Blackjack: Origins, Rules and Basic Strategy
Discover the history, rules and basic strategy of Blackjack, one of the most popular games in the Las Vegas casinos!
The first written references to the game of blackjack have been identified in a book by Miguel de Cervantes (author of Don Quixote) published in 1601 and entitled “Ronconete and Cortadillo” narrating the exploits of two characters cheating in a card game called “ventiuna” (21 in Spanish) in which the goal is to reach 21 points without going over 21.
Then the game appeared in France in the late 18th century before being introduced in the United States. To increase the players appeal for this new game, casinos decided to create a bonus : they would pay 10 times the bet to a player receiving the ace of spades and a black jack (spades or clubs), hence the name of BLACKJACK . Since that, this bonus is no longer used but the name of Blackjack remained, nevertheless it means now any hand consisting of an Ace and a 10 or facecard, whatever its suit.
The goal is to beat the score of the bank without exceeding 21. When a player or the bank exceeds 21 they bust.
value of the cards is as follows:
- 2-10: Nominal value of the card
- Jack, Queen, King: 10
- As: either 1 or 11
blackjack is the combination of an Ace and a 10 or a facecard. (Note : reaching 21 with 3 card won’t make a blackjack.)
When you start a game the dealer shuffles the cards (from 1 to 8 decks of cards depending on the casino and the table) and ask a player to cut the decks who are then inserted into the shoe (nowadays most casinos use automatic shuffling machines).
The game then begins, each player at the table (up to 7 players can be at the same table) receives two cards face up and the bank receives one card face down and one card face up. Each player will then play in a clockwise order.
The player can then decide to hit cards one by one. He can hit as many cards as he wants, however if he exceeds the score of 21, he busts and lose his bet. If he decides he doesn’t want any more cards he tells the dealer that he stands.
When all players have played, the dealer then returns his facedown card to reveal his score.
- If the bank has a blackjack, all players lose, except those who also had a blackjack. (even a player with 21 with 3 card for example has lost).
- If the bank has 16 or less the dealer must hit , until reaching at least 17. If it exceeds 21 then the bank busts and all remaining players win 1/1 bet.
- If the bank has between 17 and 21 the delaer must stand. Then the dealer will compare the score of the bank with the score of the remaining players, players with a lower score lose their bet and those who have a higher score win 1/1 bet. Players who ties the bank score keep their bet, it's called a "push". Warning: on some tables, the bank will keep hitting if he has a 17 including an Ace (such as Ace/6 or As/2/4 for example), also called "soft 17". If this is the case it will be written on the table felt 'dealer must hit soft 17. "
To these basic rules, are added other options :
- Doubling down: The player may double his initial bet after he received his first 2 cards. He must push forward a matching bet beside his inital bet and say "double down." He will then be given a one and only additionnal card.
- Split: When a player receives two identical cards (two kings, two 4 etc) he may decide to split his cards in 2 hands. He must therefore add a bet equal to his initial bet and say "split." The dealer then separates his two cards and deals an additional card on each hand to create two new hands Independent from each other. The player then takes his decisions to hit or stand on each hand the same way as a normal game. If the player receives a new identical card he may decide to split again. If the player makes a blackjack on a split hand, it will not be counted as blackjack but as a simple 21. If the player split two aces, then he will be given only one additional card on each ace, but again if he is dealt another ace, he can still split again.
- Surrender: The player, after receiving his first 2 cards may decide to surrender if he thinks he has little chance to win. The bank will take half of his initial bet. Note that this rule is not allowed in every casinos.
- Insurance: If the first faceup card of the bank is an Ace, players are offered to take the insurance. If the player wants to take it, he must then add half of his original bet on the insurance line. If the bank has a blackjack, the player loses his initial bet but win 2 times the amount of its insurance bet. If the bank does not have blackjack, then the player loses his insurance bet.
Blackjack Basic Strategy:
blackjack basic strategy is all the best decisions to take based on the value of your hand and the faceup card of the bank.
This strategy is based on the mathematical work of Baldwin in the 60’s. Using this strategy you will obviously not win every hand, however the edge of the bank will be reduced to less than 1%.
The basic strategy charts may vary depending on the specific rules of each table (number of decks used, dealer hitting soft 17 or not etc…), we offer below an example of a basic strategy chart that we advise you to use if you want to play blackjack.
Some casinos allow to have a printed blackjack strateg chart provided it doesn’t exceed the size of a credit card. However, we advise you to memorize the table, it may seem complicated at first but it will come with practice.
For starters, you can already learn these few basics:
- Do not hit if you have 17 or more (except for a soft 17 in some cases, see the chart).
- With a total of 12 to 16, always hit if the dealer faceup card is higher than 7.
- Always split aces and pairs of 8.
- Never split pairs of 10.
- Hands including an ace : always stand with Ace / 8, 9, 10
- Never take the insurance
Beyond basic strategy, counting cards techniques were developed (as you may have seen in the movie «21» based on a true story) allowing the player to have an edge over the bank.
These techniques involves counting with a relatively simple technique the proportion of small cards and facecard dealts. The player then increase his bets when it remains more facecards than small cards in the shoe.
We will not describe with more detail this subject for two main reasons :
- It is not illegal to count cards at blackjack in Las Vegas, but if a casino realizes that you do it is allowed to kick you out.
Nowadays with the automatic shuffling machines on most tables, counting cards has become inefficient.
- If you want to know more you can find many articles on the internet, counting techniques are not very complicated, however they require high capacity of concentration to be used.
Here is a selection of a few books if you want to learn more:
- Blackbelt in Blackjack: Playing 21 as a Martial Art by Arnold Snyder
- The World Greatest Blackjack Book by Lance Humble
- Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions by Ben Mezrich