Blackjack is a betting game played with cards. The game is played by a dealer, who represents the house or casino, and from one to several players.
The object of Blackjack is to have cards that total 21 or are as close as possible to 21 without going over.
In Blackjack, each number card is worth the number represented on the card. Face cards (Kings, Queens, and Jacks) are each worth 10. Aces are worth 11 or 1, whichever is more beneficial to the player.
Winning and Losing
If a player draws 21 (an Ace and a face card or a 10) the player has Blackjack and wins the hand unless the dealer also has a Blackjack. If the player has fewer points than 21, but more points than the dealer, the player wins. If the total of a player’s cards exceeds 21, it is called a bust and the player loses. If the player and the dealer have the same number of points, it is called a push and no one wins; in this instance, the player keeps his original wager but does not win any additional money.
How to Play
Each player at the table must place a bet in order to play a hand of Blackjack. This original wager is placed on the table in front of the player, usually in a printed circle or square. When all of the players have placed their bets, the dealer will deal two cards to each player. In most casinos, the cards are dealt face-up, however, sometimes they are dealt face down. When they are dealt face down, the player may tilt them up to look at them.
The dealer also receives two cards. The first of the dealer’s cards is dealt face down, the second is dealt face up.
Once the cards are dealt each player decides, in sequence, whether to stay or stand and keep his existing cards or whether to take a hit and receive additional cards. Most casinos ask players to use hand signals for these decisions. To indicate a desire to stand, the player should hold his hand palm down over the table, fingers together, and move it side to side. To indicate he would like a card, the player should gesture with one or two fingers, drawing them toward his body.
The dealer must take a hit if the total of his cards is less than 17 and stand if the cards total 17 or greater. Some casinos offer variations to this; for example in some casinos the dealer must hit a soft 17, which is an Ace and an 8.
The decision to stay or hit depends on each player’s cards and on the dealer’s visible card. If the player has a 21 showing, it is an automatic win unless the dealer is showing an Ace. When the player wins in this instance, the payout is 1.5 to 1. In other words, the player gets winnings equal to one and a half times his initial bet. If the dealer shows an Ace, he will offer the player even money which means the player can collect winnings equal to one time his original bet, or he can wait to see the dealer’s hole card. If the player waits and the dealer does not have Blackjack, he collects his 1.5 times winnings; however, if the dealer has 21, the player loses his original wager.
If the player shows a total of 10 or less, the player should always hit. Since the highest possible card is an 11, it would not be possible for the player to bust and the hand can only be improved.
For each other card combination, the player must weigh the odds of the player busting compared to the odds of the dealer busting. Since the deck of cards contains more 10s than any other possible number, the odds are that any unseen card is a 10. So, the dealer’s down card must generally be assumed to be a ten. For example, if the player has a 10 and a 3 showing for a total of 13 and the dealer has a 6 showing, assume the player has a 16. Since the player must hit a 16 but is likely to bust, in this instance it is statistically best for the player to stay. If the dealer busts and the player does not, the player will win.
Most casino gift shops sell small laminated cards that indicate the statistically best choice for each card combination. This can be very useful to a novice player.
Other tips and terminology
There are many minor variations of Blackjack, slightly affecting the odds of winning. On average, a player who follows the statistical probabilities and plays consistently leaves the house only a .5% advantage. This is one of the better scenarios for casino gambling.
Different casinos use different numbers of decks for the Blackjack game. While traditionally Blackjack was played with a single deck, today most casinos use multiple decks to play the game. This combined with automated shuffling machines make it harder for players to improve their odds by tracking the cards that have been played and adjusting their decisions accordingly, also known as counting cards .
When a player has a very good hand, he may want to double down. This is the practice of doubling the initial bet after the first two cards are played; after a double down the player is only allowed to take one card on their hit. This should be done when the initial two cards are very good and the dealer’s cards are not very good. For example, if the player starts with cards totaling 10, the likelihood is that the hit card will also be a 10, giving the player a total of 20. If the dealer has a poor hand showing, such as a 6 or 7, it is wise to risk more money for the likely greater winnings.
A split is when the player is given two identical cards on the deal, for example, two 8s. The resulting 16 is not a very good hand, so a split is desirable in this instance. In a split, the player is allowed to split the two cards into two separate hands by placing an amount equal to his original wager on the table. Now, he can hit each of the two separate cards as many times as he would like, bringing each of his two hands as close to the desired 21 as possible. So, instead of a 16, he might now end up with two 18s (the original 8s plus the likely 10s) which are better hands, especially if the dealer is showing something undesirable.