All About Blackjack
The Classic Casino Card Game
First off, the Blackjack version referred to below is the one that many people know, love and play - a dealer 'no hole card' game. This is the version played in Europe, Asia and Australia - where every player with a bet in the box is dealt a face-up card, from left to right, and then the dealer, and then every player is dealt a second card. The dealer does not get a second card - the house draws when all players have finished making their decision; therefore, what an individual player does directly affects the outcome for all players and the dealer. In America, the dealer gets his second card - face-down.
What is Blackjack?
Blackjack is a game developed over a couple of centuries - Spain and France had the beginning ideas of it in about 1602 AD, in games that were about getting to 21, and bestowing the Ace with a value of 1 or 11. Anyway, fast forward to today, and it's the most-played casino game in the world. Players try to make a hand (at least two cards, the value of which is added together) that is 21 or as close to 21 as possible - the dealer or 'the house' also draws cards to try to get to 21. If either player goes over 21, they 'bust' - which means they lose.
What do the cards mean?
Unlike poker, suits and picture-card ranks mean nothing in this game (except if you're playing on Perfect Pairs, which is a sidebet). 2 is the lowest, then 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10/J/Q/K. So a 10 is worth 10, as is the Jack, Queen or King. King + 10 is 20. Queen + Queen is 20. Jack + King is 20. No difference. The Ace is worth 1 or 11. For the player, this means if they have A, 5 that is announced as '6 or 16'. For the dealer, the house always takes cards for their highest value, so an A and 9 is not '10 or 20' - it's just 20.
What is the best hand?
Blackjack is the best hand you can get - it's getting 21 on your first two cards. An Ace and a Picture card - Blackjack! A + K, 10 + A, etc. It traditionally pays 3 to 2. 3 to 2 means 1 and a half times the original bet, so $10 wins $15, $30 wins $45, $75 wins $112.50. Blackjack cannot be formed again if you split hands, but that is another story - not something to worry about today. The big question is:
What is the house's edge in Blackjack?
The house or the casino's edge is as little as 0.05%, if a player plays perfect basic strategy. That means that they will win 0.05% more than you do under basic strategy circumstances. Now, I have no problem with going to the casino, taking a couple of hundred dollars and just not worrying about the outcomes. Chuck it on whatever number on Roulette, whatever side on Baccarat, roll the dice like you just don't care on Craps. However, Blackjack is the only casino game where there is a strategy - it is not just random. You can take a card, and another card, or not take any cards. You can split pairs. You can double down (one card only). Unlike Roulette where numbers come up completely randomly and there is no 'winning strategy'.
What is card counting?
The best way to explain card counting is the analogy of the game of russian roulette, where there is 1 bullet in a gun chamber that holds 6 shots. You shoot the gun and it's empty. That's 1 shot down. You spin the chamber again. You shoot. No bullet, again. You spin the chamber, and so on and so forth. Each time that you spin and shoot, you have a 1 in 6 chance of firing the actual bullet. Each time you spin, the outcome becomes random - the gun has no memory of what just happened. Consider this: if you shot the gun, it was blank, but did not spin before you shot again. You shot again, and it was blank. So, you do not spin. Shoot again - no bullet. Without spinning, shoot again, etc. Each time you shoot without spinning the chamber, there is a 1 in 6 chance, then a 1 in 5 chance, then a 1 in 4 chance until there is an extremely high chance at 1 in 3 or 1 in 2 that you will fire the bullet! Bad game - I don't recommend it.
How does card counting apply to Blackjack?
A standard 8 deck game contains 416 cards (52 cards in each deck without the Joker). Let's pretend it's being dealt with a manual shoe - that means the dealer shuffles the cards well, the cards are cut (generally the player inserts a cut card into the deck, at least 1.5 decks from either end and the dealer moves all the cards in front of the cut card to the back) and the cards are placed in a shoe. A shoe is just the name for the container that holds the cards and where the dealer pulls the cards from. It's usually on the left-hand side of the table. And in a manual shoe (which, by the way, are not used much anymore due to card counting), the dealer generally puts the cards, from each finished hand, away into the discard holder until the cut card reappears. So when a card comes out, it is forevermore taken out of the shoe until a new shuffle.
Anyway, in those 8 decks, there are 32 Aces. When 1 Ace comes out, there are now 31 Aces left. Another 3 come out - there are now 28 Aces. This is how card counting works - if you are very vigilant and have a good system (Hi-Lo is the most commonly known and used by the famous MIT groups) you can predict what the cards will be by keeping track of what cards have already come out. Needless to say, casinos do not like this, and for that reason manual shoes are not often used. Instead there are electronic shufflers which constantly shuffle the cards (constantly spinning the gun chamber) so it is complete random - card counting = impossible.
What is basic strategy?
Blackjack is a game of statistics. Basic strategy refers to using knowledge of the statistical averages of the game to win more hands than lose. Mathematically speaking, there are 128 cards worth 10 in an 8 deck game. 128 cards out of 416 - almost a third. Basic strategy gives the player very exact rules to follow in every situation in the game, in order to give them the best possible chance of winning. For example, if you have 16 and the dealer has a picture, you should definitely take another card. You could bust, but it gives you your best chance of winning if you draw. However, if the dealer had a 5, and you had 16 - you would stay. Chances are the dealer will bust. There is a lot to basic strategy which I will delve into in the coming days and link to from this article for your convenience. For now, give it a go - even at home with one deck. You don't have to go into a gambling venue to enjoy the game. With or without live bets on the table ... it's a lot of fun!