Although Blackjack goes way back to the early American gambling houses, it was never as popular a game as Poker, so gaming houses had to spice it up a bit in order to give it a little more mass appeal. Some gambling houses offered bigger payouts for Blackjack hands, while others gave bonuses for certain card combinations—namely an Ace of Spades with a Jack of Clubs. That's how “Blackjack” gets its name—from the combination of those two cards.
It is believed that the game of Blackjack has its roots in France. It was originally known as “21.” The goal of the game is to beat the dealer's hand by scoring 21 or as close to 21 as you can get without going over. If the dealer scores closest to 21, you lose.
In modern versions of the game, any 10-value card with any Ace is considered Blackjack, but wouldn't it be fun to mix it up a bit when playing at home and give an extra chip or two to the player who gets the Jack of Clubs/Ace of Spades combination?
A very interesting event occurred in the 1960s that changed the way people think of Blackjack and caused casinos to enact protective measures to minimize losses. A mathematician named Edward Thorpe took it upon himself to prove that the dealer's edge over the game could be eliminated. He used computers to calculate every card combination that would give a player an advantageous lead over a dealer's hand. His calculations helped define a set of moves known as “basic strategy.” Basic strategy has been modified over the years, and because of it, casinos have had to modify their own rules as a protective measure.
It's in the Cards
When you request a hit in Blackjack you are asking the dealer to give you another card.
Blackjack is played with a standard 52-card deck and is a very simple game that requires a certain amount of skill based on a certain amount of luck. The luck part has to do with the cards you are dealt and the skill has to do with learning some basic strategies—mainly knowing when to hit, stand, split, or double-down. The goal is not to beat the other players at the table—whether that's the casino table or the kitchen table—the goal is to beat the dealer's hand.
The dealer begins by shuffling the cards. Some casinos play with up to as many as six decks, but at home one deck will do just fine. The dealer will then deal the cards to each player and to him- or herself. The dealer should be standing or sitting across from the other players and always starts the deal with the person on his or her left.
It's in the Cards
The hole card is the dealer's face-down card.
On the first deal, each player is dealt two cards, face-down. The dealer deals him- or herself one card face-down (the hole card) and the other card face-up. Each player is basically playing a separate game based on the cards he or she is dealt and in relation to what the player thinks the dealer has. The dealer begins with the first player on his or her left. That player looks at his or her cards and determines if he or she can take another card without going over 21. It's important to get a good look at the dealer's face-up card because that could determine what strategy you decide to use in playing your own hand.
The cards are valued as follows:
- Ace = Either 1 point or 11 points
- Face cards = 10 points
- Number cards = Face value of card
- Blackjack: One Ace and any card with a 10-point value
Technically, scoring 21 with more than two cards is not considered Blackjack, but you can still win this way. If you total 21 before the dealer or any other player, you win the pot.
When your cards are dealt, add them up and figure out whether you want to “stand” with what you have or take another card. In home games, you will say to the dealer, “hit me” or “stay,” while at the casino you will use hand motions to tell the dealer what you want to do.
There are many strategies for standing or hitting, but basically, you just have to figure out your odds. If your cards total nine, chances are pretty good that you'll be able to take another card without going over 21. If your cards total 18, your chances of going over 21 are much greater, and you will likely want to stay. Remember that you are not only trying to score as close to 21 as possible, but you are trying to beat the dealer—so you have to check out the dealer's cards too. The problem is, you can only see one of his or her cards at this time and you have to do some guessing to figure out if you can beat him or her.
Hitting and Standing
When you have your cards, you have to decide whether to hit or stand. As I mentioned earlier, sometimes your choice will be obvious. The tricky cards are the ones that add up to between 12 and 16.
The dealer works with one player at a time, starting with the first player on his or her left. The dealer stays with that player until he or she stands or busts (goes over 21). When that first player is finished with his or her turn, the dealer moves on to the next player and continues around the table until each person has played his or her hand.
If you decide to take the hit, the dealer will toss down a card face-up in front of you. You can either indicate that you want another hit or that you want to stand. If your hand is blackjack, turn your cards face-up to show the dealer what you have. If you're playing for chips, you will immediately receive a payout at this point and the game continues with the other players. If the dealer also has a blackjack, the play is called a push. You keep your original bet, but you don't win anything more.