The game of blackjack–also called “21” and others in different countries–is the most popular table game played in casinos today. It is a game that is very easy to learn, but often very difficult to master. Regardless of what you choose to call it, playing is fun. Making matters even better is the fact that it has been proven that players who understand the optimal playing strategy can consistently have an advantage over the house. If you want to get started playing a better game, keep reading.

About The Game

The game of blackjack is played with between one to six players and a dealer. Regardless of the number of players, they sit around a semi-circular table with the dealer on the other side. Players play against the dealer only. Games are played with between one and eight decks of cards which are shuffled together.

Games that are played with one or two decks are dealt from the dealer’s hands. These are called pitch games. Games that used three to eight decks are dealt from a plastic dispenser called a shoe, or an automatic shuffling machine.

The Object of the Game

After the cards are shuffled they are dealt one by one to each player. Depending on the rules of the house, both player cards are dealt either face up or face down. In games where they are faced up, players cannot touch the cards. The dealer will deal himself one card up and the other card faced down. The card dealt face down is called the hole card.

Each card is valued the number that is represented. Face cards, also called “paints,” are worth 10. Aces are worth either 1 or 11. Suits have no meaning in the game of blackjack.

The object to the game of blackjack is for the players to draw as many cards as they wish to bring the total of the cards as close to 21 without going over. In actual play, however, the object is to beat the dealer.

After the deal is completed, if the dealer has a 10-valued card or an Ace he will offer insurance, which is an amount that is equal to the amount of the original bet. Then the dealer will check his hole card. If the dealer has “21,” those who paid for insurance will keep their bets. Those who didn’t pay insurance will feel no effect.

After all of the players have two cards and the dealer has their cards, the players must determine their next course of action, or whether to take more cards–to “hit”–or to refuse more cards–or to “stand.”

Other elements of blackjack strategy include whether to “double-down,” or double the bet under certain circumstances, which would allow the player to double their winnings if they beat the dealer, to surrender, which is to voluntarily give up a bet based on the probably that the player will lose, and split his hand, which means to make two hands out of one when the two cards that are initially dealt are of the same value. Split hands are subsequently played like they were two different hands.

Basic Strategy

Up to this point, and in most cases throughout the game, players will make the decision of whether to hit or stand, and nothing further. In other cases, however, players will have to decide for themselves whether they want additional cards than the ones they have already been dealt against the dealer’s cards. This “hit/stand” strategy is a critical factor in the game, the subject of many books on the play of blackjack, most notably that of “Beat the Dealer” published in 1961 by Dr. Edward Thorpe.

Dr. Thorpe’s book was the first of what today are many books about how to play the game of blackjack. Thorpe’s however, was the first to base the game on computer simulations and has paved the way for not only the books we have today, but the popularity of the game that is enjoyed today.

A protracted examination of the strategies of whether to hit, stand, double-down, split, or surrender are beyond the focus of this article and can be found in any of a large number of books, but suffice it to say that learning this general strategy would go far to making a beginning or average player into a consistent winner.

Counting Cards

If there is one aspect to the game of blackjack that has been seriously misunderstood and even maligned over the years, it is the subject of counting cards. In fact, not only do many players misunderstand the subject, but so do casinos! In fact, the effects of the practice of counting cards has been so misunderstood that until a few years ago virtually every casino in Las Vegas and Atlantic City had plaques in front of them that warned against the practice under the penalty of arrest and prosecution.

The most important thing to understand about counting cards is that first, it is not illegal. Just as you can read books and become better poker players, so can learning to count cards make you a better blackjack player. Despite what many people believe, counting cards is not a panacea for winning.

First, to accurately count cards takes considerable practice, something most amateur gamblers aren’t willing to commit to. As a result, most of those players who read through a book about card counting and try to put it into practice, fail miserably when it comes time a the tables. Counting cannot be done well under these circumstances.

The next important thing to understand about card counting is that it is nothing more than a statistical tool that is used to estimate the chances of the cards being dealt in a certain manner and therefore being dealt with optimal results. And although counting cards, just like the details of basic strategy, is beyond the scope of this article, suffice it to say that contrary to what most casinos would have you believe, it does work, and has repeatedly shown to be effective when used accurately. There are many books available on the subject of card counting, all of which are good to one extent or another.

Regardless of what you believe or heard about the game of blackjack it is important to remember that it is the only casino table game that has earned the distinction of being beatable on a regular basis when using optimal strategies. In fact, most experts give the game a slight player advantage, even without using card counting, and only the basic strategy. The bottom line is that playing blackjack will allow you to enjoy the game without contributing to the payment of the light bill.