Since the early 60’s, the Blackjack table has been a very popular target of advantage players and card counters that track the cards dealt in previous hands so as to make a determination as regards cards that may be dealt. Counters will use this information in their wagering and playing strategies in order to gain an edge on the house.
The History of Blackjack
The predecessor of Blackjack is a game called “21” (yes, modern Blackjack is also known as 21…this refers to a somewhat different game by the same name). No one really knows the origin of 21; however, the first known reference to the game can be found in a book by Miguel de Cervantes called Novelas Ejemplares. A number of characters from one of the stories in the book are identified as cheaters in a game called ventiuna (21 in Spanish), and the book goes on to discuss some of the rules of the game which closely resembles modern day Blackjack. This book was written sometime between 1601 and 1602 so we can assume that the game has been played as early as the 16th century in the Castillan Kingdom and perhaps earlier.
When “21” was first introduced the U.S., many of the casinos and gambling houses would offer special bonuses in order to get players’ interest going. One of the more popular bonuses was a special 10:1 payout if the player was dealt a hand made up of one of the two black Jacks (Jack of Spades or Jack of Clubs) and the Ace of Spades. This hand was known as “blackjack”. The special bonus was soon removed; however, the game took on the name of this special bonus and has remained the name of the game ever since. These days, the hand “blackjack” actually refers to any hand that is made up of an Ace and either a Ten card or one of the Face cards; irrespective of the suit of the card or its color.
How To Play Blackjack
The Blackjack table will have between 5 and 9 playing positions in a semi-circle facing the dealer at the center. Each playing position will have a “bet in betting area” in which up to three players may place a bet. The player whose bet sits at the front of the betting area has control over the position (typically the person sitting at the table in front of the betting area) and is consulted by the dealer as regards any decisions required. The players that place bets but do not control one of the positions are said to “play behind.” Generally speaking, a single player may control as many positions as they wish at the table but may not play at more than one table at a time.
The action opens with the dealer dealing two cards to each active position at the table. The dealer will then deal two cards to themselves. In “hole card” games (most common in American casinos), one card is dealt face down (the “hole card”) and the other is dealt face up. The dealer will take a peek at the hole card but won’t reveal it unless the hand is a blackjack. In “no hole card” games (most common in European casinos), the dealer will deal their first card and then wait to deal themselves the second card until all of the players have played their hands.
The object of Blackjack is to create a card total higher than that of the dealer’s hand without the card total going over 21 (going bust). In Blackjack, cards have the following values:
Number Cards: Cards  through  have their natural value.
Face Cards and : Cards  through [K] have a value of 10.
Ace: The [A] can either be 1 or 11 according to which is better for the player.
Once the initial two cards are dealt, the first player clockwise from the dealer is first to act and the action continues in a clockwise fashion. Players may choose to hit, stick, double down or split.
When a player “hits,” they take another card from the dealer. Players may “hit” as much as they like without going over 21. Players may, of course, say “hit” and the dealer will deal them a card; however, they may also use signals: tap the table, wave towards themselves or scrape the cards on the table. Players may hit as often as they wish as long as the total is not above 21. Once a player reaches 21, they are required to stick (which is just fine considering 21 is the highest score that a player can achieve).
Should a player hit resulting in a card total of above 21 then they “bust.” A bust in Blackjack results in a total loss and all bets placed associated with the hand are forfeited to the house.
Also known as “Stay.” When a player sticks, they are declining to take any further cards. The signal for sticking is sliding the cards under one’s chips or waving their hand horizontally to the table.
Players are only permitted to double down in their initial action. Players may double their bets in exchange for committing to stick after they receive only one additional card. This bet is placed in the betting area next to their original bet. Other players that are participating but not in control may also double down with the controlling player or not as they wish; however, if the controlling player decides to take more than one card then they cannot.
If the initial two cards dealt to a player have the same value, the player may split the cards into two separate hands. They signal their wish to do so by placing a second bet equal to their first bet in the area outside the betting area containing their original bet. The dealer will then separate the two cards and deal an additional card to each new hand. The player will then play each hand in their turn. Most casinos will only allow players to split when the cards are exactly the same; for example,  and not [K].
Some casinos will allow the splitting of already split hands. In other words, let us say that a player is originally dealt  and they decide to split their hand. If the dealer should deal another  to one of the split hands then some casinos will allow the player to split again leaving the player, in this example, with three hands each starting with a  card. Casinos that do allow the splitting of split hands will often count blackjacks as a non-blackjack 21 against the dealer. Often when splitting Aces, the casino will not allow the players to hit meaning that the second card dealt by the dealer to each new [A] hand will close the hand.
If the controlling player decides to split and a non-controlling player does not wish to place another bet then the non-controlling player must select one of the hands to play before the dealer deals the second cards.
Some casinos will allow players to “surrender,” typically at hole card tables once the dealer has checked their hand for blackjack. Once a player surrenders their hand, half of their bet is lost to the house and the other half is given back to the player and the player is out of the round. Players will do this if they do not like the cards that they were dealt.
It is important to note that hand signals are not simply ceremonial. Casinos video tape their tables (the “eye in the sky”) and hand signals will help in identifying mistakes by the dealer and resolving any disputes.
After all of the players have finished, the dealer reveals the hole card and continues to draw cards until their hand has reached a minimum value of 17. In the event that the dealers initial hand is an [A], also known as a “soft 17”, some casinos will require the dealer to draw. The dealer may never split, double down or surrender. If the dealer draws cards and busts then all of the hands remaining in the game (that haven’t busted) win. If the dealer does not bust then the hands remaining in the game that have a value greater than that of the dealer win and less than that of the dealer lose. If a player hand ties that of the dealer (known as a “push”) then the players bet is returned to the player. That having been said, a blackjack hand beats any hand that is not a blackjack; for example, a blackjack hand of [K][A] will beat a non-blackjack 21 hand such as [A]. Blackjack wins are paid out equal to the wager or 1:1 except in the event that a player wins with blackjack in which case they are typically paid out at one and a half times the wager or 3.2.
Players are given the option to take “insurance” by the dealer, prior to their checking their hole card, if the dealer’s exposed card is an ace. Insurance pays the player 2:1. Insurance is essentially a side bet that the dealer has hit blackjack and is separate from the player’s main bet. The idea behind insurance is that if the dealer’s exposed card is an ace then there is approximately a 1:3 chance that the dealer’s hole card has a value of 10 thus giving the dealer blackjack. Players have the option of insuring against the possibility that the dealer has hit blackjack by making a maximum “insurance” bet which would make up for the loss of the original bet. Players may take insurance of up to half of their original bet.
Players hitting blackjack may also opt to take insurance. Should a player hitting blackjack take maximum insurance then they are basically committing to winning back their initial wager irrespective of the dealer’s cards. It is for this reason that taking insurance on a blackjack against a dealer’s possible blackjack is also known as “taking even money”.
Basic Blackjack Strategy
It is important to have at least a basic understanding of Blackjack strategy before playing, especially at the casino. That is not to say that it isn’t important to have an understanding of Blackjack strategy when playing alone online; it is just that wild and inconsistent play at the casino can get you some mean looks from your fellow players. For example, if you hit with a hand total of 18 when the dealer’s exposed card is a  then you can expect to get some looks from the person sitting to your left. It isn’t that you are required to follow any rules. If you want to play wild then it is certainly your prerogative. The thing is that if you hit when you “shouldn’t” according to the basic strategy of Blackjack and the person seated to your left needed the card that you received there is a certain attitude that persists where the person to your left will think that that [K] should have been theirs. Again, not the end of the world; however, it is certainly something to be kept in mind.
Truth be told, a player will maximize their odds by playing according to the basic strategy. The basic Blackjack strategy is no secret and you will even see, at times, players sitting at the Blackjack tables holding basic strategy cards in their hand much like the one appearing below.
Technically speaking, the basic strategy in Blackjack will change somewhat in accordance with the rules governing the game. The following is a basic Blackjack Strategy when:
* The dealer sticks on a soft 17
* Between 4 and 8 decks are in play
* Players may double on any two cards.
* Players may double after a split
* Only original bets are lost when the dealer gets blackjack
* Late surrender
Dh: Double if allowed. If not allowed then Hit.
Ds: Double if allowed. If not allowed then Stick.
SU: Surrender if allowed. If not allowed then Hit except when holding 16 against Dealer showing  in which case Stick.
When casinos and gaming regulators provide a house edge for a particular Blackjack table, they do so assuming that players will follow a basic strategy, much like that provided above, and do not change their bet size according to some betting strategy. Generally speaking, you will find that Blackjack will have a house edge of somewhere between 0.5% and 1%. Blackjack provides players with the best odds of all of the casino table games.