Blackjack is a game surrounded by an air of excitement and mystery. It’s a favourite focus of worldwide casino stories throughout history – the story of the smart, number-savvy genius who can flawlessly calculate their odds and always beat the house. Outside of fiction, we can all agree that no casino, online or land based, could call itself the real thing without blackjack and its variations, pontoon and twenty-one. It also has the best odds of winning…
The game as we know it today has been around for about 400 years, with its first known mention in a short story by Spanish Don Quixote author, Miguel de Cervantes, about boys playing veintiuna (Spanish for 21) to earn a living.
Twenty-one – or vingt-et-un in French – was brought to New Orleans by colonists in the early 19th century, and, with some tweaks and variations, is played today in casinos all over the world. It’s one of the most popular games to play in online casinos – with a choice of live dealer or video blackjack, there are options for every player.
Blackjack is a deceptively simple game to play. All you need is the ability to count and the nerve to take your chance – and you’re only playing against the dealer, not against a group of unpredictable and potentially expert competitors. If you need another reason to try out black jack, consider this: with a house edge of only 1%, you have a higher chance of winning than with any other game!
Purpose of the game
The aim of blackjack, pontoon, twenty-one or vingt-et-un is to score 21 points. Failing that, you want to beat the dealer’s score without going over 21.
The dealer hands two cards to each player, and to themselves, usually with one card facing up and one down (this can vary from casino to casino). Players and the dealer then look at their cards to count their total score. At this point, players can request a ‘hit’ – another card – to increase their score.
If a player has two cards of the same value, they may ‘split’; in other words, they can divide the hand into two hands, and then build on each hand to try to get 21 or as close as possible on either or both.
If you’re playing in a bricks and mortar casino you might call out commands or use clear hand signals; when you’re playing online, you’ll see each command on a button in front of you.
Once all players have made their moves, the dealer reveals their hidden card, if any, and plays until their mandatory stay (usually 17 or 18), or goes bust. Any player scoring higher than the dealer, up to 21, wins.
If the dealer gets 21, the house wins.
Totals in blackjack are calculated by the cards’ value, with all values being the number on the card. The exceptions are picture cards, which all count for 10, and aces, which can be 1 or 11, depending on you and your hand.
Due to this scoring, it is impossible to go bust on two cards. The maximum value you can get with two cards is 21, if one is ace, and the other is a picture card or 10.
The ace is known as a ‘soft’ card, which means its value can be either 1 or 11, depending on how the hand plays out. For example, if you get an ace and a 9, you could consider your total to be 10 or 20. This means, if you draw another card – or ‘hit’ – and it is a picture card, instead of going bust with 30, your total is counted as 20. However, if you don’t ‘hit’ on your initial hand of ace and 9, your total is counted as 20.
All casinos have a total at which the dealer must stay. Usually this is 17, but some casinos stay at 16 or 18.
In some variations, players must draw if their total is below 14; others have no such requirement.
Cards are dealt according to the house. The most common is two cards per player, with one face up and one face down. However, some casinos may deal both cards face down. Dealers either receive two cards, one face up and one face down, or just one card, face up.
Another variation that may occur in a live dealer online game or in a land-based casino, is the number of decks of cards in the shoe. The frequency with which decks are replaced and shuffled can vary between casinos.
Blackjack is one in a family of games that are collectively called twenty-one, or vingt-et-un. These games are similarly played and scored, with only a few minor variations. The only version that has a significant deviation is pontoon, the British version of the game. Here, players can double down before taking multiple hits, and also with more than two cards in their hand.
Let’s just start by saying, forget about card counting. Even in a land-based casino, there are multiple safeguards against this strategy. Strictly speaking, it isn’t cheating, and isn’t illegal, but it’s definitely frowned on. For that reason, live dealer games, whether in person or online, will have several methods of counteracting it, including using multiple decks that are shuffled together, and switching out decks at regular intervals. But fear not! For any serious blackjack player, there are definitely ways of honing your game and making the most of the odds.
Blackjack is a game where the luck is in the draw. The best way to cultivate a winning strategy is to experiment with both riskier and more cautious methods of play to see what works best for you. The very least strategy you can apply is paying attention to the dealer’s up card in comparison to your hand. If you’re a beginner, we suggest taking some time to watch the game first. And when it comes to video blackjack, the entire experience is controlled by an algorithm, so it really is a completely fresh and random draw each time.
Blackjack is a fairly simple game to play, both live and online. Here are it’s very simple list of terms:
Hit: give me another card
Stay: I’ll stick with what I’ve got, thanks – no more cards
Split: I have two cards of equal value and want to split my hand into two and build on each card
Double down: I’d like to increase my initial bet after the cards are dealt
Blackjack: getting an ace and a picture card
Blackjack is a fun and well loved casino game that can be enjoyed just as easily online as in a land-based casino. It’s simple to learn, and you can get playing quite quickly. Just remember to read up on the casino’s or game’s particular rules, if any… and enjoy!