The card game known as “Blackjack” comes in many variations. However, all of them have the same roots in the 18th-century French game called Vingt-et-Un, or “21.” The object of the game has always been to draw cards whose combined values are higher than those of the dealer’s, but without going over twenty-one points.
This game made its way to the French Quarter of New Orleans in the early 19th century, about the same time as the United States was acquiring a huge tract of land from the French government—the Louisiana Purchase. Little did the Americans know at the time that they were also buying what would become one of the world’s most popular casino table games.
New Orleans gambling halls changed the rules of Vingt-et-Un to attract more interest. They introduced fixed wagering in place of betting rounds so that each hand could be played faster. In addition to the 1-to-1 (“even money”) odds for winning hands, the game organizers began offering payouts of 10-to-1 for drawing the Ace of spades on the first two cards along with a knave of spades or clubs. They called this version “Black Jack,” and it was soon found in private gaming parlors and on riverboats.
Today, Blackjack has evolved a bit more, but it is still very much the same game. All cards numbered 2 through 10 are counted at face value. The King, Queen, and Jack—also known as “face cards” or “picture cards”—each has a value of ten points. Aces may be counted as one point or eleven. For example, a hand made up of an Ace and a 6 can be counted as either seven points or seventeen points.
The dealer represents the game organizer (“house”), taking in cash, issuing chips, and distributing cards. He/she plays the hand that the players must compete against, paying winners and collecting from losers. In almost all versions of Blackjack, the dealer shows one card to every one (“up card”), and keeps one card hidden (“hole card”) until the showdown at the end of the hand.
Each player, in turn, has the option to draw additional cards (“hit”), attempting to beat the dealer by forming a hand whose value does not exceed twenty-one points. Those that go over this total are said to “bust” and they lose automatically. The payout for a win is still even money for all amounts bet, except for a natural “21” or so-called “blackjack,” which is exactly twenty-one points on the first two cards. That typically pays 3-to-2, and any Ace plus a ten-valued card will qualify.
Players also have the opportunity to make an additional wager by “splitting” pairs into two new hands or by “doubling down” and taking just one more card. Other options often offered in Blackjack games are Surrender,” allowing a player to give up half the wager and forfeit a poor hand, or “insurance,” letting the player protect a hand against the possibility of the dealer having a natural blackjack when an Ace is showing.
Getting Started Playing Blackjack
Elsewhere on this web site are sections on all of the aspects of beginning Blackjack. They provide an opportunity to become familiar with the basic rules, terminology, odds, and strategies for playing hands. They also provide advice on managing money and using various systems to increase the chances of winning.
One excellent way to practice before risking any real money is to go on the Internet and use an online casino’s software. At many gaming web sites, no registration is required. Simply click on the Blackjack game icon and select the “For Fun” or “Free Play” mode. Non-redeemable “credits” will be issued, which can be replenished should they run out. It is a great way to build confidence and develop “card sense” before heading off to a real casino.
Those who are new to Blackjack are also well advised to stand by a table and watch some hands being played before sitting down and giving it a try. Every casino has its own “House Rules” for its games, including minimum and maximum wagers allowed as well as specifics such as when doubling down and splitting are permitted. Knowing these rules is essential to successful Blackjack play.