One of the most popular casino card games that players tend to learn first is blackjack, also known as ’21.’ This is because the game is extremely easy to pick up for a novice player and is one of the few games that offers the least house edge; this allows more of a skill element into the game making it much easier for intermediate and advanced players to make money due to several card counting strategies.
Learning the rules and basic blackjack strategy is easy. The betting systems and game play are fairly simplistic and easy to figure out – The goal in blackjack is to ultimately have a better hand than the dealer’s hand without going over 21, which is also known as busting.
Blackjack is the most universally recognized casino game in the world. Also known as “21”, Blackjack has been around for centuries now, and is still the most popular casino table game from Las Vegas, Nevada to Macao, China.
Blackjack is played with a standard deck of 52 cards. In casinos, it is common to find 2, 4, 6 or even 8 decks used in a single game of Blackjack. There is one dealer at the table. There can be as many players as there are place setting around the semi-circle table, usually 4 to 6 max. Each player is competing against the dealer only, not one another.
What is a Blackjack ?
A Blackjack is the best hand in the game, achieved when the player (or dealer) is dealt a natural hand (first two cards only) that equals 21. This requires an Ace, and any card that values 10 (10, Jack, Queen or King).
When Blackjack was first introduced to American casinos, the game was not very popular. In order to attract more players, the casinos would offer a higher payout for getting a true blackjack, meaning an Ace and a “black” Jack. The name caught on, and has stuck ever since.
A blackjack normally pays 1.5:1, or 3:2. So if you bet $20 and hit a Blackjack, you would win $30 (plus your $20 back returned). When the dealer has Blackjack, all players automatically lose their original bet. The only exception is when the player and dealer both have Blackjack, in which case it’s a tie (Push), and the player’s bet is returned.
Blackjack Card Values
You can probably assume the value of each card in Blackjack, but we’ll cover this anyway just to avoid any confusion, especially with the Ace. Each card’s value is as follows:
2-10 = Face Value
Face Cards = 10
Ace – 1 or 11
If the hand totals 21 or less with the Ace counted as 11, it will be 11. If the hand equals more than 21 when an Ace is 11, the Ace drops to 1. For example, A(11)+5+7 = 23, which would Bust, but if you drop the Ace to 1, it becomes 13.
How to Play Blackjack
• Before the dealer deals the cards, players will first have to place their bets. Online, bets can be found as low as $1 to as high as $500 per hand. In a brick and mortar casino, bets will generally start around $5.
• After all the bests have been placed, the dealer will then deal all the cards first starting with the player to his or her left. Each player will receive two cards. The dealer’s cards are dealt one face-down, the second face up.
• Now, once the cards have been dealt, a player will then want to determine the value of their hand. In blackjack, most of the cards value is their ‘face’ value. So for example, a 2 is worth 2, 10 is worth 10, 3 is worth 3 and so forth. All face cards are worth 10 and aces are worth 11 or 1. Any hand that consists of an ace is considered a ‘soft’ hand while any hand that doesn’t have an ace s considered a ‘hard’ hand. All the hands should be totalled up so that players know the total value of their hand.
• Once a player knows the value of his or her hand, they have several options …
Stand: To keep your current hand, taking no more cards.
When a player stands, they have decided that their hand is good enough to go up against the dealer’s and does not take another card. Online there will be a “stand” button while a wave of the hand is all a player needs to do in a brick and mortar casino.
An example of a hand that a player may stand with is a 20, 19 or even an 18.
Hit: To take one more card.
The complete opposite of standing on a hand is “hitting” a hand. When a player “hits” they are saying that they want the dealer to give them another card. For example, a hand that a player may hit would be when they have a 5-4 or 2-6 and so forth. The dealer would “hit” the player as much as the player wants until the player decides to “stand” or “busts” (goes over 21).
Split: Should both cards be the same (i.e. 9+9, Q=Q, etc), the player may choose to Split them. Each card becomes the first card in a new Blackjack hand, resulting in two hands. The player must place an equal wager (same as the first) on the new hand. The first hand is played out (Hit, Stand, Split, etc.), then the second hand plays out.
For example, if a player were dealt a pair of 4′s, they can split those into two separate hands. This player would have to pay another bet, and then would play each hand separately. The dealer would give the player another card for the first hand and the player can then stand, hit or double down and once he is done with that hand, then they’d move to the second hand.
When splitting hands, players can win one hand and lose the other, lose both hands or win both hands. Often this can be a great way to break even and get your money back depending on the circumstance.
Doubling Down in blackjack is when a player matches their original bet in exchange for one more card. For example, hands that players tend to double down with are any combination that makes an eleven in hopes to hit a face card and double their profit. So, a player may make an initial $5 bet and get dealt a 5-6 then decide to double down; so, they will have to match the $5 and then the dealer will give them one card. It will not matter if the card is a 2 or a 6 or whatever; the player only gets one card when doubling down. So, be sure to realize that doubling down does carry a minor risk in which a player will not be able to hit their hand after doubling down.
Doubling down is most often done when the player is dealt 11, since 10s+face cards are the most common, increasing the chance of being dealt 21. A player may only Double on his first Hit, and may not Hit again afterwards.
If a players hand exceeds 21 at any time, he Busts. The hand and bet is instantly lost. The same goes for the dealer.
Other blackjack Bets
Insurance: Insurance is only optional when the dealer’s face-up card is an Ace. The player can purchase Insurance in case the dealer has Blackjack. Insurance cost 50% of your original wager, and pays 2:1 if the dealer has Blackjack, but the original wager is lost (essentially, the player breaks even). If the dealer does not have Blackjack, the Insurance bet is lost and the hand continues.
Surrender: Some casinos will allow a player to Surrender before taking any cards. When a player Surrenders, half of his original bet is lost, and the other half returned and the hand is forfeited … This is very uncommon option.
Blackjack Dealer’s Hand Development Rules
It is important to understand that the blackjack dealer is forced to follow specific rules that govern hand development and how the dealer must play certain hand values. This is how the house ensures a slight advantage over he player at all times. The rules are as follows:
If the dealers hand equals 16 or below, he must Hit.
If the dealer’s hand equal 17 or above, he must Stand.
Soft 17: Most casinos will make their dealer hit their soft 17′s. So any hand that the dealer has that consists of an ace (counted as 11), will require the dealer to hit his or her hand. This can prove to be a positive for the player as this will be another opportunity for the dealer to bust.
Playing Blackjack Online
Learning how to play blackjack will literally only take most players a few minutes to learn and once they do, they can then focus on learning some of the simple strategies that should take beginning players and turn them into intermediate players.
Card counting lesson from an original member of the MIT crew