September 4, 2006

All About Blackjack


Blackjack may be one of the most popular casino games around. It originated in France in the 1700s, and amazingly this simple yet fun game is vigorously played today, over 300 years later! The odds may have changed some, and there was certainly no mega-casino back in those days, but the thrill and fun of blackjack has remained the same all these years.

If you have a hankering to find out more about Blackjack, or if you want some pointers into the blackjack world at large, then come on in, and we'll show you all about one of casino gaming's most enduring and popular games.

When blackjack was first introduced in the United States it wasn't very popular, so gambling houses tried offering various bonus payouts to get the players to the tables. One such bonus was a 10-to-1 payout if the player's hand consisted of the ace of spades and a black Jack (either the Jack of clubs or the Jack of spades). This hand was called a "blackjack" and the name stuck to the game even though the bonus payout was soon abolished.

WIkipedia's entry on blackjack contained that little tidbit, and something we here at the Casino Snob didn't know, and while our expertise on the history of blackjack may be rusty, our understanding of the current game most certainly isn't.

So first off, how do you play blackjack? Well before you go any further, you may want to check out How Stuff Works to get the basics. To put it as simple as possible however, you and the dealer are competing with each other to make a hand of cards whose total adds up to 21 without going over. The face cards are all worth 10, and the Ace is semi-wild as either 11, or 1, depending on your choice. All other cards are worth their face value. Each player is dealt one card at a time, and you choose either to "hit" (get another card) or "stay" (stop where you are). The dealer typically always has to hit on 16 or less. Once the dealer reaches a score greater than 17, then you see who wins. So simple, so fun.

What keeps blackjack in the popular eye is its deceptive simplicity. If one follows the "basic" strategy that has been developed and widely circulated, the house odds can be reduced to just about even. Naturally, they never quite tip in your favor, but you can get very close. Here's an Odds Calculator from the Wizard of Odds that can calculate the best strategy for a given rules set.

Now of course, there are always people who are trying to see if they can beat the house edge. They are usually trying to gain an advantage by figuring out what cards are likely to come next. This is known as card counting. By keeping track of the relative value of cards in a shoe (that's the thing holding all the cards) a player may be able to determine that the likelihood of them getting an advantageous hand has increased or decreased, and thus they can alter their betting amount to compensate. Card counting is technically legal, but it will get you tossed out of most casinos, and none-too-politely we're sure. Nevertheless, people are always coming up with new and interesting schemes to count cards.


One of the most famous schemes, is documented in the book: Bringing Down the House. This fantastic read documents how a group of MIT students trained hardcore in how to count cards. They didnt stop there however, and they invented a technique of betting that involved a whole team of players, and allowed them go unnoticed by casinos for some time. Eventually they were found out, and the scheme is now watched for, but still an amazing story. Here's the Blurb from the Publisher:

"Shy, geeky, amiable" MIT grad Kevin Lewis, was, Mezrich learns at a party, living a double life winning huge sums of cash in Las Vegas casinos. In 1993 when Lewis was 20 years old and feeling aimless, he was invited to join the MIT Blackjack Team, organized by a former math instructor, who said, "Blackjack is beatable." Expanding on the "hi-lo" card-counting techniques popularized by Edward Thorp in his 1962 book, Beat the Dealer, the MIT group's more advanced team strategies were legal, yet frowned upon by casinos. Backed by anonymous investors, team members checked into Vegas hotels under assumed names and, pretending not to know each other, communicated in the casinos with gestures and card-count code words. Taking advantage of the statistical nature of blackjack, the team raked in millions before casinos caught on and pursued them. In his first nonfiction foray, novelist Mezrich (Reaper, etc.), telling the tale primarily from Kevin's point of view, manages to milk that threat for a degree of suspense. But the tension is undercut by the first-draft feel of his pedestrian prose, alternating between irrelevant details and heightened melodrama. In a closing essay, Lewis details the intricacies of card counting.

But enough prattle! Here's our links and such for the blackjack elite:

How Stuff Works -- A trainer for the novice blackjack player.

WIkipedia -- More Blackjack basics.. warning contents may change due to wiki-ness.

The Wizard of Odds -- The great and powerful ODDs tell you how to play "right" and how you can close the house's edge.

Casino Snob -- Our very on Cocktail to Match the Machismo of blackjack.

Here are a few accessories you will find useful for your home or away games:


The blackjack strategy cards -- These little guys help you remember how to play em, and they fit snugly in your pocket. Keep them around, and you'll never have to live so Dangerously:

Casino Dealer: 17.
Number Two: Hit me.
Casino Dealer: You have 17, sir.
Number Two: I like to live dangerously.
Casino Dealer: [Hit for four] :21. Very good, sir.
[to Austin]
Casino Dealer: 5.
Austin Powers: I'll stay.
Casino Dealer: I suggest you hit, sir.
Austin Powers: I also like to live dangerously.
Casino Dealer: 20 beat your 5 sir. I'm sorry, sir.
Austin Powers: Well I must admit, cards aren't my bag, baby.

Black Jack Felt Top -- Jazz up your home game with a nice felt top. You'll look a little cooler, but watch out as felt can absorb those spilled mojitos!

Blackjack 6 deck shoe -- And you can't have a home game on your fancy felt, without a nice shoe to deal from! Luckily, the mojitos DO wipe off this guy fine :)


Best Blackjack -- While blackjack books really are a dime a dozen (well maybe more like hundred bucks a dozen), we haven't been let down by Frank Scoblete yet. This book has all you need as a novice, or an experienced player, and along with Bringing Down the House, we're not sure what else your blackjack library needs.

Where We Play

To be honest, blackjack can be played in most any casino. If there are any table games, you will most likely find several blackjack tables. But for thoroughness, here's where we like to haunt:

Treasure Island, Las Vegas -- Plenty of tables, and sometimes you can find low deck counts for those of you who are looking for that edge.

Rio, Las Vegas -- This casino has a soft-17 rule, which means that the dealer will hit on soft 17s. This can give you just a *tiny* but more edge than a regular game.

Hard Rock, Las Vegas -- We just like this place. It doesnt have anything spectacularly different for blackjack, but man.. it does have spectacular fun in its music, food, and *cough* the view.

Foxwoods, Ledyard, CT -- $5 minimum tables on off hours if you keep your eyes open, but expect to play for $10 tables. The place is nice however, so its hard to complain.

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Posted by Russell Miner at September 4, 2006 11:51 AM
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