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 Blackjack Rules & Strategies

Blackjack Rules
Blackjack Terms
Rules Variations and Odds.
Blackjack Strategies
Counting Cards
Beating the house

Blackjack Rules

The object of blackjack is to get a total value of cards as close to 21 as possible without going over and beat the dealer's total. Numbered cards are worth their face value. Face cards, e.g. Kings, Queens and Jacks, are each worth 10. Aces are worth either 1 or 11, whichever is better in the circumstances.

If the total value of your cards exceeds 21, you bust, which means you lose. If your total is less than or equal to 21 and the dealer's total is over 21, then the dealer busts and you win. If neither your total or the dealer's total exceeds 21, then the higher total wins. In the event of a tie (or push), no one wins and no one loses. In fact, the true object is to beat the dealer and players do that by getting a total value of their cards closer to 21 than the dealer, or by having the dealer bust by drawing cards that total more than 21. 

Game Start
You start the game by placing your bet. Next the dealer deals two cards to you and one to himself. Usually these cards are dealt face-up. Then the dealer gives himself a second card face-down. This is called the hole card. Now you have to make a decision: do you take another card ("hit") or pass to the dealer ("stand" or "stay"). If you hit, the dealer gives you another card and again asks if you want to hit or stand. You keep hitting until you are satisfied with your total or you bust. The dealer must keep taking cards until he has 17 or more.
Casinos deal blackjack from a single deck or from multiple decks. It's traditional for the dealer to discard the top card after shuffling.

Blackjack Terms
If the first two cards dealt to you or the dealer are an Ace and a ten-count card (10, Jack, Queen or King), that is "blackjack". If you have blackjack, you win automatically, unless the dealer also has blackjack, in which case it is a push (tie). Blackjack pays higher than an ordinary win, which pays even money. Blackjack pays 3 to 2, meaning you win 3 dollars for every 2 you bet. Blackjack is sometimes called "a natural".

Doubling Down
After you receive your first two cards, you may have the option to "double down". This means you can double your original bet. Most casino only allow you to double down when the value of the first 2 cards is 9, 10 or 11. If you double down, the dealer will give you only one more card and then draw the cards needed to complete his own hand.

Splitting Pairs
When your first two cards have the same value (for example, a pair of sevens), you have the option to "split". To split, you have to place another bet equal to your original bet. Then the two cards are split and you play them as separate hands. Some casinos allow you to "resplit" if you get another same-value card. Special rules apply when you choose to split Aces. When you split Aces, you only receive one more card on each hand and if you get 21, it is not considered blackjack.

When the dealer's face-up card is an Ace, some casinos will ask if you want "insurance". The cost of insurance is half your original bet. Your insurance bet pays 2 to 1 if the dealer gets blackjack, which will equal the amount you lose on the original bet. For example, say your original bet was $20. The dealer has an Ace showing and you decide to place an insurance bet for $10. If the dealer gets blackjack, you lose your original $20 bet but win $20 on the insurance bet so you are even. If the dealer does not have blackjack you lose your $10 insurance bet and play the hand by normal rules.

Rules Variations and Odds.
Blackjack rules may vary from casino to casino. Here are some rules variations you may encounter:
  Dealer stands on soft 17.
  Player may double down on split pairs.
  Player may double down on any first two cards.
  Player may double down on any number of cards.
  Player may "surrender" his hand after the first two cards and lose half his bet.

And here are how different rules variations influence the odds:
Rules in the favor of players:
  Doubling down on split pairs +0.13%
  "Surrender" option +0.06%
  Double split on Aces +0.14%
  Doubling down on any number of cards +0.20%

Rules in the favor of casinos:
  Double decks (instead of one)  - 0.35%
  Four decks -0.48%
  Five decks -0.54%
  Six decks -0.58%
  Dealer do NOT stands on soft 17 -0.20%

Blackjack Strategies

Mathematicians and blackjack experts have used computer simulations and statistical analyses to try to find a way to beat the house at blackjack. Through their studies, they have determined a basic strategy that gives the player the best odds against the house.

This basic strategy helps the player make decisions about when to hit and when to stand. By playing this basic strategy, the player can play on nearly even terms with the house. This basic strategy is the starting point for more-advanced card-counting strategies professional blackjack players use to gain an advantage on the house.

Basic strategy
Below is the basic blackjack strategy for the typical rules found at online casinos. While you can't beat the house in the long term using this strategy alone, it does reduce the house's advantage considerably.

Your Hand          Dealer's Up Card
             2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10 A
5,6,7,8      H  H  H  H  H  H  H  H  H  H
9            H  D  D  D  D  H  H  H  H  H
10           D  D  D  D  D  D  D  D  H  H
11           D  D  D  D  D  D  D  D  D  H
12           H  H  S  S  S  H  H  H  H  H
13,14        S  S  S  S  S  H  H  H  H  H
15,16        S  S  S  S  S  H  H  H  H  H
17,18,19,20  S  S  S  S  S  S  S  S  S  S

Soft 13,14   H  H  H  D  D  H  H  H  H  H
Soft 15,16   H  H  D  D  D  H  H  H  H  H
Soft 17      H  D  D  D  D  H  H  H  H  H
Soft 18      S  D  D  D  D  S  S  H  H  H
Soft 19,20   S  S  S  S  S  S  S  S  S  S

2-2,3-3      SP SP SP SP SP SP H  H  H  H
4-4          H  H  H  SP SP H  H  H  H  H
5-5          D  D  D  D  D  D  D  D  H  H
6-6          SP SP SP SP SP H  H  H  H  H
7-7          SP SP SP SP SP SP H  H  H  H
8-8          SP SP SP SP SP SP SP SP SP SP
9-9          SP SP SP SP SP SP SP SP S  S
10-10        S  S  S  S  S  S  S  S  S  S

H=Hit, S=Stand, D=Double down, SP=Split

Card counting systems
A number of blackjack players have enjoyed success at beating the house by using card-counting systems. Card-counting systems are based on the principle that the make-up of a deck of cards changes as cards are played. Analysis has shown that a deck is in the player's favor when it has more ten-count cards in it. The reason the deck favors the player is because the player has a better chance of getting blackjack which pays 3 to 2, more money than an average win.

By assigning a simple value such as +1 for high cards and -1 for low cards, a card counter can roughly determine the ratio of high cards to low cards remaining in the deck at anytime during play. When the deck contains more high cards and the odds are in his favor, he increases the amount he bets so he can win more. When the deck isn't favorable, he bets the minimum so he loses less. The count also affects his decisions on when to hit, stand, double and split.

Beating the house
Successful card counting in blackjack is one of the few ways to gain an edge on the casino. Because most casinos use multiple decks (up to six), only those who are extremely skilled at counting cards can achieve this. That makes Internet blackjack a very attractive alternative because it's a breeze counting cards when you can write down every card that is turned (something that's prohibited at terrestrial casinos for obvious reasons) and clean house, right?

Not quite. The second variable in determining the difficulty of counting cards is penetration (the number of cards dealt before the deck is reshuffled). This is because a counter cannot assess the probability of certain cards being dealt until the majority of cards have already been shown.

Online casinos, unlike real-world casinos, have the option of shuffling the deck after every hand, and they do. Thus, there's no way to take advantage of any card counting system because not enough cards are shown.

The only scenario in which card counting can be effective is a multi-player single-deck game in which everyone can see all the cards that are dealt. To my knowledge, no online casinos offer such a game. However, you can try InterCasino that offers multi-player single deck blackjack and multiple-split option as one of the best picks. Preview InterCasino blackjack.

Counting your way to a fortune playing blackjack is great thought, but back here in reality, it's an impossibility. Stick with perfect strategy and find the casino that offers the best odds for blackjack and your chances of coming out on top aren't too bad. But, aside from cheating, you would hardly turn the odds in your favor. Another aspect is the human factor - even you gain an edge over the house - every error/mistake steals several hours of your previous good work.

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