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Introduction to Blackjack

The popularity of blackjack stems from two reasons. The first is that it is one of the few casino games in which the player’s skill is tested. It is not based purely on luck. The second reason is that players who have acquired the required skill level can enjoy long term average returns of about 99.5%, which is better than in any other casino game. Online casinos offer broadly two kinds of blackjack games. One type of games follows the exact rules from the various renowned land casinos. In the other type the rules are tweaked in an innovative manner to make the blackjack games different and exciting.

History of Blackjack

Games similar to blackjack were being played in European countries in the 17th century. The earliest reference is to a game called Ventiuna in Spain, which had the objective of reaching a total 21 points without busting, with aces having values of 1 or 11. In France the game was called Vingt et Un. Both names mean 21 in their respective languages.

Blackjack evolved in the United States when the French brought it there. In order to popularize the game casinos offered a bonus payout of 10 to 1 for a hand with the ace of spades and a black jack. This hand was called a “blackjack”. Even after this incentive was withdrawn the game continued to be called blackjack. Today a blackjack refers to a hand with any ace and any ten value card and offers a payout of 3 to 2.

In the latter half of the twentieth century several players perfected the skill of card counting by which they could assess the cards that were left in the deck. This gave them tremendous advantage over the house and they began to win large sums of money. The casino took counter measures to neutralize this. Many of these players are enshrined in the Blackjack Hall of Fame.

Rules for Blackjack

Blackjack is played with standard decks. The cards from twos to tens have their face values. All picture cards are valued at 10 and the ace can take a value of 1 or of 11. Hand values are obtained by adding the values of the cards. The objective for the player is to get a hand value closer to 21 than the dealer, but without going over 21.

The player places his wager and is dealt two cards and the dealer is dealt one card face up. On the basis of these cards the player has to choose his move. The player can Stand, which means that he does not want any more cards. He can Hit or ask for another card. The player can keep hitting till he chooses to stand or busts (goes over 21). The player can Split if both his cards are of equal rank. He then places another equal wager and plays the game with two independent hands. If the player thinks he has a good hand he can Double his wager, but has to take one and only one card after that. If the player busts he loses his wager. If he stands the dealer’s hand is played according to predefined rules. If the dealer busts the player wins. Otherwise the final hands are compared and the one with the higher hand value wins. If the player wins he is paid even money. If the player is dealt a blackjack upfront he is paid 3 to 2. In case of ties the player’s bet is returned.

The above description is for blackjack under European rules. In most American casinos there is a major difference. The dealer is dealt one card face up and one card face down. In case the face up card is a 10 value card the dealer will check for blackjack. If the dealer has a blackjack then the player loses immediately.

General Strategy

Blackjack strategy is based on assessing the likelihood of a favourable outcome after the move is made. If the player has a present hand value of 11 or less he cannot bust by drawing another card and therefore he should hit. If the player has a present hand value of 15 then he will bust by drawing a seven, eight, nine, ten or picture card. This means that from a single complete deck he will bust with 28 cards and survive with 24 cards and so must stand. But this is a very simplistic view and will not give optimum results. The value of the dealer’s face up card has to be factored in and that complicates matters considerably. If the dealer has a high chance of busting the player must be conservative and if the dealer is likely to end up with a high acceptable total the player must be aggressive.

Optimum blackjack strategy is quite complex and impossible for the player to reason out while playing. It has been generated from computer simulation of a very large number of deals and has to be memorized. This is not as difficult a task as it appears to be. The strategy is tabulated into a coded “strategy card”, which is easy to understand and learn. The rows in the strategy card represent the different hand values that the player can have. The columns represent the dealer’s face up card. Each cell in the table therefore represents a unique situation based on the cards dealt so far. The optimum move for the player is marked in the cell. That is each cell will have from the four moves – Stand, Hit, Split or Double, Hence all that the player is required to do is locate the cell that describes his current situation and act accordingly.

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