From The Frontlines
PDA & Palm Version
No one can pinpoint exactly where Blackjack originated, but the general consensus is that it proliferated from various French games such as "chemin de fer" and "French Ferme". Starting somewhere around the early 1700's, Blackjack eminated in the French casinos where it was first called "vingt-et-un" (twenty-and-one). Blackjack was detected in the United States around the year 1800, and became one of Nevada's principal games of chance when casino gambling was re-legalized in 1931. Today, the standard payout in most casinos is three to two (150%), and the house edge can virtually be eliminated. Due to these great odds and low house edge, Blackjack has become the world's most popular casino game - online and off.
OBJECT OF THE GAME
In the most general terms, the object of Blackjack is to get a hand that totals as close to 21 as possible without going over. No matter how many people are seated at the table each individual plays against the dealer and only the dealer. Other players at the table mean nothing to you or your hand, so feel free to ignore them. The dealer always plays his hand last, therefore you must ascertain how to play your hand according to the dealer's face up card.
CHOOSING A TABLE
Generally, a Blackjack table seats six or seven players at one time. Each player has their own betting circle directly in front of them where chips are placed to make a wager. Each table will have a sign declaring the minimum and maximum betting limits. This is the most important item at the table to take note of, especially for beginning players. These limits will probably be in the range of anywhere from $3 to $2,000. Usually, the most crowded tables at a casino are the lower limit tables. Take note that some casinos will change the minimum and maximum limits according to how busy they become. This is done in order to restrict the game to high rollers who tend to spend the most money. These high rollers also have the option of playing in separate rooms that offer extremely high minimums with single deck games. Beginners are probably better off playing at tables that offer "shoe" games where six or eight decks of cards are used. In a shoe game all of the player's cards are dealt face up, and the dealer can answer any questions you might have about your hand.
Blackjack is played with casino chips instead of cash. The most common denominations are $1, which are usually denoted by white chips; $5, which are red and called nickels; $25, which are green and referred to as quarters; and $100, which are usually black. In order to purchase chips you will have to wait for a break in the action or until the dealer shuffles the cards. Do not try and hand your money directly to the dealer; as a security measure he is not permitted to take anything from your hands. Place the amount of money you wish to exchange for chips on the table in front of you, and he will replace it with playing chips of equal value. An appropriate buy in amount is anywhere from 10 to 20 times your average bet. Dealers keep no cash at the table so be careful to only put the amount of money you want to spend on chips in front of the dealer. Before you leave the table, the dealer will probably ask you if you want to exchange your smaller chips for larger denominations. This process is referred to as "color up" and is often done to get a few additional chips from someone who has not tipped the dealer at all. It is also done in part because dealers are able to keep change since no cash is kept at the table. You can either use these chips at other table games in the casino, or cash them in for money at the cashier's cage.
Normally, the dealer will shuffle the cards by hand at least seven times. The number of cards shuffled will range anywhere from a single deck up to eight decks, depending on both the game played and the particular casino. After the cards are shuffled, the deck(s) is put in front of the player at first base to "cut". Cutting refers to dividing the card decks in two so they can be reassembled in a different order. The player is given a red plastic card to be placed anywhere he chooses in the deck. The deck is split here, and the section that was on the bottom is now placed on top. After the player at first base cuts the cards, the order runs clockwise for subsequent cuts. You do not have to cut the cards when it is your turn, you can pass and it will be offered to the next player. The first card, known as the bum card, is removed from the top of the deck and is not played. In addition, the dealer will place the red plastic card somewhere towards the end of the deck as a reshuffling reminder. This is done so that the last hand does not run out of cards. Card counters play particular attention to the placement of this card; the deeper it is placed, the better. This aspect of shuffling is referred to as "penetration".
In order to achieve a long term advantage in Blackjack, a player must learn card counting techniques. Card counting requires only some very basic arithmetic, and no memorization at all. One of the most popular systems in use today is the point count system, which is also known as Hi-Low. Using this preferred method, a plus or minus value is allocated to each card in the deck, and then added up as each card is dealt. Any cards two through six will decrease your chances of winning, therefore you will designate a +1 value to each of these cards. Each time any of these cards is dealt to a player you will add +1 to your count. Conversely, tens and aces increase your chances of winning unless they are dealt to another player. Each ten and ace will receive a -1 value, which will be added to your count should these cards be dealt to someone else. Since sevens, eights, and nines really do not effect your chances of winning, you will not assign them a value at all.
As the cards are dealt, you will keep a running count of the exposed cards, and make wagers that are based on the current count total. The higher the plus count, i.e. the higher the percentage of tens and aces that remain undealt, means you have the advantage and should increase your bet. If you encounter a high minus count, you have a much greater disadvantage and should bet the minimum or leave the table. If the count is zero this means the deck is neutral and no one posesses an advantage.
These same rules also apply when playing a multi-deck Blackjack game. The only adjustment you will have to make is dividing the count by the approximate number of decks left to be played. In either game, singe or multi-deck, the same point values are assigned and the same method will be used to make betting decisions.
Blackjack is usually played with the standard 52 card deck; games will employ anywhere from a single deck to eight decks of cards. The standard deck contains four suits: hearts, spades, clubs, and diamonds. Generally, these suits have no significance in Blackjack. However, the exception may occur if the casino chooses to offer a special payout for specific hands. The cards ranging from two to nine are valued just as they appear, e.g. a two is worth two points, a six is worth six points, and so forth. The most common type of card found in the deck are those with a value of ten. These cards consist of the ten, Jack, Queen, and King. An Ace can count as either a one or an eleven; this is the only card in the deck that is given two different values. You need not specify which value the Ace has, because it is always assumed to hold the value that makes the best hand. The Ace is also the most powerful card in the deck since it is the only card that can create a Blackjack.
PLACING A BET
After determining how much you would like to wager, place the corresponding amount of chips in the betting circle directly in front of you. Before placing your chips in the betting circle, arrange them into one stack. If you are using several denominations of chips place the largest value on the bottom, and the smaller values on top. Push the entire amount in the betting circle at one time; this is a good habit to familarize yourself with because in a Blackjack tournament you are not permitted to add or subtract chips from the original amount placed in the circle. This is done to guarantee the proper 3-2 payout on a Blackjack. You are also not allowed to touch the bet once the cards have been dealt. Once a hand is over, the dealer will move around the table paying winners and collecting chips from losing hands. You can either remove your winnings from the circle and place your next bet, or let your winnings "ride". In order to let your winnings ride you will again need to form a single stack of chips to place in the circle.
DEALING THE CARDS
Once all bets are placed, the dealer will proceed to deal the cards to the players. Starting from his left, he will make two passes around the table until each player has the initial two cards. Whether or not the cards are dealt face up or face down will depend on which Blackjack game is being played. Cards are dealt face up in shoe games, and the players are not even allowed to touch the cards. In the hand held games cards are dealt face down, which requires that the players pick up their cards. However, when handling the cards they can only be touched with one hand and must be kept above the table. Any supplementary cards that are dealt in the hand are to be left on the table, not added to the cards in your hand.
THE DEALER'S HAND
There are specific rules that a dealer must adhere to when playing his own hand. If the dealer's face up card has a value of ten he will instantly look at his face down card, which is referred to as the hole card. If the hole card turns out to be an Ace, this constitutes a Blackjack and the end of the hand. If a player also has a Blackjack, the hand is considered a tie or a push. The dealer will usually indicate a push by tapping the top of the dealer's hand (palm up) on the table in front of that particular players' cards. At this point the dealer will collect the bets and cards from the losing hands and pay your winning Blackjack bet when it is your turn to play. If the dealer does not have an Ace in the hole than the game will continue and begin with the first player at the table.
When the dealer is dealt an Ace as his up card he will ask all players if they wish to purchase Insurance. This option is presented before the dealer looks at his hole card. Insurance bets are made by wagering up to half of your original bet, which is placed below your normal bet. If it follows that the dealer has a ten value card in the hole, and thus Blackjack, your winning Insurance bet will be paid at two to one. However, since the dealer has a Blackjack you end up losing your original bet. If the dealer does not have a Blackjack, Insurance bets are lost and the dealer removes them immediately. At this point, play will continue with the original bets made by the players. According to most avid Blackjack players, the Insurance bet is not generally recommended unless you are playing with extremely high odds.
Although most players tend to shy away from the Surrender option, in actuality it can be a powerful tool for players. Surrender gives you an option to forfeit your hand in exchange for half of your original bet. This decision must be made prior to any other action regarding your hand. After being dealt your initial two card hand, simply tell the dealer "surrender" if you feel that you don't have much chance of beating the dealer's hand. Not all casinos offer the player the option to surrender, so be sure to ask the dealer about its availability before choosing a table.
HITTING AND STANDING
The most common decision a player must make during a Blackjack game is whether to take an additional card (Hit), or stop at the current total (Stand). There are a number of ways to let the dealer know that you wish to Hit or Stand. The typical way to denote that you wish to Hit is to scrape the bottom edges of the two cards that you are holding towards you, and the dealer will deal you another card, face up, in front of you. Another option is to point your index finger at your cards. This will also indicate to the dealer that you would like another card. Some casinos will permit you to say "Hit Me", but this is usually discouraged since spoken words can not be recorded by the security cameras. If you do not want any more cards and wish to Stand, it is common practice to slide the two cards you are holding partially under your bet, face down. Other options include waving your hand, palm down, across your cards from left to right or right to left, or by saying "Stay" aloud. Again, the spoken command is generally not looked upon in a favorable light since security cameras are not able to pick up sound.
Doubling Down pertains to doubling the size of your bet, and can only be done with the original two card hand. In order to Double Down you must place your cards face up in front of you, and add an additional bet to the betting circle. This auxiliary bet should be placed adjacent to the original bet, and must be of equal value. When doubling down you are only dealt one extra card for that hand. This means that the player can not stand on his original hand or take more than one addtitional card. Players usually choose to Double Down if they believe that their hand has a much better chance of beating the dealer's hand.
Players can normally split any two cards of the same value into two separate hands. When Splitting Pairs each hand will be played independently; it is like you are becoming two different players. In order to play both hands, you must place equal bets on both hands. You must play out one hand completely before proceeding to the second hand. Some casinos allow unlimited splitting, which means you can keep splitting hands as many times as you like. However, the most common rule is probably the one that allows a player to split up to three times, making four separate hands with four separate bets. While these rules may vary from casino to casino, the rule concerning Aces is across the board. Since splitting an Ace is such a powerful move for the player, you are restricted to drawing only one additional card on each split Ace.
Black Jack's "best odds", also called the Basic Strategy Total of 5, 6, 7, 8 Always hit.
Total of 9 Double down if dealer shows Deuce thru Six, otherwise hit.
Total of 10 Double down if dealer shows Deuce thru nine, otherwise hit.
Total of 11 Always double down.
Total of 12 Stand if dealers shows Four thru Six, otherwise hit.
Total of 13 thru 16 Stand if dealer shows Deuce thru Six, otherwise hit.
Total of 17 thru 20 Always stand.
Soft total of 13 thru 16 Double down if dealer shows Four thru Six, otherwise hit. Soft total blackjack and hard total blackjack.
Ace and Six Double down if dealer shows Deuce thru Six, otherwise hit. Ace and six blackjack strategy.
Ace and Seven Double down if dealer shows Three thru Six. Stand if dealer shows Deuce, Seven or Eight. Hit if dealer shows Nine, Ten or Ace. Ace and seven blackjack.
Ace and Eight Double down if dealer shows Six, otherwise stand.
Ace and Nine Always stand.
Ace and Ace Always split Aces.
Deuce and Deuce Split if dealer shows Three thru Seven, otherwise hit.
Three and Three Split if dealer shows Four thru Seven, otherwise hit.
Four and Four Double down if dealer shows Five or Six, otherwise hit. (if double not allowed split if dealer shows Five or Six)
Five and Five Double down if dealer shows Deuce thru Nine, otherwise hit. Pair of gambling fives on blackjack.
Six and Six Split if dealer shows Deuce thru Six, otherwise hit.
Seven and Seven Split if dealer shows Deuce thru Seven, otherwise hit.
Eight and Eight Always split Eights.
Nine and Nine Stand if dealer shows Ace, Seven or Ten, otherwise split.
Ten and Ten Always stand on Tens.
To put it differently, here are the six basic strategy rules for splitting:
1. Always split aces and 8s.
2. Split 2s and 3s against a dealer up-card of 4 to 7.
3. Never split 4s, 5s, or tens.
4. Split 6s against a dealer up-card of 3 to 6.
5. Split 7s against a dealer up-card of 7 or less.
6. Always split 9s, except against a dealer up-card of 7, ten, or ace.
Here are the basic strategy rules for standing with a hard hand:
1. Stand on 13 against 2 or 3.
2. Stand on 12 against 4 to 6.
3. Stand on 17 against 7 to ace.
Action: This is a general gambling term which refers to the total amount of money bet in a specific period of time. Ten bets of 15 dollars each is $150 of action.
Burn Card: A single card taken from the top of the deck or the first card in a shoe which the dealer slides across the table from his/her left to the right, and is placed into the discard tray. The card may or may not be shown face up (which can affect the count if you are counting cards). A card is burned after each shuffle.
Basic Strategy: A playing system that provides the long-run, optimal way to play, based on the players cards and the dealers exposed cards.
Cut Card: A solid colored card, typically a piece of plastic which is given to a player by the dealer for the purpose of cutting the deck(s) after a shuffle.
Hole Card: Any face down card. The definition most often refers to the dealer's single face down card however.
Shoe: A device that can hold up to eight decks of cards which allows the dealer to slide out the cards one at a time.
Hard Hand: A hand in which any Ace is counted as a 1 and not as an 11, or a hand without an Ace. Example: If your hand consists of an Ace, 7, and a 9, you have a hard 17.
Soft Hand: A hand in which any Ace is counted as an 11 and not as a 1. Example: If your hand consists of an Ace and a 6, you have a soft 17.
Pat Hand: A hand with a total of 17 to 21.
Stand: To decline another card.
Hit: To request another card.
Bust: When a hand's value exceeds 21....a losing hand.
Push: A tie between the player and the dealer.
Surrender: A casino rule which allows a player to discontinue play after receiving the 1st two cards by losing half of the amount wagered.
Pair: When a player's first two cards are numerically identical (ie, 8,8).
Anchor or 3rd Base: The last player to the dealers right at the blackjack table.
1st Base: The first player on the dealers left at the start of each hand.
Counter: Someone who counts cards.
Point Count: The net value of the card count at the end of a hand. (A card counting term.)
Running Count: The count from the beginning of the deck or shoe. The running count is updated by the value of the point count after each hand. (A card counting term.)
True Count: The running count adjusted to account for the number of cards left in the deck or shoe to be played. (A card counting term.)
Rich Deck: A partial deck that has a disproportionately high percentage of face cards and aces.
Bankroll: The available money a player plans to bet with.
Unit: The dollar amount of a basic bet; one chip.
Flat Bet: A bet which you do not vary ie, if you are flat betting five dollars, you are betting $5 each and every hand without changing the betting amount from one hand to the next.
Black Chip: A $100 chip.
Green Chip: A $25.00 chip.
Red Chip: A $5.00 chip.
Foreign Chip: A chip that is issued by one casino and is honored by another as cash. A casino is not necessarily obligated to accept them although many in Las Vegas do.
Settlement: The resolving of the bet. Either the dealer takes your chips, pays you, or in the case of a push, no exchange of chips occurs.
Toke: To "toke" the dealer is just another word for tipping the dealer.
Marker: An IOU. A line of credit provided by the casino to a player.
Junket: An organized group of gamblers that travel to a casino together. Junkets are usually subsidized by a casino to attract players.
Comp: Short for complimentary. Based on the amount of money you play at a table, the casino (hotel) may give you things like a free room or free food, etc.
Shuffle Up: Prematurely shuffling the cards to harass a player who is usually suspected of being a counter.
Pit: The area inside a group of gaming tables. The tables are arranged in an elliptical manner, the space inside the perimeter is the pit.
Pit Boss: An employee of the casino whose job is to supervise BlackJack players, dealers, and other floor personnel.
House: The Casino.
Cage: Short for cashier's cage. This is where chips are redeemed for cash, checks cashed, credit arranged, etc.
House Percentage: The casino's advantage in a particular game of chance.
Drop Percentage: That portion of the player's money that the casino will win because of the house percentage. It is a measure of the amount of a player's initial stake that he or she will eventually lose. On average this number is around 20 percent.
Head-On: To play alone at a BlackJack table with the dealer.
High Roller: A big money bettor.
Grinder: A small money bettor.
Mechanic: Someone who is elite in regards to manipulating cards, typically for illicit purposes.
Shill: A house employee who bets money and pretends to be a player to attract customers. Shills typically follow the same rules as the dealer which makes them somewhat easy to spot (ie, they don't Double Down or Split).
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