If I were to ask you which casino game is the most popular in the world, what would you say? Most likely, the first game to pop into your mind would be Blackjack. You would be wrong, of course, Slots are the most played of all the casino games, but they’re just…Slots. Blackjack is familiar, it is exciting, it is a game you already know how to play. Blackjack is fun. And yes, Blackjack is one of the most popular games on earth. People play it even outside casinos, just for fun.
Blackjack has been around since at least the 1500s. The first reference to the game was in Miguel de Cervantes’ book, Novelas Ejemplares, written in 1601. Some of the characters play a game called 21, and the rules are basically the same as Blackjack. If it was written about in the year 1601, it is safe to deduce that the game was known for a long time before it was ever immortalized on paper by the author of Don Quixote.
The way the game is played is quite easy to grasp by merely observing a game in progress for a few minutes. Players sit around a semi-circular table with up to nine seats. The game starts when the dealer deals out two cards, face down, to each player. The dealer will then deal himself two cards. One of which will be face down and the other face up. The face down card is called the “hole”, which is where expressions such as “ace in the hole” come from. Once the cards have been dealt and everyone has looked at what was dealt to them, the game proper starts. The point of the game is to get the highest total point value without going over 21.
The cards hold their natural value from 2 to 10. Aces are either a 1 or an 11 and face cards are worth 10. Once the total for the two dealt cards is counted by the player, the options are to: hit; stay; double down; split; or surrender. Hit means the player requests an additional card to be dealt. Stay is to tell the dealer not to deal any more cards. Double Down is a special bet allowed before hitting. Players can double their bets with the proviso that they take the next dealt card and stay. Split is when the player is dealt two of the same card. Before hitting, players can split the two cards into two separate hands, which each gets dealt a new initial card. Surrender is when the dealt cards are deemed to be not worth playing and the player takes a loss on half the initial bet.
Simplicity is the key to Blackjack’s enduring popularity. It is simple. And easy to learn game with only a few basic rules to follow—get close to 21. Even a child could learn to play Blackjack at the most basic level. It would seem that all you do is hit or don’t hit and you hope not to bust. It would appear that it’s all based on luck. It would appear so, but appearances can be deceiving. Blackjack is, in reality, a very complex game with a very steep learning curve in order to play it the right way.
Once you learn to play Blackjack properly, you will see the game in a whole new light. It is not just another casino game that lives and dies by the follies of luck. It is actually a game in which you, the player, can have a strong hand in controlling the way the game will go. There is only one other game at the casino that allows that kind of control over your fate—Poker. Have you ever played Poker at the casino? Have you ever sat there, looking around, trying to figure out who the fish is? The reason you can never figure out the fish at the table is because YOU are the fish. Poker is a dangerous no man’s land full of sharks that will take you for all you’re worth. Unless you’re a seasoned and grizzled Poker player with the wounds and the scars to show for it, you will not win at casino Poker. You might think the same thing about Blackjack but once again, you would be wrong. You can learn to play Blackjack well with a relatively short time expenditure on your part. It’s just not that easy is all.
The reason Blackjack is such a wonderful game to play once you understand it is that it is that the odds on each hand aren’t the same at every turn. They change based on which cards have been drawn. This is a quantifiable game, and the good news is that all the numbers have already been crunched. The game has been analyzed and re-analyzed to death. By now, everything there is to know about Blackjack is known. And guess what? It’s actually not such a big amount to learn. It all fits into one laminated card you can either buy or download for free. It is called the Basic Blackjack Strategy and it tells you how to play. It has the correct response for a wide variety of situations. The best players memorize the table and play the game as well as a computer would. The Basic Blackjack Strategy essentially eliminates the house edge altogether, making Blackjack a perfectly fair game.
The reason there is such a wide latitude of control in the game of Blackjack is that each shoe contains a limited number of cards. You know from the beginning that there are x amount of 10s in a shoe or x amount of 7s and so on. This means that each time a 7 is dealt, you know there are that many less 7s in the shoe, and each time a Jack is dealt there is that much less chance of getting a Jack. This is an enormous advantage in the game and can influence the way you wager. There is a name for this practice—it is called Card Counting.
The ability to do this is what sets Blackjack apart from all the other games in the casino. When you play Roulette, for example, each roll has the same odds as the previous roll. It is not true that numbers that appear more often will appear less often in the future, just as it is untrue that number that haven’t appeared in a while are due to come up. This is called a Gambler’s Fallacy, and it stems from a misunderstanding of how odds work. The best way to think about is by tossing a coin. We have all tossed coins and we know that long strings of heads are unlikely, but they can happen. We also know that each outcome has an equal likelihood of appearing with each toss. So if you toss and the coin lands on heads once, the next toss can either be a heads or a tails. Just because it landed heads does not make it more likely to land tails the next time. It’s easy to grasp it with only two outcomes. When there are 38 outcomes, it becomes a bit more difficult to see the random pattern, which is why we form fallacies.
The truth is that most games are completely random and Blackjack is the exception to the rule. It is only partially based on random outcomes, but the odds change with each passing turn. It is the only game besides Poker where this happens. As long as the cards don’t get shuffled, you can have a pretty clear picture of what’s left inside the shoe. Card counting is not illegal. Online casinos actually encourage the practice because they know they will still make their revenue from the Slot machines. Card counting can be easy to explain. All you do is assign a positive value to the low cards of 1, a neutral value to the middle cards of 0, and a negative value to the tens of -1. All you have to do is run a tally each time a card is drawn. If your tallied number is positive you know by default that the deck is loaded with low cards and if the value is negative you will know that there are a lot of 10s in that deck. This is the simple explanation. To get into further detail, you will need to do some reading. There are several excellent books on the subject at your local library. Card counting is easy on the surface, but incredibly difficult to master.
Overall, Blackjack can be the single game with the highest payouts in the casino for those who take the time to learn its intricacies. Avoid playing blindly. Even knowing the most basic strategy means the difference between winning and losing. Depending on how well you play the game, there is a margin of error in the range of 2%-4% in your odds of winning, which doesn’t sound like a lot, until you realize that the casino always wins with a house advantage of 2%. It behooves you to learn how to play the game so that you can play the only hazard game at the casino that gives players the potential for a 0% house advantage.