Blackjack is a really simple game, in certain ways. When it comes down to it, all you’re attempting to do is try and beat the dealer. There are several different ways to do this. First by drawing a value for your hand that beats the dealer’s or by the dealer going over 21 or by drawing a value of 21 from your first two cards and when the dealer doesn’t.

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How does the dealer beat you?

1. Your hand exceeds 21.
2. The dealer’s hand is bigger than yours at the end of a round.

Another crucial point to know is that the other players have nothing to do with your game of blackjack. Everything is independent from each other – it’s not poker. Some people may try to convince you otherwise, but don’t listen to them.

How to Find a Hand’s Value

Blackjack is played with conventional cards. The suits don’t matter at all whatsoever. The value of the cards are as follows:

1. 2 through 10 count as the number they are.
2. Face cards are 10.
3. An ace is either 1 or 11, depending on which is better.

Time to Play Blackjack

There are a large number of rule variations of blackjack, and different decks, too. The most common version is a 6-deck or 8-deck, played out of what is called a ‘shoe,’ which is essentially a device that gives players cards, usually made out of plastic. Games that run off of only one or two decks are still able to be found, but are not as common. Most blackjack games will be played with six decks.

Let’s describe a round of blackjack:

  • Chips are bought by players
  • Wagers are made by players
  • Dealer gives cards to players
  • Player figures out their hand and decides to play it
  • Dealer plays their hand
  • Payouts are issued
Poker Cards

Chips Bought By Players

You can’t play at a table in any official casino without chips. At most places, it’s going to require them. You cannot really play with cash anymore, so money will be exchanged for casino chips. Once the money is laid, it will be verified by a pit boss to make sure the transaction is completed and corrected – the dealer will not take money from you directly, so do not bother.

The dealer will then give you your chips. You’re free to do what you want them with them now, place any number or kind of wagers, etc. The cameras in the casino will always be able to see and record the amount of money and chips issued.

Wagers Made By Players

You always start a round by placing your bet in the betting circle. The table will always have a sign or a description letting you know what the betting limits at this establishment are. Many places in the US have a $5 minimum. However, the minimum and maximum at a casino differ greatly depending on where you are.

Dealer gives cards to players

After you place your bet, the dealer will issue cards clockwise to players. One will be faced up, and one faced down (for herself). Then one more card will be issued to each player, face up again. The dealer will issue herself one final face up card, and now it really begins.

Player figures out their hands and decides to play it

You wait for the person on their left to play before you are able to play. Your two face up cards in front of your bet are what you’d add together to be able to figure out your hand. The value of this can go from 4 to 21. If you get an ace and a card that equals 10 (either a 10 or a face card) you have 21 – or blackjack! Congratulations! That’s essentially an instant win unless the dealer also has blackjack. You instantly get paid 1.5 times your wager and don’t have to play the round.

If it’s a more normal round where this doesn’t happen, then you’ll have to figure out the value of your hand and decide whether or not you want to play it. You need to make a decision. It must be nonverbal with hand signals so that the camera can see it.

There are five normal ways to play your hand:

Stand – If you accept your hand, you can stand (wave your hand or have an open palm out) and the dealer will move onto the next player.

Hit – If you want a higher hand total, you can request more and the dealer will keep dealing you more until you reach 21 or bust (go over 21). This can be done by tapping the felt with your finger.

Doubling Down – If you have a total that’s good for you, but you need to take an additional card, you can double your wager and the dealer will give you 1 additional card. The easiest way to do this is just put a wager, the same as your first wager, on the table. The dealer will send a card your way, tilted, so as to indicate you may not receive more.

Don’t ever double down without actually doubling your wager. Statistically, you’re likely to win more by going for the full amount, so don’t double down for less when you have the opportunity to. Some casinos allow it. Don’t do it.

Split –  If you have a pair of 2 cards of equal value, you can put a second wager and the dealer will essentially issue you two new cards and let you bet twice. This applies to face cards, too, because they share a value of 10. Do this by putting the second wager, then do the peace sign to differentiate it from doubling down.

Surrender – Nobody likes doing this, but sometimes it’s best to cut your losses. You can give  up your hand for half of your original bet back. Do this by dragging your finger across the felt like you’re slitting it open. Say the word ‘surrender’ – even if the cameras cannot hear it – as it is possible for dealers to mistake this for hit.

Dealer Plays Their Hand

That may seem like a lot of options, but don’t worry: there are basic strategy rules to follow depending on what the dealer’s revealed card is. This can cut some of the confusion out of the moment when figuring out what to do.

A Few Standard Strategies

Basic strategy is simple: it’s based on what is mathematically optimal in that moment in terms of the best way of winning. It’s based on a formula calculated by millions of games approximated by a computer. That AI helped develop a strategy that assists players in making the right decision at the right time.

It works like this:

Resolving Your Player Hand

If you follow a basic strategy (which limits the amount of money you can lose) and play your hand using one of the 5 options, there are three outcomes.

Standing Right Away – You got dealt a good hand that suggested you should not take further cards.
You changed your hand – You took more cards with a hit, double, or split, and achieved a good hand (total of 21 or less) and did not bust.
Busting/Surrendering – You went over 21 or chose to surrender this hand. If you bust, you lose your whole wager. Surrendering means you lose half. The player has to act first, so even if the dealer will bust, you still lose money.

Finally – it is the dealer’s turn to play, after all of that.

blackjack hand

They will flip over their face down card and add their hand. If the dealer has over 17, they will stand. If they are 16 or lower, they will hit. The healer does not double, split, or surrender. The dealer is also forced to play the same way every time.

The only time this changes is with what is called a ‘soft 17,’ which is an ace and a six. The dealer hits here, because the possibility of getting a much better hand is high.

Remember – the dealer cannot deviate from the rules of the casino or play in a different way. Every single hand and round is played in the same way besides the above exceptions.

Exceptions and Unique Occurrences

Insurance/Ensured Bets: Ensured bets is a side bet that is available when the dealer has an Ace facing upwards. Before anyone plays their hands, you may put a wager up equal to half of your original.

This will get paid 2 to 1, if the dealer has a ten facing down, or, in other words, blackjack. You are betting on the dealer having blackjack, and if you win, you get a 2 to 1 paid out. You should always say no to this unless you can count cards.

This may also go by the name ‘even money’, which is essentially the same. This process is very heavily stacked towards the house and you’ll usually lose the wager that you make. You need to be a pro card counter to make this really work.

Non-Insured Dealer Blackjack: The dealer can just get a normal blackjack without offering insurance/even money. They will check their face down if they have a ten face up. If they have it, all bets are automatically collected unless a player has a blackjack, which as we know just causes a push.

Dead hand: If there are no active players and everyone busts, then the dealer will collect the bets and reset the table. There is no reason to play because the dealer has already won. The table then moves to the next round.

Side bets: This has become more popular in recent years. Insurance is the only normal, universal side bet offered. There are tons of other side bets, however. Almost all of them revolve around placing the bet at the same time as your main bet. You can bet on the dealer busting, getting a pair, betting on a match with the dealer, or a million other things. These side bets are not recommended: casinos offer them because they will win. Counting cards, instead, is a better option.

Rule Variations for Blackjack:

There are a ton of different rule variations and conditions. This can affect how the game runs and is played. Not all blackjack games and rounds are the same, especially in terms of how favorable they are to the player. Here are some of the most common/important ones to know and learn.

Doubling After Splitting (DAS) : You can double a hand you just split. It varies depending on the casino you visit, but this is advantageous to the player, so consider doing it if available.

Re-Splitting Aces (RSA): Certain establishments will allow you to re-split your aces after you have already split a pair of aces. This means if you keep receiving aces you can continously make good hands. This will be often limited because casinos are trying to limit times where the player has a chance of winning big.

Blackjack Table Bonus

Early Surrender: Exactly the same as surrender, except you can surrender before the dealer offers insurance or checks for blackjack. This is highly favorable to the player, where it would actually grant an edge. It has been dead since the 1970’s as a rule.

6 to 5 Blackjacks: This is a rule that increases the house’s edge because it limits how big you’re being paid out when you lose. It makes card counting useless. Be certain to read the rules on the felt before you sit to play.

CSM Blackjack: This is a situation where a casino may use a continous shuffling machine on the blackjack table. This makes card counting much harder and worsens a useful basic strategy. Essentially, it increases the house’s edge.

Single Deck vs Multi-deck: The bigger the number of cards – or more decks – the better for the house, in blackjack. 6 decks are better than 2 decks for the house, for instance. One deck games will have different rules than games with multiple decks. There can be multiple different rules depending on the number of decks – DAS, RSA, etc.

Deck/Shoe Pen (PEN): This refers to the number of cards that the dealer hands out versus the entirety of the cards in all the decks that are being played. This is important: because for someone who counts cards, how full and deep the deck is can make or break a round or a hand if you’re paying attention. Casinos often cut down decks to prevent extremely profitable rounds for players.

Games Similar to Blackjack

Because blackjack is so popular, new games have sprung up that have similar rules to blackjack but are not quite the same. In a lot of ways, casinos are attempting to take advantage of unfamiliar or novice players who don’t understand the differences between blackjack and these games. Avoid these games: we give these descriptions so you can understand them.

Super Fun 21: This is usually a game that acts like single-deck blackjack. You can surrender on any number of cards, double when you want, and you get paid automatically with a 6 card 20 or a 5 card 21. Player blackjacks always win money. However, blackjacks only pay even money. That ruins everything and makes the house edge about three times as bad as it would be otherwise. Obviously, you want to avoid this one.

Spanish 21: This is another popular deviation from standard blackjack rules. You can redouble down on a hand and blackjacks still pay 3 to 2. They remove all 10s from the decks that you’re playing with – face cards are still there, but no tens. This destroys card counting advantages and has a weird strategy compared to normal blackjack which can mess up your efficiency. This game is really great for casinos – which means it’s bad for you. Definitely avoid this.

Free Bet Blackjack: Like blackjack, but you can double down and split without wagering extra money. It sounds too good to be true – and it is. If the dealer busts with 22 instead of 21, all bets push. This doubles the house’s chance of beating you compared to a normal game of blackjack. Once again, stay away.

Blackjack Switch: Slightly different than the others. You begin with 2 hands, and you can switch the top cards to try and make a better hand. It sounds great, right? However, dealer pushes bets if they get 22 and player blackjacks only get even money. Make certain you’re playing normal, real blackjack before you sit down at the table.

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