What is Blackjack?

Dan Cavallari

No other casino card game draws more players than blackjack, also known as twenty-one. The game is notable for its combination of skill and chance, and therefore it appeals to many gamblers looking for a game that does not rely solely on luck of the draw. While the game can be quite complicated, the basic concept involves getting the highest hand without going over twenty-one. The player with the highest hand wins, and if a player’s hand goes over twenty-one, they bust – or forfeit their hand.

In most casinos, blackjack players are playing against the dealer only.
In most casinos, blackjack players are playing against the dealer only.

Blackjack has been in existence for several centuries but did not gain popularity in the United States at first. It was popular in Spain and France for centuries, but it was not until the idea of the blackjack bonus came along that it caught on in the U.S. In order to draw players to the table, casinos began offering 10-1 payouts on twenty-one if it included a black jack, hence the derivative of the name. The game then caught on, though the bonus quickly disappeared.

Modern blackjack involves a fair amount of strategy combined with a bit of luck. Basic rules are fairly straightforward, but there are several variations depending on where you play, and the strategy for winning varies depending on the player. Because Aces can be counted as either a one or an eleven, it is the most versatile card in the deck. Face cards are worth ten. If a player is dealt a twenty-one on his first two cards, it is called blackjack and it wins the hand automatically. If a player is dealt doubles – a pair of eights, for example – that player may choose to split, or play two separate hands, one on each of the cards. If a player runs over twenty-one, he busts. Once the player is dealt his original two cards, he can choose to either hit – or be dealt a new card – or stand on the value he already has, depending on his strategy for winning the hand.

In most casinos, blackjack players play against the dealer only, rather than against the dealer and each other. The dealer must hit on soft 17 – in other words, the dealer’s hand shows a total of 17 with one of the cards being an ace counted as a value of 11. Typically a dealer will stand on a hard 17, but the blackjack dealer must hit if the value of his hand is less than 17. If the dealer draws blackjack, all players lose their hand except for players who have also drawn a blackjack. These players push, or sit on their money until the next hand is dealt.

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