The Game of Blackjack

Blackjack is one of the oldest and most popular card games on the planet. While it may not be the perfect game to play with the family on a saturday evening, it is THE attraction in any Casino. Sit down, have drink and chat with the other players while playing a hand or two – mix that with the excitement of playing for money and you’ll be hooked, I guarantee it. 

Blackjack on Twitch

While streaming a session of Blackjack from a Casino sounds like a lot of fun, it is unfortunately prohibited. Luckily there are a lot of so called “Online Casinos” (part of betting websites) where you can gamble for real money, just like in a real casino. Those online casinos offer Live Blackjack where dealers offer the game of Blackjack on real tables with real cards and everything – so no RNG* involved.

So on my stream you will see me playing Blackjack on one of those tables,wagering real money and interacting with the dealer. To improve my odds of winning in the long run I count cards and adjust my betting size and playstyle accordingly (more on that in “Blackjack 101 and beyond”). You will see information like my current balance, the balance I started with at the beginning of the session and advanced information regarding the current count.  

Blackjack is a game of chance, it includes exciting winning streaks as well as enraging losing streaks. It brings forth a wide range if emotions and is a constant thrill to play. You as a viewer can join me on this rollercoaster of excitement – without having to bet a single dollar.

 *RNG: Short for Randon Number Generator. Describes the process of a software creating randomness on a computer based application.

Blackjack 101 and beyond

The rules of Blackjack:

For the basic rules of Blackjack I suggest you check out www.wizardofodds.com. They provide a variety of information about beginners, advanced and professional players. You can also just find a youtube video explaining the basic rules – there are a ton of them.

Basics on Blackjack:

Blackjack is first and foremost a card game and therefore a game of chance and probability. So unlike in chess, there is no way of decision making that will lead to you winning a hand with 100% certainty every single time. That being said, there is still an mathematically optimal way of playing Blackjack that will maximize your chance of winning in the long run. These optimal plays are summarized as Basic Strategy. It is essentially a guide on how to play every single hand in Blackjack and can be found in form of a table further below. 

Learning the Basic Strategy is a must if you want to become a good Blackjack player. Every advanced technique like counting cards, progressive betting and advanced strategy is based on Basic Strategy. But even the casual Blackjack player should learn the Basic Strategy guidelines – they are not very hard to learn and will let you play a lot longer on a table, therefore allow for a longer session.

House Advantage:

The only reason a Casino offers a game is to make money. Therefore, they has to ensure that the odds are in their favor. Every Casino will have different variations of rules within the game of Blackjack, leading to a different quantitative ‘House Advantage’. This House Advantage is usually between 0.5% and 1%. This number doesn’t seem big, but in context of the huge amount of hands that are being played every single day, it will add up. This small advantage will also create an image for the player where he thinks that this game is even and that he can beat the casino. Note that the House Advantage is based on the player playing basic strategy perfectly. If a player does not follow basic strategy, the House Advantage will be way higher! 

Just to give you an idea – an even game of Blackjack is shown in the left table while a biased game is shown in the right table (Betfair used as example):

So if you know the specific Casino rules and how big every specific rule advantage/disadvantage is, then you can easily calculate the House Advantage and with that identify the ‘best’ Casinos for Blackjack. 

Those numbers can be found at WizardofOdds and many other websites.

Basic Strategy:

When it comes to playing the game, there is a way to maximize your chances against the Casino. In a game of chance, that means maximizing the probabiliy of winning and/or the amount of winnings per hand. And contrary to common beliefs, there is no ‘subjective best play’, only THE objectiveley and mathematically optimal one – Basic Strategy

Down below you’ll find two tables that summarize Basic Strategy. Depending on which style of Blackjack you play, you will have to pick the appropriate table. It is basically a guide that tells what to do for every possible combination of your and the dealers cards. And here’s how to read it: 

When the cards are dealt, first look at the dealers face card and find the corresponding card in the column ‘Dealer Card’ and with that find the relevant row. Note that the entry ’10’ includes every card with the value of 10, especially including Jack, Queen and King. Then you’ll look at your two cards and try to find the appropriate column for your hand. Check if you have a hand that you can double with. Let’s say the dealer has a King and your hand is (5,6) which adds up to 11. In row ’10’, column ‘Double’, you’ll find the entry ’11’, which indicates that every hand with the sum of 11 should be doubled, including the (5,6) in this example. If the dealer has a low card like 5, then you should also double soft hands from (A,2) up to (A,7). If you’re hand shouldn’t be doubled, check then if you should split it. The hand (8,8) totals to 16, so it’s not a hand you should double ever. But it should always be split (in American Blackjack) against every dealers card. If you can’t find your hand in the column ‘Double’ or ‘Split’, it’s gonna be either hit or stand for you from now on since only your initial two cards can be doubled or split. The rule for standing is that you hit while the total value of your hand is below the second number written in the last column ‘Stand on’. That means that you keep hitting until the value of your cards is high enough or you bust. The first number in the last column indicates when to stand on soft hands. The value A7 for example stands for every hand consisting of an Ace and one or more cards that add up to 7 (or soft 18). That includes the hands (A,7), (A,4,3), (A,2,2,3), (A,A,6). 

So the general rule is to work your way from left to right, starting with the dealers up card and then checking whether to double, split or hit/stand. 

While it might seem very complicated to understand this table at first, you’ll find that this presentation of Basic Strategy is vastly more clear and condense  than most other collections of tables in the internet. Just look up any basic strategy table sets online and see for yourself.

The only assumption Basic Strategy makes is that probabilities of drawing specific cards do not change. So without counting cards, it is the optimal way to play. But if you’ve mastered Basic Strategy and you’re ready to improve, you’ll learn more under the next section.

Counting Cards and Advanced Strategy:

More info coming soon. You can already find advanced strategy tables down below.

Frequently asked questions (on stream)

  • What Online Casino or website are you playing Blackjack on?

I play on www.Betfair.com. From my experience and calculations, they offer a game of Blackjack with on of the  lowest house advanteges across all websites. Only ‘downsite’ is that they play European-style Blackjack.

  • What’s the difference between soft and hard hands?

A soft hand is any combination of cards (two or more) that includes at least one Ace and allows at least one Ace to have the value of 1 or 11. Examples for soft hands are (A,4), (A,4,2) (A,5,A), (A,8,A,A). A hard hand is every hand that does not include an Ace or includes Aces that can only be used for the value of 1. Examples for hard hands are (King,8), (5,7,3), (A,9,5), (A,A,2,Jack).

  • What is the difference between European and American Blackjack?

The difference is in how the dealer draws (and looks) at his cards. In American Blackjack, the dealer will draw his second card hidden after every play received his or hers second card and before any player can act. If the dealer’s first card is an Ace or a 10-valued card, then the dealer will peak underneath the hidden card. If the dealer has a Blackjack, the card will be revealed and the turn immediately ends before any player can act. In European Blackjack, the players will have to act first (hit, stand, etc.) and only after every player is done with his or her turn, the dealer will draw the second card revealed. 

  • Which type of Blackjack is better for the player?

American Blackjack is better for the player. In European Blackjack, the player may fall into the trap of doubling or splitting his or her hand, only to lose double the initial bet to a dealers Blackjack. In the American version, the dealer would have shown the Blackjack before the player can act and therefore preventing him or her from doubling or spliting a losing hand. In American Blackjack, the player will also have the information that if the dealer doesn’t reveal his hidden card, then the dealer can not have a Blackjack this round and his or hers initial two cards add up to 20 or less.

What is Blackjack

Blackjack is THE classic Casino Card game where the player only plays vs the dealer in a heads up game. Every card has a specific value: Cards with numbers have their respective value whereas picture cards have the value of 10 and an Ace is worth 1 or 11. Both the dealer and the player start with two cards, adding their value and drawing cards to get the higher card total. But beware – if your total exceeds 21, you ‘bust’ and lose immediately. 

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