Blackjack is one of the most popular casino card games not least because, in a game played with a single, 52-card deck, the house edge is just 1.5% and can be reduced still further by employing effective playing strategy. Of course, blackjack is often dealt from a dealing shoe, which can contain four, six or even eight 52-card decks but, even so, the house edge typically remains lower than many other casino games.
The object of blackjack is to beat the dealer, either by outscoring the dealer or by not ‘busting’ - that is, scoring over twenty-one - when the dealer does. Before any cards are dealt, players place bets for one or more hands on the blackjack table. Each hand receives two cards, dealt face up or face down. The dealer also receives two cards; one, known as the ‘upcard’, dealt face up and the other, known as the ‘hole card’, dealt face down.
Play starts with the player immediately to the left of the dealer, who can stand, hit, double or possibly split, depending on the value of his cards. Aces count as one or eleven, court cards count as ten and everything else counts as face value; an ace plus a court card or a ten constitutes ‘blackjack’ and is the highest possible hand.
A player who opts to hit, or draw another card, may do so more than once, provided the total value of his hand does not exceed twenty-one. If it does, he ‘busts’ and loses his bet, even if the dealer also busts. Alternatively, in a favourable situation, such as being dealt two cards with a total value of eleven - the probability of the next card being a ten or face card is 31% - a player may opt to double his original bet in exchange for a single additional card.
If a player has a pair, he may, at his discretion, split his cards into two separate, independent hands. He must, of course, double his original bet, but each hand is dealt a second card and - with the exception of split aces, which only receive one additional card - subsequently played in the usual way, subject to house rules regarding doubling after splitting.
When play reaches the dealer, he reveals his hole card. If his cards total sixteen or less or, in some cases, a ‘soft’ seventeen - that is, an ace plus one or more cards totalling six points - the dealer must hit, otherwise he must stand, according to house rules. If the dealer busts, all players who have not busted win, otherwise players must outscore the dealer to win. If a player and the dealer both have blackjack, the result is a tie, or ‘push’, and the player has his original bet returned.
Gareth The Gambler