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How to play Blackjack?

Disa Stigh

Estimated Time 12 min

August 27, 2020

Blackjack is by far the most popular casino table game around the world, with more players than craps, Roulette, and Baccarat combined. The basic layout to play Blackjack requires you to learn basic strategy for hitting, standing, doubling down, and splitting pairs. A little time spent learning to play well can make you go a lot farther in this game. In this article, you will learn the fundamentals of Blackjack, as well as how to play the game.

The basic objective of Blackjack

The primary goal is to beat the dealer. There are some misconceptions about the objective of the game of Blackjack but at the simplest level, all you are trying to do is beat the dealer.

How do you beat the dealer?

  1. By drawing a hand value that is higher than the dealer’s hand value.
  2. By the dealer drawing a hand value that goes over 21.
  3. By drawing a hand value of 21 on your first two cards, when the dealer does not.

How do you lose to the dealer? 

  1. Your hand value exceeds 21.
  2. The dealer’s hand has a greater value than yours at the end of the round.

How do you find a hand’s total value?

Blackjack is played with a conventional deck of 52 playing cards and suits do not matter.

  1. 2 through 10 counts at face value, i.e. 2 counts as two, 9 counts as nine.
  2. Face cards (J, Q, K) count as 10.
  3. Ace can count as a 1 or an 11 depending on which value helps the hand the most.

Rules

Blackjack is played with one or more standard 52-card decks, with each denomination assigned a point value. The cards 2 through 10 are worth their face value. Kings, queens, and jacks are each worth 10, and aces may be used as either 1 or 11. The object for the player is to draw cards totalling closer to 21, without going over, than the dealer’s cards.

The best total of all is a two-card 21, or a Blackjack. Blackjack pays 3-2, that is, a two-card 21 on a $5 bet will win $7.50 instead of the usual $5 even-money payout on other winning hands. However, if the dealer also has a two-card 21, the hand pushes, or ties, and you just get your original bet back. But if the dealer goes on to draw 21 in three or more cards, your Blackjack is still a winner with its 3-2 payoff.

The standard table layout for Blackjack

Most games today use four, six, or eight decks. After being shuffled, the cards are placed in a receptacle called a shoe, from which the dealer can slide out one card at a time. Single- or double-deck games may be dealt with from the dealer’s hand.

The play begins when you place a bet. After all, bets have been placed, each player and the dealer are given two cards. In a shoe game, all player cards are dealt face-up, and the players are not permitted to pick their cards. In a single or double-deck game dealt from the hand, cards are dealt face down and players may pick them up with one hand. Either way, one of the dealer’s cards is turned face up so the players can see it. Once the cards have been dealt, players decide in turn how to play out their hands. After all, players have finished, the dealer plays according to set rules.

Hit: If you hit, you take another card or cards in hopes of getting closer to 21. If the player’s total exceeds 21 after hitting, the player is said to “bust” and loses the bet. In shoe games, the player signals a hit by pointing to his cards or scratching or waving toward himself. In facedown games, the player signals a hit by scratching the table with the cards. Verbal calls to hit are not accepted — signals are used for the benefit of the security cameras above the table, so a taped record is on hand to settle any potential disputes.

Stand: If you stand, you elect to draw no more cards in hopes that the current total will beat the dealer. Signal a stand by holding a flattened palm over your cards in a faceup game or by sliding your cards under your bet in a facedown game.

Double down: You may elect to double your original bet and receive only one more card regardless of its denomination. Some casinos restrict doubling down to hands in which your first two cards total 10 or 11. Others allow you to double on any two cards. Double down by taking a chip or chips equal to the amount of your original bet and placing them next to your bet. In a facedown game, at this point, you also need to turn your original two cards faceup.

Split: If your first two cards are of the same denomination, you may elect to make a second bet equal to your first and split the pair, using each card as the first card in a separate hand. For example, if you are dealt two 8s, you may slide a second bet equal to the first to your betting box. The dealer will separate the 8s, then put a second card on the first 8. You play that hand out in normal fashion until you either stand or bust; then the dealer puts a second card on the second 8, and you play that hand-out.

Insurance: If the dealer’s faceup card is an ace, you may take “insurance,” which essentially is a bet that the dealer has a 10-value card down to complete a Blackjack. Insurance, which may be taken for half the original bet, pays 2-1 if the dealer has a Blackjack. The net effect is that if you win the insurance bet and lose the hand, you come out even.

Variations

All Blackjack games are not equal. There are some variations in the rules that are good for the player, and some are bad. The shifts in the house edge may look small, but they make large differences in a game in which the total house edge is less than 1% against a basic strategy player. Here are some common variations and their effect on the house advantage:

Double downs after splitting pairs permitted: A very good rule for the player, it cuts the house advantage by 0.13%.

Resplitting of aces permitted: At most casinos, the player who splits aces receives only one more card on each ace. But if the player receives another ace, some casinos allow the resulting pair to be re-split. This option cuts the house edge by 0.03%.

Early surrender: When the dealer’s faceup card is an ace, the dealer checks to see if the down-card is a 10 to complete a blackjack before proceeding with play. If the house allows the player to surrender half the original bet instead of playing the hand before the dealer checks for blackjack, that is early surrender.

Late surrender: Found more often than early surrender, but still not commonplace, late surrender allows the player to give up half the bet rather than playing the hand after the dealer checks for Blackjack. This decreases the house edge by 0.07% in a multiple-deck game, 0.02% in a single-deck game.

Double-downs limited to hard 11 and hard 10: Some casinos do not allow the player to double on totals of less than 10 or soft hands.

Dealer hits soft 17: If instead of standing on all 17s, the dealer hits hands including an ace or aces that can be totalled as either 7 or 17, the house edge is increased by 0.2%.

Blackjack pays 6-5: Common on single-deck games on the Las Vegas Strip, this game is a bankroll breaker for players.

Conclusion

Blackjack is a great game for casino novices. It is more engaging than a slot machine but is much less complex than Poker. Still, Blackjack can be a favourite of card players at all experience levels. Learning how to play Blackjack by practising more and more is certainly going to help you a lot in the long run.

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