Blackjack


Blackjack

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Blackjack (also known as Twenty-one, Vingt-et-un (French for Twenty-one), or Pontoon) is one of the most popular casino card games in the world. Much of blackjack's popularity is due to the mix of chance with elements of skill, and the publicity that surrounds card counting (calculating the probability of advantages based on the ratio of high cards to low cards). The casino version of the game should not be confused with the British card game Black Jack (a variant of Crazy Eights).

Card counting

Basic strategy provides the player with the optimal play for any blackjack situation based on millions of hands played in the long run. However in the short run, as the cards are dealt from the deck, the remaining deck is no longer complete. By keeping track of the cards that have already been played, it is possible to know when the cards remaining in the deck are advantageous for the player.

Card counting creates two opportunities:

* The player can make larger bets when he or she has the advantage. For example, the player can increase the starting bet if there are many aces and tens left in the deck, in the hope of hitting a blackjack.
* The player can use information about the remaining cards to improve upon the basic strategy rules for specific hands played. For example, with many tens left in the deck, the player may double down in more situations since there is a better chance of making a strong hand.

Virtually all card counting systems do not require the player to remember which cards have been played. Rather, a point system is established for the cards, and the player keeps track of a simple point count as the cards are played out from the dealer.

Depending on the particular blackjack rules in a given casino, basic strategy reduces the house advantage to near 0 with some single-deck games, and less than one percent in a multi-deck game. Card counting, if done correctly, can give the player an advantage, typically ranging from 0 to 2% over the house. To counter card counting, many casinos switched from a single deck to multiple decks, with the cards dealt out of a container known as a "shoe".

In most US jurisdictions, card counting is legal and is not considered cheating. However, most casinos have the right to ban players, with or without cause, and card counting is frequently used as a justification to ban a player. Usually, the casino host will simply inform the player that he is no longer welcome to play at that casino. Players must be careful not to signal the fact that they are counting. The use of electronic or other counting devices is usually illegal.

Martingale (betting system)

Composition-dependent strategy

Basic strategy is based on a player's point total and the dealer's visible card. A player's ideal decision may depend on the composition of his hand, not just the information considered in the basic strategy. For example, a player should ordinarily stand when holding 12 against a dealer 4. However, in a single deck game, the player should hit if his 12 consists of a 10 and a 2; this is because the player wants to receive any card other than a 10 if hitting, and the 10 in the player's hand is one less card available to cause a bust for the player or the dealer.

However, in situations where basic and composition-dependent strategy lead to different actions, the difference in expected value between the two decisions will be small. Additionally, as the number of decks used in a blackjack game rises, both the number of situations where composition determines the correct strategy and the house edge improvement from using a composition-dependent strategy will fall. Using a composition-dependent strategy only reduces house edge by 0.0031% in a six-deck game, less than one tenth the improvement in a single-deck game (0.0387%).

Shuffle tracking

Techniques other than card counting can swing the advantage of casino blackjack towards the player. All such techniques are based on the value of the cards to the player and the casino, as originally conceived by Edward O. Thorp. One technique, mainly applicable in multi-deck games, involves tracking groups of cards (aka slugs, clumps, packs) during the play of the shoe, following them through the shuffle and then playing and betting accordingly when those cards come into play from the new shoe. This technique, which is admittedly much more difficult than straight card counting and requires excellent eyesight and powers of visual estimation, has the additional benefit of fooling the casino people who are monitoring the player's actions and the count, since the shuffle tracker could be, at times, betting and/or playing opposite to how a straightforward card counter would.

Arnold Snyder's articles in Blackjack Forum magazine brought shuffle tracking to the general public. His book, The Shuffle Tracker's Cookbook, mathematically analyzed the player edge available from shuffle tracking based on the actual size of the tracked slug. Jerry L. Patterson also developed and published a shuffle-tracking method for tracking favorable clumps of cards and cutting them into play and tracking unfavorable clumps of cards and cutting them out of play. Other legal methods of gaining a player advantage at blackjack include a wide variety of techniques for hole carding or gaining information about the next card to be dealt.

Variants

Pontoon is an English variation of blackjack with significant rule and strategy differences. However, in Australia and Malaysia, Pontoon is an unlicensed version of the American game Spanish 21 played without a hole card; despite the name, it bears no relation to English Pontoon.

Spanish 21 provides players with many liberal blackjack rules, such as doubling down any number of cards (with the option to 'rescue', or surrender only one wager to the house), payout bonuses for five or more card 21s, 6-7-8 21s, 7-7-7 21s, late surrender, and player blackjacks always winning and player 21s always winning, at the cost of having no 10 cards in the deck (though there are jacks, queens, and kings).

21st Century Blackjack (also known as "Vegas Style" Blackjack) is commonly found in many California card rooms. In this form of the game, a player bust does not always result in an automatic loss; there are a handful of situations where the player can still push if the dealer busts as well, provided that the dealer busts with a higher total.

Certain rules changes are employed to create new variant games. These changes, while attracting the novice player, actually increase the house edge in these games. Double Exposure Blackjack is a variant in which the dealer's cards are both face-up. This game increases house edge by paying even money on blackjacks and players losing ties. Double Attack Blackjack has very liberal blackjack rules and the option of increasing one's wager after seeing the dealer's up card. This game is dealt from a Spanish shoe, and blackjacks only pay even money.

The French and German variant "Vingt-et-un" (Twenty-one) and "Siebzehn und Vier" (Seventeen and Four) don't include splitting. An ace can only count as eleven, but two aces count as a Blackjack. This variant is seldom found in casinos, but is more common in private circles and barracks.

Chinese Blackjack is played by many in Asia, having no splitting of cards, but with other card combination regulations.

Another variant is Blackjack Switch, a version of blackjack in which a player is dealt two hands and is allowed to switch cards. For example, if the player is dealt 10-6 and 10-5, then the player can switch two cards to make hands of 10-10 and 6-5. Natural blackjacks are paid 1:1 instead of the standard 3:2, and a dealer 22 is a push.

In Multiple Action Blackjack the player places between 2 or 3 bets on a single hand. The dealer then gets a hand for each bet the player places on a hand. This essentially doubles the number of hands a single dealer can play per hour. Splitting and Doubling are still allowed.

Recently, thanks to the popularity of poker, Elimination Blackjack has begun to gain a following. Elimination Blackjack is a tournament format of blackjack.

Many casinos offer optional side bets at standard blackjack tables. For example, one common side-bet is "Royal Match", in which the player is paid if his first two cards are in the same suit, and receives a higher payout if they are a suited queen and king (and a jackpot payout if both the player and the dealer have a suited queen-king hand). Another increasingly common variant is "21+3," in which the player's two cards and the dealer's up card form a three-card poker hand; players are paid 9 to 1 on a straight, flush or three of a kind. These side bets invariably offer worse odds than well-played blackjack.

In April of 2007 a new version of Blackjack, called Three Card Blackjack™ was approved for play in the State of Washington. Three Card Blackjack ™ is played with one deck of 52 cards. In Three Card Blackjack the players place an ante bet. The players and dealer are then dealt 3 cards each. The players make the best blackjack (21) hand they can using 2 or all 3 cards. If the player likes their hand they make a play bet that is equivalent to their ante bet. The dealer must qualify with an 18 or better. If the dealer qualifies and the player beats the dealer, the player is paid 1-1 on both the Ante and Play bets. If the dealer does not qualify, the player is paid 1-1 on their Ante bet and their Play bet pushes. There is no hitting and no busting. At the same time that the player makes the Ante bet, they have the option of making an Ace Plus bet. If the player has 1 Ace in their hand of 3 cards, they get paid 1-1. An Ace and any 10 or Face Card pays them 3-1. An Ace and any two 10's or Face cards is paid 5-1. Two Aces pays 15-1 and Three Aces pays 100-1.

Blackjack Hall of Fame

In 2002, professional gamblers around the world were invited to nominate great blackjack players for admission into the Blackjack Hall of Fame. Seven members were inducted in 2002, with new inductees every year afterwards. The physical hall of fame is located at the Barona Casino in San Diego, California. Members include Edward O. Thorp, author of the 1960s book Beat the Dealer which proved that the game could be beaten with a combination of basic strategy and card counting; Ken Uston, who popularized the concept of team play; Arnold Snyder, author and editor of the Blackjack Forum trade journal; Stanford Wong, author and popularizer of the "Wonging" technique of only playing at a positive count, and several others. (Credit: Wikipedia).

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