Recreational Math

Card and Dice Games

What are the odds when playing blackjack?

Blackjack, or twenty-one (sometimes called pontoon), is a game of chance based on a 52-card deck. The name comes from gambling houses and casinos that wanted to popularize the game by offering a 10-to-1 payoff for a hand consisting of the ace of spades and a black jack (club or spade). It worked, and blackjack has ever since been one of the most popular games in casinos (and as a personal card game), even though a winning hand doesn’t have to contain a jack.

In blackjack, the player plays against the dealer. Each player is dealt two cards: one face down and one face up; the dealer also deals two cards to himself or herself: one face down and one face up. The player then decides, based on how much his or her cards add up to (not to exceed 21), whether he or she wants the dealer to “hit” him or her, meaning having the dealer deal another card from the top of the deck. Numbered cards are valued according to their number; face cards (kings, queens, and jacks) are equal to 10 points; and the ace can either be 1 or 11.

The player wants to get exactly 21, or a number under 21 but more than the dealer. For example, if the player has a 9 of hearts and an ace, the amount is equal to 10 or 20 (9 + 1 or 9 + 11). If the dealer shows a total of 17 with all his or her cards, the player wins, getting twice his or her bet; if the dealer shows a total of 21 with his or her cards, the dealer wins, and the player loses his or her bet. If the dealer and player have the same amount, it is called a push, and the player keeps his or her bet. And if either the player or dealer draws two cards that equal 21, it is called a blackjack and the person with blackjack wins the hand.

Overall, no matter how good you play, blackjack is almost always in the favor of the dealer, not the player, especially when playing in a casino (for more about casinos and winning/losing, see above). There are some strategies that may help a person win, including card counting to determine the cards already used, but most of those tactics are forbidden in casinos.


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