Blackjack is one of those games that has stood the test of time in terms of gambling, potentially because of the idea that it is an easy way of making some money. However, anyone who has played blackjack before knows that there is actually a certain degree of skill involved in the game. That is why blackjack strategy charts are in existence, as they make it easy for the average person to be able to make quicker and smarter decisions based on their cards. However, hopefully, our official guide to blackjack should be able to help you in your gambling endeavours next time that you are playing blackjack in a bricks and mortar casino or online.
The basic rules of blackjack that all beginners or experienced casino-goers need to know are that in a game of blackjack, the player is making decisions in order to beat the dealer and therefore the house. The values of the cards are quite simple in that all numbered cards are normal value but the picture cards are counted as values of 10 and an ace can be interpreted as a 1 or an 11.
In a game of blackjack, the standard 52 card pack is dealt from a shoe. This is a box that aids the dealer in dealing the cards one at a time, face down without them actually having to hold a large number of cards. Nowadays, a 6 deck game is considered one of the most common forms of blackjack in order to make the game harder for card counters and to restore the house edge. The shoe is a very useful tool in this respect, as you can also put in a different type of card to signify to the dealer that the cards need to be reshuffled.
Many people assume that the objective of the game is to win as much money as possible, but they would be wrong. The actual objective of the game is to beat the dealer, who really represents the house. You do this by beating the dealer to 21 without going bust. If you simply aim to reach 21 without considering what the dealer’s cards are, then you will lose. It is also important to remember that you are not playing against the other players at the table, so be courteous but do not get tricked into believing that “you’re all in this together”.
The Table Layout
If you are new to a casino, it is easy to be dazzled by the bright lights and the noise of people on the slot machines around you. Therefore, it is important to know your way around a casino before you enter so that you do not end up at the wrong table and end up playing a completely different game to what you initially intended. Blackjack tables are generally semicircular in shape and can accommodate up to 12 people betting at a time, but on average, they hold up to 7 people at any one time. It is also important that you identify what the minimum and maximum wagers that you can place at the tables are. This is so that you can identify what table is perfect for you and your bankroll.
How To Play
In a game of blackjack, there are many rules and variations of the game, which is allowed by the number of decks that can be included. Casinos can use up to 8 decks of cards in a shoe of blackjack and they usually take advantage of this in order to confuse card counters, but there are some casinos that are still in existence that only use 1 or 2 decks. But “shoe” games are a little more common, with multiple decks.
Player Buys Chips
There is a common misconception that you can simply walk into a casino and place a wager instantaneously. This is not true of both bricks and mortar and online casinos. On an online casino, a person must make a deposit on a site or specific game. It’s a little more complicated in physical casinos because of the fact that it is easier to try and cheat by hiding chips and money. So, most casinos do not allow people to place cash wagers. In order to ‘purchase’ some casino chips, you must select a table and place your money on the felt. Do not attempt to directly hand your money to the dealer as they will not take it (for security reasons). Instead, they will lay out the amount for the cameras to see and then the inspector will approach the table and authenticate the payment. Once the amount has been verified, the dealer will then give you a number of chips that are equal to the money you put on the table.
Place A Wager
You must then do something with those chips, they can’t just sit in your pocket whilst you waltz around the casino. You can not place a wager during the play of another game in a casino. You must wait until the game is over before you can place a wager. In order to place a bet, you must put your money where your mouth is and your chips onto the bet spot on the table. It is also important though, when gambling, to take into account that the tables have different minimum and maximum bets. So, make sure that if you’re a beginner to blackjack, you are sitting at the table with a smaller minimum stake on it. This way, you won’t have bank-breaking losses if you make a few teething mistakes.
Cards Are Dealt
Once your money is on the table, the dealer will then commence the hand, dealing one card face up to each player in a clockwise motion before giving themselves one card face down. In American and online casinos, the dealer will then repeat this, but their second card will go face up. Thus, each player, including the dealer, has 2 cards. In UK casinos, it is slightly different in that every player has two cards but the dealer does not take their second card until all of the decisions have been made.
The person on the left is given the first chance to make a decision depending on their cards. Then it goes in a clockwise direction, with each person making a decision. In a game of blackjack, there are multiple decisions that you can make depending on your original cards. This is where blackjack strategy charts come in handy, as they ensure that you do not even have to make any decisions yourself but leave your luck up to the chart. However, for the chart to even work, you must first calculate the total value of your cards.
If you are dealt a ten-value card and an Ace as your first two cards, this is a Blackjack and is the highest-ranking hand which would result in a win or a push depending on the dealer’s hand. You must be extremely lucky as winning with a blackjack pays 3 to 2 odds immediately as long as the dealer does not also have a Blackjack. In the instance that the dealer also has a blackjack, you would not win anything but you also would not lose your original wager. This is referred to, in the gambling industry, as a push.
However, if you do not have a blackjack, then the dealer will point at you on your turn to make a decision about how you want to play your hand until you choose. You can signify your decisions using hand signals as the cameras can see what you chose to do, as well as the dealer. However, there is no need for you to memorise the hand signals as most casinos now have audio, so they can hear your decisions. There are 5 options that you can choose from in a game of blackjack:
- Stand – If you decide that you are confident in the value that you currently hold, you can decide to stand. This is where you receive no additional cards and that you accept this number as your final value. You can signal this by simply waving your hand or put an open palm over the felt.
- Hit – If you are unhappy with the total of your cards, you have plenty more chances to increase it. However, you need to be careful that you do not go bust. If you decide to hit, you simply tap the felt with your finger and the dealer will give you one card at a time until you choose to stand or go bust.
- Double Down – When you have a hand total that is advantageous to you over the dealer, you have the option of doubling down. This is where you double the amount of money that you are wagering on the hand. If you want to do so, then you just put another bet on the table that is equal to the bet that has already been placed. However, it must be behind the original bet. The only problem with doubling down is that you are only allowed one additional card, which is signified by the dealer turning the card sideways. This means that the hand relies on that one card. However, depending on the cards that you are dealt, doubling down is not often beneficial to the player so we would not advise it.
- Split – If you are dealt 2 cards that are of equal value, then you are allowed to split the hand so that each card will thus become the first card of two new hands. It also applies to face cards, where they have the same value and are therefore allowed to be split, even though they are not technically a pair. to signal that you would like to split a hand, you give a ‘peace sign’ and put up an equal wager. The chips will have to go on opposite sides of the box. Then the dealer will make two hands out of your first hand and deal you a second card for each.
- Surrender – This rule only applies to casinos in the USA, as it is not an option in UK casinos or on online blackjack games. Surrendering is where you have no faith that your hand is going to win whatsoever and so the casino allows you to take back half your wager. To signal that this is the decision you have made, you simply draw a line across the felt behind your bet. And just to be on the safe side, we suggest that you also tell the dealer that you wish to surrender so that they do not mistake your decision for a hit.
Dealer Hand Is Played
Any average person would believe that this is a lot of options to consider, and you would be right. That is why blackjack strategy charts are so widely used because you don’t have to make any decisions yourself. Mathematically, basic strategy is the best way to play blackjack as all of the outcomes have been determined by a computer.
When you follow basic strategy, you will either have stood immediately, made a hand where you take more cards by hitting, doubling or splitting, or you have gone out of play by going bust or surrendering. If you have not been taken out of play by the aforementioned methods, then the dealer will flip over their “hole card” and reveal your fate. If a dealer has a hand that amounts to 17 or higher, then they will stand. However, if it is less than this amount, they will take an additional hit card. The options of doubling, splitting or surrendering are not available to the dealer.
Once the dealer’s hand has been played out, the winner of the wager is revealed and one of 2 results will occur. The dealer will either go bust and pay even money to each hand on the table that has not also gone bust. The other result is that the dealer will make a hand and attain a number between 17 and 21. Then, whoever’s hand is in play (hopefully yours) will go head to head with the dealers. Whoever has the highest total wins the hand and is paid one time their wager. However, if the dealer has a higher hand then you lose the wager and the play re-commences. In special circumstances, where the hands are equal, this is called a push and you keep your money but the house does not have to pay you.
Blackjack Rule Variations
Blackjack isn’t always played the same way as there are variations on the rules that are triggered when a certain combination or card comes up in play. This means that you don’t always have the same chance of winning.
Insurance – Insurance is not technically a variation of the rules as it is actually available in the majority of casinos. However, insurance is offered whenever the dealer has a faceup card that is an ace. It is offered in the case that the hole card is a card with the value of 10, giving the dealer a blackjack and making them the winner. So, you essentially bet the value of half of your original wager that the dealer has a blackjack. the reason why this is offered is that if you lose, you make back your original wager and therefore do not lose any money technically. You come out even. Dealers will advise that you take the insurance in a game of blackjack by calling out “insurance open”. However, insurance is widely considered to be bad advice from the casino as taking insurance is a bad percentage play and results in you potentially losing more money.
Doubling After Splitting – This option is considered one of the best options that a player can take in a game of blackjack. It means that you are allowed to place an additional wager that is equal to the original, thus doubling your combination against the house.
6 to 5 Blackjack – This refers to the payout rate of a blackjack table. Usually, the payout of blackjack is even or 3:2. Many people generally advise blackjack beginners to advise these tables as the house has more of an edge.
CSM Blackjack – A CSM is a combination of an automatic shuffler and dealing shoe. Generally, there are around 5 decks placed into the CSM where it randomly shuffles them. It means that the used cards can be reused and mixed in with the unused cards. It also speeds up the flow of the game because the dealer does not need to slow down to shuffle the cards.
Single Deck vs Multi-Deck – The main reason that casinos use multiple decks in a game of blackjack is an attempt to deter card counters from betting there and to increase the house edge. It makes it harder for them to keep track. However, it is still possible to count cards in a blackjack game using multiple decks.
Deck Penetration – This term described the percentage of cards that have been dealt before the deck is reshuffled. It is vital to the players that follow the rules of basic strategy and especially important to card counters. In terms of card counting, the higher the percentage of deck penetration, the better as more cards have been dealt out and the count will be more accurate.
The History Of Blackjack
Blackjack is one of those forms of gambling that has really stood the test of time. Slot machines are relatively new because of their use of technology so that although they have gained popularity massively in the last few decades, some believe that they have not earned their place in the ‘gambling hall of fame’. Blackjack has been around for centuries and like gambling in general, has always had an interesting history both culturally and legally.
Think back to those history lessons. We bet you didn’t hear about the Romans love of gambling when you were taught about the wars and the building of the Coliseum. Well, in fact, the Romans loved gambling. Where did our love of placing bets on our favourite football teams come from? Gladiators. Only our version of sports is less bloody nowadays. However, there are arguments made by many historians that Romans did indeed invent an early version of blackjack, using wooden blocks.
The game of Ventiuna originated in Spain long after the Roman Empire crumbled. This is a more plausible explanation of modern blackjack and how it came to be so loved by many. Its mention is from a Spanish novel from the 17th century that depicts two characters playing a counting game where they aim to get to 21. there have even been earlier mentions of a counting game that involved gambling in Spain, but it was called Trente-un. This was played in the 15th century and whilst it has a different name, displays all of the fundamentals of the game we know and love today.
Vingt-et-Un was a French game played similarly to the one originating in Spain and was popular in casinos all over the country. The game very closely follows the rule of modern-day blackjack but there were wagers after each singular card was dealt and only the dealer was allowed to double. It was eventually spread all over the world after being banned in France, gaining massive popularity in America. It was there that the name was changed to blackjack and became what it is today.
We can not stress how important it is that you understand the value of the chips at a casino. You do not want to discover that you have actually bet £1000 when you only intended to bet £5 (unless it wins and you may be overjoyed). However, in the case of the worst outcome, you need to account for how much of your money you are willing to lose and then bet accordingly with the right chips. In the majority of casinos, chips are typically identified by their colour. The most common colours are as follows:
- White = £1
- Red = £5 (Often referred to as “nickels”)
- Green = £25 (Sometimes called “quarters”) (pony)
- Black = £100 (Known as “blacks”)
- Purple – £500 (Otherwise known as “Barneys”)(Monkey)
- Orange = £1,000 (Often known as “pumpkins”) (brick)
There are certain unofficial rules that are not set in stone when you are playing blackjack in a casino or even just any other casino game. the centre mainly around the way that you interact with the dealers as well as the other players. These rules allow both you and the other players to enjoy themselves.
Be Courteous – Nobody likes a sore loser, especially in the casino when people have come to have a good time and enjoy themselves instead of hearing you complain about how you have bad luck.
Keep Your “Amazing” Ideas To Yourself – Similarly to sore losers, know-it-alls are also low on the list of likeable people. There’s nothing worse than trying to concentrate on your game and somebody appears over your shoulder, claiming to know everything about gambling. It puts you off and it is worse when your “advice” turns out to be a dud and they lose their wager.
Keep Up The Pace – Make sure that if you sit at the top table, you can keep up with the top gamblers. Normally, dealers will sit with beginners and are quite patient with them, even advising them on the best wagers to make and what decisions will limit their losses. However, professional gamblers tend to want to keep the pace of the game flowing. so no dilly-dallying!
Keep Your Hands To Yourself – Nothing says guilty like someone touching their chips once they have made a wager on a game. Once those chips are on the table, keep your hands off!
Be Patient – Patience is key in a game of blackjack, or indeed any other casino game. You will not always be guaranteed a win, so you must be cool, calm and collected when you are at the table otherwise you will not be allowed back.
Don’t Bring Your Electronics – Mobile phones and other electronic devices are extremely distracting to those who are trying to focus on their games and wagers. So, save the online gambling for home and keep your electronics out of the casino.
Tip Your Dealer And Server – You will not get near a free drink unless you are kind to your server. Just like in life, kindness works both ways when you are in the casino. Make sure to be extra kind to your dealer and your server and they may even give you a few tips. But remember, always tip casino staff in chips!
Manage Your Bankroll – Gambling is meant to be a fun activity and there is nothing less fun than walking out of a casino after losing more than you had expected. Do not fall into the trap of gamblers’ fallacy. This is where you believe that the next hand or spin is going to make you your millions. Or leading yourself to believe that you are guaranteed to make back what you have lost if you just bet that little bit extra. Always remember to be responsible and allow for a little wiggle room when gambling in terms of how much you can afford to lose.
Dress Properly – Many casinos are very relaxed when it comes to a dress code. Sandals and shorts are welcome. Sandals and socks, less so. However, some casinos are actually quite strict when it comes to their dress code so make sure that you check the dress code before you turn up in the wrong outfit and have to endure the long journey home to change.
Blackjack is actually quite popular because of that fact that it has a relatively low house edge over the player. The casino only has a 0.5% edge over the individual. The problem with this, however, is that the maximum payoff is only 1.5 to 1. Also, the house edge increases if the player does not follow the rules of basic strategy.
Legalization Of Blackjack
As you now know, blackjack has been a firm favourite in the world of gambling throughout history and it was especially popular when Nevada, the home of Las Vegas and a synonym for gambling, legalised gambling in 1931. This is where the rules of doubling down and splitting pairs were introduced. When it was first introduced, blackjack worked too much in favour of the casinos and this is when they introduced more player-friendly rules that reduced the edge. This ensured that the game still remained popular amongst casino goers.
Card counting in a casino is frowned upon but not technically illegal under British law or legislation in the United States as long as there are no external devices that will help the person with counting cards. Some say the method of counting cards in a casino was conceptualised by Edward O. Thorp in his 1962 book, Beat The Dealer but the idea of keeping track of cards is not new.
It used to be quite simple to count cards as it was normal for casinos everywhere to just use one deck in the game. Nowadays, that amount has gone up to 6 decks as a result of card counters. Casinos have added extra decks in an attempt to put card counters off the game as it is more difficult with more decks. Not impossible, however.
Card counting can be split into 4 steps to simplify quite a difficult equation:
- Assign values to each card – The most common values are as follows:
- 2-6 = +1
- 7-9 = 0
- 10 – Ace = -1
So, after each card is dealt, you add to, minus from or do nothing to the running count.
- Ensure that you keep a ‘running count’ of the values – the running count of the game includes all hands and cards that come out of the shoe. that is until the dealer shuffles again. If there is only one deck, then from here you can start betting. If the count is negative then the casino has a larger advantage and if it is positive then the player has more of an advantage over the casino.
- Use the running count to calculate the count per deck (otherwise known as the true count) – If a casino uses multiple decks then you have to calculate the true count, which is more difficult but still possible. The True Count is calculated by dividing the running count by the number of decks left. It does not have to be dead on, just round it up to a whole number.
- Alter your bets depending on the true count – The larger the true count, the more you should bet. There are set guides that suggest an equation for how much you should bet depending on the true count. However, these can actually alert the security at the casino that you are card counting because they know all of the algorithms. So, bet whatever you are comfortable with. You can avoid detection by spreading the ratio of high and low bets. Increase the amount after a win, decrease the amount after a loss and stay the same after a push. this makes your play appear to be natural.
Once you have mastered these simple step, you will because of an expert at card counting. You don’t even need to have a good memory in order to be a good card counter, you just need to evaluate the ratio of low cards to high cards.
Blackjack’s Biggest Wins
Blackjack is not just a fun game, but it can also be life-changing in terms of money. These are some of the big wins in blackjack history.
MIT Blackjack Team
The MIT Blackjack Team are extremely famous card counters in the gambling industry. They do not hold the record for most money won in a game of blackjack but they won enough to have a movie made about them, 21. Operating from 1979 until the early 2000s, they managed to accumulate millions from casinos in America and even brought about the introduction of electronic card shuffling methods. These were put in place to try and stop them but card counters are still active today.
Working by himself over a period of only six months, Don Johnson managed to win $15 million. Even though he claimed that he did not use any card counting techniques, Johnson is now banned from many casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. He claims that the way that he did it was by identifying the casinos with the most advantageous house rules and the best number of decks.
Ken Uston based his play on strategy rather than pure luck and mastered the elements of math in order to become an expert in blackjack. Similarly to the MIT blackjack team, Uston was also part of a team and with his peers, he manages to rake in more than $4.5 million in various casinos. He is referred to as the creator of card counting teams for blackjack, operating before MIT.
Hailing from the Land Down Under, millionaire Kerry Packer had a reputation of being a passionate gambler, appearing in high roller casinos all around the world. He once won $7 million in one night. A year later, he lost $10 million in the same casino but this was a drop in the ocean for a man like Packer. This was a man who used to play 8 hands at once and bet an average of $250,000 per hand.
The Shoeless Man
The shoeless man is referred to as such because of the fact that his identity was never revealed. The reason that he was called this in particular though is that it was believed that he was kicked out of his house by his wife for neglecting his personal hygiene. One day in 1995, he cashed in his $400 social security check and got lucky in games of blackjack. Despite his disregard for strategy, the man still managed to win about $1.5 million. However, he became aggressive and the casino kicked him out when he lost it all.
There are ways that you can increase your chances when it comes to playing blackjack so that you don’t necessarily need luck to win as big as these guys. Simple ways that you can limit your losses are:
- Check the rules of play – Not every blackjack table is the same, and as we have outlined, there are different variations of rules, decks and minimum bets. so make sure that you check the rules of play before you park yourself at a random table and discover that it is not the ideal table for you.
- Use basic strategy – Blackjack does not have to be a guessing game. Basic strategy has been mapped out by a computer and has been proved to increase your odds against the casino. So use it.
- Do not use a betting progression – There is a misconception that you will win a hand depending on the outcome of the previous. All hands are completely random and have absolutely no correlation, so do not fall into that trap. The same can be applied to betting more because you believe that you are in some way owed a win as you have not won a hand in a while.
- Do not always make the insurance bet – The insurance bet is not actually as profitable as you are led to believe by the casinos, but it actually increases the edge that the house has over you. It does not affect the probability that you will win or lose the bet, it simply means that if you do lose then you make the money that you have lost.
We can not lie, here at Top Ten Slot Games, we love a bit of blackjack and it’s not hard to see why when you look at its history. It really is a game that has been loved by so many, changing over the years. Who knows how it might be played in the coming years? It may have completely different rules. We already see so many variations of it and different versions played in different casinos. The future of blackjack may be that it spans off to make different games. However, we will still love the classic blackjack of today.