Let Casino Papa guide you through the basics of the world’s favourite casino card game!
As is the case with all casino games across the board, the more you know about blackjack and the better you understand its mechanics, the better! That’s not to say you will ever necessarily gain the upper hand on Lady Luck, but you will at least know what constitutes making the right move and what represents outright lunacy on your part!
Not only is blackjack known by a wide variety of different names all around the world, but it also tends to be the first and only casino game introduced to young children. Kids just love playing ‘21’ or ‘Pontoon’ – of course with absolutely no money or stakes on the line.
Outside the casino, blackjack is usually played with two people – one dealer and one player. After each hand, the other person becomes the dealer and the two keep switching one hand after the next. The dealer gives the player two cards and deals two cards of their own, after which the player decides what happens next.
In short, the idea is to finish with a hand that either adds up to exactly 21 or is as close to 21 as possible without going over. If any given hand has a total value in excess of 21, the person instantly loses. Every card is worth as much as its face value, while royalty cards are worth 10 points. If an ace is dealt, the player can choose for it to be worth 11 points or 1 point – whichever helps their hand better.
When the cards have been dealt, the player chooses whether they want to ‘twist’ (or ‘hit’) which means they will be dealt another card, or they can choose to ‘stick’ (or ‘stand’) which means they will keep the cards and the score they have. The player can twist as many times as they like, until they decide to stick with their hand or breach 21 and go ‘bust’.
When the player chooses to stick, it is then the turn of the dealer to play. The dealer must try to beat the score of the player and in doing so will determine who wins and who loses.
Blackjack has been around in one form or another for over 400 years, when the game known as ‘21’ was extremely popular around Spain and France. It was quite some time later before it made its first appearance in the United States, though didn’t immediately strike a note with the gambling community. In fact, it was so unpopular that casinos and gaming houses found themselves forced to throw a variety of bonuses and special offers into the deal, in order to win the punters over.
One example involves the promise of a 10-to-1 payout if any player was to be lucky enough to be dealt a black jack and the ace of spades. This hand is what gave the game of ’21’ the name we all know it by today, despite the fact that this particular rule was dropped relatively quickly. Today, casinos generally tend to offer special bonuses and high payouts when a player is dealt any card with the value of 10 and any ace – all such hands now are known as blackjack.
Playing blackjack with a casino is slightly different than playing it for pure fun at home. Perhaps the biggest difference of all being the fact that there may be up to five players at the table at any one time – all playing against one dealer. Every player that is active puts the required amount of betting chips in front of their position, to show that they intend to take part in the current hand.
Each player will then receive one face up card from the dealer, after which the dealer will also be dealt a card. Each player is then dealt another face up card, but the dealer’s second card remains faced down and hidden.
After this, the players are individually given the opportunity to twist or stick until every player has decided to stick with their hand or has bust. Once every player has had their turn, the dealer turns over their second card and continues to play in accordance with the casino’s rules. If any player is successful in beating the dealer, they win double their bet. If the dealer wins, they lose their bet. In the instance of a tie, they are returned with the same amount they met.
Exactly how likely it is that any player will win comes largely down to the rules of the house.For example, the rules generally state that the dealer must keep on hitting until their score reaches a minimum of 17. Even if the dealer has already beaten every player with a score of 16, they must still take another card meaning that there is a high chance of the players winning. In some establishments, it is also necessary for the dealer to take another card after hitting 17, if they have one or more aces in their hand.
Suffice to say, it is always a good idea to check the house rules with regard to dealer play before going ahead.
The casino version of blackjack is made somewhat more complicated (though infinitely more interesting) by way of a series of additional rules to take into account, including the following examples:
- Insurance – This refers to an additional bet the player can make when the first card the dealer receives is an ace. If it turns out that the dealer has blackjack, the player is then paid out a prize usually with 3-to-2 odds.
- Double Down – After the second card has been dealt, the player has the opportunity to double their original wager, though on the condition that they only receive one more card. Most casinos have their own stipulations with regard to which scores this kind of betting is permitted on.
- Split – When a player is dealt two cards with the same value, they have the option of splitting them and playing two completely independent hands. This results in the original wager being doubled and some establishments will even allow split hands to be split once again, if duplicate cards are dealt.
- Surrender – After both cards have been dealt, a player has the option of surrendering their cards if the dealer doesn’t have blackjack. This will result in half of the bet being returned to the player, though most casinos these days don’t tend to permit surrendering.
The subject of card counting is one of extremely heavy debate, though suffice to say it is not appreciated by casinos. There is technically nothing illegal about it, but it is nonetheless disallowed and nor is it tolerated.
Card counting basically refers to the practice of tracking how many cards with the value of ten have been dealt during any given game. Blackjack is usually played with 4 to 8 decks of cards all mixed together. In instances where plenty of tens appear during the game, the dealer’s shoe is considered ‘cold’ and the player may reduce their bet considerably. At the other end of the scale, when not many cards with the value of ten have been dealt, the shoe is considered ‘hot’ and the player may elevate their wager.
Given the fact that card counting doesn’t exactly work in favour of the house’s edge, those suspected to be counting cards will be asked to leave the casino and in most instances politely asked not to return.
Of course, given the fact that there is no physical deck to play with, it is not possible to use card counting tactics to increase your odds of winning with online casinos.
Online Casino Blackjack
Second only to slot machines, online blackjack is the single most popular activity currently available by way of web casinos. It is rare to come across an online casino that doesn’t offer multiple forms of blackjack, including live dealer blackjack where there is an actual human dealer taking control of the game.
The only difference between online blackjack and standard casino blackjack is the way in which you will more often than not find yourself playing against the dealer solo, as opposed to at a table with other players. Most online casinos follow exactly the same house rules as standard casinos, but it is nonetheless essential to check this out before getting started.
Pay close attention to the following:
- Check whether the dealer is required to hit or stand with a score of 17
- Find out whether insurance bets are available and at what odds are offered
- The same for surrendering – is it available and what are the terms?
- Check whether it is possible to re-split and re-split hands
Look carefully at the odds applicable when dealt blackjack