How to Play Blackjack?

HISTORY

Gambling with playing cards is thought to have started sometime around 1440 in Germany after Johann Gutenberg printed the first deck. Although it is obscure, Blackjack is said to have been derived from many of the first card games created at this time.

Baccarat, appeared around 1490 in Italy and was followed by the game of seven and a half. It appears with seven and a half the player automatically lost if he went above the desired number.

Around 1570 or so in Spain a game called one and thirty was first played. In addition, the duke of Wellington, the marques of Queensbury, and the Prime Minister Disraeli were thought to have played a game called quince (fifteen) which was popular from 1827 to 1844.

Although it is disputed most probably the game of blackjack has originated from French casinos in around 1700 where it was called “vingt-et-un” (“twenty-and-one”). The origin of this game in US can be traced since 1800. The name Blackjack is given to this game because if the player got a Jack of Spades and an Ace of Spades as the first two cards (Spade being the color black of course), the player was additionally remunerated.

Gambling and casino was made illegal in west from 1850 to 1910. In this period Nevada made it a crime to operate a gambling game, but in early 1931, through a re-legalization, Nevada allowed casino gambling. Now Blackjack became one of the primary games of chance offered to gamblers. In 1978 casino gambling was made legal in Atlantic City of New Jersey.

The first recognized effort to apply mathematics to BlackJack began in 1953 and culminated in 1956 with a published paper. Roger Baldwin wrote a paper in the Journal of the American Statistical Association titled “The Optimum Strategy in BlackJack”. These pioneers used calculators and probability and statistics theory to substantially reduce the house advantage. Although the title of their paper was ‘optimum strategy’, it wasn’t really the best strategy because they really needed a computer to refine their system.

Professor Edward O. Thorp picked up where Baldwin and company left off. In 1962, Thorp refined their basic strategy and developed the first card counting techniques. He published his results in “Beat the Dealer” , a book that became so popular that for a week in 1963 it was on the New York Times best seller list. The book also scared the hell out of the casinos.

The casinos were so affected by “Beat the Dealer” that they began to change the rules of the game to make if more difficult for the players to win. This didn’t last long as people protested by not playing the new pseudo-Blackjack. The unfavorable rules resulted in a loss of income for the casinos. Of course, not making money is a sin for a casino, so they quickly reverted back to the original rules. As Thorp’s “Ten-Count” method wasn’t easy to master and many people didn’t really understand it anyway, the casinos made a bundle from the game’s newly gained popularity thanks to Thorp’s book and all the media attention it generated. Blackjack became the number one table game in the 1960’s, ’70’s and ’80’s.

Another major contributor in the history of winning Blackjack play is Julian Braun, who worked at IBM. His thousands of lines of computer code and hours of Blackjack simulation on IBM mainframes resulted in “The Basic Strategy”, and a number of card counting techniques. His conclusions were used in a 2nd edition of “Beat the Dealer” , and later in Lawrence Revere’s 1977 book “Playing Blackjack as a Business” .

Ken Uston used five computers that were built into the shoes of members of his playing team in 1977. They won over a hundred thousand dollars in a very short time but one of the computers was confiscated and sent to the FBI. The agents decided that the computer used public information on BlackJack playing and was not a cheating device. You may have seen this story in a movie made about his BlackJack exploits detailed in his book “The Big Player”. Ken was also featured on a 1981 Sixty Minutes show and helped lead a successful legal challenge to prevent Atlantic City casinos from barring card counters.

RULES

The game of blackjack, or 21, is one of the most popular table games offered in gambling establishments. The players are against the dealer and the tables accommodate up to seven players. Casinos are playing with a single or double deck, or four to eight decks of cards in a shoe.

THE “BURN” CARD

After the cards are shuffled and cut by a player, the dealer removes one (or more in some casinos) of the top cards and places it face down into the discard tray. This is called the “burn” card, and players are prevented from seeing it. Sometimes you can, and you should make every effort to do so. The reason the dealer burns cards is to make the life of card counters more difficult.

THE GOAL OF THE GAME

In this game the dealer is your only opponent. The object of the game is to beat the dealer by obtaining a total of 21 points or as close to 21 as possible, without exceeding it. If you exceed 21, it is called a “bust” and you automatically lose. But always remember: you are actually playing to beat the dealer, not to get as close to 21 as possible. After all, it is possible to beat the dealer while holding 10 or 11 points.
If you don’t bust and your total is higher than the dealer’s total, you win even money, e.g., if you bet $2 you win $2. If your total is the same as the dealer’s, it’s a tie or “push” and you neither win nor lose.
If your first two cards are a 10 value card and an Ace, you have a natural blackjack, a total of 21, and you automatically win unless the dealer also has a natural blackjack. In that case, it’s a push. However, if you win, the payoff is three to two. A $2 bet wins $3.

THE VALUE OF THE CARDS

Cards from 2 to 10 are counted at their face value.
Kings, Queens, and Jacks count as 10.
Aces count as 1 or 11.
The suits of the cards do not have any meaning in the game.

PLAYING THE GAME

You place a bet. The dealer deals the cards: 2 face up cards to you and one face up to himself. These cards are opened to view. The dealer deals himself a second card, face down, called the hole. This is the card that makes the game a challenge.

In Blackjack, there are three types of hands you can have:
Blackjack – If your first two cards consist of a ten value card (10, J, Q, K) and an Ace the hand is a perfect one. This is sometimes referred to as a natural.
Hard Hand – Any hand consisting of cards other than an Ace. For example, a hand of a 10 and a 5 is a hard hand.
Soft Hand – Any hand that includes an Ace that can be counted as a 1 or eleven. For example, an A and a 5 is a ‘soft’ sixteen or a six.

In the game of Blackjack, you also have the ability to make decisions regarding your hands. You may Stand, Hit, Split Pairs, Double Down, Surrender or Buy Insurance.

1. Stand
The player has the option of standing at any time. If you are satisfied with the total of your hand, you can indicate to the dealer that you don’t want any further cards by waving your hand palm down over your cards.

2. Hit
If you are not satisfied with the total of your hand, you may ask the dealer for another card. To ask the dealer for another card, simply point to your cards or use a scratching motion on the table. The dealer will give you a card every time you do that. If by taking an additional card you exceed 21, you bust. When you have enough cards, you then stand as noted above in #1.

3. Double Down
After being dealt your first two cards, if you think that one more card will make your hand better than the dealers, you may place an additional wager on the table, next to your original bet and you will receive just one more card. You will not be able to take any further cards. This is great to use when you have a total of 10 and 11.

4. Split
When you are dealt two cards of the same value (10,10 or 6,6) you have the option to split the cards. In other words you can use the cards to make two hands out of one. Of course you must make an additional wager for the new hand that is created. When a hand is split the dealer will separate the cards and place one on the right and one on the left. You will play the hand on your right until you are satisfied and then the one on your left. You may play either hand until you break or reach a total you are satisfied with. In the case of A, A the house will allow you to split these but you only get one extra card and any Blackjacks are paid at even money, not 3 to 2.

5. Insurance
Insurance is perhaps the least understood of all the commonly available rules for Blackjack. This is not necessarily a bad thing because the insurance bet is normally a poor bet for the player, with a high house advantage. However, that’s not always the case. If the dealer turns an up card of an Ace, he will offer “Insurance” to the players. Insurance bets can be made by betting up to half your original bet amount in the insurance betting stripe in front of your bet. The dealer will check to see if he has a 10_value card underneath his Ace, and if he does have Blackjack, your winning Insurance bet will be paid at odds of 2:1. ) This is why the bet is described as “insurance”, since it seems to protect your original bet against a dealer blackjack. Of course, if the dealer does not have blackjack, you’ll lose the insurance bet, and still have to play the original bet out. The basic strategy player should simply never take the insurance bet, even the “even money” variety. “Card counters” on the other hand can often detect situations where more than one third of the remaining cards are ten valued, and the bet is then a profitable one. So, unless you know the bet is favorable, just ignore it.

6. Surrender
This is the least known and understood but a very valuable option. If you have a lousy stiff hand, especially 15 and 16, and the dealer is showing a 9 or higher, you should consider this option and you will lose only half of your original bet. It’s a good option to have. This is a rare option in most casinos.

HOW THE DEALER PLAYS HIS HAND

The dealer must play his hand in a specific way, with no choices allowed. The dealer must continue to take cards (“hit”) until his total is between 17 and 21 or busts. The dealer stands on a soft 17 (in other words if he holds an Ace and a 6).

STRATEGY

VARIABLES

There are certain variables that alter the casino’s percentage advantage one way or the other and also have an effect on the correct basic strategy that should be used:
Number of decks used.
If the dealer has to stand on a soft 17 (Ace and 6).
If splitting pairs is allowed, and how many times.
If doubling down is allowed and whether allowed after splitting.

BASIC STRATEGY RULES

General
Always stand on 17 or better.
Always hit on 12-16 when dealer shows 7 or higher.
Always hit on 8 or less.

Doubling Down
Always double down on 11.
Double down on 10 when dealer shows 9 or lower.
Double down on 9 when dealer shows 6 or lower.

Soft Hands
Always stand on soft 19 and 20.
Always double down on soft 13-18 when dealer shows 4,5, or 6.

Hard Hands
If you have a 9 or lower, hit.
If you have 10 or 11, double down if your total is more than the dealer’s upcard; hit otherwise.
If you have 12 through 16, hit when the dealer’s upcard is 7 or higher; stand otherwise.
If you have 17 or higher, stand.

Pairs
Always split aces and 8’s.
Never split 10-face cards and never split 5’s.
Always split 3’s and 2’s when the dealer shows 4,5,6, or 7.

A BRIEF EXPLANATION:
You never split two 5s or two 10s. If you have two 5s you have a total of ten and a very good chance of drawing a ten to make a strong hand of 20. If you have two 10s you are already there.

However, if you have two Aces or 8s you should usually split them. The two aces give you two chances for Blackjack, (although it generally only pays evens on split hands) and two 8s gives you two chances to make 18 instead of the rather poor 16 that you have.

BOOKS

Professional Blackjack

by Stanford Wong, Publication Date: 03/01/1994, 352 pages

Professional Blackjack is 350 pages of card-counting advice for beginners to experts. It presents the high-low and the halves. The high-low is the best combination of simplicity and power, and probably is the most popular system used by card counters. Halves is a level-3 system that yields almost perfect estimates of your advantage, information you need to determine your optimal bet size. The 1994 edition of Professional Blackjack contains 100 tables, not counting the tables in the appendixes.

The tables give strategy index numbers for a variety of rules. The book also contains results of simulations for various sets of rules, so you can learn how valuable one rule is compared to another; for example, you can turn to page 185 and learn that to a card counter, double after split is about the same value as late surrender. The book is chock full of information. For example, have you ever wondered how much expectation someone gives up by standing on sixteen against an eight? For single deck, page 315 tells you that the various two-card sixteens each lose at a rate of about 53% if you stand and 43% if you hit, so the cost is 10%. For six decks, page 331 tells you the numbers are 51% for standing versus 45% for hitting, so the cost is 6%.

Blackjack For Blood: The Card-Counters’ Bible, and Complete Winning Guide

by Bryce Carlson, Publication Date: 07/01/2000, ~240 pages

This book has it all. It’s mathematically accurate, highly informative, up-to-date, and beautifully written. In addition, Carlson’s anecdotes of high-roller life in the casino fast lane make for a really fun, entertaining read. Carlson is both a mathematician and a successful high-stakes Blackjack player, and he presents the concepts behind card counting in an easy-to-understand way that is accurate, informative, and practical. This book is just chock full of priceless information. It presents the theory of card counting, basic strategy, game selection, camouflage, casino comportment, special “commando” tactics, money management, risk of ruin, etc., etc., as well as Carlson’s own Advanced Omega II System, which all the experts agree is the strongest BJ system going. AOII is a level-2 card-counting system that I’ve found easy to learn and easy to use. And it works! It really gets the money. K-O and Hi-Lo don’t come close. This book is the bomb! If you could only have one book on BJ, this should definitely be it. Highly recommended.

Beat the Dealer: A Winning Strategy for the Game of Twenty-One

by Edward O. Thorp, Publication Date: 04/12/1966, 240 pages

This book started it all. Before this book, card counting wasn’t very popular and the systems out there were way too basic. Thorp analyzed the game, ran computer simulations, and created strategies for making money while counting cards. This book is of historical importance because it is the first book written, as it is the oldest, with a viable counting system. A must have for your blackjack library. With that being said, much of the information is outdated so this won’t be the book you buy if you want to learn a system of how to count cards. The appeal of this book is being able to relive the earliest stages of basic strategy and card counting and tells a story on how Mr. Thorp tested his theory in Vegas.

Theory of Blackjack, 6th Edition

by Peter Griffin, Publication Date: 06/01/1999, 270 pages

The Theory of Blackjack is must reading for the advanced card counter. It is unquestionably one of the best books ever written on card counting. This book is a tool for those interested in the underlying mathematics of the game of blackjack. This book thoroughly explains the mathematics behind basic strategy and card counting techniques in a way that really makes sense. For those people who just want the numbers, many blackjack simulators are currently on the market and most of the simulators would give you the numbers in the book (the software is even better because you can customize the table conditions). So the main reason to buy the book would be for the explanations behind the math. Unfortunately, even for those who are mathematically inclined (for whom some of this book will still be beyond your grasp), Griffin often does not explain why particular statistical methods are appropriate presumably he assumes familiarity with the underlying mathematics. If you are a beginner to the field of pro blackjack, don’t buy this book. Buy Stanford Wong’s Professional Blackjack or some of the other card counting books on this list. If you are starting out counting cards you need to know this: card counting isn’t easy. Most people think you just sit there playing blackjack and count the cards while putting in about as much effort as you do watching TV. This book shows some of the hard knowledge you will need to learn in order to be successful. The intimidating nature of the book may convince you that you don’t have the talent, patience, or time to become a good card counter.

Knock-Out Blackjack: The Easiest Card-Counting System Ever Devised

by Olaf Vancura, Ken Fuchs, Publication Date: 10/01/1998, 200 pages

This book introduces one of the simplest effective card counting systems. It’s a good book for the blackjack player who wants to learn a powerful, yet easy to use card counting system. It has your typical introduction to the game, discussion of basic strategy, introduction to card counting, and some blackjack history sprinkled in. In addition, this book has a chapter that compares the KO system to other card counting systems. If you have tried to learn other system but failed then this may be the book for you.