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Blackjack, formerly also Black Jack and Vingt-Un, is the American member of a global family of banking games known as Twenty-One, whose relatives include the British game of Pontoon and the European game, Vingt-et-Un.
Blackjack is a comparing card game between one or more players and a dealer, where each player, in turn, competes against the dealer. Players do not compete against each other. Blackajck is played with one or more decks of 52 cards and is the most widely played casino game in the world.
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Next, let’s dive into the history, rules, and strategies of the Blackjack game.
Blackjack’s immediate precursor was the English version of twenty-one called Vingt-Un, a game of unknown provenance, but probably of Spanish origin. The first written reference is found in a book by the Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes, most famous for writing Don Quixote.
Cervantes was a gambler, and the main characters of his tale “Rinconete y Cortadillo”, from Novelas Ejemplares, are a couple of cheats working in Seville. They are proficient at cheating at veintiuna (Spanish for twenty-one), and state that the object of the game is to reach 21 points without going over and that the ace values 1 or 11. The game is played with the Spanish baraja deck. This short story was written between 1601 and 1602, implying that ventiuna was played in Castile since the beginning of the 17th century or earlier. Later references to this game are found in France and Spain.
The first record of the game in France occurs in 1768 and in Britain during the 1770s and 1780s, but the first rules anywhere appear in Britain in 1800 under the name of Vingt-Un. Twenty-One appeared in the United States in the early 1800s, still known in those days as Vingt-Un. The first rules were an 1825 reprint of the 1800 English rules. English Vingt-Un later developed into an American variant in its own right which was renamed blackjack around 1899.
There is a popular myth that, when Vingt-Un (“Twenty-One”) was introduced into the United States in the early 1800s – other sources say during the First World War and still others the 1930s – gambling houses offered bonus payouts to stimulate players’ interest. One such bonus was a ten-to-one payout if the player’s hand consisted of the ace of spades and a black jack (either the jack of clubs or the jack of spades). This hand was called a “blackjack”, and it is claimed that the name stuck to the game even though the ten-to-one bonus was soon withdrawn. French card historian, Thierry Depaulis has recently debunked this story, showing that the name Blackjack was first given to the game of American Vingt-Un by prospectors during the Klondike Gold Rush (1896–99), the bonus being the usual Ace and any 10-point card. Since the term ‘blackjack’ also refers to the mineral zincblende, which was often associated with gold or silver deposits, he suggests that the mineral name was transferred by prospectors to the top bonus in the game. He was unable to find any historical evidence for a special bonus for having the combination of an Ace with a black Jack.
The first scientific and mathematically sound attempt to devise an optimal blackjack playing strategy was revealed in September 1956. Roger Baldwin, Wilbert Cantey, Herbert Maisel and James McDermott published a paper titled The Optimum Strategy in Blackjack in the Journal of the American Statistical Association.This paper would become the foundation of future sound efforts to beat the game of blackjack. Ed Thorp would use Baldwin’s hand calculations to verify the basic strategy and later publish (in 1963) his famous book Beat the Dealer.
Players are each dealt two cards, face up or down depending on the casino and the table. In the U.S., the dealer is also dealt two cards, normally one up (exposed) and one down (hidden). In most other countries, the dealer only receives one card face up. The value of cards two through ten is their pip value (2 through 10). Face cards (Jack, Queen, and King) are all worth ten. Aces can be worth one or eleven. A hand’s value is the sum of the card values. Players are allowed to draw additional cards to improve their hands. A hand with an ace valued as 11 is called “soft”, meaning that the hand will not bust by taking an additional card. The value of the ace will become one to prevent the hand from exceeding 21. Otherwise, the hand is called “hard”.
Once all the players have completed their hands, it is the dealer’s turn. The dealer hand will not be completed if all players have either busted or received blackjacks. The dealer then reveals the hidden card and must hit until the cards total up to 17 points. At 17 points or higher the dealer must stay. (At most tables the dealer also hits on a “soft” 17, i.e. a hand containing an ace and one or more other cards totaling six.) You are betting that you have a better hand than the dealer. The better hand is the hand where the sum of the card values is closer to 21 without exceeding 21.
The detailed outcome of the hand follows:
Blackjack has over 100 rule variations. Since the 1960s, blackjack has been a high-profile target of advantage players, particularly card counters, who track the profile of cards that have been dealt and adapt their wagers and playing strategies accordingly. In response, casinos have introduced counter-measures that can increase the difficulty of advantage play. Blackjack has inspired other casino games, including Spanish 21 and pontoon.
Each blackjack game has a basic strategy, which prescribes the optimal method of playing any hand against any dealer up-card so that the long-term house advantage (the expected loss of the player) is minimized. An example of a basic strategy is shown in the table below, which applies to a game with the following specifications:
The bulk of basic strategy is common to all blackjack games, with most rule variations calling for changes in only a few situations. For example, to use the table above on a game with the stand on soft 17 rule (which favors the player, and is typically found only at higher-limit tables today) only 6 cells would need to be changed: hit on 11 vs. A, hit on 15 vs. A, stand on 17 vs. A, stand on A,7 vs. 2, stand on A,8 vs. 6, and split on 8,8 vs. A. Regardless of the specific rule variations, taking insurance or “even money” is never the correct play under the basic strategy.
Estimates of the house edge for blackjack games quoted by casinos and gaming regulators are generally based on the assumption that the players follow basic strategy and do not systematically change their bet size.
Most blackjack games have a house edge of between 0.5% and 1%, placing blackjack among the cheapest casino table games from the perspective of the player. Casino promotions such as complimentary matchplay vouchers or 2:1 blackjack payouts allow the player to acquire an advantage without deviating from basic strategy.
Here are some popular video tutorials to blackjack strategy:
Steve Bourie, an author of the American Casino Guide, interviews Michael “Wizard of Odds” Shackleford about blackjack. Mike answers some of the most common questions that players have about the game, plus he gives tips on how players can choose the best games, use the proper strategies and take advantage of the casino comping system. Recommended bonuses for Blackjack can be found here. Always play responsibly.
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Online blackjack-free play modes are aimed only at adults, and you must over 18 years old to play blackjack games even for fun. Free blackjack simulators can be addictive and lead to problem gambling.
So whether you are here to play free blackjack games for fun, or practicing your blackjack strategies before hitting the real money table, please play responsibly.
Blackjack related games:
Examples of the many local traditional and recreational-related, blackjack-like games include French Vingt-et-un (“Twenty-One”) and German Siebzehn und Vier (“Seventeen and Four”). Neither game allows splitting. An ace can only count as eleven, but two aces count as a blackjack. It is mostly played in private circles and barracks. The popular British member of the Vingt-Un family is called Pontoon, the name being probably a corruption of “Vingt-et-un”.
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