Blackjack Basics


Blackjack is one of the easier casino games to learn to play. So presuming you’ve never played blackjack before let’s go over some basic aspects of the game. Prior to sitting down to a blackjack table it’s a good idea to determine what the minimum bet is at that particular table.  This is generally displayed by a sign to one side of the dealer.  If your threshold or limit to lose on any one hand is set at say $5.00 then you want to make sure that your table has a $5 limit per hand.

play blackjackOnce you seat yourself at a table you will have to convert your cash to chips. Once the dealer has completed any hand in progress they will accept your cash and give you that amount of casino chips in return.  You should place your cash in front of you behind the bet box on the table in front of your seat.  (otherwise your cash could be presumed to be your bet on the next hand). Keep the chips in front of you. You are now all set to make your first wager but first let’s give you some insight into the rules of the game.


The objective in blackjack is to get a better hand than the dealer.  You can accomplish this in one of two ways.

1) by the total of the cards in your hand being greater than the dealers total without going over 21 or

2) by not going over 21 while the dealers total does exceed 21.

Going over a total of 21 is known as ‘busting”. The edge for the casino, in part, comes in that players must go first and if they bust or total over 21 they automatically lose even if the dealer ends up busting as well.

All of the cards in blackjack count their face value. Picture cards are all valued as 10 and the ace can count as either 1 or 11. There is no meaning to card suits in blackjack. They are ignored. The total of any hand is the sum of the card values in that hand. For example a hand containing a 3, 6 and 7 totals 16. Another containing a king and 5 totals 15. Generally it is assumed that the ace counts 11 unless the total of your cards exceeds 21. In this case the ace would revert to a value of 1. For example, Ace, 5 totals 16. If that same player chooses to draw and gets a 9 the total is now 15. Generally a hand that contains an ace that counts as 11 is known as a soft hand (i.e. ace, 7 is a soft 18). A hard hand is any hand that either does not contain an ace or if it does it counts as 1 (i.e. if the hand is a 10 and an 8 or the hand is a 5, ace, 10 and 2. These are hard 18 hands).

Before the cards are dealt, all players must wager a bet by placing chips in their respective betting boxes. Each player plus the dealer will receive two cards. One of the dealer’s card (known as upcard or face card) is dealt up so that players can see the value. The other dealer’s card (known as the downcard or hole card) is not visible to the players or the dealer.

The two player cards are dealt face up, face down, or sometimes one up and one down. In general, blackjack games that are dealt from what is called a shoe (normally as many as 4, 6 or 8 decks of cards ) are dealt face up to the players. In this case you are not supposed to handle the cards.

In blackjack games where the dealer deals from the hand by throwing the cards to the players (single or double deck games) the player cards are usually dealt face down (although sometimes they are dealt one up and one down). In this particular version of the game it is permissible for the player to handle the cards (with one hand only and the cards must always be above the table).

Once the player has a look at his initial two cards and also sees the value of the dealers upcard he can then make his decision as to how he will play the hand. His choices can be as follows:

Hit. With a hit you are asking the dealer to give you an additional card. In shoe games, you can let the dealer know that you want a hit by making a beckoning motion with your finger or tapping the table with your finger. In hand held games, its customary to scratch the edges of the cards toward you, lightly on the felt of the table.

Stand Or Stay. This means you are happy with the total of the hand and you choose to stand or stay with the cards you have. In games involving the shoe, indicate that you want to stand by waving your hand in a side to side motion over the cards. In hand held games, simply slide your cards under the chips that you have wagered in the betting box.

Pair Splitting. If you have two cards the same, for example a pair of 6’s or perhaps aces, you could opt to split these into two hands. When you split you must make another wager equal to the amount of your original bet (simply place this additional wager next to the original wager on the hand).

When you split a pair you play each card as a separate hand and you can draw as many cards as you like on each hand (with the exception of split aces. Most casinos will only allow one card to be drawn on each ace). For example if you were dealt a pair of 8’s (16) and you chose to split, you would have two separate hands containing an 8. You would be required to play out one of the split hands first before moving on to the other.

In shoe games you indicate that you want to split the cards by placing another wager next to the original bet. For hand held games you should toss your cards on the table and then make the secondary bet. Most casinos will allow players to split all cards that have a value of 10 such as a jack and ten or queen and king.

Double down. This option allows you to double your bet. However, in return you receive one and only one draw card. In most casinos you can only double down after you receive your first two cards but before drawing any additional card. To let the dealer know that you want to double down you simply need to place your chip next to the original chip that you bet on the hand (shoe games) or in hand held games of blackjack you toss your cards on the table face-up and then make the additional bet.

Surrender. This option is only sometimes permitted. It allows a player to forfeit their hand.  If it is allowed you would automatically lose half of your original wager. Player’s can surrender their initial two card hand only once the dealer has checked his cards for a blackjack. If the dealer has a blackjack (Ace,10), then surrender is not available. Once a player chooses to draw an additional card the surrender option is no longer available.  When a player surrenders he or she tells the dealer “surrender”) at this point the dealer will remove the player’s card from the table and place one half of the players wager in his chip rack. The player is no longer involved in that hand and will have to wait to play the next round.

The above rule is commonly known as late surrender. In some casinos players are allowed to surrender before the dealer checks his cards for a blackjack. This form of surrender is much more favorable to the player than late surrender but it is not offered very often.

Insurance. When the dealer’s upcard is an ace, the dealer will ask players if they want insurance. This is a side bet in which players are wagering that the dealer’s hole card is a ten-value card. Players can make an insurance bet equal to one half of the initial wager they made on the hand. To make the insurance bet you simply put your chips on the insurance line, which is located right above the betting box. You win your insurance bet if upon overturning the hole card the dealer has a ten-value card. A winning insurance wager pays you 2 to 1 odds.

Even Money. When a player has a blackjack hand and the dealer has an ace showing he will ask the player if he would like “even money”. This means the dealer will automatically give you a 1 to 1 (or even money) payoff on your wager before he even checks his hole card for a blackjack. Taking even money gives you the same result as when making an insurance wager on your blackjack hand.

Unlike players, the dealer in blackjack doesn’t have any playing options. Casino rules dictate that a dealer must draw when the dealer’s hand totals less than 17 and he must stand or stay when the total is 17 to 21. In some casinos, dealer’s must stay on a soft 17 and in others they must hit (it’s better for players if the rules say the dealer must stand on a soft 17).

If the player’s hand exceeds a total of 21 then they automatically lose. If the player’s hand total exceeds the dealer’s hand total, the player wins the hand and is paid at 1 to 1 odds. If the player and dealer have the same total, this is called a tie or push and the player keeps his wager.

In most European casinos, the dealer gives himself only one up card and then waits until all the players play out their hands before dealing himself the second card. This is widely called the ‘European No-Hole card rule’ and it can change a player’s strategy a bit.

Always remember that it’s you against the dealer in blackjack. The two variables that determine how you approach your strategy are the dealer’s upcard and your hand. With additional experience, you’ll be able to use all of the cards in play at your table (yours, the dealers and the other players) to make a more informed decision on how much to wager and how to play the hand.

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