According to popular belief the most beloved card game in a casino is poker – but this is really not the case as the biggest card game at casinos is blackjack. Blackjack is a very old game with a long history. Some historians allege that the game was already an immensely popular game in the mighty Spanish Empire of the 16th century, where it was known under the name ‘veinti uno’, which simply means twenty-one in Spanish: the number which blackjack is all about. Lovers of literature might rgue that the game of veinti uno is also mentioned in the famous book of Don Quixote, a classic in world literature from the year 1605.
What we do know for sure about the game is that the rules in the days of yore were very different than the current game of blackjack. Blackjack as we know it now from casinos is based on a French game which was brought to the USA through the former French colony of Louisiana. There, in the infamous gambling dens of New Orleans, the game slowly developed into the popular card game of today.
The rules of blackjack
Blackjack is one of the easiest casino games when it comes to the basic rules, but of course some bits of intuition and luck are involved as well. You are sitting at a blackjack table with perhaps some other gamblers, and all of you are playing against the casino. Goal of the game for both you as well as the cards the house will be given is to reach the score of 21, or at least get as close as possible to this magic number. If you cross the threshold of 21, you are bust and will lose your bet.
The game starts with the dealer giving everyone at the table – including himself on behalf of the house – two cards. All cards have their natural value: a six is a six, the seven is worth seven points. All face cards and the 10 are worth 10 points. The sole exception is the ace: this card can either be 1 or 11 points depending on your total score. If your first two cards are for example a king and an ace, you have a total of 21 points. Blackjack! You have just beaten the house and will win your bet.
Of course, it does not always goes this easy. Many times you will see that you have not yet reached the score of 21, for example because you just got an ace and a 7. You do now have the choice: do you hold, or ask the dealer for one more card? Here some intuition and tactics do come into play. Let’s assume the new card is a 3. In that case you will have reached 21 and will win (the ace counts as 11, plus 7 and 3 makes 21 points in total). But if your new card is an 8, your score will only be 16 points. You might think that in this case you just went bust, but of course at this moment you will let the ace count for a single point instead of 11 points (1 plus 7 plus 8 point makes 16 points). You can technically ask an infinite number of new cards – until you of course reach the moment where you bust yourself when going above 21 points.
When your score is 16 the chance is quite big that you will bust yourself when asking a new card: every ten or face card (with the exception of the ace), but also a 6, 7, 8 or 9 will mean you will have a score of 22 or higher and will bust yourself. If you are good in calculating and evaluating your chances of winning you are often in a much better position to decide whether to ask for a new card or not, although there are gamblers who play blackjack solely on their intuition.
The turn of the dealer
If all players at the blackjack table have won automatically (when reaching 21), have passed on receiving a new card, or have gone bust – it is the turn of the dealer. In most casinos the dealers have received instructions to ask for a new card until the moment they reach a score of 17 or higher. In the end the scores are being compared, and you will only win if your score is higher.
One of the reasons why blackjack is such a popular casino game – apart from the excitement of course – are the odds of winning. When playing an optimal game (thus taking into account calculations and chances of winning, and not playing on intuition) then the house advantage of the casino is just under 1 percent – a very low number when it comes to casino games.