Though social habits and pastimes have altered considerably over the decades, one leisure activity has continued to maintain its popularity: card games. Playing card games is such a flexible pastime that it allows solitary players, groups of intimates, or indeed complete strangers, to partake of the pleasure. Games can be played competitively, for money, in a casino environment or for worthless
plastic chips and bragging rights in the privacy of your own home. There are many card games that could be explored here, but for the purposes of this piece we will focus on: Blackjack, Baccarat and Three card poker – two enduring greats and a relative newcomer that was quickly taken into the hearts of the populace.
Blackjack is a game with uncertain origins, but one thing widely agreed upon is that it most probably made its initial appearance sometime in the seventeenth century. Its roots are believed to be in Spain, though another early variant was traced to France, not long after, giving rise to some debate on the subject. Suffice to say that no matter where it started out it can now be found worldwide.
Every casino, online or offline, offers it and many people have purchased one of the reasonably priced blackjack starter kits widely available for use in their own home.
Blackjack is one of the simplest card games out there and this adds to its appeal. It can be played with a single deck of playing cards or indeed multiple decks – most commonly 6 or 8. If using a single deck then dealing by hand is usual and if using multiple decks, using a card shoe vastly simplifies the process of dealing. It is a game that pitches individual players against a dealer and each player takes it in turn to play his or her own game against that dealer. Its simple objective? Beat the dealer! How? Either by hitting a straight-up blackjack (often referred to as a natural by those in the know), that is, being dealt an Ace and a ten for your first two cards, where the dealer does not also have a blackjack. Or by drawing cards that when totalled do not exceed 21 but score higher than the total of the cards held by the dealer. Finally – since the dealer must draw cards until his hand totals 17 or more, you can hope that he is forced to continue to draw cards until he goes bust (exceeds 21). Hitting a blackjack is most financially rewarding for players since unlike other winning hands which pay out equal to the wager placed initially – a blackjack pays out at a rate of 3:2 meaning you gain an extra 50% of your original stake for your brilliance!
What do you need to know to play? Well the values assigned to each card for a start. Luckily this is straightforward. The face cards – comprising the Jack, King and Queen – are worth a score of ten each. The number cards (the pips) – that’s cards 2 – 10 – are worth their face value – so a 2 is worth 2, a 3 is worth 3, etc. The most flexible card of all is the Ace – worth 1 or 11 depending on which score is most beneficial to the player at the time the card appears.
If you wish to add another card to your initial hand you should state that you want to “hit” and if you wish to stay with your initial hand simply say “stand”. There are occasions when you may also want to “double”, “split” or “surrender”. A player may “double” – that is double their initial wager – but if they make this request then they are allowed to add only one single card to their initial hand. A
player may “split” if they are initially dealt two cards of the exact same value – for example a pair of 2s – which are then separated, the player adds another bet of the same value as their original to cover the new hand formed, and then subsequent cards are added to both hands as the player demands. A player may wish to “surrender” before drawing any cards beyond their initial hand – that is give up half their original bet to retire from the hand – if they find themselves with cards that leave them in a less than favourable situation. For anyone really serious about the game you can find more information on the specific situations in which surrender is most beneficial in our Blackjack Game Guide.
As with most games there are strategies that can be used in blackjack that optimize a player’s chances to win against the dealer. Basic Strategy is the technique which enables a player to play as intelligently as possible against a dealer. There is a correct play for every player hand vs dealer hand; those of you brave enough to venture into an offline casino – especially those in Las Vegas and Atlantic City – should be aware that the Basic Strategy Charts that the casinos are kind enough to provide can sometimes contain “little errors” so we would advise using the Basic Strategy charts produced by our Blackjack Calculator. Blackjack is such a fun game to play socially whether money is involved or not – give it a go – you’ll love it!
This brings me to Baccarat; like Blackjack this game has a very long history – many claim that it is even older than Blackjack and though it is impossible to tell for sure, there is certainly strong evidence to support its emergence in 14th century France. Its biggest claim to fame is that is name checked in Casino Royale – the first film of the first of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels – which only adds to its cachet. It too is a popular game to play both online and offline and it is a pastime particularly close to the hearts of Asian citizens and those from Macau. Generally, it’s played with 8 decks of playing cards. It’s a game that can be learned easily which makes it suitable for all, and there are not many judgements to be made by players during play. It is a thrilling and often fast-paced pursuit as a result of its volatile nature.
What is the aim of the game? To make a bet before any cards are dealt on either the hand of the banker OR the hand of the player and choose the winner correctly. Each player has a spot before them with a banker’s box and a space for the player’s hand and each player must decide which of the hands in their spot will win once the cards are dealt. Two cards make up the initial hand and once the banker and player have their two cards the combined total of each pair is enunciated. The card values are that the face cards (Jack, King, Queen) have a value of 0; Aces are given a score of 1; pip cards (the number cards) are worth their pip value as in Blackjack – so a 2 of hearts would be worth 2; a three of spades would be worth 3. Therefore, if the Banker draws an Ace and a 5 of hearts, their hand will total 6. In the case of hands totalling more than 10, then the value assigned to the hand is the second number of the total – for example – an 8 and a 5 total 13 and so the hand is assigned a value of 3. It must then be determined whether each hand should draw another card, beginning always with the player’s hand first. There are rules to enable this decision to be made consistently – they are:
- Player hand totalling 8 or 9 – no additional cards permitted.
- Player hand totalling 6 or 7 – player should stand (decline further cards)
- Player hand totalling 0,1,2,3,4 or 5 – player requests a third card (the exception being when the banker’s hand is an 8 or a 9 – referred to as a “natural” because this wins automatically).
Determining whether or not the banker’s hand should request further cards is slightly more complicated and though we will outline it here it can be found in tabular form in our Baccarat Game Guide. The rules governing whether an additional card should be added to the banker’s hand are:
- If the player declines to draw further cards on their initial pair, the dealer simply draws on a
hand totaling: 0,1,2,3,4,or 5; the dealer stands on a hand totaling 6 or 7.
The decision on whether to draw a further card on the banker’s hand becomes more complex when the player’s hand receives an additional card:
- If the 3rd card dealt to the player’s hand is a 9, 10 face or ace then the banker should decline further cards on a hand totaling: 4, 5, 6 or 7 and take another card on a hand totaling: 0,1,2 or 3.
- If the 3rd card to appear in the player’s hand is an 8 then the banker should decline a further card on hands totaling: 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7; if the banker should take another card on hands totaling: 0, 1 or 2.
- If the 3rd card dealt to the player’s hand is a 6 or a 7, then the banker should decline further cards if his hand totals 7; the banker should take another card if his hand totals: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6.
- If the 3rd card dealt to the player’s hand is a 4 or a 5, then the banker should decline further cards if his hand totals 6 or 7; the banker should take another card if his hand totals: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5.
- If the 3rd card dealt to the player’s hand is a 2 or a 3, then the banker should decline further cards if his hand totals: 5, 6 or 7; the banker should take another card if his hand totals: 0, 1, 2, 3 or 4.
The winning hand is the one that totals closest to 9 and in the event of a tie neither hand wins.
There are several variants of Baccarat – if you are interested in learning more about them further information can be located in our Baccarat Game Guide.
Three Card Poker
The final game to cover is Three card poker. It’s a commonly held belief that Three card poker was created in reaction to the slower nature of the more traditional poker game, allowing for a version that attained the same sort of velocity and momentum as other card games offered by offline casinos at the time. David Webb is credited with the conception of Three card poker and it’s significantly more modern than the other two games we have covered, since it first appeared on the scene in 1994, centuries after either of the others.
Unlike regular Poker, in which the players play against each other, Three card poker sees the players compete against the dealer for victory. As with regular Poker, a standard deck comprising 52 cards is used for play. The first step in each game is to make a bet – referred to as the “ante”. Subsequently, three cards are dealt to the dealer and the other players at the table and once the players’ cards are turned over a decision is made as to whether each player wishes to fold or play – the dealer’s hand remains face down for the time being. Folding a hand means that the player loses their ante bet; playing a hand requires the player to place an additional bet, equal to that of their initial ante bet, in order to see the dealer’s hand. If the dealer is in possession of a hand containing a Queen or a higher-ranking card their hand is said to “qualify” meaning it should be compared to that of the player to see which of them has the strongest hand. A description of hand comparisons can be found in our Three card poker Game Guide. If the dealer does not “qualify” – if they do not hold a Queen or higher-ranking card in their hand – then any player that has not folded their hand is paid out. As
with all card games there is strategy for play that is optimal and in the case of Three card poker that strategy is to always decline the pair plus bet and to play on a hand that contains unsuited: Queen, six and four or better.
There is the potential to place a further bet called the “Pair Plus” bet which means that the player can add an additional wager that relates solely to their hand and whether it will be dealt a pair or better.
Whether for evenings out in a casino or nights in with friends, card games can be a wonderful form of entertainment, hopefully this handy guide to three of our favourites will help any of you wishing to learn more about them.
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