Blackjack has been a game that has continued to evolve and develop through the ages to reflect the times. Modern blackjack survives as a popular game played in casinos across the world.
It has successfully adapted to the internet era with blackjack a popular game in online and mobile casinos. No doubt in the future it will adapt to new trends and technologies and continue to be one of the best-loved games in play today.
How and When Blackjack Emerged
The true origins of the modern game of blackjack are unclear. The game most likely evolved from a mix of games popular in Europe in the 17th century.
The earliest recorded reference to a game similar to blackjack was from a sermon given by St Bernadine of Siena in 1440 where he preached against a game known as trente-un (31), the aim of which was to achieve a score of 31 with 3 cards. St Bernadine is now the patron saint of gambling addicts in Italy so it must have been a popular pastime!
In Spain, the author Miguel Cervantes (who later went on to write Don Quixote) published a short story in 1570 around two characters who earned their crust through cheating at a game known as vientiuna (21), which followed similar rules to trente-un so the popularity of the game survived St Bernadine’s sermons! Better luck next time Bernadine!
Other theories push the origins of the game back as far as the Romans. The Romans are known to have enjoyed gambling games, using numbered wooden blocks in place of cards, so imagining Roman soldiers enjoying a wager on a game of blackjack in their downtime might not be too far-fetched. They might not have had a range of great mobile casinos to choose from but hey, they barely had sanitation!
What is known for sure is that by the 17th century the game of vingt-et-un (21) was fashionable and popular in French gambling houses and even the mistress of King Louis was said to be a fan. Although the rules of vingt-et-un differed slightly to modern blackjack, the aim to achieve a hand of 21 without going bust clearly makes it a predecessor of the modern game. When French settlers crossed the Atlantic to set up home in the Americas after the French Revolution they took the game with them.
Spread And Rise In Popularity
The game spread across the US, initially played mainly as a source of entertainment, it gradually was played more by people seeing an opportunity to make money. House-banked games were recorded as being played in New Orleans in the 1820s. At this stage, the game was largely unregulated and provided opportunities for many card sharps to make a quick buck. It was not until the legalisation of gambling in the state of Nevada in 1931 that rules and regulations around the game started to be established.
The legalisation of the game also gave rise to its new name. In an effort to bring people into the casinos to play, the Nevada clubs began a special offer of a 10 to 1 payout for any player that could make up a 21 point hand which included a black jack and the ace of spades.
Although this payout of 10 to 1 is no longer offered by casinos the name stuck and “21” became “blackjack”, with an enhanced payout, usually 3/2, for any two-card 21.
How to Play Blackjack?
Blackjack uses the standard pack of 52 playing cards but often there are multiple decks used in the game. The most common variation of the game is the one that utilises six decks. The objective of the game is to beat the dealer by getting a hand that totals as close as possible to 21, without going over that number. Face cards are counted as 10, while Aces can be counted both as 1 and 11. The rest of the cards count as their pip value.
Before there are any cards dealt, players place their ante bets on the designated areas before them. After all of the bets are placed, the dealer gives each player one card facing upwards and then he deals one card to himself/herself facing upwards as well. In the next dealing round players are given yet again one card facing up. The dealer, however, takes one card facing down (hole card). If any player has a natural blackjack, i.e. a 10 and Ace, he/she gets paid immediately, granted the dealer does not have a natural blackjack. If the dealer holds a natural blackjack, the bets of players who do not hold a winning hand are collected. In cases when both the dealer and a player have a natural blackjack, the wager of the player is considered a stand-off and he/she gets his/her money back.
Whenever the first two cards of the players and the dealer are dealt, players are the first ones to take actions. They must decide whether they will stand which means that they will play with the hand they are holding, or they will hit which means that they will ask for another card. Players can ask for additional cards until they decide to stand on a total of 21 or less or they go bust which indicates that they have gone over 21. The second outcome means that the player loses his/her bet. When the dealer has served every player on the table it is his/her own turn to play. He/she then turns his/her second card facing up. If the total of the dealer’s hand is 17 or more, he/she must stand. If the total is 16 or less, he/she must take additional cards until he/she gets 17 or more.
In addition to hitting and standing, players have several other options for a move. When a player holds a pair of cards with the same denomination, he/she can choose to split them and play with two separate hands. This would mean that his/her original bet will be doubled. Both of the hands are played separately as the one on the left is played first.
Another option is to double down. This means that players have the chance to double their ante bet when the two cards they are first dealt equal 9, 10 or 11. When a player asks to double his/ her ante bet, he/she is given a single card facing down and is revealed only after all the bets are done at the end of the hand.
There are some blackjack variants which allow players to surrender after the initial deal of hands. This would cost them a half of their ante bet but they can avoid losing their entire wager. There are early and late surrenders in blackjack which are determined by the time when players give up the game. The early surrender is done before the dealer checks his/her hole card. As it was mentioned earlier, this would cost half of the players’ initial bet. Late surrender will also mean that players who forfeit must still lose half of their ante bet. The difference is that they would have to wait for the dealer to reveal his/her hole card before they can surrender the game. If the dealer happens to have a natural blackjack players lose their entire bet and cannot surrender.
How Can Blackjack Odds be Improved?
There are some blackjack variations which offer the insurance option. When the dealer is holding Ace, players have the chance to place an insurance bet which will guarantee them that they will be paid if the hole card of the dealer is 10. If the dealer indeed happens to have a blackjack, all players will lose their ante bets. However, those who have taken the insurance will be paid 2 to 1.
Just like any other casino game, blackjack also has a house edge which can be simply expressed as the advantage the casino has over the players. It is expressed in percentages and represents the profit that the casino is estimated to earn from players’ wagers. You should be aware of the fact that even if you use the best blackjack strategy, the house will still have a bigger advantage than players do. This being said, it has been proven that players who utilise basic blackjack strategy can lower the house edge down to 0.50% which can seriously change the outcome of the game. If you master the tactic of counting cards, you might actually gain a huge advantage and tilt the balance in your favour.
The reason why the house always has an advantage over players is the fact that those who are playing against the dealer must be the first ones to act once all of the cards are dealt. This means that every player who busts, i.e. gets a total exceeding 21, loses the game, even if the dealer also busts at the end.
If you want to be a successful blackjack player, you must be well aware of the odds of the game. This means that no matter what is the hand you are holding or the cards of the dealer, you should be aware of the probability of winning or losing. This is why you should pay attention to blackjack odds. It may be obvious that the higher the total of your hand is, the higher is the chance of busting if you hit. What you should notice is the probability of the dealer going bust. Here, an important role plays the fact whether you are playing a blackjack variation with the dealer standing on 17 or you have chosen a game with the dealer hitting on 17. In the second variant, the odds of the dealer going bust are higher which means that you have better chances of beating the dealer.
You should keep in mind that it is more important to concentrate on the long-term credibility of the game, rather than having unrealistic expectations to win every hand you are dealt. This is why players should be well aware of the odds and act up in accordance with what is the best move in the long term.
Blackjack odds are determined in accordance with two types of probabilities. These are the winning probability rate and losing probability rate. As you may have already predicted, these rates show what are the chances of players winning and what are the possibilities to go bust and lose. It should be noted that the odds in blackjack may vary according to the number of decks that are used in the game, the rules that determine whether a dealer stands or hits on 17, the strategy that players use and some other factors.
As you may know, every deck contains 52 playing cards and there are four Aces in a single deck. Depending on the position of the Aces in the game, you can predict what are the possibilities to draw Ace or the odds of the hole card being Ace. Of course, if the game uses multiple decks, the odds will change.
How Card Counting Came to Be
As blackjack have become extremely popular game, soon players started wondering if there is a way to tilt the scales in their favour. What is known today as card counting can be attributed to the work of Edward O. Thorp. He was interested in the study of whether keeping a track of the cards in the game can actually affect the odds in blackjack. He used early computers which helped him to explore the mathematical aspect of playing blackjack. The mathematics professor came to the conclusion that assigning value to the playing cards can actually improve one’s chances of winning.
In 1962, Edward Thorpe, published a book on a method he had devised of card counting in blackjack. ‘Beat the Dealer’ became a bestseller in the US and led to a rush of people into casinos eager to put Thorpe’s method to the test, alongside the use of blackjack basic strategy.
Initially worried by the influx of new customers armed with information to win the game, the casinos quickly realised Thorpe had done them a huge favour. Few of the new customers had the patience or skills to apply the tactics correctly, and with the introduction of a few new rules, the casinos were back on top. The popularity of blackjack, however, had been given a massive boost.
Throughout the years, card counters have been welcomed by major brick-and-mortar casinos as A-list players. However, as it turned out that this strategy can actually give experts players a way too big of an advantage, card counting has become taboo at numerous land-based casinos. Soon, card counters who were treated as celebrities had a hard time finding a table where they would be allowed to play.
Nowadays, card counting is just as effective as before but it is a lot harder to find a brick-and-mortar gambling facility which will allow you to use this strategy.
Blackjack Strategies and Techniques
There are several strategies that players can utilise to improve their winning chances on blackjack. What is more, if you combine a few different tactics, you can decrease the house edge to an almost non-existing percentage.
Basic Blackjack Strategy
If you want to advance in your gambling adventures, you should definitely start using some strategies. This way you will not have to simply rely on your luck but you would be able to use some skills that will definitely improve your odds of sweeping great payouts.
Thanks to the basic strategy players know what is the ultimate move depending on their hands and the card the dealer is holding. There are various charts that can help players make the best decision no matter the situation. Since there are different blackjack variations, you should make sure that you are using the specific chart which is accustomed to the rules you are playing with. You should keep in mind that in order to enjoy better results, you must continue playing using basic strategy even if you lose a couple of hands. The charts help you make the best decision which includes not only winning every hand but also decreasing your losses as much as you can. It is estimated that players who use the right basic strategy can lower the house edge down to 0.50% which is a very insignificant advantage for the casino.
While the basic strategy concentrates simply on the total of players’ cards, the composition-dependent strategy is more focused on the cards that comprise the total of the hands. If you take for example holding 16 against a dealer 10, you are simply advised to hit according to the basic strategy charts. However, it is important to pay attention to the cards that have comprised this total. Let us assume that your 16-value hand is actually made of three cards. In this case, the composition-dependent strategy advises you to stand as your hand is comprised of one (or several) low-value cards. This means that there is a smaller chance to get another card with a low value which will help you get closer to the total of 21.
There are plenty of possibilities when it comes to the composition-dependent strategy and it is difficult to use a single chart as it is with the basic strategy. However, it is worth utilising both of the blackjack tactics at the same time as they can help you lower down the house edge to 0.18% which is almost a non-existent advantage for the casino.
Card counting can help you keep a track of the low-value cards to high-value cards ratio. Thankfully, this strategy does not require a perfect memory but can bring players a series of successful bets. In fact, card counting can lower down the house edge so much that it can actually tilt the balance in players’ favour. This is the reason why this system is forbidden in many brick-and-mortar casinos as it can seriously damage their profits.
Take the Hi-Lo card counting system for example. You will simply assign cards with either +1, 0 or -1 value. As each card is dealt in the game, you will simply add 1, subtract 1 or do nothing depending on the value of the card. The cards from 2 to 6 are counted as +1, 7 to 9 equal 0 and 10 to Ace are assigned -1. If the running count increases this means that players have a better chance of winning. On the other hand, if the running count decreases, the house gets a bigger advantage.
There are a few card counting systems and you can choose which one works the best for you. The only disadvantage of this strategy is that you will not be able to use it at many land-based casinos. On top of that, if you play online, it is virtually impossible to count cards as they are shuffled after each hand is played.
Interesting Variations of Blackjack
There are numerous variations of blackjack which incorporate different rules and bets that can make the game more exciting and rewarding. If you are looking for a way to spice up your gambling adventures you can play one of the following games.
The game uses the common rules of blackjack but there is a twist to the number of hands that players can bet on. Every player places two ante bets and is dealt two separate hands at the beginning of the game. The advantage is that players can switch the cards in their hands which can help them form much better hands than the ones they were initially dealt.
This benefit, however, comes with a price. Players are paid even money for a blackjack and the dealer busts only if his/her total is 23 or higher. If he/she has 22 this is considered a push and players get their bets back.
Double Exposure Blackjack
Many players enjoy this variant of blackjack as it actually improves their chances of winning. As the name suggests, Double Exposure Blackjack is a game where both of the dealer’s cards are revealed before players choose their moves in the game.
Of course, the house still needs some advantage over the players, hence the slight change of rules. This variant of the game of 21 does not allow surrender, insurance or multiple splits and the dealer hits on soft 17.
This blackjack variant uses only two decks and a lot of players enjoy playing the game. It does not differ that drastically than any other double-deck blackjack but it does offer the opportunity of a side bet.
Before the game begins, players have the chance to make an additional bet which will guarantee them a win if they get a blackjack on their initial two cards. Players get different payouts for each type of blackjack and one of the best options is to get a suited blackjack as it pays 25 to 1.
Throughout the years, blackjack has become one of the most popular games at both land-based and online casinos. Since it has a pretty low house edge, a lot of gambling enthusiasts enjoy playing blackjack. What is more, using the right strategy can lower the casino’s advantage even further.
Blackjack is definitely a wonderful way to show some skills while gambling and possibly win great payouts. Take some time to learn several strategies and understand the odds of the game and this will help you enjoy your experience to the fullest.