Blackjack 101: Learning To Count To 21

The first form of what would later be called Blackjack or 21 can be found in casinos in France. It was called “vingt-et-un” in French or “twenty one” in English.

When first introduced to the United States, the game was not very popular. In response, casinos offered larger payouts (of 10:1) for those who hit an ace of spades and a black jack (spades or clubs). This is where the name “Blackjack” came from and today, it is the most popular card game in casinos all over the world including Vegas, Monte Carlo and Macau.

How to Play:

DealerWhen you play Blackjack, your opponent is dealer – not the other players sitting with you at the table. The goal of the game (and thus, how you win more money) is to reach a value of 21 through the cards that are dealt you.

Cards 2 through to 10 are all worth the number on the card. A 2 card is worth 2, a 4 card is worth 4 and so on. Face cards (Jack, Queen, King) are all worth 10. And the trickiest one is the Ace card. The Ace card is worth 11 or 1 if 11 would cause the hand to reach over 21 (causing the hand to “bust”).

When playing, each player is dealt 2 cards. The dealer also deals her/himself 2 cards, but 1 will not be visible. You can be dealt another 2 cards (getting a “hit”) to help you get to 21 or you can “stay” with the cards you currently hold. But if you go over 21 and “bust,” then you lose.

How to Win:

Blackjack PlayersThe goal is to reach a value of 21 through the cards that are dealt to you or get as close to 21 as possible. Remember that you are also playing the dealer – so it’s about trying to get closer to 21 than the dealer. Whoever is closer to 21, has 21, or does not bust over the other (dealer or player), wins.

The strategy is where the game gets fun – trying to figure out at what point you should hit or stand – and what the likelihood is for your dealer to win. Most Blackjack tables have the rule that dealers must keep “hitting” their hand until they reach or 17 or more. This can give players an advantage because they are not forced to play with this rule and can thus strategize accordingly.


Splitting. If you are dealt 2 of the same cards (i.e. 8 diamonds and 8 clubs), you can “split” the hand into 2 hands. So you’ll start with 2 hands with 1 card each, and you can get “hits” on each of them.

Double Down – when you double your wager after you are dealt, get “hit” with one more card, and then stand.

Card Counting is a largely controversial activity in gambling and especially in Blackjack. Some say that it is not wrong but because it gives the player an edge over the casino, casinos don’t look too kindly on card counters. Card counting occurs when a player mentally keeps track of which cards have already been seen or played with. That way, they can guess whether the dealer’s hidden card will be lower or higher, depending on which cards have already been played with in previous rounds. Knowing what the dealer is likely to have helps a player strategize his/her wager accordingly. To combat card counting, some Blackjack tables use more than one deck. For more, read up on the MIT Blackjack Team.

Learn other games with our Casino Games 101 Series!

> Blackjack 101: Learning to Count to 21

> Slots 101: The Classic One Armed Machines

> Roulette 101: Spin Spin Spin

> Baccarat 101: Counting to 9

> Craps 101: Easier Than You Think!



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