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One of the most popular of all the casino card games, taking minutes to learn yet years to master, blackjack's allure has been further enhanced by movies and popular fiction.
Like many of today's casino games, the origins of Blackjack can be traced back to several different games that were popular in a number of countries, including ancient Rome, Egypt and China. The game with the greatest similarity was 'Vingt-et-Un' which was played in France during the 1700's, and whose name translates as 'Twenty One.' It was this game that migrated to the New World with European immigrants in the 18th and 19th centuries.
In the games played at American casinos, a popular side bet paid out at 10:1 for any hand that consisted of an Ace of Spades plus the Jacks of Spades or Clubs, which are the black Jacks. Although this bet did not last for very long, the name stuck, and Vignt-en-Un changed forever.
The first state to popularize Blackjack was Nevada which legalized gambling during the Depression era of the 1930s. It quickly became one of the main features at the new Vegas and Reno casinos, spreading across the country as more and more states allowed it to be played.
Since the online gambling revolution began in the 1990s, Blackjack has found a new audience around the world. Online casinos now offer players a whole range of Blackjack games including Live Casino and Mobile Casino versions, as well as Multiplayer and High Stakes games, all based on the same rules that have been around for nearly 100 years.
Although originally a French game, little remains of the terminology used by players of Vignt-et-Un, and the modern game largely uses phrases developed more recently in the USA.
Blackjack: A Blackjack, or Natural hand is one that is made up of an Ace and any card given a value of 10 such as the 10, Jack, Queen or King.
Bust: If the cards have a value exceeding 21, the hand immediately loses.
Double Down: A second bet, equal in value to the first bet size, and where the player can only be drawn one additional card.
Hit: An instruction to the dealer for a further card.
Holecard: The second card received by the dealer, normally dealt facedown and not turned over until after the player has decided upon what action to take next.
Insurance:. A side bet that can be made if the dealer holds an ace, but before he turns over his hole card. The bet wins if the dealers hole card is revealed to have a score of 10, giving him Blackjack, and paying out at odds of 2:1, which compensates for the loss of the players initial wager.
Push: The term given to the situation where both player and dealer have hands with an equal score. The bet is returned to the player.
Soft: An ace can be valued either 1 or 11, depending on the other cards held. A soft hand is one where the ace is counted as an 11.
Split: Should the first two cards dealt to the player be of equal value, they can be split into two separate hands, with the player making an additional bet, and the dealer then drawing cards for each hand.
Stand: A request by the player for no further cards to be dealt to them.
Surrender: If a hand looks certain to lose, many, but not all, casinos will let the player surrender the hand, getting half of their stake returned to them.
Upcard: The first card received by the dealer, which is placed on the table face up.
The aim of Blackjack is for the player to build up a hand where the total score is closer to 21 than the dealers hand, but without going over 21. Number cards from 1 to 9 are all given their face values, 10's, Jacks, Queens and Kings are all given a value of 10, while aces can be either 1 or 11.
The first move is for the players to make their bets, after which they will each receive two cards, both face up while the dealer will also get two cards, the first face up, and the second face down. The players each then need to make a decision on what to do next, based on their own card score and what they believe the dealer will have.
They can choose to 'hit' and be dealt further cards, one at a time, 'stand' and have no further cards dealt to them, 'double' their bet size, or 'split' into two hands if the first cards are of the same value. Following the players decisions, the dealer will then receive more cards until he either gets a total of 17 or more, or goes bust by getting a score greater than 21.
At the end of the game, one of three results will occur. Either the player wins for a payout of 1:1, or the dealer will win with the player losing the bet, or if they have hands of equal value, a tie will result. For the player, the best outcome is for their initial two cards to consist of an ace and a 10, which is a natural Blackjack, resulting in the player getting a payout of 3:2.
Blackjack is an easy game to learn, where the players odds can be improved by using a range of methods, from the well known 'Basic Strategy' to sophisticated card counting systems.
Beginners should learn basic strategy, which is a set of simple guidelines on when to hit, stand, double or split, although bankroll management is equally important.
Basic strategy is a mathematically based set of rules that effectively makes the decisions for you. Following this system, players must hit if their hand total is between 5-16, and stand if it is 17 or greater. In most occasions, it is always advisable to split a hand if possible, although this can depend somewhat on the dealers cards, making splitting and doubling a more complicated issue.
When learning how to play Blackjack, players should always keep a few things in mind:
- Although the rules of Blackjack remain constant at most online and land based casinos, the payouts and odds can change a little. While many casinos have a payout for a natural Blackjack of 3:2, some only pay 6:5, so check for the better payouts before playing.
- Many online casinos feature free play versions of Blackjack that can be tried out without the need to commit real money to the game. This is a good way to hone your skills and get valuable experience with no risk.
- Only play Blackjack, or any other casino game, when you are in the right frame of mind. Playing when over-tired, stressed, or under the influence will just result in you making poor decisions and making potential losses. Playing when calm will ensure that you use the correct strategy and use your bankroll wisely.
- Take a look at some of the references to Blackjack in books and films. This game has featured in numerous publications dedicated to playing and winning, while films like Rain Man and even The Hangover include Blackjack games in their stories. The 2008 movie, '21' is wholly about the real life attempt by a team from MIT to count cards and use their knowledge of statistics to win a fortune in Las Vegas.
- Whether playing online or at a bricks and mortar casino, players should not be influenced in their decisions by what other players are doing. Each hand is played separately, with the cards held by others having no effect on the outcome of your game. By all means, learn from others around you, but don't follow their decisions and just trust your own instincts.
- The house edge is built into all casino games, and is how they make their money. No system can overturn this over the long term and players should not trust in some system to do so. You can still profit from playing Blackjack, but only over the short term, and the important thing is to accept this and just enjoy the games.