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Video Blackjack

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Blackjack or "21" is without a doubt the most popular table game in American casinos today. Video versions of it also exist. Part of the reason for its popularity is the fact that it is a game that can be beaten theoretically by skilled players. In addition, it is a game of choices. The player is actively involved with the results of his play. This combination of skill, choice and luck has caused a blackjack explosion in this country ever since Edward O. Thorp published his seminal work, Beat the Dealer, in the 1960's.

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On the flip side, blackjack is the biggest money maker of all the table games for the casinos. Despite the fact that skillful players can beat it, more unskilled or semi-skilled players play the game than do skillful ones. For every card counter who can scratch out a 0.5 to 1.5 percent edge, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of uninformed, unskilled players giving the casinos edges of 2.5 to eight percent or more. Why these players persist on playing versions of "I have my own strategy" is beyond me; especially when great blackjack books re available for novice players, such as Julian's No-Nonsense Guide to Winning Blackjack by John F. Julian. These books can teach anyone of average intelligence how to cut the casino's edge to a minimum and, in some cases, get the edge for themselves. With a little effort, very little effort, anyone can become a good blackjack player. Yet, strangely, poor players and poor play abound. It's almost as if people don't want to win.

The video versions of blackjack share with their table-game cousin certain family traits. Thus, if you've played the table-game of blackjack, you will be familiar with the basic procedures of the machine variety. Most good video-blackjack games will allow doubling down on any first two cards, splitting pairs, doubling after splits, insurance, and some machines will even allow surrender. Like the table game of blackjack, there are video-blackjack games where the player can get an edge— in fact, some machines are so liberal that a skillful card counter (yes, you can count cards at video blackjack) can attain edges of over two percent!

As in the table game of blackjack, not all video-blackjack games are alike. There are better and worse games. How does one determine which is which? Just as you would in regular blackjack—the rules and options and paybacks must be analyzed.

If you are a blackjack player, you might be asking yourself why bother playing the machine variety? There are quite a few incentives for playing the machine version as opposed to the table version. The first, and most obvious, is that the machine version is cheaper. Most games will allow anywhere from one to 10 quarters or from one to 10 dollars to be wagered on a given round. Contrast this with the table game limits. Many casinos in America and around the world have very high minimum bet requirements for playing the table games. For example, in Atlantic City on weekends most table blackjack games will have minimums of $10, $15 and $25. Just one table-game bet could be your whole stake on a video-blackjack game!

A second, and quite compelling, reason to consider video blackjack concerns the casinos' response to expert play. They do nothing. That's right, you can play unmolested. Unlike a card counter at regular blackjack, the card counter at video blackjack doesn't have to worry about being banned, shuffled up on, or in any way harassed because of his skill. It's stress free. Or, at least, the only stress is whether you win or lose. In the table game variety, how you play the game can cause expert players more stress than winning or losing. Just experience being asked to leave a casino "because you're too good" and you'll know what I mean. Not so with video blackjack. The same casino-executive yabboes who flock to the table pits at the first indication of skillful play and who make life miserable for the card counter will smile pleasantly at the video-blackjack patron and then ignore him. Utterly.

The third reason for considering play at video blackjack is the same rational for playing at Video Poker. You can play your game without having to deal with other players and dealers. It's just you, the dealer-in-the-machine, and the gods of chance. It's a solitary contest played out in private.

However, before getting to the nitty-gritty of percentages and playing strategies for video blackjack, a little refresher course is in order. If you have never played the game, it is important to understand the sequences of decision making and the various options available to you.

In most of the newer versions of video-blackjack, you are given a set time limit in which to make your decision (usually six to 10 seconds) at which point the machine will lock in your initial two-card hand. This is where video blackjack will depart from video poker—the machine sets the playing pace in many video-blackjack games. However, you will also find machines that do not set a time limit for decision making. These will allow you to play at your own pace.

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