Guide to Online Blackjack
Blackjack among those gaming options where a player’s decisions can have a great effect on the game's outcome. The level of forethought and strategy necessary for success is unlike other casino games. Indeed, a good blackjack player has the ability to flip the game odds to their benefit. Blackjack is a very attractive, dynamic, and interesting game and by far among the most popular of casino table games.
Blackjack, also known as 21 in many countries, is an easy game to learn and play. It has a simple set of game rules that all players, and dealer alike, must follow. The object of blackjack is for players to get a hand with a value as close to 21 as possible, but never exceeding that number, and beating the dealer’s hand value.
Unlike poker, players sitting together at the blackjack table do not play against each other. Instead they all play against the dealer. In a bricks and mortar casino, this could even mean that they follow the same card calling strategy to ensure that the dealer goes bust.
In blackjack, the numerical cards have face value meaning 2-10 equal the number on display. The face cards - Jack, Queen, and King - always equal 10. Aces are the one card with more than one value depending on how you play it. The Ace can equal either 11 or 1 depending on your preference for that hand. The respective suits of the cards have no effect in the outcome of this game.
At online blackjack sites, players have the following initial options: bet or deal. To bet, players have to place their wagers before any card is dealt to them. To place bets online, players must click on the chip value that they wish to wager. Dealing means you get to get the game started with each player getting two cards face up. The dealer gets two cards, but only one card facing up.
Once all cards have been dealt, players can choose to hit, stand or split. 'Taking a hit' means players request another card to be dealt. 'Hitting' is possible as many times as players wants, as long as their hand is not over 21. A player 'standing' means he is happy to have a showdown with the dealer with the cards they received. When a player’s cards reach a value of 21, the game will automatically stand.
If player has 2 cards of the same value, they can be split into two separate hands (with one stake each). This can not only provide more oppurtunity to win but also a safe net if the players receive initially high cards. Once all players at the table have completed their round, the dealer must hit until a total of 17 or more is reached for the house. The rule in all casinos is that the dealer stands at 17. Additionally, there are a few alternative actions to take in preferred.
To double down is like 'taking a hit', but the initial bet is doubled and the player will receive only one card, effectively forfeiting the option to call more cards. This option usually is recommended when the initial two cards received have a total face value of 10 or 11, and the chance of landing a 21 are higher. An insurance bet is offered when the dealer has an Ace. With the insurance bet, players have to stake half of their original bet. Buying insurance is effectively betting that the dealer will have blackjack.
Casino Blackjack Etiquette
Playing blackjack in a land casino is an exciting and social way to build on your online gambling experience. With everyone trying to beat the dealer, blackjack is an ideal group game, and a busy table is a great place to make new friends. Whether your table is vocal or quiet, it’s easiest – and often necessary - to interact with the dealer through subtle hand signals. If there were to be a contradiction between a player's verbal instruction and hand signal, the hand signal would take priority.
In many casinos, the dealer will have been trained to disregard conversations at the table, making it difficult to get your instructions across. Before explaining the proper hand signals to use, let's take a look at your betting options during a standard game of blackjack.
- Hit - provides you with another card
- Stand - (also "stick") ends your turn - you won't receive another card
- Double - (also "double-down") doubles your bet in exchange for one more card. The additional card ends your hand
- Split - splitting divides a hand of two cards of the same value, turning them into two separate hands (for an additional bet)
The hand gestures used for these actions will largely depend on the style of blackjack you are playing. The two most popular types of live dealer blackjack are 'face down' or 'face up'.
Hand Signals for Face Down Blackjack
When the cards are dealt face down in a casino, you're allowed to pick up and hold your hand. You can pick up your cards as soon as they are dealt, but only your two original cards. You must hold your cards in one hand, keeping them in clear sight of the dealer and other players. You can then use these hand gestures to give your instructions to the dealer:
- Hit - use your cards to tap or scrape the table
- Stand - place your cards underneath your bet, using one hand to slide your cards underneath the chips
- Double - lay your cards face up on the table and place an additional bet next to your original one. The dealer will deal your third and final card face down
- Split - lay your cards face up on the table and place an additional bet next to one of the cards, outside of the betting box. This will give you a new hand to play
Hand Signals for Face Up Blackjack
In 'face up' blackjack, the cards are placed on their backs for everyone to see. Do not touch any of the cards, and use the following gestures to interact with the dealer:
- Hit - point at your cards, or tap the table
- Stand - wave your hand over your cards, keeping your palm parallel to the table
- Double or Split - place an additional bet next to your wager. Hold up one finger to double, or two fingers to split
The dealer will do the rest.
American and European Blackjack Differences
Blackjack is attractive to players as a simple game that allows you to have a high level control over the outcome. It can be a risky game with a house edge as high as 10%, but at a carefully chosen table and with the right strategic choices, this edge can be as low as 0.62%. If you’re really lucky with the house rules, it could even be 0%.
The key to developing a good blackjack strategy is understanding how the different rules affect your decision-making process. Here you can find European and American rule variations, as well as some different house rules, the way in which they affect the house edge, and how to improve your advantage.
Decks In Play
The more decks used in the shoe (where the cards are dealt from), the greater the house edge. This is because more decks makes card counting harder. The player also wins fewer blackjacks (an opening deal of an ace with any ten-point card) and has less powerful double downs, which is the opportunity to double your original bet if you think your hand will beat the dealer’s.
In general, European Blackjack uses two decks, and American blackjack between four and eight. However, to compensate for the change in odds caused by lower deck numbers, casinos frequently lower the blackjack payout or apply unfavourable rules to increase the house edge. As a result, European blackjack has a few rules that don't act to the player's advantage.
At most American blackjack tables, the payout for hitting blackjack is 3/2, meaning a £10 bet would return £25 (including the original stake). If you’re very lucky, you might find a game that pays out 2/1 on blackjack. At some tables, the payout is reduced to 6/5, meaning a £10 bet would return £22 (including the original stake). The difference may not sound like much, but settling for a table with 6/5 payouts can increase the house edge by 1.39%.
While it is a common feature at American blackjack tables, the strategic advantage of a surrender is often overlooked, particularly by players who believe that fortune favours the brave, and enjoy chasing lost causes. The surrender option allows you to admit defeat after your initial two cards are dealt.
When you surrender, you forfeit just 50% of your original stake instead of the full amount, which is particularly useful when the dealer’s up card is an Ace, face card or 10 and you have a hand of 15, 16 or 17. In fact, if you play this right you can lower the house edge by up to 0.1%.
The rules on whether a player can double down vary across both European and American blackjack. In general, European blackjack restricts the player’s ability to double down to hands with a total of 9, 10 or 11, while American blackjack allows a double down on any total. Restricting the double down will add around 0.09% to the house edge, as it prevents a potentially profitable doubling on a start card of values up to nine when facing a weak dealer hand.
The Hole Card
In European blackjack, the dealer is dealt one card face up, and only receives the second card after the player hand is complete. In American blackjack, the dealer receives the second card – the "hole" card – face down immediately, and can peek if blackjack is a possibility.
This might seem like a minor difference, but the absence of the hole card increases the house edge by 0.11%, as the player may double or split before realising they’re up against blackjack. The results of this can be supervised by playing conservatively against potential blackjack hands.
Splitting means dividing the pair of cards you were originally dealt into two separate hands, and adding a second stake that's equal to the first to back the second hand. It’s a way to take advantage of a weaker dealer card. Some blackjack versions don’t allow you to double after a split, which increases the house edge by 0.14%, or don’t allow ace re-splits, which increases the house edge by 0.18%. If these restrictions are in place, there isn’t much you can do in response.
One thing that’s always worth remembering when approaching the blackjack table is that European blackjack will always force the dealer to hit on a soft 17, which is a hand containing an ace with a value totaling seven or 17. This is bad news for players, as the dealer is more likely to win an improved hand when they hit rather than stand, increasing the house edge by an average of 0.2%.
Although you can’t respond to this strategy, you can learn from it. Standing on a hard 17 (a hand totaling 17 without an ace) is a good strategy, but remember to always hit on a soft 17. A blackjack game can vary hugely across continent and casino, so when sitting down to play, remember to adapt your strategy to match the house rules and lower its advantage.
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