blackjack Switch, players are dealt two separate hands of two cards each and have the option to switch the top cards between these two hands in order to improve their totals. It is possible to hit, stand, split and double down afterward. The dealer plays out their hand as usual. The downside is that the player can potentially (but not necessarily) lose both hands.

Duel Blackjack

blackjack duel imageDuel Blackjack is truly unique in that it involves the use of community cards by both the dealer and the players. Also, dealers’ hands usually qualify on a specific total – for example, if their hand total is less than 13, the dealer would automatically lose. Both cards of the dealer are dealt face down, while the player receives one face-up and one hole card. Both player and dealer combine one or two of their cards with one or two of the community cards to form a better hand. Whoever obtains a higher total wins.

There are plenty of other interesting variations of the game, including Spanish 21, Pontoon, Double Attack, and Super Fun 21, all of which can be easily found at various online casinos. Which leads us to the last section where we introduce players in brief to the peculiarities of playing the game of 21 from the comfort of their surroundings.

Playing Online Blackjack

online blackjack imageBlackjack enjoys such an immense popularity among gambling enthusiasts that there is hardly an online casino out there, which does not offer at least one variation of the game. To tell you the truth, this is one of the greatest advantages interactive gambling can possibly offer to blackjack enthusiasts since many of the said variants are impossible to find at brick-and-mortar venues. All of the above-listed variations, and more, can be played online. Other favorites include Vegas Strip and Atlantic City Blackjack. More importantly, players can also boost their bankroll size even further by redeeming various bonuses – some of those are reserved exclusively for blackjack play.

Of course, in order to win actual money, players are expected to open a real-money account and deposit some funds but testing the blackjack games in Practice mode normally is also an option. When your preferred blackjack variant loads, you will notice the base game screen looks precisely like a regular blackjack table – the shoe is positioned on one side, the discard tray stands at the other, and there are chips of different denominations to pick from. There is a plaque to indicate the table limits players must fit into as well.

Once you select your chip denomination of choice, you click on the betting box to place your chips there just like you normally would in a landbased casino. You hit the Deal button to receive your cards and play your hands as usual, with the options being to hit, stand, double, split, and even surrender, depending on the game’s rules. If you win, you will be credited with the amount instantly. It is also possible to play multiple hands at a time.