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Worldwide, Blackjack is the most extensively played casino banking game.
It is known by other names, such as Pontoon, Twenty-One and Vingt-et-un, the latter two names deriving from the key aim of the game, which is to get as close to a total of 21 without exceeding it.
In simple terms, the game involves a player being dealt two cards, and then, if they choose, receiving an additional card in the hope of reaching 21.
If the value is still less than 21, more cards can be taken, until the player either reaches 21 or a total with which they feel they can win the game.
The game is won by beating the dealer, rather than other players in the game, with the winner being the person who has a total closest to 21 without exceeding said total.
Although the rules can differ in casinos around the world, with the main differences being to do with odds, and how the dealer plays, which is usually to a set of house rules, the basic premise is the same.
It has become the most popular casino game partly due to its simplicity, but also because it has become ubiquitous in popular culture, with many films and books dedicated to the game and the art of card-counting which accompanies it.
Many people believe that they can beat the house at Blackjack because card-counting is not illegal. However it is frowned upon, and you could get thrown out of a casino for doing it. Some casinos, such as Perth’s Burswood Casino, have introduced special equipment to eradicate the possibility (see Card Counting, below).
Miguel Cervantes’ Novelas Ejemplares
, published in 1613, contains the first written reference to Blackjack, or more specifically, veintiuna, which is Spanish for 21.
Cervantes, whose magnum opus was the founding book of modern writing, Don Quixote
, was a gambler himself, and wrote about a pair of grifters, Rinconete and Cortadillo, who were plying their underhand trade in Seville.
One of the games at which they cheated was veintiuna, and Cervantes describes it as a game in which the aim is to reach 21 without going bust. It also had the modern rule of an Ace equalling either one or 11, although it was played without 10s, which make it more similar to the Spanish 21 game played today.
More recorded instances of Blackjack appeared in 17th century France, called Vingt-et-un, and there were minor differences, namely that only the dealer was allowed to double, which seems a strange concept now, and that betting was done after each round (see Rules below for more information on how betting is done today).
The game was still known as 21, in whatever language, when gambling was first made legal in Nevada in 1931, but people began to call it Blackjack because of a special bet that was then offered: namely, that if your hand was made up of the Ace of Spades and either of the black jacks in the pack, the casino would pay out odds of 10-1. Sadly, casinos have long since stopped offering these extra payouts, but the name Blackjack stuck.
The aim of the game has always been the same, to reach a total of 21 or as close as possible by using two or more cards, but going bust, i.e. exceeding 21, is thought to have its origins in an Italian game from the 1600s called Seven and a Half. This involved players trying to get as close to seven-and-a-half points as possible, with bust the expression of choice when they exceeded that total.
After the French Revolution, Blackjack migrated to America, and flourished due to the lack of laws against gambling. It continued to thrive until the early 1800s, when the government banned gambling, sending the game underground, and, as with alcohol in the 1930s, became even more popular.
The dealer, an employee of the casino, uses a shoe of between one and eight decks of cards, a shoe being the collective term for more than one deck. Cards from 2 to 10 are counted at face value, an Ace can be 1 or 11, and picture cards (Jack, Queen and King) all equal 10 points.
Each player, of which there can usually be between one and seven at a table, begins by selecting how much they want to bet within the house limits (most games will have a maximum and minimum bet), and is then dealt two cards, face up. The dealer also takes two cards, but only one is face up (known as the Hole). The aim of the game is to score higher than the dealer, without exceeding a score of 21.
NB: Casino Canberra uses the European ‘no Hole card’ rule, making up for it by being the only casino allowing the player to split regular pairs (not aces) to four hands.
When play reaches you, you can either 'Hit' or 'Stand'. A Hit means you receive a third card, and then a fourth and so on if you continue to hit. If your total goes over 21, you are bust and out of the game. You cannot be bust from your starting two cards, but each time you hit, you could.
When all players are either bust or have stuck with their cards, the dealer plays his hand according to the house rules, which predetermine when he should hit and when he should stand. Usually, the dealer will hit until he reaches 17 or higher. If the dealer’s total is lower than yours, you win, if not, you lose.
Most casinos have an additional rule that if your first two cards total 21 with a 10 and an Ace, you win one-and-a-half times your initial bet amount for having Blackjack – this being a much watered down version of the black jack rule which gave the game its name.
Aside from Hit or Stand, you can also in certain circumstances Double Down or Split, but only on your first move.
You would usually Double Down only if you think your initial two cards have a good chance of winning the hand (for instance if they total 10 or 11, meaning if you get a picture card, you would have 20 or 21, both very good hands). To Double Down, you place an equal bet on top of your initial bet, with the chance to win or lose twice as much.
You can Split if your first two cards are the same. You have to bet again on your split, and you then get another card on each, and play them as two hands. You can also double on either hand from a split.
It is worth remembering that the House wins if both dealer and player bust, but that if both dealer and player have the same cards or hand, bets are returned.
Some casinos will offer a fifth option, the chance to Surrender. It will usually be clear whether this option is available or not, and it involves you giving up half your stake before the dealer has revealed their hand. It is generally only used if you think you have no chance of winning and want to reclaim some of your stake.
As stated above, rules can vary from casino to casino, and it is usually worth checking out the house rules of your destination casino in advance. Some examples include Crown Casino in Melbourne, which offers a side bet called Perfect Pairs.
A side bet is an extra bet which you place before receiving your cards. In the case of Perfect Pairs, this pays out if your initial two cards are paired, with bonus payouts if they are also of the same colour or suit (it is possible to get two identical cards when you are playing with more than one deck). Sky City Casino in Darwin offers a similar side bet that pays out big on a pair of sevens.
The other main rule which varies between casinos is the house advantage, which is affected by the way which the dealer plays their hand and the number of decks. The house advantage is how the casino makes sure that it does not go bust over time, but a good player can cut this advantage down, although you can never turn it in your own favour without card counting.
One major thing that Casino Blackjack has over Video Blackjack is the Blackjack payout, and this is something you should definitely find out before playing. Some places only pay out at 6-5 or even 1-1, rather than 3-2, which is the usual payout. Unsurprisingly, this increases the house advantage significantly.
Basic Blackjack strategy is well researched, easy to understand and above all, it works. It is usually in the form of a table, which shows your possible starting hands along one side, and the dealer’s possible Hole card along the other. You simply cross reference the two to find out what is the recommended way for you to proceed.
Other tips include giving yourself a bankroll for the game and sticking to it. Don’t be tempted to overspend because you feel you are on a streak, simply collect your winnings and move on – you can always come back later once you have cooled down. A good rule of thumb is to have a bankroll of 40 times your ante bet.
Also, remember that there is no limit of time to any session in Blackjack, meaning you can plan your tactics a few games ahead. Vary the amount you bet rather than setting a fixed bet amount for every game to reduce the house advantage. Bet bigger when winning and smaller when losing.
Don’t try and buck a losing trend by placing a large bet, streaks come in losing and winning forms, so it could pay to stay patient.
In terms of actual card play, always split pairs of Aces and eights but not 10s, Jacks, Queens or Kings; hit a hard hand until you reach 17, and hit a soft 18 against a dealer\\\\\\\'s 10. On 17 or over, always stand.
Side bets and insurance are generally a bad idea, but keep an eye on all the options and work out which ones can work in your favour.
The first thing to remember is that card counting is not illegal. The second is to remember that casinos frown upon it.
Provided that you don’t use anything other than your memory to count cards, you can gain a slight advantage over the house in the long run by remembering what cards have been played and thus what cards remain in the pack. In simple terms, this means that if you think, or know, that there are a lot of high cards remaining in the deck, you would be more likely to double down on 10 or 11 for a chance of getting Blackjack.
One form of card counting is known as Back Counting, or Wonging In, where a player observes a number of hands at a table at which they are not playing in an effort to decide whether or not to join and play at that table. This too is legal, and in Australia, most casinos allow Wonging In for up to three hands per box.
21 Duel Blackjack:
This game is closely related to its cousin, but the tactics, at least at the start of the game, are much different, so it is worth approaching the game with an open mind.
After choosing the amount of your ante, you are then dealt two cards, one face up. The dealer takes two cards for themselves, both face down, and a further two cards are dealt face up in the centre of the table – these cards are the community cards and are used by you and the dealer.
You will choose one of the community cards to join your own and form your starting hand, or fold. If you play, you double your ante, and then you have to either stand or hit. If you hit, your third card is the remaining face-down card you were initially dealt.
Presuming you do not go bust (exceeding 21), the dealer then exposes one of their cards and selects a community card to play with. If the dealer cannot make a total of 13, then you win automatically. If the dealer does qualify, he then decides whether or not to use his remaining card based on the house rules. If he does not go bust, the scores are compared, and if your total is higher, you win. If your total is lower you lose all bets and if they are the same, you take back your money.
This game is played in the same way as standard Blackjack, except that you are dealt two hands, and you can swap the top two cards between them. For example, if you are dealt a 9-4 and a 5-9, then you can swap the top two cards of each hand to make hands of 9-9 and 5-4.
Whether or not you choose to switch, normal rules apply to each hand, you make an initial bet on each, and after choosing whether or not to switch or not, you play each as normal. You still have the option to split either of your hands if the value of the cards is the same, and to double if you feel you have a good hand.
Do not be fooled by the British name for Blackjack, Pontoon in Australia is a different game entirely.
Its closest cousin is Spanish 21, but Pontoon has proven to be far more popular in Australia than Spanish 21 has been in the United States.
In Brisbane’s Treasury Casino it is known as Treasury 21, in Jupiters Casino on the Gold Coast it is known as Jupiters 21, in Cairns’ The Reef Casino it is known as Paradise Pontoon, and in Tasmania, it is known as Federal Pontoon.
Pontoon is played without a hole card, so players do not know whether or not the dealer has a natural until the dealer draws his second card. That means that it is possible to draw to 21 and win against a dealer natural, which is player advantageous. However, it is also possible to double and/or split and lose multiple bets to a dealer natural.
Other differences include the fact that an Ace in a pre-double hand is always counted as 1, the fact that you are not allowed to draw on split Aces, and that there are limitations on how many hands you are allowed to split to.
Casinos in Queensland and New South Wales do not permit resplitting, while in most venues, you cannot resplit Aces, apart from Burswood Casino, Perth as mentioned above.
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