Typical odds of winning a hand in blackjack are 48 percent, leading to an average rate of return at 95 percent. Blackjack’s odds have made the game a favorite among professional casino players, including the legendary Don Johnson. He’s known for wiping out the monthly profits of several Atlantic City casinos, taking home a total of $6 million in one single night.
A minuscule house edge, coupled with basic strategies to win, has turned blackjack into a household favorite among American gamblers.
Blackjack dates back to the 17th century in the Spanish city of Castile. Back then, the Spaniards played it with different rules and called it “21”. However, today’s version of the game still mimics that of the Spaniards. With time, blackjack has evolved into one of the most popular casino games worldwide.
In more recent years, gambling pundits and players have applied advanced mathematical strategies and play-styles as a means to reduce the house edge. An approach called “basic strategy” has drastically improved the odds of winning. On its face, blackjack is a game of chance, much like slot machines and their wheels of fortune.
However, when basic strategy is followed “to the tee”, the house edge drops down to a mere 1 percent. The ultimate goal of blackjack is to beat the house. If the player has a higher hand than the dealer, and does not surpass 21 (also known as a “bust”), he wins the hand.
In the event of a tie, the game is considered a “draw”, with no winner.
In a game of blackjack, each card has a predetermined value. Number 10, along with face cards (Queens, Jacks, and Kings) are all valued at 10. Cards 2 to 9 have a value which corresponds with their respective numbers.
Your “hand value” will be the aggregate sum of each cards you’re holding. For example, if you hold both a king and a 7, it would make up a total of 17.
On the other hand, aces are considered to be both more versatile and valuable. When dealt an ace, the card can be valued at either 11 or 1 depending on what favors you most as a player.
This is especially valuable in cases where you risk “busting” your hand by surpassing 21. When the ace is valued at 11, it is considered a “soft hand”. This means that the hand value can be changed if needed.
Example: An ace will change from 11 to 1 when the other card(s) in your hand would cause you to “bust” by surpassing 21.
- Let’s say you’ve been dealt a hand consisting of a 5 + Ace. In such a scenario, your hand would initially be worth a total of 16.
- Next card you draw is a 6, in which case your total would add up to 22 (5+6+Ace), which would be a bust.
- However, to avoid a bust, the value of the ace would be reduced to 1, which means your new total is 12.
When an ace changes from 11 to 1, we call it a hard hand. It differs from a soft hand, which means you cannot bust. Therefore, a hard hand is any hand that cannot be changed.
The term “blackjack” comes from a hand that includes an ace and a 10/face card, making the number 21. This is an automatic no loss situation, you either tie with the dealer or win.
How it’s played
Classic Blackjack is played with a standard deck (54 cards), albeit without the jokers, reducing the number to 52 cards. However, there are versions that use more than a single deck.
Adding extra decks was a measure meant to discourage card counting, in which a player keeps track of the dealt hands, seeking to exploit a favorable moment.
On the other hand, it is impossible to count cards while playing online. This is due to the RNG (random number generator) implemented in the gaming software. This software will randomly pick numbers rather than true cards. RNG does mean lesser odds of winning, but not by much. In turn, there are online live dealer options that use a real person and real sets of cards without RNG.
Your typical game of poker is initiated by the dealer shuffling the cards. After the cards are fully shuffled, a random player will be asked to pick a position for the cards to be cut.
The cut is the position where a plastic card is inserted. Once cut, the dealer will move the cards on top of the cut and position them on the bottom. Cutting proves to the players that the game is not rigged and that the dealer has not tampered with the deck. Once the cards have run out or hit the new “cut point”, the cards will be reshuffled for further play. Again, unless you play blackjack through an online live dealer, cutting will not be used as cards are shuffled by RNG.
After cards are shuffled, it is time to wager your bet. All bets must be placed before the cards are dealt. Depending on your table’s stakes, bets can range from minuscule sums to thousands of dollars.
Next, you will place your bets in the small circle or square marked in front of your spot on the blackjack table. For beginners, we recommend starting out with small wagers, until you become more familiar with the game.
The dealer will continue play by placing two cards in front of you, facing upwards. These are the cards that you will use in attempt to beat the house. The house will draw two cards for themselves, one facing up and one facing down.
There are a couple ways to increase your bet after all cards are dealt. For example, if you are dealt two similar cards, like a pair of 7s or a pair of queens, you are able perform a split. A split will separate your two cards into two two separate hands with the same bet you initially had. This strategy is very useful when you have an ace or any other high cards.
Another way to increase your initial bet is called doubling or “doubling down“. As you may have guessed this doubles your bet in play (some allow less than double, but it is not recommended).
In most casinos, you are required to get another draw card added to your hand before you double down. We recommended that you double down when you have a high card between a nine and an ace.
Game-play and basic strategies
Now that you have your cards and bets down, it is time to play out your hand. When playing out a hand, there are three options that you have: to hit, to stay, or to surrender.
A hit means that you want the dealer to deal you another card, thus adding up your hand’s sum. The goal of hitting is to get closer to 21 than the dealer. This is one of the more difficult concepts to master, as there are many different scenarios in which you should and should not hit for another card. Once you hit, you can choose to stand or continue hitting.
Standing means that you want to stay with the cards you have been dealt. Basic strategy says that you should stand when your hand has a value of 17 or higher, 13 or higher if the dealer shows a 6, and if you want to play it safe stand on pairs of 10 value cards. These are only some of the strategies used.
Surrendering allows the player to opt out of a hand, but with a cost. In most cases, a player must give half of their initial bet to the dealer if they surrender. All surrenders must take place before a player hits and after the dealer has checked that their cards are not a blackjack. This is beneficial when your bet is high and your cards are obviously not favorable.
Pros and cons of playing blackjack online
Online blackjack presents a plethora of benefits to its players. Players are often times gifted bonuses that no other land-based casinos offer, while being able to wager bets from the comfort of their own home.
Playing blackjack from home offers its users a stress free environment. You no longer have to follow the strict etiquette that the brick-and-mortar casinos require. You can also join any table without having to wait, which has been becoming more of a problem at land based casinos.
Along with comfort and ease, online blackjack saves you money. By playing online, you no longer have to worry about travel expenses or tipping the dealer after you win.
The only pitfall of online blackjack is the RNG system used by the site software. Random number generators distort your odds, and make it less favorable to wager bets on blackjack online. This pitfall can always be countered by using a live dealer, however live dealer play is much slower.