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The rules of blackjack are simple enough to understand: Back-counting is generally done on shoe games, of 4, 6, or 8 decks, although it can be done on pitch games of 1 or 2 decks. If a player's first two cards are of the same denomination, such as two jacks or two sixes, he may choose to treat them as two separate hands when his turn comes around. However, if a player uses the right strategy they could turn the game into more of a game of skill than luck, as the odds will certainly be in their favor. Tens, Jacks, Queens, and Kings are usually counted as 10 each. The player may gauge the effect of removal for all cards dealt, and assess the current house advantage of a game based on the remaining cards. Though obviously not logical, no one said humans, and gamblers especially, ever were.
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If a player's first two cards are an ace and a "ten-card" a picture card or 10 , giving him a count of 21 in two cards, this is a natural or "blackjack. If the dealer has a natural, he immediately collects the bets of all players who do not have naturals, but no additional amount. If the dealer and another player both have naturals, the bet of that player is a stand-off a tie , and the player takes back his chips. If the dealer's face-up card is a ten-card or an ace, he looks at his face-down card to see if the two cards make a natural.
If the face-up card is not a ten-card or an ace, he does not look at the face-down card until it is the dealer's turn to play. The player to the left goes first and must decide whether to "stand" not ask for another card or "hit" ask for another card in an attempt to get closer to a count of 21, or even hit 21 exactly. Thus, a player may stand on the two cards originally dealt him, or he may ask the dealer for additional cards, one at a time, until he either decides to stand on the total if it is 21 or under , or goes "bust" if it is over In the latter case, the player loses and the dealer collects the bet wagered.
The dealer then turns to the next player to his left and serves him in the same manner. The combination of an ace with a card other than a ten-card is known as a "soft hand," because the player can count the ace as a 1 or 11, and either draw cards or not. For example with a "soft 17" an ace and a 6 , the total is 7 or While a count of 17 is a good hand, the player may wish to draw for a higher total. If the draw creates a bust hand by counting the ace as an 11, the player simply counts the ace as a 1 and continues playing by standing or "hitting" asking the dealer for additional cards, one at a time.
When the dealer has served every player, his face-down card is turned up. If the total is 17 or more, he must stand. If the total is 16 or under, he must take a card. He must continue to take cards until the total is 17 or more, at which point the dealer must stand. If the dealer has an ace, and counting it as 11 would bring his total to 17 or more but not over 21 , he must count the ace as 11 and stand. The dealer's decisions, then, are automatic on all plays, whereas the player always has the option of taking one or more cards.
When a player's turn comes, he can say "Hit" or can signal for a card by scratching the table with a finger or two in a motion toward himself, or he can wave his hand in the same motion that would say to someone "Come here!
If a player's first two cards are of the same denomination, such as two jacks or two sixes, he may choose to treat them as two separate hands when his turn comes around.
The amount of his original bet then goes on one of the cards, and an equal amount must be placed as a bet on the other card. The player first plays the hand to his left by standing or hitting one or more times; only then is the hand to the right played. The two hands are thus treated separately, and the dealer settles with each on its own merits.
With a pair of aces, the player is given one card for each ace and may not draw again. Also, if a ten-card is dealt to one of these aces, the payoff is equal to the bet not one and one-half to one, as with a blackjack at any other time.
Another option open to the player is doubling his bet when the original two cards dealt total 9, 10, or When the player's turn comes, he places a bet equal to the original bet, and the dealer gives him just one card, which is placed face down and is not turned up until the bets are settled at the end of the hand.
With two fives, the player may split a pair, double down, or just play the hand in the regular way. Note that the dealer does not have the option of splitting or doubling down. When the dealer's face-up card is an ace, any of the players may make a side bet of up to half the original bet that the dealer's face-down card is a ten-card, and thus a blackjack for the house.
Once all such side bets are placed, the dealer looks at his hole card. If it is a ten-card, it is turned up, and those players who have made the insurance bet win and are paid double the amount of their half-bet - a 2 to 1 payoff.
When a blackjack occurs for the dealer, of course, the hand is over, and the players' main bets are collected - unless a player also has blackjack, in which case it is a stand-off. Insurance is invariably not a good proposition for the player, unless he is quite sure that there are an unusually high number of ten-cards still left undealt. A bet once paid and collected is never returned.
Thus, one key advantage to the dealer is that the player goes first. If the player goes bust, he has already lost his wager, even if the dealer goes bust as well. If the dealer goes over 21, he pays each player who has stood the amount of that player's bet. If the dealer stands at 21 or less, he pays the bet of any player having a higher total not exceeding 21 and collects the bet of any player having a lower total.
If there is a stand-off a player having the same total as the dealer , no chips are paid out or collected. When each player's bet is settled, the dealer gathers in that player's cards and places them face up at the side against a clear plastic L-shaped shield.
The dealer continues to deal from the shoe until he comes to the plastic insert card, which indicates that it is time to reshuffle. Once that round of play is over, the dealer shuffles all the cards, prepares them for the cut, places the cards in the shoe, and the game continues.
Winning tactics in Blackjack require that the player play each hand in the optimum way, and such strategy always takes into account what the dealer's upcard is. As they are unable to ban counters even when identified, Atlantic City casinos have increased the use of countermeasures. Monitoring player behavior to assist with detecting the card counters falls into the hands of the on-floor casino personnel "pit bosses" and casino-surveillance personnel, who may use video surveillance "the eye in the sky " as well as computer analysis, to try to spot playing behavior indicative of card counting.
Early counter-strategies featured the dealers' learning to count the cards themselves to recognize the patterns in the players. Many casino chains keep databases of players that they consider undesirable. For successful card counters, therefore, skill at "cover" behavior, to hide counting and avoid "drawing heat" and possibly being barred, may be just as important as playing skill. Detection of card counters will be confirmed after a player is first suspected of counting cards; when seeking card counters, casino employees, whatever their position, could be alerted by many things that are most common when related to card counting but not common for other players.
Card counters may make unique playing strategy deviations not normally used by non-counters. Extremely aggressive plays such as splitting tens and doubling soft 19 and 20 are often called out to the pit to notify them because they are telltale signs of not only card counters but hole carding. Several semi-automated systems have been designed to aid detection of card counters.
The MindPlay system now discontinued scanned card values as the cards were dealt. The Shuffle Master Intelligent Shoe system also scans card values as cards exit the shoe. Software called Bloodhound and Protec 21  allow voice input of card and bet values, in an attempt to determine the player edge. A more recent innovation is the use of RFID signatures embedded within the casino chips so that the table can automatically track bet amounts. Automated card-reading technology has known abuse potential in that it can be used to simplify the practice of preferential shuffling —having the dealer reshuffle the cards whenever the odds favor the players.
To comply with licensing regulations, some blackjack protection systems have been designed to delay access to real-time data on remaining cards in the shoe. With card values, play decisions, and bet decisions conveniently accessible, the casino can analyze bet variation, play accuracy, and play variation. The simplest way a card counter makes money is to bet more when he has an edge. While playing back the tapes of a recent session of play, software can generate a scatter plot of the amount bet versus the count at the time the bet was made and find the trendline that best fits the scattered points.
If the player is not counting cards, there will be no trend; his bet variation and the count variation will not consistently correlate. If the player is counting and varying bets according to the count, there will be a trend whose slope reflects the player's average edge from this technique.
When card counters vary from basic strategy, they do so in response to the count, to gain an additional edge. Software can verify whether there is a pattern to play variation. Of particular interest is whether the player sometimes when the count is positive takes insurance and stands on 16 versus a dealer 10, but plays differently when the count is negative.
Casinos have spent a great amount of effort and money in trying to thwart card counters. Countermeasures used to prevent card counters from profiting at blackjack include: Nevada have few legal restrictions placed on these countermeasures. Other jurisdictions such as New Jersey limit the countermeasures a casino can take against skilled players.
Some countermeasures result in disadvantages for the casino. Frequent or complex shuffling, for example, reduces the amount of playing time and consequently the house winnings. Others, known as continuous shuffle machines CSMs , allow the dealer to simply return used cards to a single shoe to allow playing with no interruption.
Because CSMs essentially force minimal penetration, they greatly reduce the advantage of traditional counting techniques. American mathematician Edward O. Thorp is considered the father of card counting.
Although mathematically sound, some of the techniques described no longer apply, as casinos took counter-measures such as no longer dealing to the last card. Also, the counting system described count is harder to use and less profitable than the point-count systems that have been developed since. Even before the publication of Beat the Dealer , however, a small number of professional card counters were beating blackjack games in Las Vegas and casinos elsewhere.
One of these early card counters was Jess Marcum, who is described in documents and interviews with professional gamblers of the time as having developed the first full-fledged point-count system. Another documented pre-Thorp card counter was a professional gambler named Joe Bernstein, who is described in the book I Want To Quit Winners , by Reno casino owner Harold Smith, as an Ace counter feared throughout the casinos of Nevada.
And in the book Playing Blackjack to Win , Roger Baldwin, Wilbert Cantey, Herbert Maisel, and James McDermott known among card counters as "The Four Horsemen" published the first accurate blackjack basic strategy and a rudimentary card-counting system, devised solely with the aid of crude mechanical calculators —what used to be called "adding machines. From the early days of card-counting, some players have been hugely successful, including Al Francesco, the inventor of blackjack team play and the man who taught Ken Uston how to count cards, and Tommy Hyland , manager of the longest-running blackjack team in history.
Ken Uston, though perhaps the most famous card-counter through his 60 Minutes television appearance and his books, tended to overstate his winnings, as documented by players who worked with him, including Al Francesco and team member Darryl Purpose. In the s and s, as computing power grew, more advanced and more difficult card-counting systems came into favor. Many card counters agree, however, that a simpler and less advantageous system that can be played flawlessly for hours earns an overall higher return than a more complex system prone to user error.
In the s Ken Uston was the first to write about a tactic of card counting he called the Big Player Team. The book was based on his experiences working as a "big player" BP on Al Francesco's teams. In big-player blackjack teams a number of card counters, called "spotters," are dispatched to tables around a casino, where their responsibility is to keep track of the count and signal to the big player when the count indicates a player advantage.
The big player then joins the game at that table, placing maximum bets at a player advantage. When the spotter indicates that the count has dropped, he again signals the BP to leave the table.
By jumping from table to table as called in by spotters, the BP avoids all play at a disadvantage. In addition, since the BP's play appears random and irrational, he avoids detection by the casinos. The spotters, who are doing the actual counting, are not themselves changing their bet size or strategy, so they are relatively inconspicuous. With this style of play, a number of blackjack teams have cleared millions of dollars through the years. The publication of Ken Uston's books and of his landmark lawsuits against the casinos, both stimulated the growth of blackjack teams Hyland's team and the first MIT team were formed in Atlantic City shortly after the publication of Million Dollar Blackjack and increased casino awareness of the methods of blackjack teams, making it more difficult for such teams to operate.
Hyland and Francesco soon switched to a form of shuffle tracking called "Ace sequencing. This made it more difficult for casinos to detect when team members were playing with an advantage.
In , members of the Hyland team were arrested for Ace sequencing and blackjack team play at Casino Windsor in Windsor, Ontario , Canada. It was documented in court that Nevada casinos with ownership stakes in the Windsor casino were instrumental in the decision to prosecute team members on cheating charges. However, the judge ruled that the players' conduct was not cheating, but merely the use of intelligent strategy.
Automatic shuffling machines ASMs or batch shufflers , that randomly shuffle decks, interfere with the shuffle tracking variation of card counting by hiding the shuffle. Continuous shuffling machines CSMs , that partially shuffle used cards back into the "shoe" after every hand, interfere with card counting.
These machines can result in some of the cards just played on the table being re-shuffled into positions fairly close to the top of the shoe, seriously damaging the effectiveness of card-counting.
They will also learn the different card values that are used during the game, so the player can try and get as close to 21 as possible and beat the house.
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