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The Ultimate Guide to Blackjack

  1. By Henry Tamburin, Ph.D.
  2. Getting Started with blackjack
  3. GUIDE HIGHLIGHTS History of Blackjack Basic Playing Rules Blackjack Etiquette Why Play Blackjack ? Understanding the Casino’s Edge Getting Started with blackjack
  4. THE LONG AND COLORFUL HISTORY OF BLACKJACK For several reasons, blackjack is the most popular casino card game in the world: It’s an easy game to play. There’s an element of skill involved. The mystique that surrounds card counting, which makes it possible to beat the game, keeps it in the public eye. You may think that blackjack is the same today as it was 70 years ago, but that’s not so. There have been many subtle—and some major— changes to the game throughout its long and provocative history. HISTORY OF BLACKJACK
  5. FRENCH PLAY VINGT-ET-UN The origins of blackjack are not entirely clear. It is widely thought that its precursor “vingt-et-un” (pronounced van-tay-uhn, meaning 20 and one, or, simply, 21). It began showing up in French casinos around 1700. The rules for vingt-et-un differ from blackjack as we know it. The game’s objective was to reach a “natural” with cards that total 21; however, players wagered after they received their first card. The dealer had the option to double everyone’s bet after looking at his initial card. Moreover, if the dealer got a natural, players would pay him triple. Nevertheless, there are some striking similarities with modern blackjack; namely, the hand- ranking system and the goal of trying to achieve 21. HISTORY OF BLACKJACK
  6. ITALIANS PLAY SEVEN-AND-A-HALF The Italians, meanwhile, were playing a game called “Seven-and-a-Half”. • Used only face cards (counted as half a point) • The 8s, 9s, and 10s (counted as one point) • The king of diamonds was a wild card This Game The goal was to reach a hand totaling 7.5 points. A player automatically lost when his hand exceeded 7.5 points. It is widely believed that the blackjack term busted was derived from this game. HISTORY OF BLACKJACK
  7. SPANIARDS PLAY ONE-AND-THIRTY • Another card game with similarities to blackjack was the Spanish game called “One-and- Thirty.” • Played in Spain and Ireland in the 15th to 17th centuries, players received three cards. The objective was to get closest to 31 with three cards in the same suit. HISTORY OF BLACKJACK
  8. CHANGE FROM “21” TO “BLACKJACK” Vingt-et-un’s popularity spread throughout the world; however, the name of the game soon became corrupted: in England it became “Van John,” and in Australia, it was “Pontoon.” • It is generally believed that the game made its way to America in the 1800s, but, initially, it was not popular in gambling houses. • To encourage more players to try it, the casinos changed the rules and began paying a 10-to-1-bonus payout when a player’s initial two cards were either a jack of clubs or jack of spades, together with an ace of spades. As a result of this change, Americans called the game “BLACKJACK” HISTORY OF BLACKJACK
  9. THE FOUR HORSEMEN TO THE RESCUE Roger Baldwin, Wilbert Cantey, Herbert Maisel, and James McDermott, often referred to in the literature as the “Four Horsemen of Aberdeen,” developed the first reasonably accurate basic playing strategy for blackjack. • They initiated using only hand calculators (or, “adding machines”). • These pioneers proved that blackjack offered the best odds of winning if players would follow a specific set of playing rules. • Their work was published in 1956 in the Journal of the American Statistical Society, and then, a year later, in the book Playing Blackjack to Win. • Although the Four Horsemen were not widely known by the general public, their peers recognized their accomplishments in 2008 by inducting them into the Blackjack Hall of Fame. HISTORY OF BLACKJACK
  10. OBJECTIVE OF BLACKJACK The objective of blackjack is: to beat the dealer’s hand by either 1) Having a total that exceeds the dealer’s total 2) By not going over 21 when the dealer does. BASIC PLAYING RULES
  11. CARD VALUES • All cards count their face value in blackjack • Picture cards count as 10 • Ace can count as either 1 or 11 BUSTING When a player or dealer’s hand exceeds a total of 21, this is known as busting. HARD HAND V/S SOFT HAND • A hard hand is any hand that either does not contain an ace, of if it does, counts the ace as 1 • Any hand that contains an ace that counts as 11 is known as a soft hand. When you receive your first two cards and one of them is an ace, count the ace as 11 BASIC PLAYING RULES
  12. MAKING BETS • In most casinos, cash is not used to make bets. • You must use casino chips or “checks”. • To purchase chips, simply take a seat at any blackjack table, wait until the dealer completes the current round, then place your cash on the table in front of the dealer and ask the dealer for chips. • The dealer will convert your cash into chips and slide the chips toward you. • Be sure to place the chips neatly stacked in front of you. CHIP VALUE In most casinos, chips are color coded to signify their denomination although usually the value is imprinted on the chip, as well. BASIC PLAYING RULES
  13. NUMBER OF DECKS OF CARDS • Every table should have signage that specifies what the minimum and maximum betting limits are. • Prior to the deal of the cards, all players must make a bet by placing chips in their respective betting boxes. • Every player and the dealer will receive two cards. One of the dealer’s cards (known as the dealer’s upcard) is always dealt face up so that players can see its value. • The other dealer’s card, known as the dealer’s downcard or hole card, is unseen. • The two player cards can be dealt either face up, or face down. • After the player looks at his initial two cards and sees the value of one of the dealer’s two cards, the player must make a playing decision. BASIC PLAYING RULES
  14. SURRENDER: It allows a player to forfeit the hand immediately with an automatic loss of half the original bet. PLAYING OPTIONS HITTING: This means you want the dealer to give another card to your hand. STANDING: This means you are satisfied with the total of the hand and want to stand with the cards you have. SPLITTING: If you have two like cards (e.g., a pair of 6s or aces), you could exercise the option to split them. DOUBLING DOWN: This playing option allows you to double your initial bet in return for receiving one (and only one) draw card. BASIC PLAYING RULES
  15. INSURANCE When the dealer’s upcard is an ace, she will ask players if they want to make the insurance wager, which is a side bet in which players are betting that the dealer’s hole card will be a ten-value card. Players can make an insurance bet less than or equal to one-half of the initial bet made on the hand. To make the insurance bet, simply place your chips on the insurance line, which is located right above the player’s betting spot. EVEN MONEY When the player has a blackjack hand and the dealer has an ace showing, the dealer will ask the player if he wants “even money.” Even money means the dealer will automatically give you a 1 to 1 (or even money) payoff on your bet before she checks her downcard for a potential blackjack. BASIC PLAYING RULES
  16. DEALER’S PLAYING RULES Unlike players, the dealer in blackjack has no playing options. Casino rules specify that a dealer must draw if her hand totals less than 17 and stand when the total is 17 to 21. In some casinos, dealers must stand on soft 17 and in others they must hit. It’s better for the player if the rules specify the dealer must stand on soft 17. WINNING & LOSING A HAND If the player’s hand exceeds a total of 21, the player automatically loses. If the player’s unbusted hand exceeds the total of the dealer’s hand, the player wins and is paid at 1 to 1 odds. If the player and dealer have the same total, the hand is a tie, or push, and the player retains his bet. A player’s untied blackjack hand, also known as a “natural” is paid at 3 to 2. BASIC PLAYING RULES
  17. HANDING MONEY DIRECTLY TO THE DEALER All cash transactions must be visible to the security cameras, so always place your cash on the layout outside of your betting spot, and then tell the dealer what denomination chips you want. HOLDING THE CARDS WITH TWO HANDS Be sure to pick up the cards with one hand, not two. TOUCHING THE CARDS When four or more decks of cards are used, they are usually dealt face up to each player from a dealing shoe. This is done so that none of the Players Cheat and it also Speeds up the game. REMOVING THE CARDS FROM THE TABLE The cards in your hand must be in full view of the dealer and the security cameras. Therefore, you should never, hold them in your lap or below the level of the table. BLACKJACK ETIQUETTE
  18. PLACING OBJECTS ON THE TABLE Purses, wallets, bags, and other items should be placed on your person or next to you, except ladies’ purses, which should be held in the lap. TELLING THE DEALER THAT YOU WANT A “HIT.” For security reasons, you must always use hand signals, not words to signify to the dealer how you want to play your hand. TOUCHING YOUR CHIPS AFTER MAKING THE BET Your original bet must stay on the layout untouched until it either wins, loses, or ties. PLACING HIGHER DENOMINATION CHIP ON TOP OF A LOWER DENOMINATION CHIP Always place the higher denomination chip on the bottom of the stack. BLACKJACK ETIQUETTE
  19. TAKE YOUR BAD LUCK OUT ON THE DEALER OR FELLOW PLAYERS They are not the cause of your losing; most likely it’s just a bad run of cards, which happens to all blackjack players. SITTING DOWN AND MAKING A BET IN THE MIDDLE OF A SHOE In some casinos, there will be a “No Mid-Shoe Entry” sign posted on the table. If there is no sign, it’s common courtesy to ask your fellow players if they mind that you join them. TELLING YOUR FELLOW PLAYERS HOW TO PLAY It’s their money and they have the right to play their hand any way they want to, unless they want your advice. Smoking If you are a smoker, be courteous to your fellow players (and the dealer) by not blowing smoke in their direction. BLACKJACK ETIQUETTE
  20. WHY PLAY BLACKJACK ROULETTE V/S BLACKJACK ROULETTE A typical American roulette wheel has 38 numbers – 1 through 36 plus 0 and 00. Suppose you place a bet on your lucky number 7. Mathematically you have a 1 in 38 chance that the roulette ball will land on 7. Mathematicians will say that roulette is a game of “independent trial processes,” because the outcome of each spin is independent of previous spins. BLACKJACK But the game of Blackjack offers players a ray of HOPE. That’s because blackjack is a game of dependent trial processes, which makes it beatable.
  21. WHY PLAY BLACKJACK BLACKJACK DEPENDENCY • Now suppose during the play of the first round you noticed that four aces had been dealt. At the start of the second round, what is your chance of getting a blackjack? It’s zero because there aren’t any aces remaining in the unplayed cards, because they were all played in the previous round. • In other words, your chances of winning a particular hand are quite dependent upon what cards were played in the previous rounds, meaning that blackjack is a game based on dependent trial processes. • Suppose you sat down at a single-deck game and waited for the dealer to complete the shuffling of the cards before you made your first bet. What are the chances that you will be dealt a blackjack (two-card hand of ace and a ten-valued card)? Mathematically you have about a 1 in 21 chance of being dealt a blackjack.
  22. WHY PLAY BLACKJACK BLACKJACK IS A GAME OF SKILL The mix of the previously played cards has a great influence on your chance of winning the next hand. Given this fact, it would seem logical that by knowing something about the composition of the cards in this previous mix, you could alter your bets and/or playing strategy to maximize your chances of winning the most money on the upcoming hand. For now just remember these facts of blackjack: • It is a game of skill, not solely chance. • By using certain playing and betting techniques, it is possible to swing the odds in your favor. This is not possible for any other casino game.
  23. WHY PLAY BLACKJACK WHY PLAY BLACKJACK? WHY, INDEED, BECAUSE: • By learning a simple playing strategy, you can reduce the house edge to less than 1% • By learning a specific betting technique based on the composition of the cards already played, it is possible to gain a mathematical advantage over the casino. Yes, you read that right. You can reduce the house edge to virtually zero, or even enjoy a slight edge, by learning how to play your hands and how much to bet on each hand.
  24. UNDERSTANDING THE CASINO’S EDGE UNDERSTANDING THE CASINO EDGE DOUBLE-BUST RULE • Suppose you are playing blackjack, you make a $10 bet, the dealer gives you a 10-7 and her upcard is a 7. You stand on your 17, and the dealer’s hole card is a queen, giving her 17. Your 17 tied her 17, and in blackjack parlance this is known as a “push.” When a push occurs, you neither win nor lose your bet. • Let’s suppose you keep the $10 bet out for the next hand. You are dealt a 9-6, you draw another card and receive a 7, giving you a 22, and subsequently the dealer also ends up with a 22. Once again, you both have the same total, but guess what? Unlike the previous push when you both had 17, this time, because you busted (i.e., your hand is over 21) before the dealer busted, you lose your bet. • This so-called “DOUBLE-BUST” rule is what creates the house edge in blackjack.
  25. UNDERSTANDING THE CASINO’S EDGE PLAYER ADVANTAGES Fortunately, not all is equal when you play blackjack. Players have certain advantages and options that are not available to the dealer. They include: • Receiving a 3 to 2 bonus payoff on a blackjack, whereas the dealer gets paid only at 1 to 1 on his winning blackjack. • Being able to double their wager in favorable situations (like being dealt a two-card 11), whereas the dealer cannot double down. • Being able to split pairs, whereas dealers cannot split. • Players can stand on totals of 12-16, whereas a dealer must always hit a total of 16 or lower.
  26. UNDERSTANDING THE CASINO’S EDGE BONUS PAYOFF FOR A BLACKJACK • Obviously, the bonus payout on a blackjack hand is a rather advantageous perk, and the player doesn’t have to do anything to receive this extra money except get dealt a “natural” (blackjack hand), which, as previously mentioned, will occur about once in every 21 hands. • This bonus 3 to 2 payout for the player cuts about 2.3% off of the initial 8% edge, leaving the house with a 5.7% edge.
  27. UNDERSTANDING THE CASINO’S EDGE USING THE PROPER HITTING AND STANDING STRATEGIES • By knowing the proper hitting and standing playing strategy, a player can whittle another 3.5% from the house’s edge, leaving about a 2.2% edge. • Remember that players can stand or hit as they wish, unlike the dealer who must always stand on 17-21 and hit 16 or less.
  28. UNDERSTANDING THE CASINO’S EDGE USING THE PROPER DOUBLING AND PAIR SPLITTING STRATEGIES • If you learn the right strategies for doubling down, you can whittle another 1.6% off of the house edge, and by knowing when to split pairs, you can take off another 0.4%. • This leaves the house with about a 0.2% advantage in a single-deck game.
  29. UNDERSTANDING THE CASINO’S EDGE CUMULATIVE HOUSE ADVANTAGE The following table summarizes how it’s possible to decrease the house edge in blackjack by learning and using the proper playing strategies. • Hopefully you see how crucial correct standing, doubling, and splitting are toward your goal of minimizing the house edge. • In fact, most of the time that you double or split will be when the dealer has a small upcard (2–6). • The reason is that the dealer will bust about 40% of the time when she shows a small card, thus increasing your chances of winning the double down or split hands.
  30. UNDERSTANDING THE CASINO’S EDGE VALUE OF LEARNING THE CORRECT PLAYING STRATEGY • Let’s assume an active player plays about 500 hours of blackjack per year with an average bet of $10. • Let’s also assume the player averages 100 hands per hour. That means the player would have made $500,000 worth of bets during the year. • A player who mimics the dealer but gets 3 to 2 on blackjack hands would face a 5.7% house edge and stand to lose 5.7% of the $500,000 total wagered, or $28,500. • On the other hand, the basic strategist who knows the correct standing/doubling/splitting strategies is facing only a 0.2%–0.5% house edge depending on game conditions, and his theoretical loss is, therefore, only $1,000–$2,500 - a huge savings. • Thus the basic strategy player, over the year, stands to gain at least $26,000 over the “mimic the dealer” player.
  31. UNDERSTANDING THE CASINO’S EDGE CAN A PLAYER DO BETTER? YES, BY DOING THE FOLLOWING: • Playing in games with more favorable rules, especially in single- and double-deck games. • Taking advantage of so-called “comps” (complimentaries) and special casino promotions. • Learning the technique known as card counting.