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Blackjack History

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When a player held a Jack of Spades and an Ace of Spades as the first two cards, the player was paid extra, Spades being black and Jack being a vital card gave the game its name Blackjack.

Although the exact origins of BlackJack are unknown it is commonly believed to have derived from other French games such as “chemin de fer” and “French Ferme”. The card game BlackJack appeared in French casinos around the 1700, where it was called “vingt-et-un” (“twenty one”).

Although Nevada was the first state to legalize casino gambling in 1931, it is thought that blackjack was played in the US as early as the 1800’s, then in 1978 casino gambling was legalized in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and since then some other states followed the trend.

Until aprox the 1960’s players were, for the most part, not aware of the basic strategy for blackjack and because of this the casinos reaped unheard of profits from the blackjack tables, that is untill the year 1956 when things began to change for the Casinos, blackjack players had begun to study both the table and the cards shown and ushered in the new era of Blackjack stratgeties and card counters!

The first recognized effort to apply mathematics to BlackJack was recorded in 1956, when Roger Baldwin published a paper in the Journal of the American Statistical Association entitled “The Optimum Strategy in BlackJack”. In 1962 Professor Edward O. Thorp refined basic strategy and developed the first card counting techniques. He published his results in a book that became so popular that for a week in 1963 it was on the New York Times best-seller list “Beat the Dealer”.

Because of this book a number of casinos changed their blackjack rules, giving themselves an even greater advantage than they had previously enjoyed. But this didn’t last for long, because people protested by refusing to play the game with the unfavorable rules, casinos quickly responded by going back to the original rules.

Over the next few years, more books and more systems devoted to winning blackjack were published in fact some proposed to provide enough information to allow the reader to live off the profits of their efforts, publications such as Lawrence Revere’s “Playing Blackjack As A Business” and Stanley Roberts’ also helped to share the wealth with his winning systems in his book “Winning Blackjack”. Soon blackjack began to compete with craps as the most popular casino game in the state of Nevada.

In the 1970’s computers which could perform a million-hand BlackJack simulations allowed players to produce sophisticated game strategies and many scientists, mathematicians, university professors, and other intellectuals began writing books on the game. Soon it became evident that Casinos were afraid that scientific, computer-devised Slot Gacor systems would have harmful effect on their potential profits, and many changed their games from single deck to multiple-deck games in the 1970’s to counteract the computer strategies.

A living legend of the period indeed worth mentioning was Ken Uston, who used five computers that were built into the shoes of members of his playing team in 1977. The gamblers won over a hundred thousand dollars in a very short time, but one of the computers was confiscated and sent to the FBI. The FBI experts concluded that the computer used public information on BlackJack playing and was not a cheating device. As a result of his astounding success, Uston was barred from at least seven of the major Las Vegas casinos and sued them for violating his civil rights. He was found dead in a rented apartment in Paris in 1987, the cause of death remaining undetermined.

With Uston’s success a new era in casino blackjack commenced. The casinos became alarmed at the huge sums of money players in teams could win at their tables. The pattern was quite simple: one player would signal when the deck was favorable and then the “red player” would come and wager five hundred or a thousand dollars and always be betting in this positive situation. Some of the casinos, which were already implementing four deck games, started introducing five-deck games; others went to six- and even eight-deck games. The game became tough for the average player. What made the game more complicated still was the fact that, not only were most casinos using multiple decks, but most of them were also cutting off one and a half or two decks, that is, they were not dealing all the cards out of the shoe.

Presently, the casinos are willing to experiment with multiple decks and with cutting off a lot of cards while monitoring the amount of profit. Some casinos which have noticed a drop off in the number of players have gone back to more single-deck tables. Others have introduced more favorable rules in order to attract more play while retaining the same number of decks. At the present time, blackjack playing conditions in most Nevada casinos are very tough, particularly for the newcomer.

If you ask whether casino blackjack is still a beatable the answer will be “Yes”. A bunch of professional players are still winning at the game. There are several ways to do so. One of them is to use more powerful winning strategies such as the HI-OPT II, which was published in 1976. Other professional players manage to increase their bet range in multiple-deck games, since in a multiple deck game the casino is not as concerned with the bet range as it is in single and double-deck games. Yet, another option is to bribe a dealer with large tips. A “friendly” dealer can raise the player’s chances dramatically by way of various tricks, which are discussed at length in the “Cheating Dealer” section of this site. Many experts agree that it adds a foul taste to the game, but, as they say, all is fair in love, war and blackjack.

Speaking about the future of casino blackjack, Stanley Roberts remarks that the expansion of casino gambling into other US states, and the increased competition among the houses is likely to insure gamblers a better deal at the blackjack tables. The point is that the casinos will always have to give players a chance to win. On the other hand, as “necessity is the mother of invention” more powerful blackjack strategies are sure to appear. The desire to gamble goes hand in hand with the most profound flaws of human nature. As long as the latter remains intact, the houses will have their bread and butter.

To conclude this issue, let me quote at length Stanley Roberts’ article, “The Future of Casino Blackjack”:

It is important to realize that there will always be hope for gamblers. They may have to change games. They may have to learn something about probability theory. They may have to devote more hours to learning a more powerful strategy. They may have to get together with other players to form a team. They may have to invest more money in new technological devices such as programmable calculators. However, there will always be a way to make money through gambling. A blackjack table seats a dealer and one to seven players. The number of players is limited to the number of boxes on the table. Each player plays against the dealer separately. A player may wager on as many boxes at each table as he/she wants to, given there are no other players wishing to play at the same table.

Basically, the objective of the game is to beat the dealer with a total of 21 or less at hand, without going over 21 or bust. You can beat the dealer in two ways. If your cards total 21 or lower and that total is higher than the total of the dealer’s hand, you win. If the dealer goes over 21, i.e. busts you win as well. Of course, the later also applies to you if your hand’s total is over 21 then you have busted and lose your bet.

Until the 70s, blackjack had been played with a single deck (52 cards). As time went by more sophisticated card counting systems were developed, which gave a player an edge over the house. Casinos responded to this trend by increasing the number of decks up to four, six or sometimes even eight. Thus, the number of decks may vary with 6 decks being the standard. After the cards have been shuffled, the dealer cuts them, i.e. divides the pack into two parts. The larger part (about two thirds of the pack) is then dealt out. Since dealing with more than two decks in the hand is awkward, three and more decks are dealt out from a special box called shoe. Using a shoe is also believed to reduce the risk of stacking the cards by the dealer.

Before any cards are dealt, the player must make his bet by placing it in the designated space in front of his table position. The dealer then deals two cards to each of the players, and two to himself (one of the dealer’s cards is dealt face up and one is dealt face down). The latter applies mostly to American houses, while in Europe you can often see the dealer dealing a single card face up to himself.

The dealer is always the last on to play his hand. It means that his face-down card (also called a hole card) remains unknown to the players until he turns it over to play his hand. This makes the game a real challenge to the players, since they have to judge how to play their hands taking into account the dealer’s upcard and the total of their hand, while guessing the value of the dealer’s hole card.

There are two ways the players’ cards can be dealt. If the game is played using one or two decks, then the cards are dealt face down. The later is due to the fact that the use of only 52 or 104 cards makes it easier for the players to keep track of the cards as they are exposed. By dealing the cards face down the dealer makes it tougher for player to count cards. The use of three or more decks increases the house advantage, and players are allowed to see each other’s hands to compensate for this. Should the cards be dealt face up never touch them, this restriction is aimed at preventing players from cheating. When the cards are dealt face down you are allowed to use one hand to pick them up.

Face cards (kings, queens and jacks) have the value of 10, ace can counted either as 1 or 11 (up to the player), and all other cards are counted at their face value. Suits are irrelevant.

BLACKJACK

If the player’s first two cards are an ace and a 10 or face card (that makes a “natural” 21), he wins. However, if the dealer also has a blackjack, it is a standoff, as are all ties or pushes. A winning blackjack pays the player 3 to 2.

HIT and STAND

To hit a hand means to draw another card. To stand means to take no more cards. The dealer plays his hand automatically. If the dealer’s hand is 16 or less he must take a card. If the dealer’s hand is 17 or more he must stand. Some casinos allow the dealer to hit on soft 17, which gives the house a small additional advantage.

On the contrary, the player is free to choose whether to stand or hit. Both decisions are shown with hand signs. Hand signals are believed to be more convenient in the noisy atmosphere of the casino; they also allow the casino security personnel to survey games with cameras that don’t have sound.

If playing a single- or double-deck games, you should scrape your cards towards you on the table if you want to skip. If you want to stand, tuck your cards under your chips. When more than two decks are used in the game, and you cannot touch the card, use your fingers to signal. To hit, you scrape the table towards you, to stand you, wave your hand over the cards.

Upon receiving his two cards the player has four options to choose from, before proceeding to play the hand. They are: double down, split pairs, surrender, and take insurance.

DOUBLE DOWN

The player is allowed to double the bet on his first two cards and draw one additional card only to improve his hand. The advantage of doubling down is that the player is allowed to raise his bet after he has seen his first two cards and the dealer’s upcard. The disadvantage is that he cannot draw more than one card.

SPLITTING PAIRS

If the player’s first two cards are of the same rank, he may split them into two independent hands, bet the same amount on each and then play them separately. Aces receive only one additional card. After splitting, A-10 counts as 21, and not as blackjack. Yet, some casinos do not allow doubling after splitting a pair.

SURRENDER

Where permitted, a player may give up his first two cards and lose only one-half his original bet. A late surrender means this option is allowed only if the dealer does not have a blackjack. More valuable to the player is the early surrender, which is allowed even if the dealer holds a blackjack. But the casinos seldom offer this option.

INSURANCE

If the dealer’s up card is an ace, the player may take insurance, a bet not exceeding one-half his original bet. Actually, it is a side bet that the dealer has a natural. If the dealer’s down card is a 10 or any face card, the player wins 2 to 1. Otherwise the insurance bet loses.