Blackjack is a casino card game played with one or more standard 52 card decks. Blackjack is played against the house, not against other players. Blackjack is not a game of pure luck – skill is also a factor since players are allowed to make choices during the game that have an impact on the outcome.
In standard blackjack, no jokers or other wild cards are used. A special point system is employed where the cards 2 – 10 are worth their numerical value, while the Jack, Queen and King are worth 10 points each. The ace is worth 1 point or 11 points, depending on what’s best for the hand. An ace can start out being worth 11 points and then shift to being worth 1 point during the course of a hand. Suits and colors are not a factor in blackjack.
The best possible hand in blackjack consists of an ace + a 10 point card. It doesn’t matter if the 10 point card is a ten, jack, queen or king – they are all of equal value. A hand consisting of an ace + a 10 point card is called a Blackjack and when you win with a blackjack, you are paid 3:2 on your bet. (When you win with any other hand, you are just paid 1:1 on your bet.)
The second best hand in blackjack is a hand that is worth 21 points without being a blackjack. It doesn’t matter how you get to 21 points. A hand comprised of 2 + 2 + 2 + 3 + 3 + 4 + 5 is worth the same as the hand king + six + five.
How many decks?
As mentioned above, blackjack can be played with one or several decks. Blackjack with one deck (Single Deck Blackjack), six decks or eight decks are the most commonly offered options. The number of decks used are often displayed on the blackjack table. You can also ask the dealer – it is not secret information.
How do I win?
You win by getting a hand that is better than the dealer’s hand. As explained above, the best possible hand is a blackjack, the second best hand is any other 21 point hand, and so on. This means that you don’t need to be close to 21 points to win, you just need to be closer than the dealer.
Any hand that reaches 22 points or more is automatically a lost hand. It is called going over. If your hand reaches 22 points or more, the dealer will immediately take your wager and remove your cards from the table. You have now lost your wager and you will not get it back even if the dealer’s hand also goes over.
A standard blackjack set up in a casino will consist of a half-circular table, seven player chairs and one chair for the dealer opposite the players. Each player chair corresponds to a designated area on the table where a hand can be placed. This designated area is called a box. A player is allowed to play more than one box during a round of blackjack. In this regard, blackjack is different from casino games such as Caribbean Stud Poker where a player is not allowed to play more than one box at the table.
- At the start of the round, all players will place their wagers.
- The dealer will then give each player a start hand consisting of two face-up cards. She will also give herself one face-up card.
- The dealer will turn to the player sitting to the left of her, and ask if the player wants to stop (stay) or wants to have another card. In some situations, the player may also be able to split or double. You can learn more about these options further down on this page.
If the player stops, the dealer will proceed to the next player (clockwise).
If the player instead wants another card, the player will tell or manually signal the dealer and the dealer will place a third card face-up next to the two initial cards. The player now has the option of stopping (staying) getting a fourth card. A player is allowed to continue to take cards until the hand either reaches 21 points or goes over. If the hand goes over (i.e. reaches 22 points or more) the dealer will remove the wager and the cards.
Once the player stops voluntarily, or the hand reaches 21 points, or the hand goes over, the dealer will turn to the next player (clockwise). It is now time for this player to act.
- If there are any player hands still on the table when all the players have acted, the dealer will give herself a second face-up card.
- Unlike the players, the dealer is not allowed to make decisions regarding her hand. She can not elect to stop or elect to take another card. Instead, she must follow the rules of the table. These rules are normally printed on the table cloth. If the printing says “Dealer must draw 16 and stand on all 17s” it means that she MUST take another card if the hand is worth 16 points or less. It also means that she MUST stop as soon as the hand reaches 17 points, even if is is a soft hand, i.e. a hand where an ace count as 11 points.
A player that gets the hand ace + six might decide to take another card, since there is no risk of going over. If the third card is worth five points or more, the ace will simply switch from being worth 11 points to being worth 1 point, keeping the total point value well below 22 points. This option is NOT available to the dealer who “must draw 16 and stand on all 17s”. She must stay on hands like ace + six, even in situations where it causes the house to lose against all the remaining playing hands.
- If the dealer’s hand reaches 22 points or more, the hand is over and all the remaining player hands win.
If the dealer’s hand doesn’t go over, each remaining player hand is compared to the dealer’s hand. If your hand is closer to the 21 points than the dealer’s hand, you win on your wager. If the dealer’s hand is closer to 21 points than your hand, you lose your wager. A blackjack (ace + 10 point card) will win over any other 21 point card.
In the even of a tie, e.g. both hands are worth 20 points, you get to keep your wager. (There are some blackjack tables where you lose your wager if you tie with the dealer with a hand worth less than 20 points. This rule gives the house a huge edge and is very bad for the players. Ideally, avoid playing at such blackjack tables. They tend to be found in bars and night clubs.)
What is splitting?
Splitting is possible when a hand consists of two cards of identical point value, e.g. six + six or queen + king.
In order to split, you must make a new wager identical in size to the original wager. The two cards will be separated from each other and form the base of two new start hands.
Once the dealer has separated the cards, she will place a new card from the deck on the first card. You will then play this hand in accordance with the regular rules. Once this hand is finished, the dealer will automatically give you a card on your second splitted card, and you will play this hand in accordance with the regular rules.
Some casinos permit splitting a hand that has already been split, while others do not.
Example: You get six + six. You split them. The card you now get on your first six is another six! In some casinos, you can now split again, provided that you are willing to make an additional wager.
What is doubling?
Doubling means doubling your initial wager once you have seen your start hand. You double by making an additional wager that is identical in size to your original wager. Once you have done this, the dealer will always give you a third card for your start hand. You can not refuse this card. Also, you are not allowed to ask for a fourth card; your hand is finished after the third card either you like it or not.
In some casinos, you are allowed to double on any start hand. You may even be allowed to double after a split. Other casinos are more restrictive, e.g. by only allowing doubling on start hands worth 9 points – 11 points and/or by not allowing you to double after a split.
What is surrender?
If you play at a blackjack table where surrender is an option, you can elect to fold your start hand and get half your wager back. Nowadays, finding a blackjack table where surrendering is allowed is difficult. Most casinos have scrapped this option, partly because it can be very favorable for skilled card counters.
Should I buy insurance?
Mathematically speaking, you should turn down the dealer’s offer to sell you insurance. However, skilled card counters sometimes purchase insurance when they have reason to believe that the chance of a dealer blackjack is higher than normal.
The dealer will offer you to purchase insurance when her first card is an ace. You can only buy insurance at the start of the round. To insure a hand, you pay an amount equal to 50% of the initial wager.
If the dealer gets a blackjack (ace + ten point card), a player with an insured hand keep the wager and the insurance premium, provided that the hand is still in the game (hasn’t gone over).
If the dealer doesn’t get a blackjack, a player with an insured hand lose their insurance premium. What happens to the wager is determined by standards rules, i.e. you win if you are higher than the dealer, lose if you are lower and tie if you are equal.