What To Know Before Playing Blackjack

Ace of hearts and black jack with red poker chips in the background.

Blackjack is a card game that people have been playing in casinos all over the world for centuries. The name’s origins are unclear, but one theory suggests that it may have referred to card players who “bumped” dealer’s decks with their hands or shoes to learn what cards were on the bottom of the deck.

The first book ever written about how to count cards was called “Beat the Dealer” and was written by Edward O. Thorp in 1962 after making millions using his card-counting system at blackjack tables worldwide. His claims are disputed, but his work remains influential today.

How to play blackjack?

The game’s object is to beat the dealer by getting closer to 21 than he does without going over. You do this by drawing cards (standing, hitting/taking another card) and doubling down (double your initial bet). Once you’re dealt your two cards, you can also split your hand into two different indicators that are valued individually. If the sum of both new hands is higher than 21, then you can then double-down on either or both hands as well. If you hit a total of 12 or less after having doubled down once already, then it’s considered “busting,” and you immediately lose all bets associated with that hand.

Once everyone has had their turn drawing cards, the player who has the highest total is the winner. If two people have the same sum, then whoever has a higher card total wins (Aces can count as either 1 or 11 for this purpose).

How to play blackjack is straightforward and basic enough for anybody to learn in a matter of minutes. That is why it has been one of the most popular casino games since before there were casinos. Edward O. Thorp made his millions from winning bets on how he thought casinos would change their rules as they tried to prevent him from winning money at their tables! The odds are that if you’ve ever been inside a casino, then you’ve probably done what he did – not intentionally, of course – just simply by playing the game.

The Many Ways to Win

Before you even start talking about techniques like card counting or betting systems (if you insist), there are two things you need to be aware of; basic strategy and position play.

First, know that it’s all about odds and probabilities. If you play a blackjack hand perfectly – against a perfect dealer – then the house has a 0.16% advantage over you. That means that for every $100 bet, you’ll lose around 16 cents over the long run started. Now – given the option – if I want to walk away from a game with more money than I out with, how do I do that?

Basic strategy is just what it sounds like: basic actions that form an optimal playing strategy, what to do in every possible situation that comes up during a normal blackjack hand2. To give you an idea of how robust this ruleset is, consider the following:

In a properly shuffled deck, the odds of being dealt a particular card are 1/52 – that is to say that there is one card to be found for every 52 total cards. In blackjack, however, each time the dealer deals himself a card, you lose because he will bust before you do an overwhelming majority of the time – something like four out five times. This means that if we were observing a perfectly accurate simulation of a blackjack hand between two players who both followed the basic strategy and had perfect knowledge of what the other player held at all times, we would see a slightly negative average change. That’s right; following an ideal basic strategy reduces your expected profit by 0.2% in the long run!  You can find plenty of blackjack tips online.

But what about other players?

After all – it’s not just a game of mathematics; there are actual people involved in the process as well! This brings us to position play. Is 1st base better than 3rd? How bad is splitting 9s vs taking another card? These are all questions that you should ask yourself as you make decisions during a hand of blackjack. Of course, the position plays vary from player to player, but generally speaking: earlier positions have an advantage over later positions since – if someone else busts, then you’ll have no problem collecting on your winning hand.

While some people keep track of all this information with pen and paper, most players opt for a system that uses chips to represent the cards held by each player. You can put them in certain formations to tell you what play is best – or even give you a chart for what to do throughout a typical deal. Betting systems are one of the more controversial topics surrounding blackjack, though since they don’t have an actual 100% success rate – just close enough that casinos don’t want you using it at their tables. There was a famous case where Mike Aponte used such a betting scheme and walked out with $4 million from Atlantic City’s Bally Casino – prompting lots of controversy over whether he actually used a system or just got lucky.

Taking Advantage of the System

The house has to win some of the time – that’s what makes casinos profitable, but they still need you to give them money to stay in business! Once you’ve determined which side of the game you want to be on, then it all comes down to how you play your hand.

The best way to win in any game is to put yourself in the position where you need only one more victory to guarantee a net gain for the session.


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