Blackjack Background
Blackjack was derived from the French game vingtetun or twentyone which originated in the 1700s. The Blackjack name came about as casinos in the USA, in order to attract players offered odds of up to 10 to 1 to any player who's hand consisted of an Ace of spades and a blackjack (jack of spades or clubs).
Blackjack is one of the most popular casino games due to the simple fact that BlackJack like Poker is a game of luck as well as skill and therefore the casino can be consistently beaten by a skilled player using a proper strategy. More complicated strategies such as 'card counting' described below have added to the game's popularity.
In 1956, a paper was published by Baldwin, Cantey, Maisel, and McDermott in the "Journal of the American Statistical Association" laying out a set of recommendations for the play of the game, these recommendations were very close to today's basic strategy. The following year, they published a manual for the public with this system of play, but it attracted little interest until, Edward O. Thorp (PhD), saw the paper and understood that there were parts of the game that had been missed in the past. The first being that the composition of the deck changed with each card dealt, also, some combinations of the remaining cards favoured the house and others favoured the players.
In 1962, Dr. Thorp published his now famous book, "Beat the Dealer", which contained a simple yet profound message that decks of cards have memory. Each hand is dependent on the makeup of the deck at that time and by paying attention to the cards already played, the player can almost predict what will be appearing in the deck next.
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The Blackjack Simulation and Card Counting
With the help of a computer, Thorp did a statistical analysis called the Monte Carlo simulation and discovered that 10's and Aces remaining in the deck put the player at an advantage, while 5's and 6's being left in the deck put the dealer at an advantage. Thus, card counting was born.
If the player could keep track of the cards left in the deck, they could decide how to bet on each hand. For example, if there are many 10's and aces left they would be smart to bet high, and if there are lots of fives and sixes left they might want to bet low.
Card counters make strategy adjustments based on the ratio of high cards to low cards. These adjustments to their betting and playing strategy can give them a small mathematical advantage over the house. Card counters, do not depend on exceptional memory, in order to count cards, because they are not tracking and memorising specific cards. Instead, card counters assign a point score to each card they see and then track only the total score. (This score is called the "count".)
HiLo Count
Different card counting systems assign different point values to the various cards. One of the most common systems, the HiLo Count, is a good example of a counting system. In this system, the cards numbered 2 through 6 are counted as +1 and all tens (which include 10s, jacks, queens and kings) and aces are counted as 1. The cards 7, 8, and 9 are given a count of 0. The HiLo system illustrates a "level one" counting system; more complicated "level two" counting systems assign +2 and 2 counts to certain cards. However any possible advantage gained in the increased accuracy of a "level 2" system is usually offset by a greater frequency of errors due to the system's greater complexity.
KO System
Another commonly used card counting system is the "KO", an unbalanced card counting system derived from Arnold Snyder's unbalanced Red 7 count, published in 1981. The first blackjack researcher to publish an unbalanced card counting system was Jacques Noir, in his 1968 book Casino Holiday. Unbalanced card counting systems eliminate the need to estimate remaining decks to be dealt, a common source of player error in card counting.
Blackjack Hand Odds
A point to note is that both land based and online casinos, are minimising the card counters advantage by either offering reduced odds on blackjack hands from 3:2 to 6:5 on single deck games, or by shuffling the packs randomly before the end. Online casinos in general shuffle the packs after each game. Nevertheless if a player uses a sound basic strategy they stand a much greater chance of optimising their chances in minimising the casinos advantage. This is reflected in the payout charts of the online casinos on our home page, where the casino payout percentage for BlackJack, where individually listed, is generally in the top two.
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Blackjack Rules(1)
Hands in blackjack are scored by their point total. As long as it does not surpass 21 (known as bust), the hand with the highest total wins. Cards between and including 2 and 10 are worth their face value, the jack, queen, king (known as face cards) are also worth 10. An ace's value is 11 unless this would cause the player to bust, in which case it is worth 1. A hand in which an ace's value is counted as 11 is called a soft hand, because it cannot be busted if the player draws another card.
The goal of blackjack is to beat the dealer by having the highest, unbusted hand. If the player busts he loses, even if the dealer also busts. If both the player and the dealer have the same point value, it is called a "push", and neither player nor dealer wins the hand. Players on a blackjack table do not play against each other, their game is with the house dealer, so it is possible for the dealer to lose to one player, whilst still beating another player in the same round.
The minimum bet varies from casino to casino, and even between tables in the same casino. After initial bets are placed, the dealer deals the cards, either from one or two handheld decks of cards, known as a "pitch" game, or more commonly from a shoe containing four or more decks. The dealer gives two cards to each player, including himself. One of the dealer's two cards is faceup so all the players can see it, and the other is face down. (The facedown card is known as the "hole card". In European blackjack, the hole card is not actually dealt until the players all play their hands.) The cards are dealt face up from a shoe, or face down if it is a pitch game.
A twocard hand of 21 (an ace plus a tenvalue card) is called a "blackjack" or a "natural", and is an automatic winner. A player with a natural is usually paid 3:2 on his bet. In 2003 some casinos started paying only 6:5 on blackjacks  although this reduced payout has generally been restricted to singledeck games where card counting would otherwise be a more viable strategy.
The play is as follows:

If the dealer has blackjack and the player doesn't, the player automatically loses.

If the player has blackjack and the dealer doesn't, the player automatically wins.

If both the player and dealer have blackjack then it's a push.

If neither side has blackjack, then each player plays out his hand, one at a time.

When all the players have finished the dealer plays his hand.

The player's options for playing his or her hand are:
Hit: Take another card.
Stand: Take no more cards.
Double down: Double the wager, take exactly one more card, and then stand.
Split:Double the wager and have each card be the first card in a new hand. This option is available only when both cards have the same value.
Surrender: Forfeit half the bet and give up the hand. Surrender was common during the early and mid20th century, but is no longer offered at most casinos.
The player's turn is over after deciding to stand, doubling down to take a single card, or busting. If the player busts, he or she loses the bet even if the dealer goes on to bust as well.
After all the players have finished making their decisions, the dealer then reveals his or her hidden hole card and plays the hand. House rules say that the dealer must hit until he or she has at least 17, regardless of what the players have. In most casinos a dealer must also hit a soft 17 (such as an ace and a 6). The felt of the table will indicate whether or not the house hits or stands on a soft 17.
If the dealer busts then all remaining players win. Bets are normally paid out at the odds of 1:1.
Some common rule variations include:

One card split aces: one card is dealt on each ace, player's turn is over.

Early surrender: player has the option to surrender before dealer checks for Blackjack.
Late surrender: player has the option to surrender after dealer checks for Blackjack.
Doubledown restrictions: doubledown allowed only on certain combinations. dealer hits a soft seventeen (acesix, which can play as seven or seventeen)
European NoHoleCard Rule: the dealer receives only one card, dealt faceup, and does not receive a second card (and thus does not check for blackjack) until players have acted. This means players lose not only their original bet, but also any additional money invested from splitting and doubling down.
There are more than a few blackjack variations which can be found in the casinos, each has its own set of rules, strategies and odds. It is advised to take a look at the rules of the specific variation before playing.
BlackJack Screenshot from 32Red
Blackjack Basic Strategy(2)
Your Hand

Dealer's faceup card

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

A

Hard totals

1821

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

17

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

Rs

16

S

S

S

S

S

H

H

Rh

Rh

Rh

15

S

S

S

S

S

H

H

H

Rh

Rh

1314

S

S

S

S

S

H

H

H

H

H

12

H

H

S

S

S

H

H

H

H

H

11

D

D

D

D

D

D

D

D

D

H

10

D

D

D

D

D

D

D

D

H

H

9

H

D

D

D

D

H

H

H

H

H

58

H

H

H

H

H

H

H

H

H

H

Soft totals

A,9

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

A,8

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

A,7

S

D

D

D

D

S

S

H

H

H

A,6

H

D

D

D

D

H

H

H

H

H

A,45

H

H

D

D

D

H

H

H

H

H

A,23

H

H

H

D

D

H

H

H

H

H

Pairs

A, A

SP

SP

SP

SP

SP

SP

SP

SP

SP

SP

10,10

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

9,9

SP

SP

SP

SP

SP

S

SP

SP

S

S

8,8

SP

SP

SP

SP

SP

SP

SP

SP

SP

Rsp

7,7

SP

SP

SP

SP

SP

SP

H

H

H

H

6,6

SP

SP

SP

SP

SP

H

H

H

H

H

5,5

D

D

D

D

D

D

D

D

H

H

4,4

H

H

H

SP

SP

H

H

H

H

H

2,2 3,3

SP

SP

SP

SP

SP

SP

H

H

H

H

The above is a basic strategy table for the most common 6 to 8deck, Las Vegas Strip rules. Specifically: dealer hits on soft 17, double after split allowed, multiple split aces, one card to split aces, blackjack pays 3:2, and (optionally) late surrender.
Key:

S = Stand

H = Hit

D = Double

SP = SPlit

Rh = suRrender if allowed, otherwise Hit

Rs = suRrender if allowed, otherwise Stand

Rsp = suRrender if allowed, otherwise SPlit
Reference

(1) & (2) "Blackjack." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 18 Jun 2006, 13:01 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 18 Jun 2006 http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Blackjack&oldid=59267624


Further Reading:

Beat the Dealer : A Winning Strategy for the Game of TwentyOne, Edward O. Thorp, 1966,

Playing Blackjack as a Business, Lawrence Revere, 1998 (1971).

Professional Blackjack, Stanford Wong, 1994 (1975).

The Theory of Blackjack, Peter Griffin, 1996 (1979).

The World's Greatest Blackjack Book, Lance Humble and Carl Cooper, 1980.

Blackbelt in Blackjack, Arnold Snyder, 1998 (1980).

Million Dollar Blackjack, Ken Uston, 1994 (1981).

KnockOut Blackjack, Olaf Vancura and Ken Fuchs, 1998.

Luck, Logic, and White Lies: The Mathematics of Games, Joerg Bewersdorff, 2004.

The Theory of Gambling and Statistical Logic, Richard A. Epstein, 1977.


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