Head to any casino and there is always bound to be something interesting happening at the blackjack tables. Though the blackjack game can seem confusing to those who have never tried to play it before, it is actually fairly straightforward to learn how to play.
Blackjack is a part of a family of games that also include the British Pontoon and the European Vingt-et-Un, or Twenty-One. While it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when the game was created, there are references to the game of Twenty-One in the works of Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote which was published at the very start of the 17th century. The game of Vingt-Un made its way to the USA in the 1800s, and was properly developed into the game of blackjack as we know it now around 1899.
So, how do you play blackjack? It is a game that is best to learn how to play before sitting down at a table for the first time so you do not make any careless moves. Let’s take a look at how to play blackjack online or at a physical table, and some of the strategies you could pick up to help you master the game.
Blackjack is an easy game to learn but a tricky one to master. One of the reasons why it is so easy to learn is that there is only a set number of moves that you can make in each betting round. Once you have them down, you are – essentially – able to play the game, whether you are playing blackjack online or at a land-based casino.
The dealer will first deal two cards to each player in the game and to themselves. Each card is valued by its number and the face cards are each valued at 10. The only exception to this is the ace which can be worth one or eleven. The aim is to get as close to the number 21 with your cards without exceeding it – this is a bust and means that you lose the round and your bet.
You are betting that the hand you have been dealt is better than that of the dealer’s. An automatic win is granted when you are dealt an ace and a card with a value of 10 – this is a natural blackjack and cannot be beaten.
If you have less than this, you can choose to make one of blackjack’s four moves. First of all, you could choose to hit. This means that you are requesting an additional card from the shoe in an attempt to boost the value of your hand without going bust. You can choose to hit multiple times if you choose, but each time you do increases your risk of going bust. If you wish to end your turn, you stand.
You can also choose to double your wager, for which you will only get a single additional card from the shoe. If your initial cards have the same value, you can also choose to split them. This will require you to put forward an additional bet, but gives you two hands to play with.
Once you have stood, the dealer will reveal their hand. They will always stand with a hand that is higher than 17, but they will choose to draw cards until this threshold is reached. If they go bust, or if your hand beats theirs, you will win the round. If both a player and a dealer have a natural blackjack, it is considered a tie and your bet is returned to you.
Playing at a physical casino is a very different game compared to playing online blackjack. If you choose to sit at a blackjack table in a casino, make sure that you understand some of the etiquette associated with the game. If there is already another player at the table, ask if you can join them at a spare seat. Not everyone wishes to have company when playing. Some casinos do not allow you to touch your cards – this is usually when the cards are placed face-up in front of you.
If you would rather learn how to play blackjack at an online casino, you might find that it is less stressful than doing so at a physical table. The rules are exactly the same for a game of online blackjack, so some like to pick up skills here, then head to a physical table to play. You can choose to play a game where it is just you and an AI powered by a random number generator, or you could choose to play with a live dealer. Live dealers are closer to the experience of a physical casino, and will also allow you to practice some of the etiquette of blackjack.
Once you have mastered the basic moves of the game, it is time to look into some of the basic strategy blackjack can offer. Learning when you should be hitting and standing is pretty easy – the trick is knowing when you should split or double down.
There are many basic blackjack strategies that you can memorise to help you learn this. Such strategies are built around the hand that you have and the dealer’s face-up card. For example, if you have a hand that equals 11 and the dealer has a face-up 5, many strategies will recommend that you double down.
Since there are many combinations to learn here, some casinos do allow players to have a basic blackjack strategy card with them. Check with your dealer when you sit down to play – they might even have one to give you.
There are some other more advanced strategies that one can learn to try to turn the advantage of the game in your favour. One such strategy is card counting, where a player keeps track of the cards that have been used in the game thus far. They will then be able to make predictions about upcoming cards, and make bets accordingly. This is a practice that casinos are well aware of and thus have many countermeasures in place to stop it. This strategy will only work with live blackjack if you do attempt it – online blackjack with an AI is powered by a random number generator so every hand is completely random and a strategy cannot be applied to the card draw.
There are also several strategies that can help you learn when to bet in blackjack. One such technique is called the Manhattan strategy, or the 2-1-2. This is where you increase your bet after reducing it for each winning hand you take. If the dealer wins, you revert back to your original stake. For example, you initially bet £2. With a winning hand, you reduce it to £1, and another winning hand then takes your bet to £3. With each subsequent winning hand, you add £1 to your bet. Should you lose, you start from the beginning with a £2 bet again.
Another system you might wish to try is called Oscar’s System. This is fairly straightforward as it sees you increase your bet by one unit for every win, and keeping the bet the same on a loss. So, if you start with a bet of £2, you will increase it to £3 for a win. If you then lost the next round, you would keep the bet at £3, but if you won you would increase it again to £4.
Though classic blackjack is fundamentally the same game across the board, often using the same style of blackjack sets from casino to casino, you will find some variations in the game’s rules. Many casinos have their own small changes to help avoid card counters and other players who might be trying to push the game in their favour through unethical means. However, there are some more general differences that you should be aware of.
In European blackjack, players can only double down on hands that have a value of 9, 10, or 11. In addition to this, players may only split a hand once, and they are not permitted to split a hand that has two cards with a value of 10 each – in other words hands composed of 10s or the face cards.
In American blackjack, players can double down on any hand they choose. They can also split any pair of cards up to three times, meaning they could potentially have up to four hands in front of them. In addition to this, they are sometimes permitted to double down after they have split a hand. For this reason, you tend to find that those who play American blackjack can be a bit more aggressive when it comes to choosing to split or double down.
American blackjack also has an additional rule that European blackjack does not have – surrender. This allows players to choose to take themselves out of the game rather than see the hands play through, and it is often invoked when the dealer has a face-up ten but not a blackjack. When you surrender, you are allowed to keep half of your bet.
The buy-in for each round (otherwise known as the minimum bet you can make) can also vary from table to table. In casinos alone, it is not uncommon to find some tables that offer a buy-in of just $1 right next to ones that have buy-ins in the hundreds. When you sit down to play, the dealer will be able to provide you with blackjack chips in the right denomination for the buy-in.
Due to its interesting and intricate gameplay, it is not surprising to learn that some of the world’s brightest are drawn to this game. There have been countless books written about blackjack strategy, and people are still trying to come up with new ways for players to come out on top.
There are also plenty of blackjack tournaments around the world for players to try. The winner is determined by who holds the most chips after a set number of deals, with all players starting with the same amount of chips. Tournaments might also choose to use an elimination strategy, where the lowest-stacked player is dropped after each round. Casinos that host blackjack tournaments often set up the entry in the same way to a casino tournament with an initial buy-in threshold.
The strategy used in such tournaments is very different from what is played in a non-tournament setting, and can pose a fresh set of challenges for an experienced player to take on. If you want to try your hand at a blackjack tournament, you will be able to find plenty of events to choose from, both online or potentially in a live casino hall.
Blackjack is one of the best games to play at a casino if you have an analytical mind that loves to study strategy. Though it can seem like luck drives the deals that you get, the moves that you then make are purely strategic. It is a fascinating game that many have fallen in love with. To avoid serious losses while you find your feet with this game, read up on some strategies and moves that you could adopt. Then, get ready to play your first hand.