Blackjack Guide for Beginners: History, Tips, and Strategy

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Introduction

Gambling has been around from times immemorial and there have been different games that people have played for money over the ages. While initially gambling was considered a preserve of the rich and the nobility, today it is accessible to anyone who has the money and the interest to play a few rounds or hands depending on the game. The online casino has made gambling accessible to the common man. One of the most popular games, of all the games available, is blackjack, also known as 21.

You play blackjack against the dealer, not against other players. The game involves skill, which is the main differentiator between it and other popular casino games like slots, which are driven by luck. The biggest draw that the game has is the low house edge. There are a number of variants of blackjack each with its own nuances, but the overall play is the same.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. A Brief History of Blackjack
  3. Blackjack Basics and How to Play
  4. Essential Blackjack Tips for Beginners
  5. Basic Strategy
  6. Best Blackjack Variants for Beginners

A Brief History of Blackjack

One game that was an ancestor of blackjack was 21. In fact, you can find references to that game in a short story by Miguel de Cervantes – the author of Don Quixote – in around 1601-02. In his story there is reference to the game of veintiuna, which is Spanish for ‘twenty one’.

There are more references to this game in France and Spain in later times as well. The origin of blackjack itself is believed to be in France; from the French game of Vingt-et-Un, French for twenty one, again. There are other stories and theories about the evolution of blackjack. Some say the actual origin was from the Romans; apparently they used wooden blocks with different numbers engraved on them to play this game.

Twenty one is believed to have traveled to the USA from France. With Nevada legalizing gambling in 1931, a new bonus bet was introduced – a 10 to 1 payout if the player had a hand of an ace of spades and a black jack. That hand was called blackjack and over time the name remained though that particular bonus didn’t.

Blackjack Basics and How to Play

Blackjack is a game played with a standard deck of 52 cards, and up to 8 decks may be used at a time. The number of decks used directly impacts the house edge for the different versions of blackjack. The objective of the game is to put together a hand of 21 or the closest value to it to win. A hand value of more than 21 causes you to bust and you lose. So basically you win if:

  • You land a hand of 21.
  • You land a hand closest to 21, and the dealer’s hand value is lower than yours.
  • The dealer busts, i.e. his hand value is higher than 21.

The following are the card values in blackjack:

  • Ace: 1 or 11, depending on the hand.
  • 10-card: 10.
  • Face cards (Jack, Queen, and King): 10.
  • 2 through 9: Cards are valued at face.

Once you have signed in and chosen the blackjack game you want to play, you place your wagers by clicking the coin size on the screen. The dealer then deals a hand of two cards to you and himself. Your cards are dealt face up, while the dealer’s face card is dealt face down. This is called the hole card; it means you see only the first card that the dealer has. Based on the hand you have and what you see as the dealer’s open card you can do any of the following:

  • Hit: You ask for one more card
  • Stand: You just stand with what you have, you don’t ask for any more cards.
  • Double down: You double your initial bet and are given one more card, after which you must stand.
  • Split: You do this if you have an opening hand where the 2 cards have the same value, e.g. 4-4. You then have the option of splitting the hand into 2 separate hands. Each hand has its own bet and you play them separately. This gives you a chance to win more in a single hand. Most casinos have rules regarding splitting cards, especially 10-value cards. Some casinos allow splitting cards of identical numbering and value, so while you can split a 10-10 or a Q-Q you may not be able to split a K-Q.
  • Surrender: You surrender your hand to get half your wagering amount back. This option is not available for all blackjack variants. And where it is available it is applicable only when the dealer’s open card raises the possibility of a dealer blackjack materializing.

Once you have played your hand, it is the dealer’s turn to play. He flips his hole card. A hand of 16 or lower means he will hit. If his open card is an Ace and then he lands a 6 – a soft 16 – he may hit or stand, depending on the rules applicable in the game you are playing. In many game variants, dealer blackjack means an automatic win for the dealer.

There is another option that players get when there is the possibility of a dealer blackjack: the insurance bet. This option is not available for all games and in the games that it is available in, it pops up only when the dealer’s face card is an Ace. It pays 2:1 and insures the player from losing his entire wager to the dealer’s blackjack hand.

Essential Blackjack Tips for Beginners

The following are a few top-rated tips for beginners:

  • Get a basic strategy card. The basic strategy card is very helpful if you are a newcomer. Use it to get your strategy and play right, until you are comfortable doing it all without the card.
  • Play games that pay out 3 to 2 for blackjack. It is better to stay away from games that pay out 6 to 5, and there are quite a few of these around today.
  • Check out the house edge for a blackjack game before you get down to playing it. The following are the optimal house edges for different blackjack games based on specific parameters like the number of decks, dealer standing on soft 17, doubling after a split allowed, doubling allowed only on any first 2 cards, re-splitting allowed to a maximum of 4 hands, re-splitting not permitted for aces, hitting split aces allowed, surrender rule not available, and blackjack paying 3:2.
    • 1 deck: -0.18%
    • 2 decks: 0.18%
    • 4 decks: 0.35%
    • 5 decks: .38%
    • 6 decks: 0.40%
    • 8 decks: 0.43%
  • Look out for games where the dealer stands on a soft 17 hand. This is because it marginally increases the odds of your winning.
  • Use the double down option wisely. Here are a few situations where doubling down may work well:
    • You have a soft 13 or 14 and the dealer’s face card is a 5 or a 6.
    • You have a soft 15 or 16 and the dealer’s face card is 4 to 6.
    • You have a soft 17 or 18 and the dealer’s face card is between 3 and 6.
    • You have a hard 11 and the dealer’s face card is anything but an Ace.
    • You have a hard 10 and the dealer’s face card is not a 10-value card or an Ace.
  • Be careful about when you split a hand. Splitting may be a great option as it gives you a double shot at winning if both the split hands have a higher value than the dealer’s. However, you have to be careful about when you split a hand. Splitting a pair of Aces or a pair of 8s is an accepted blackjack rule. Another accepted blackjack rule: never split a pair of 10-value cards, because that hand already gives you a hand of 21 and a high likelihood of winning.

Basic Blackjack Strategy

Basic blackjack strategy differs from one game to another. There are some exceptional online repositories online where you can read up on detailed blackjack strategy for different variants. In this section we list for you basic blackjack strategy for games subject to the following conditions:

  • The games use between 4 and 8 decks.
  • Dealer stands on soft 17.
  • Surrender option is available.

Hitting or Standing. There are different situations that apply to these two strategies. Hitting is definitely recommended if your hand is:

  • A maximum of a hard 11
  • A soft 17 or lower.

Standing is definitely recommended if your hand is:

  • A hard 17 or higher.
  • A soft 19 or higher.

Here are a few more options:

  • If your hand is a hard 12 and the dealer’s open card is between 4 and 6 standing is the best option. Otherwise you can hit.
  • If your hand is a hard 13 to a hard 16 and the dealer’s open card is between 2 and 6, standing is the option. Otherwise you must hit.
  • If your hand is a soft 18 you must stand. The only exception is if the corresponding dealer’s face card is a 9, 10, or Ace.

Doubling. Doubling is a good option if your hand is:

  • A hard 9 and the dealer’s face card is between 3 and 6.
  • A hard 10; the only exception is if the dealer’s face card is a 10-value card or an Ace.
  • A hard 11; the only exception is if the dealer’s face card is an Ace.
  • A soft 13 or 14 and the dealer’s face card is 5 or 6.
  • A soft 15 or 16 and the dealer’s face card is between 4 and 6.
  • A soft 17 or 18 and the dealer’s face card is between 3 and 6.

Splitting a hand. The following strategy works when it comes to splitting:

  • Split a hand of two aces or two 8s.
  • Do not split a hand of two 5s or 10-value cards.
  • Split a pair of 2s or 3s only if the dealer’s open card is between 4 and 7 and doubling after splitting is allowed.
  • Split a pair of 4s only if the dealer’s open card is 5 or 6 and doubling after splitting is allowed.
  • Split a pair of 6s only if the dealer’s open card is between 2 and 6 and doubling after splitting is allowed.
  • Split a pair of 7s if the dealer’s open card is between 2 and 7.
  • Split a pair of 9s if the dealer’s open card is between 2 and 6, or is an 8 or a 9.

Best Blackjack Variations for Beginners

There are a large number of blackjack variants. A listing goes close to 75 known variants of online and land-based blackjack variants. Of course not all of them work best for you if you are a beginner. We list three variants that work well for beginners.

No Bust 21

This is a game that wouldn’t normally make sense in the blackjack world because going over 21 is bust. However, California laws allow for a slight tweak, and the result is this cool variant that ensures as a beginner you do not automatically go bust on going over 21; the one that went bust worse than the other loses. This means even if you land 22 you are not automatically out; you are up and about until the dealer’s hand is done. If the dealer’s bust is worse than mine the game goes into push mode and you retain the wager until the next hand.

Classic Blackjack

This blackjack variant from Microgaming is one of the best for beginners given that it offers the lowest of all house edges. The game is played with a single deck and the rules are favorable to the player as well slightly: the dealer stands on a soft 17 and doubling down is allowed on any total of 9, 10, or 11. Together, all of these tweaks contribute to an incredible house edge of 0.13%.

Blackjack Switch

This is another blackjack variant that works really well for beginners. The game was invented by Geoffrey Hall, a well-known innovator of casino games in 2001. It allows you to be dealt 2 starting hands at a time on placing 2 ante bets. So far, it is like multi-hand blackjack, right?

Wrong! You are allowed to swap the second card from each hand to create 2 new hands, which is a great option as it raises the possibility of putting together 2 very strong hands instead of a weak hand and a strong hand. On the flip side, blackjack will pay even money compared to the 3 to 2 in other games. Also, the dealer busting on a 22 means a push and not an automatic loss for him.

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