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Blackjack : Blackjack: a "twenty-one" century game

By Elizabeth Scott

Level: Feb 28th 2007
Blackjack, also acknowledged as twenty-one, is one of the most famous casino card games in the world today. Much of blackjack's fame is attributable to the mixture of luck features with elements of skill and judgment, and the promotion that supports the practice of card counting, ability that helps the players to turn the odds of the game in their advantage.

Blackjack's ancestor was vingt-et-un ("twenty-one" in french), which originated in French casinos around 1700, and didn't have the 3:2 bonus for a two-card hand of 21 possibility.

Initially, blackjack wasn't very popular in the States, so gambling houses began to offer various bonus payouts in order to attract the players to the tables. For instance, the 10-to-1 payout bonus, when the player's hand consisted of an ace of spades and a Black Jack. This hand was named "blackjack" and the name remained although the bonus payout was soon abolished.

Blackjack Rules

Blackjack hands are ranked by their total points. The hand with the maximum total wins as long as it doesn't surpass 21; a hand with an upper value than 21 is likely to lose. The cards from 2 to 10 are worth their face value, and face cards, like jack, queen and king, are worth 10 points. An ace's value is 11 unless this would cause the gambler to exceed 21, in which case it is worth 1. A hand in which an ace's value is counted as 11 is named a soft hand, since it cannot be busted if the gambler draws one more card.

The objective of each player is to strike the dealer by having a higher hand, but not above 21. Remember that if the player surpasses 21, he loses, even though the dealer also busts. If both the player and the dealer have the equal point value, it is called a "push", and neither player nor dealer wins the hand. Each player has an independent game with the dealer, so it is likely for the dealer to lose to one gambler, but still beat the other gamblers in the same game.

The lowest wage is exposed on a sign on the table, being different from a casino to another and even from table to table. The usual minimum bet in the U.S. is $5. After the betting, the dealer deals the cards, either from one or two hand-held decks of cards, identified as a "pitch" game, or more frequently from a shoe holding four or more decks. The dealer deals two cards to each player, including himself. One of the dealer's two cards is face-up so all the players can visualize it, and the other is face down.

A two-card hand of 21, which include an ace and a ten-value card, is known as "blackjack" or a "natural", and is an automatic winner. A player with a natural is normally paid 3:2 on his bet.

We have the next possibilities:
  • if only the dealer manages to obtain a blackjack, then the player automatically loses;

  • if only the player has blackjack, then the player automatically win;
  • if both the gambler and dealer have blackjack then we have a push;
  • if no one has blackjack, then each player plays out his hand, individually.
Ultimately, when every player finished, the dealer plays his hand.

The blackjack player's options for playing are:
  • Hit: pick one more card;
  • Stand: no more cards;
  • Double down: double the bet, take another card and then stand;

  • Split: double the bet and have each card be the first card in a fresh hand (available only when the two cards are equal);
  • Surrender: sacrifice half of the initial bet and give up the hand (no longer offered at most casinos).
Blackjack house rules sustain that the dealer must hit until he or she has minimum 17 points, in spite of what the players owns. Usually, the dealer must also hit a soft 17 (like an ace and a six). The table will show whether or not the house hits or stands on a soft 17. If the dealer surpasses 21, then every remaining player wins. Wagers are usually paid out at the odds of 1:1.

Further, I will mention some universal rules and situations:

  • one card split aces: fore every ace, one card is dealt (player's turn is over);
  • early surrender: the player has the alternative to surrender before the dealer checks for Blackjack;
  • late surrender: the player has the opportunity to surrender after dealer checks for Blackjack;
  • double-down limits: double-down is permitted only on certain combinations;
  • European No-Hole-Card Rule: the dealer receive only one card, dealt face-up, and does not receive a second card (and thus does not check for blackjack) until players have acted.
About Insurance

If the dealer's up card is an Ace, the player has the possibility to take Insurance before the dealer verifies his entire hand.

The gambler who wants to take Insurance can gamble an amount of money up to half his original wager. The Insurance bet is placed alone on a particular portion of the table. The player who is taking Insurance is betting that the dealer's other card is a 10-value card, like a 10, a Jack, a Queen or a King. Since the dealer's up card is an Ace, this means that the bettor who takes Insurance is basically betting that the dealer was dealt a natural, like a two-card 21 (a blackjack).

Case: The gambler bets $10, the cards are dealt, the player's hand is 19, and the dealer shows an Ace. The player takes Insurance by gambling extra $5. The dealer shows the other card which it's a 10-valued card. The player loses his $10 bet over the blackjack hand, but he wins the insurance wager, therefore the player obtains 2:1 on his $5 Insurance bet and gets $10 (including the $5 which is returned to him). Remember that the player ended even on this round, meaning that he didn’t lose any money.

In opposition, a player could win his initial wager and lose his Insurance bet. Let's imagine that we the identical context as above except this time the dealer's other card is not a ten, but a seven. In this situation the player immediately loses his $5 Insurance bet. But the player wins his $10 bet, making a net profit on this round.

Obviously, a player could lose both his initial wager and his Insurance bet.

Insurance is usually an awful choice for the player who has neither express knowledge nor estimation of the dealer's hand because in general Insurance has a negative anticipated value for the player.

Indispensable blackjack strategy

Like in all casino games, the house has an arithmetical advantage over the players. Different from other games, blackjack offers its players the opportunity to actually reduce the casino advantage to a small percentage by playing according to a basic strategy. This strategy helps you to decide when to hit and when to stand, and also determines when you’ll have to double down or split. This basic strategy is founded on the player's hand and the dealer's shown card. There are minor variations in this basic blackjack strategy depending on the specific house rules and the number of decks used. In the most favorable situation, whit the most beneficial rules (single deck and Las Vegas rules), by applying this basic strategy, the house advantage can be diminished to 0.16%.

So, here are the most common blackjack rules which are beneficial for the player:
  • doubles are allowed on any two-card hand, except a blackjack;
  • doubles are allowed after splitting;
  • early surrender is permitted;
  • late surrender is also allowed;
  • re-splitting Aces is acceptable;
  • drawing more than one card against a split Ace.
The subsequent rules are unfavorable for the player:
  • less than 3:2 payouts on blackjacks;
  • dealer hits on soft seventeen (ace, six);
  • splitting a maximum of once (to two hands);
  • double down restricted to certain sums, like 9-11 or 10,11;
  • aces may not be re-spited.
Lesson 1: Blackjack History
Where was the game born? And who named it BlackJack?
Lesson 2: Blackjack Rules
All you need to know before getting started.
Lesson 3: Blackjack Strategy
The many strategies to get a winning edge over the casino, besides getting "Rain Man" to play for you of course!
Lesson 4: Blackjack Vocabulary
Speak like a pro. Talk the talk, the walk is up to you!
Lesson 5: Blackjack Tips
What you should keep in mind, and even a little more on strategy.

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