Blackjack: The Complete Guide
Blackjack is a classic table game of comparing cards where one or more players try to beat the house by getting a better hand than the dealer’s hand.
It is the most widely played and popular casino banking game in the world, found in both land-based, as well as online casinos.
Blackjack’s played with two or more decks of cards, each counting 52 cards. The goal? To beat the dealer in one of the three following ways:
- Player gets a Blackjack and dealer doesn’t
- Get more points than dealer without exceeding 21 points
- The dealer busts his/her hand.
- Banking game is when one or more players gamble vs. a banker. Usually in relation to card games. The banker is the person who runs and controls the game.
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Being an immensely popular game, there’s no shortage of Blackjack literature.
Understanding your time is precious, you’ll find direct links to select Blackjack guides throughout the content below.
Guide: How To Play – The Basics of Blackjack
There’s really only one goal at sight when playing; beating the house. To achieve said goal, you count points and use different options (also referred to as player decisions) during the game.
This is one of the key reasons behind the game’s popularity; its simplicity. Learning how to play blackjack is done in a matter of minutes!
Read more: How to Play Blackjack
Odds and Probabilities
Learning the odds and probabilities of Blackjack is no easy feat and is best learned by applying basic or perfect play strategy which you’ll find more info on further down in this article.
The house edge is less than 1% (0.5%) when using basic strategy. Most players don’t though, and this increases their disadvantage to anywhere between 2-8%.
The odds of the game also depend on what variation you’re playing and the rules of that blackjack game. We will explain more in our strategy articles, as well as the articles covering the more popular blackjack variations.
Blackjack Charts: Basic, Optimal and Perfect Play Strategies
The basic strategy of this card game is to make use of a Blackjack chart that tells you how to play optimal, close to perfect play.
Although there’s different types of charts available, depending on the variation of the game you're playing, rules, and how many decks there are in play, they all have the basic strategy in common.
By using a Blackjack chart, you know exactly what to do in any given hand, which in turn considerably lowers the house advantage and allows you to win more money over time.
For land-based casinos: You’re allowed to bring blackjack charts to the table and make use of them as long as you do not slow down the pace of the game. These charts can be downloaded and printed or are often available for purchase in the casino’s gift shop.
Blackjack Game Variations
There are multiple variations of the game, all of which come with a distinct twist to them, but are still played with the same basic rules.
The list below shows a variety of different Blackjack games, each of which has its own article.
- Atlantic City
- Spanish 21 Blackjack
- Double Exposure
- Vegas Strip Blackjack
- Super Fun 21
- Vegas Downtown
- Match Play 21
A Quick Look at the History of Blackjack and How it got its Name
The game of Blackjack has evolved over hundreds of years. It’s hard, if not impossible, to pinpoint an exact date of origin. The story, however, is quite an interesting one, to say the least.
- Hundreds of years old
- Impossible to pinpoint origin
- Romans might have something to do with it
- Italians got involved at some point
- Spanish also involved
- Miguel Cervantes (The guy who wrote “Don Quixote”)
- French Colonists wanting world order
- Gamblers in Las Vegas
The Beginning: The Roman Empire, The Italians and The Spanish
The very origin of the game has, and continues to be, a hot topic. Some theories revolve around the Roman Empire, where an early version of the game was played with wooden blocks.
Other theories explore the possibility of Italians being the inventors with their game “31”. The rules of that game were, however, quite different from the Spanish game called 21.
The Spanish 21 version still exists till this day and is credited as the first historical mention of Blackjack, dating back to the 16th century. This mention is found in a story written by Miguel de Cervantes, the guy who wrote the 1605 book Don Quixote.
Regardless of who actually invented the game, they all contributed somehow. Romans, Italians, and Spanish were known for setting their eyes on different corners of the world. When you add the fact that all of them loved to gamble, then it’s easy to see how the early variants of the game caught on in the rest of the world.
Then Came the French Colonists
French colonists set out to colonize the world during the 16th century. As a result, large parts of America were colonized; Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and St. Louis in the USA; São Luís in Brazil; Cayenne in French Guinea; Quebec and Montreal in Canada; and Cap Haitien in Haiti.
The French kept doing this for centuries, importing their language, traditions, and culture to other parts of the world. Eventually, the story of Blackjack as we know it today started in Brick & Mortar casinos in Nevada during the 1930’s.
Over there, in ‘Murica, they do what they want. As such, gambling was legalized in 1931, and the casinos at that time started offering their players the new game which at that time was simply known as “21”. In France, they called it “Vingt-et-un” which is French for … You guessed it! 21!
The name “Blackjack” was coined as a result of the marketing of the game. Being a brand new game, people were skeptical of trying it.
In an effort to spark people’s interest in the game, the casinos came up with a special bonus paying 10:1 when dealt ‘Jack of Clubs’ or ‘Jack of Spades’ with an ‘Ace of Spades’.
The bonus did the trick, and people started flocking to the tables, both out of curiosity and wanting to get their hands on a nice 10:1 payout. The Blackjack bonus practice was discontinued, but the name ‘Black Jack’ stuck and has done so ever since.
Nowadays, there are online casinos that pay extra when you score a true Blackjack hand. There are, however, no shortages on blackjack promotions when gambling online, a fact that holds especially true when playing at a live casino.
Blackjack in Modern Popular Culture
Books and games have always been popular, and so has the mention of casino games and gambling in general been, since the dawn of time.
With the addition of movies during the 20th 19th century, popular culture started to make a serious impact on the world, spreading like wildfire through movie theaters.
The same games people would only see if they stepped foot in a casino were now on the big screen. Writers and directors started including scenes where people played not only Blackjack but also games such as Roulette, Craps, Baccarat, and many more.
One of the most popular drama/comedies of all time, giving Blackjack some serious shine, is the 1988-movie Rainman. Long story short; brother takes his autistic brother to Las Vegas and makes money with blackjack card counting.
The movie’s not JUST about the game Blackjack. It’s merely an extension of the script, giving the story more depth. The movie is an underrated gem, taking its audience on an emotional roller coaster.
People who saw Rain Man were flabbergasted by it, leaving them wanting to try the game themselves. Hence, the popularity of the game started increasing more and more.
Fun fact: did you know the reason behind the name? It’s because to his brother, “rain man” sounds like “Raymond.”
There’s no doubt that the movies started a renaissance of sorts for casino games in general. Before the internet, the only possible way to play casino games was to visit an establishment that offered its patrons gambling. Because of movies showing people what happens in casinos, they too wanted in on the experience. As a result, the casino industry was booming and thriving on its increase in popularity thanks to modern-day pop-culture.
Blackjack Table Layout: Land Based and Online Casinos
The design and layout of Blackjack tables both on online and land-based casinos have, for the most part, remained unchanged since 1931.
The tables are semicircular in shape, accommodating anywhere from 5 to 12 players simultaneously. The most common number of spots available, however, is 7.
Positioned behind the chips and the table, the dealer faces the players sitting in front. The game starts and plays out with the first player on the left-hand side of the dealer. The first position to the dealer's left is called “First base,” while the last position to the dealer's right is called “Third base.”
Layout: The layout of the table is made of felt and lies on top of padded foam, which makes the table not only soft but also ensures easier handling of the chips in play as well as the cards. The color of blackjack table layouts used to be green. However, nowadays you’ll see variations of the color and design depending on what casino you’re playing at.
Apron: The apron is the area closest to the players allowing them to place things such as drinks and chips.
Betting circle: Circles on the layout where players must place their bets for them to count as valid wagers. The number of betting circles on the layout tells you how many players can be seated.
Insurance line: The area where players must place chips when taking insurance from the dealer during a game.
Table Center: An area of the table that belongs to the dealers where they shuffle their cards/place their hand.
Rack: The tray in front of the dealer where chips are held (also referred to as the "bank"). Live online blackjack tables do not have this area, as there are no physical chips to place in the rack.
Discard rack: The discard rack is placed to the right-hand side of the dealer and is used to store discarded cards after a round of blackjack is completed.
Paddle/Dropbox: On the right-hand side of the dealer, you’ll see a T-shaped paddle. The dealer uses this paddle to push money down the drop-box.
Dealer shoe: The shoe is a plastic container that holds the cards in place, ready to be drawn and used in the game. Depending on how many decks there are in play, the size of the container will vary.
The dealer shoe has multiple elements to it which helps the dealer. These elements include the face, finger, lip, and wedge. The face helps hold the cards in place, while the finger is the area where the dealer puts his or her finger to slip out the cards from the shoe. The lip is a plastic edge that helps keep the cards flat on the felt once slipped from the shoe. The wedge is a plastic device on the back of the deck of cards that helps apply pressure to the deck, so the dealer can continue drawing cards.
The felt on the table helps keep the cards in place, as well as adding to the exclusive look and feel of the game.
8 Beginner Mistakes to Avoid When Playing Blackjack on Land Based Casinos
Anyone who’s only played Blackjack on an online casino would love to play some real Blackjack in a land-based one. The same basic rules and strategies apply, however, there are certain things you should never do.
Follow these tips to avoid losing more money than necessary once you step foot into a brick and mortar establishment:
- Only play on “3 to 2” tables
- Don’t play on tables using continuous shuffling machines
- Place any money you bring to the table, on the table. Never give it to the dealer directly.
- Never touch your cards (shoe dealt games)
- Don’t touch or move your bet once the round has started
- Don’t voice your player decision. Use Hand signals!
- Don’t guess how to play – use basic strategy
- Don’t be rude
Only play on “3 to 2” tables: This refers to what you’ll get paid if you get dealt a Blackjack. 3:2 pays you €15 with a €10 bet, while a 6:5 payout is far worse. You will quickly notice that anything besides 3:2 pays you less.
Don’t play on tables using continuous shuffling machines: Simply because these machines increase the pace of the game, and thus you’ll end up losing more money faster.
Never give money to the dealer: You do not hand your money to the dealer directly, but place them on your area of the felt. It makes keeping control easier and allows security camera footage of the exchange.
Never touch your cards (shoe dealt games): In shoe-dealt blackjack games you are not allowed to touch your cards as the casinos fear you can mark them. Only the dealer handles the cards in these games. Dealt games allow touching of cards by using one hand to pick them up.
Don’t touch or move your bet once the round has started: This is an obvious mistake to avoid as it can void your bet. It doesn’t matter the reason. You just don't touch or move your bet. By touching your bet, you could effectively be cheating, such as adding another chip or removing one.
Do not use your voice, use hand signals: The security cameras above your head are to ensure a fair game and to prevent cheating. As the cameras don’t capture audio, the hand signals are mandatory. Voicing your action is not acceptable as you can easily deny saying them afterward.
Don’t guess how to play your hand: Blackjack is a negative return game over time, meaning you can expect to lose money over time. If you don’t use optimal strategy to achieve perfect play, the house edge is around 8%. Even with perfect play, the house edge is still at 0.5%. Learn how to play your hands instead of guessing. You’ll increase your own edge in certain situations to max out your profitability, thus losing less in the long run.
Don’t be rude: It goes without saying that you should put on your best behavior at a Blackjack table in land-based casinos. You’re sitting with other people, and there’s no excuse for bad behavior. Even when drinking.