In blackjack players individually play against the dealer and not against each other. The objective is to reach a hand value closer to twenty-one than the dealer’s hand value without crossing twenty-one. The value of the hand is the sum of values of the individual cards. Cards from twos to tens are valued at face value. Jacks, queens and kings have a value of ten. Aces are valued at either one or eleven as the occasion demands. The hand that gives the game its name is blackjack. This is a dealt hand consisting of any ace and any card of value ten. The total hand value of blackjack is twenty-one.
The game of blackjack begins with the players placing the bets. Then the dealer deals two cards face up to each player and two cards to himself, one of which is face up and the other is face down. Each player in turn makes his moves. The most common moves are hitting or standing. Hitting means asking the dealer to deal another card. Standing means that the player does not require another card. If the player hits and with the addition of the new card his hand value exceeds twenty-one then he busts and immediately loses the game and his wager irrespective of what happens later. If the player stands then he has to wait for the dealer to play his hand and the outcome is decided after that. The player has options other than hitting or standing. One move is called double down. If the player thinks his dealt hand is good then he can double his wager but has to take only one additional card. If both the dealt cards of the player are of the same rank the player can split the hand. The player then places another identical wager and plays both hands independently. If the player finds his dealt cards are not good enough then he can surrender the game by losing half his wagered amount. If the dealer’s face up card is an ace the player can place a side bet of half his original wager that the dealer would get a blackjack. This bet is known as insurance. If the dealer is dealt a blackjack then the insurance bet pays out at 2:1, otherwise this bet loses.
When all the players have finished playing it is the dealer’s turn to play his hand. The does not make any decisions. He has to keep hitting till his hand value is seventeen or more. In the process if the dealer’s hand value exceeds twenty-one then he busts and the players who have not bust win the game. They are paid out at 1:1. If the dealer does not bust the hand value of each player is compared individually with that of the dealer. If the player’s hand value is greater he is paid out at 1:1. If the dealer’s hand value is greater the player loses his wager. If the hand values are the same then the wager is returned to the player. If the player gets a blackjack he is paid out at 3:2.
While playing blackjack the player has to decide whether to hit or stand or double down or split. How he goes about deciding this is known as blackjack strategy. Blackjack strategy has been formulated by simulating hundreds of thousands of games on the computer and arriving at the optimum moves in a given set of circumstances. Hence the first thing required is to understand the parameters that define the set of circumstances.
The most important parameter is whether the player’s hand value is a soft total or a hard total. In a soft total the ace can take the value of 11. In a hard total either there is no ace or the ace is constrained to take the value of 1. The other parameters are the player’s existing hand value and the dealer’s open card.
The strategies for hitting and doubling down depend on whether the total is soft or hard. For a soft total the player should hit in the following circumstances. If the player’s hand value is 17 or less the player should always hit, because if he busts the ace can be valued at 1. If the player’s hand value is 18, then hit unless the dealer’s open card is a nine, ten, Jack, Queen, King or Ace. If the player’s hand value is 19 or more then never hit. For a soft total the player should double down in the following circumstances. If the player’s hand value is 17 or 18, then double down when the dealer’s open card is three, four five or six. If the player’s hand value is 15 or 16, then double down when the dealer’s open card is four five or six. If the player’s hand value is 13 or 14, then double down when the dealer’s open card is five or six. For all other hand values do not double down.
For a hard total the player should hit in the following circumstances. If the dealer’s open card is two or three, then hit with a player’s hand value of 12 or less. If the dealer’s open card is four, five or six, then hit with a player’s hand value of 11 or less. For all other dealer’s open card hit with a player’s hand value of 16 or less. For a player’s hand value of 17 or more never hit. For a hard total the player should double down in the following circumstances. If the player’s hand value is 11, then double down for any dealer’s open card except an ace. If the player’s hand value is 10, then double down for any dealer’s open card except a ten or ace. If the player’s hand value is 9, then double down for any dealer’s open card except a three, four, five or sic. For all other player’s hand values never double down.
The player should split in the following circumstances. If the player has eights or aces, then always split. If the player has twos or threes, then split when the dealer’s open card is four, five, six or seven. If the player has sixes, then split when the dealer’s open card is three, four, five or six. If the player has sevens, then split when the dealer’s open card is less than an eight. If the player has nines, then split when the dealer’s open card is seven, ten or Ace. In other cases never split.
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