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How to Play Blackjack

The game of blackjack is simple to learn and easy to play, which is why it is the most popular table game in the world’s casinos. It is played with a standard English deck of 52 cards. No jokers or wild cards are used. While the game is often referred to as 21, it is most widely known as Blackjack, which also denotes a point total of 21 gained on the first two cards by receiving a ten-value card and an ace. Traditionally, a winning hand pays 1 to 1, or even money, while a blackjack pays 1.5 to 1, or 3 for 2. The object of the game is achieving a point total higher than the dealer without going over 21 (busting). The house has an advantage over the player because the player must act first, risking busting.

To begin, players made a wager in their own betting circle. Next, the cards are shuffled, cut, and dealt out, starting with the player to the dealer’s left, one at a time. After each player and the dealer have two cards, the dealer will expose one of their cards. If the dealer has blackjack, the hand ends and players that do not hold blackjack lose their wager. If the dealer does not have a blackjack, play continues with the player to the dealer’s left acting first. Each player may now take additional cards, double down on their first two cards, split their pairs, or “stand” and take no additional cards. When the players are done acting on their hands, the dealer will expose their own second card and follow the simple rule of hitting if they have a point total of 16 or less. If the dealer busts (goes over 21), all remaining players win even-money on their wagers.

Card Values

In the game of blackjack, cards 2 through 9 counts as their face value, all 10’s and face cards count as a 10-value, and aces may be counted as 1 or 11, at the player or dealer’s discretion. An ace with any other card can be called a soft-hand, because drawing a third card cannot make a total over 21 since the player can count the ace as a one-value card. So, an ace with a 7 is either an 8 or an 18; an ace with a 10 is either 21 or 11; a pair of aces is 2, 12, or 22. The player has a hard-hand when the ace is playing as a 1 and taking an additional card might cause them to go over 21, such as a king, five, ace (sixteen).

Winning at Blackjack

Chips for the game of blackjack are usually purchased from the dealer. Turn loose of your money and the dealer will exchange it for chips. The object of blackjack is to beat the dealer’s poin-total. If the dealer and the player have the same total, the hand is a “push” and no money or chips are exchanged. To take additional cards, the player makes the motion of scratching the table, towards themself, and the dealer will “hit” their hand with an additional card. When a player is done hitting, they place their cards face down under their wager (don’t touch the chips with your hand at this point), or if the game is played with the player’s cards face up, the player simply waves their hand from right to left indicating “no More cards” or “stand.”

These standard rules are used at virtually every casino-banked blackjack game in the world. However, each casino may adopt their own rules regarding how many decks to use, when players may double down, and when players may split pairs. The more player options allowed, the better for the player, as long as the player puts the time in to learn the best strategy for each rule.

Table Limits

Casinos are also allowed to set their own table limits, players should look for a sign on the table denoting what can be bet. The sign is usually on the far left as you face the table. A limit of $5-$250 means players may bet any amount from $5 to $250 on each hand. As a general rule for new players, it is wise to find a table where the buy-in is at least 20 units, so a $100 buy-in works well at a $5-$250 table. At a $25-$1,000 table, a $100 buy-in will only get the player four chips, so the chance of lasting more than a few minutes is slim.

Insurance

Insurance is a side-bet offered to the players when the dealer has an ace showing as their exposed card. When taking the insurance bet the player can wager up to half of their original bet and if the dealer does indeed have a blackjack they are paid 2-1 on the insurance bet, but lose their original wager, unless they also have a blackjack. Instead of taking insurance, players holding a blackjack of their own may forego the extra bet and ask for “even money” which the dealer will pay on their original wager. This payoff is the same as when taking insurance. An insurance bet is a wager that the dealer’s unexposed card is a 10-value. A deck of 52-cards has (16) 10-value cards. We already know at least one card (the ace), so that leaves 16/51 cards left in the deck. That makes the odds of the dealer’s down card being a ten 16/35. With this limited knowledge of other cards used so far, insurance is a bad bet, don’t bother. The only time a player who is not counting cards should take insurance is if they are playing a single deck game, see four other cards in play and none of them are a ten-value card. Then insurance would be reasonable to take.

Hitting and Standing

Once the dealer checks for blackjack, the player to the dealer’s left acts first. If the cards are in their hand, they sweep them towards themselves to signify they want a card. This scratching motion lets everybody know, from the eye-in-sky to the pit boss to the dealer, that the player does want another card, called a “hit.”

If the game is dealt face-up and the players do not touch their cards, each player must make a sweeping motion towards themself to indicate a hit.

When no more cards are wanted, the dealer will “stand” and tuck their cards under their wager. If the cards were dealt face-up, then a sideways motion with the hand signifies no-more-cards. Simple rules for the player indicate the best strategy is to hit until a point total of at least 17 on a hard-hand is achieved. If the dealer has to hit their hand (when they have 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 showing), players should stand when their have a hard-total of 12 or more.

When all the players are through, the dealer will hit their hand until they get at least 17. Thus any hand with an up-card of 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 will require a hit. Hit to improve your hand but try not to go over 21. When you get to 17 on a hard-hand, stop hitting. When you have 12 or more and the dealer has to hit, stand.

Double Down

Players are allowed to double down on certain 2-card totals, usually at least on 10 or 11. To do so, the player bets an additional amount equal to or less than the original wager in exchange for a single card. The table limit sign should indicate which point totals players are allowed to double down on, such as “Double on any two cards” or “Double on 10, 11 Only.”

You may also be able to double down on soft-hands where your first two cards are an ace and a small card. Do not do this against a dealer’s up card of 8, 9, 10 or ace, or when you hold 19 or 20.

Splitting

When the players’ first two cards are the same value, such as a deuce and a deuce, they may split them and play two separate hands. A split hand must be for the same amount as originally bet.

Once the bet has been matched, the dealer with split the cards into two hands and hit the first card. The player then has the option of continuing to hit, or standing. Most casinos also allow the player to continue splitting pairs to make up to four hands. The player may also be able to double down after a split. As a general rule, always split aces and eights. When aces are split, most clubs allow only a single card to be drawn, and, when hit with a ten, the hand is a 21, not a blackjack, and pays even money if it wins, not 3 for 2.

Surrender

Some casinos offer the player an option to surrender their first two cards and half their original wager. “Early surrender” is when the player may take the option before the dealer looks under a ten for a blackjack. “Late surrender” is when the casino only allows the option after the dealer checks for blackjack.

Surrender, when played correctly, helps the player. At the least, the player should use the option when they hold a terrible hand like hard 15 or 16 against a dealer up-card of 10 or ace.

Popularity

Blackjack is extremely popular because the house has a small advantage over the player and even novice gamblers have a chance to walk from the table a winner. The overall odds of the game are dependent on the player’s skill and the house rules, such as number of decks in use and when players can double down or split. At liberal Las Vegas Strip clubs, the house edge is about 1.5 %. Players who take the time to learn basic strategy will play with a tiny disadvantage of less than 1%, better than any other game in the casino.

To improve your chances of winning, read the sections on blackjack odds, bankroll management, and of course card counting, where you can actually turn the odds to your favor and beat the casinos at their own game!

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