Understanding Blackjack

BlackjackBlackjack, also known as 21, is a good game to have clear understanding of as it’s one of the most common online casino games.

Even if you know nothing about the game, one important fact that’s useful to keep in mind is that the aim of this game is to beat the dealer.  The million dollar question, however, is how is that done?

At the beginning of a game of Blackjack, a player is dealt 2 cards by the dealer. The player needs to try and get as close to 21, hence why the game is also known as 21. The player and the dealer compete each trying to get to a total of 21 before the other. The player’s aim is to reach the required 21 without exceeding it and before the dealer does so. Seems simple enough, right? While it is simple in theory, there is a lot of skill and strategy involved in this game unlike the randomness of Slot Machines for example.

While Blackjack is sometimes referred to as 21, 21 is in fact an earlier, more basic version of Blackjack. The origins of 21 are not known. It is believed that a reference to the game in 16th century Miguel de Cervantes book, Novelas Ejemplares, is the first mention of it. In the book, Cervantes describes how some of the players are cheating in a game called Ventiuna (Spanish for 21). The interesting thing about the game Cervantes describes is that the rules are very similar to what we know was Blackjack. It seems then that Blackjack is one of the oldest games dating to at least the 16th century.

Initially, casinos in the US which offered 21 did so with a special bonus known as the 10:1 payout. This was to entice a player into playing and meant that if a player was dealt two black Jacks and an Ace of Spades they would receive a special bonus.  This combination of black Jacks and the Ace of Spades fittingly became known as “blackjack”. While this special bonus has since been removed, the name has stuck replacing the old name, 21. As many of you probably know, in modern Blackjack, the term “blackjack” is used when one is dealt a hand which consists of an Ace and Ten card or an Ace and any one of the Face cards.

Having an understanding of the history and thinking behind the game is useful but won’t really help a player win. It’s essential that a player goes into a game of Blackjack with a clear understanding of how the game is played.  A typical game of Blackjack consists of 5 to 9 players sitting around the dealer, who is always in the centre. When it comes to Blackjack, it’s important to understand that there are betting areas where players (generally up to three) who are playing will place their bets and these players are known to be in control of these positions. Players who are in control of their positions will be consulted by the dealer with regard to their decisions. There are also players who do not control any positions but bet. This is known as playing behind. Players are allowed to have control over an unlimited number of positions but only at one particular table. Players may not control multiple positions at multiple tables.

At the beginning of a game of Blackjack, each player in a controlling position is dealt two cards. It’s important to remember that the dealer also plays an active part in the game and is also dealt two cards.   This is where one of the biggest differences between American and European Blackjack comes in. In American Blackjack, also known as “hole card” games, one of the two dealt cards is dealt face up and the other (the hole card) is dealt face down.  In European Blackjack, or “no hole card” games, only after the players play will the dealer deal his/her second card.

Cards are dealt clockwise from first player to the dealer once the first two cards have been dealt. The dealer will continue dealing cards in a clockwise fashion until one of the players hits Blackjack or goes bust (gets over 21).  To have an understanding of just what it means to get 21, it’s important to know the value of each card.  Cards from 2 to 9 (known as number cards) have a natural value. In other words a 2 card would have a value of 2 and a 9 card would have a value of 9. Cards 10 to King are 10 points. The Ace is either 1 point or 11. The player can decide depending on the other card/s being held.

To get Blackjack, a player has a number of options besides simply accumulating more cards. For example a player can hit. This means that the player requests the dealer to deal more cards. A player can continue to hit until 21 is reached – at which point the player needs to stop.  A player can also stick or stay. This means the player doesn’t want more cards from the dealer.  To stick a player would either slide cards over chips. A player could also wave cards horizontally and thereby signal the dealer that that the player has decided to stick.

Then there is the double down which gives players the opportunity to double their bets. In order to do this, however, players need to stick and can receive only one more card. The spilt is when a player is dealt two cards with the same value and the player then decides to split the cards into two separate hands.  This means that the player will then be dealt two new cards, one to each new hand.  Players should note that often a split is only allowed when the cards are identical, i.e. a player would need two cards of 9. It’s important to check with the casino on their stance on split hands.  In some casinos, players will have the option to remove themselves from the game. This is often if a player doesn’t like his cards and this is known as surrender. Upon surrender, half of the player’s bet is taken by the house.  The player is then no longer part of the game.  Dealers do not have the option to split, double down or surrender.

In hole card games, the hole card is revealed and the dealing only stops when the dealer’s hand is at least 17. If the dealer goes bust, all players still in the game are considered winners. If the dealer doesn’t go bust, players with more than the dealer but less then 21 win. If there is a push, when a player and dealer’s hand has the same value, the player’s bet is returned.

If you don’t want to be eaten alive by Blackjack veterans, you should brush up on your skills before you approach the table. Of course, strategy is also needed for online Blackjack but because you’re in the privacy of your own home you don’t need to worry about things like hand signals which are crucial to an off line Blackjack game.  For a beginner, your best bet is the basic Blackjack strategy. This will greatly improve your odds.

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