Here I cover different aspects of the game of blackjack. Take your time to go threw it, and also the other pages here at CountingEDGE.com to Learn how to play blackjack. To familiarize yourself with the history and origins of blackjack, click here. If you have any question drop me a message and i will do my best to get back to you. If you have never played blackjack before, it is not that hard and you can also take a look on my other page for first time blackjack players!
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Blackjack Game Basics
The object of the game of blackjack is simple and straightforward: as a player you want to get cards totaling 21, or as close to 21 as possible without going over. In order to win, the total of your cards must be higher than the total of the cards held by your opponent. In blackjack your opponent is always the house, who is represented by the dealer. No matter how many other players are sitting at the table, the dealer is the only one who must be beaten in order for you to win a hand and collect a winning bet. There can be multiple winners and losers on each hand dealt at the blackjack table because each player is competing against the house.
Originally, blackjack was played with a single deck of cards. This is almost never the case nowadays. A minimum of two decks are used in most casinos, and more commonly you will find games which use six to eight decks. The decks are shuffled together and placed in a shoe. A shoe is a plastic tray which sits to the left of the dealer. The shoe was introduced to increase the house’s edge over the player and to discourage card-counting.
While there are many systems available which propose to teach card-counting for today’s blackjack player, the best advice is to forget it. Not only is it extremely difficult to maintain an accurate count into a six or eight-deck shoe, the penalties for getting caught far outweigh the potential returns. You can be banned from the casino and even prosecuted in some localities. Don’t risk it. Stick to basic strategy and focus on making the right play on every hand instead of trying to count cards.
Blackjack Card Values
Each playing card used in blackjack is assigned a specific numeric value. Cards numbered from 2-9 are assigned face value. All 10’s and face cards—jack, queen, king—have a value of 10. An ace is the only card in blackjack which has two possible values. It can be counted as either 1 or 11.
These totals are important to remember because they ultimately make up the value of your hand. Let’s look at an example. To begin the game you are dealt a King of Spades and the Six of Hearts. The total of your hand at this point is 16. 10 (King) + 6 (Six) = 16. In the game of blackjack the suits of the cards don’t matter. The Eight of Hearts has the same value as the Eight of Spades. Both of them count as 8 toward your total.
Because aces are assigned two possible values, hands which contain an ace but do not form a blackjack are referred to as “soft” hands. For example, an ace and a 6 is a “soft” 17. Players can attempt to improve these hands by taking an additional card without the fear of exceeding 21. A hand which does not contain an ace is referred to as a “hard” hand. A hard 17 would be a 10 and a 7.
Some Information about the ACE Playing card
The term ACE originated in dice games, where it referred to the side with only one dot. In early card gambling, the ace was the lowest value and usually a bad draw. In fact, the term was long used to mean bad luck in Europe. A few games as far back as the 16th century featured high aces, but it would not become a common practice until the turmoil of 18th.
The same French Revolution that drove the game 21 to America also changed the way the ace was perceived in games. Suddenly, it was politically incorrect to have the royal cards at the top of the deck, especially after the French king lost his head. To remedy this, French gamblers brought the lowly ace, a symbol of the common man, to the highest value. At the same time, the royal face cards were stripped of their crowns and reduced to personified representations of ideals such as liberty and democracy. The arrival of Napoleon would restore the monarchy, but the ace kept its new status.
Today, the ace is one of the most important cards in a blackjack hand due to its ability to change between one and 11 as needed. The only way to win a natural blackjack, and by extension a higher payoff, is to have an ace as part of the hand. At the same time, an ace that might otherwise have contributed to a bust can be brought down to a one and possibly save the gambler from an expensive loss.
What does the ‘BLACKJACK’ ‘natural’ mean?
A blackjack or “natural” occurs whenever the value of the initial two cards received by the player or dealer totals 21. In order for this to happen one card must be an ace and the other must be a 10-value card (10, jack, queen, or king of any suit). It is possible to make a total of 21 with more than two cards, as we will see later, but a “natural” blackjack is always comprised of the initial two cards received in a hand of play.
Whenever a player or the dealer receives a blackjack the hand is won without further play. If you receive a blackjack there is no need to do anything further with your hand; the dealer will pay your winning bet and collect the cards. The hand is over. If the dealer has blackjack everyone at the table loses and a new hand is begun. The exception to this is when both a player AND the dealer have blackjack. In this case the hand is a “push” or tie. No win, no loss. There is, however, an option you can use in this scenario to guarantee an even-money payoff which is known as INSURANCE. We’ll talk more about that and other player options in just a bit.
Getting a blackjack is rare but very favorable. Instead of collecting even-money on your initial bet a blackjack will yield a return of 3-2. If your initial bet was $10, you’ll be paid $15 for a winning blackjack.
Selecting a Blackjack Table to Play At
First, let’s talk about how a blackjack table is laid out. The dealer stands behind the table which is a semi-circle and faces the players. There are multiple seats at each table. In most cases the maximum number of players at a table is six, but some tables provide space for as many as seven players. The space directly in front of the player on the table is where their cards will be dealt. In a physical casino you are not permitted to touch the cards except in some games which are played with one or two decks.
In a physical casino the blackjack tables are all grouped together around a larger area which is known as the “pit” and is overseen by a supervisor or “pit boss”. The pit boss is responsible for the accuracy of the transactions at the table and making sure play runs smoothly. He or she is also charged with resolving any disputes which may arise between the players and the dealer.
Each table has a minimum bet which will be posted on a placard that is visible to everyone. The minimum bet is the smallest bet a player can make in order to receive cards in a round of play. Blackjack tables can have minimum bets which range from as little as $1 to $500 or more. Blackjack tables may also vary in the number of decks used in a game. Typically, the fewer number of decks used in game amounts to a higher minimum bet.
The primary consideration when selecting a table is the amount of funds the player has available to play with. This playing capital, or bankroll, will help determine the appropriate level at which to play. As a general rule, you should have at least 50 times the minimum bet in wagering capital in order to give yourself a good chance for success. As an example, to play at a table with a $5 minimum bet you should have at least $250 to begin. Of course, the casino will happily allow you to buy-in with any amount that equals the table minimum. They will also happily take it from you when you bust on the first hand.
Blackjack is a game that is particularly susceptible to swings because it is mostly played with multiple decks of cards. Many hands in a row can be lost before the cards turn in the player’s advantage. The only way to prevent being wiped out during a bad swing is to have adequate capital to withstand a bad run.
Online Blackjack Table Selection
If you’re playing blackjack in an online casino, the table selection process is a little different. Many online casinos have a virtual lobby which lists the tables available and the minimum bet required to play at each.
When you have found a table with the minimum bet that suits your bankroll you simply highlight it and click. You’ll then be taken to the game itself where you can click on any of the empty seats available at the table.
In online blackjack play it is also common to play head-to-head against the dealer. In other words, you will not observe other players at the table. The only people present will be you and the dealer.
This may be interesting: What to do when the blackjack table limit goes up.
Where To Sit At A Live Blackjack Table
In most cases when playing blackjack online you have no choice over which seat you will occupy at a table. This is not true in a live casino, and certain seats can offer a potential advantage or disadvantage to the astute player.
In a live blackjack game the seat to the immediate left of the dealer is known as “first base” and this player is the first to receive cards in a round of play. This player will also be the first to act on his/her hand. At the opposite end of the table, just to the immediate right of the dealer, is the seat known as “third base”. This player will receive their cards and act on them last of all the players in a hand. The dealer at the blackjack table is always the last to receive cards.
The advantage of sitting in the “third base” seat is obvious. You will have an opportunity to see all of the decisions made by other players in the game before acting on your hand. In any gambling game information is a powerful thing. By the same token, sitting in the “first base” seat means you will act first without the benefit of seeing which cards come out of the shoe as the remaining players act on their hand.
Seat selection is more important to those who wish to maintain an idea of whether the deck is currently favorable to the house or to the player. Sometimes the extra bit of information gleaned from the actions of the players ahead of you can provide an edge, but unless you are fairly skilled at the game don’t put too much worry into where you sit. Any seat will do.
Buying Blackjack Chips at the Casinos
Once you have selected a table and sat down to play it is time to purchase the casino chips which are used in the game. To purchase chips in a live game you only need to place your money on the table before you. When the dealer completes the game in progress, he/she will take the money, count it in full view of everyone at the table, and call out the total to the supervisor of the blackjack pit. Once the supervisor acknowledges the amount, the dealer will give the player chips in exchange for the money.
Chips at the blackjack table come in a variety of colors which can vary from casino to casino, but the most common colors are as follows:
After a player receives chips they are now ready to receive cards and begin a hand of play.
Buying Chips Online
In online play the process of buying chips is a little different.
You will have already funded your account before selecting a table to participate in play. Once you select the table you will most often be prompted to enter the amount of your funds which you want to put in play for this game. Simply enter the portion of your account balance you wish to use and the funds will automatically be converted to chips to use in the game.
How Are Cards Dealt In Blackjack?
Once all players who wish to receive cards have posted at least the minimum bet, the dealer begins to deal the cards and a new game begins.
In games which involve multiple decks the dealing process is as follows. The dealer begins by dealing one card face-up to the player on his immediate left and continues around the table. The last card to be dealt in this first round goes to dealer and is also dealt face-up. Next, the dealer deals a second face-up card to the players beginning once again with the player on his immediate left and continuing around the table. The final card of this second round of dealing goes to the dealer, but this card is dealt face-down and is referred to as the dealer’s “hole” card.
At this point each player has two face-up cards on the table before them. The dealer also has two cards, one face-up and one face-down which remains hidden throughout the betting action.
Once all players in the hand and the dealer have received cards, the dealer will peek at his hole card to determine the total of his hand. If the dealer’s two cards add up to 21, this is a blackjack. The dealer will immediately turn over his hole card to reveal his hand to the players and the game is over. The dealer wins. If, upon peeking at his hole cards, the dealer sees that he does not have a blackjack the game continues. Each player, beginning with the player on the dealer’s immediate left, will be given an opportunity to act on their hand. If you have a blackjack no further action is required. The dealer will pay off your bet at 3-2, collect the cards, and move on to the next player. If you do not have a blackjack there are several possible choices for you at this stage of the game.
Blackjack Player Options
Once again, if a player has received blackjack on their initial two cards they need do nothing. The dealer will pay off their original bet at odds of 3-2 and remove the cards from play. The player wins and the hand is over. The exception to this is if the dealer also has a blackjack. In this case the game is a “push” or tie. The dealer will lightly tap on the table in front of the player and remove the cards. No payoff is made to the player on a tie and he does not lose his original bet.
If a player does not have blackjack, there are now several options for him:
A player can STAND on his hand. A player who stands on his first two cards is indicating that he feels he has a total higher that the dealer. To indicate that he wishes to stand, a player only needs to wave his hand across the top of his cards. It is important to remember that it is not allowed for a player to touch his cards at the blackjack table. A simple wave of the hand over the top of the cards will signal the dealer that the player is happy with his total and the dealer will move on to the next player. Here you can read more about hit or stand
A player can take a HIT on his hand. This means that the player wishes to improve his total by taking another card. To indicate this, the player only needs to tap his index finger or make a scratching motion with it on the table directly in front of him. Again, a player is not allowed to touch the cards. The dealer will recognize this gesture and deal the player an additional card face-up which is added to the total of his initial two cards. If the new total is over 21, the player has now gone bust. The dealer will collect the cards and the player’s bet. If the new total under 21, the player is given the same options he had to begin the round. He can stand or take a hit. This continues until the player either stands on his total, busts, or reaches a total of 21. Find out more about hit or stand in blackjack
It is also possible for a player to DOUBLE DOWN his hand. Rules for doubling down vary from casino to casino. Some casinos permit the player to double down on any two cards while others only allow it when the player holds a total of 9, 10, or 11. To double down, a player places chips equal to the amount of his original bet next to the original bet on the table. This will alert the dealer that you are doubling down and he will then deal you one additional card face-up. This is the only card you are allowed to receive to improve your hand after doubling down. The total of your cards will now stand and play proceeds to the other players at the table. Find out more about Double Down in blackjack
You may SPLIT any pair of cards you were originally dealt. For example, let’s say you received two 8’s to begin. By placing an amount of chips equal to your original bet on the table these 8’s can be split into two separate hands. The dealer will then place a new face-up card on each 8 to make a new hand. Once the new hands are made you will play them as you would any other hand with the options of standing, hitting, doubling, etc. In some casinos you can split the hand a second, or even third, time if another pair is received after the original split. The exception to this rule is when aces are split. In many casinos you will only be allowed to split aces one time. Find out more about splitting Aces and Eights.
If the dealer has an ace as his up-card, you will be presented with the option to take INSURANCE. Prior to the dealer peeking at his hole card you can place a bet equal to half of your original bet on the table. Placing an insurance bet indicates that you believe the dealer has blackjack. If the dealer does indeed have a blackjack you will be paid 2-1 on your insurance bet, but you will lose your original wager. If the dealer does not have blackjack you will lose the insurance wager and play will continue as normal. It should be noted that most experienced blackjack players consider the insurance bet to be a bad wager. It should only be considered when you hold a blackjack. Taking the insurance bet when you have a blackjack and the dealer shows an ace guarantees that you will receive even money on your blackjack. If you do not take the bet and the dealer has blackjack, the game ends in a push. No win, no loss.
It may be tempting to gamble in this situation in order to receive a 3-2 payoff on your blackjack, but that temptation will fade the first time you receive nothing for the best hand that can be made at the blackjack table. Blackjacks come too infrequently to walk away from them with a push. Insure your blackjack against the dealer’s ace and collect a minimum of even money. Read more about insurance in blackjack here.
Some casinos will allow you to SURRENDER your hand. If the dealer does not have blackjack you can forfeit half of your original bet and the hand is over. The option to surrender reduces the house advantage against you so you should always prefer games which allow surrender over those that do not. When you hold a total of 16 against the dealer’s 10 up-card, it just might be sensible to forfeit half of your bet and live to fight another day. Click here to read more about Surrender in blackjack.
Once all players have acted on their hands by exercising one of the aforementioned options, it is now time for the dealer to act on his.
Blackjack Dealer Options
As stated over at the player options section, a blackjack by the dealer ends the hand immediately and everyone at the table loses except those who also held blackjack. If the dealer did not have blackjack, play continues. After all players have acted on their own hand, the dealer now turns over his hole card and reveals the total of his hand.
One reason the game of blackjack has such a low house advantage is because the dealer is bound by a very specific set of rules set by the casino. When the total of his two cards equals 16 or less, the dealer must take an additional card. When the total of his two cards equals 17 or above, the dealer must stand. In some casinos the dealer is required to hit a “soft” 17. This rule is very unfavorable to the player and you should avoid games that have it.
If the dealer has a total of 16 or less, he will now deal himself a card which is added to his total. If the new total exceeds 21 the dealer busts and everyone at the table who is still in the hand wins. If the new total is greater than 17 but does not exceed 21, the dealer stands on his hand. His total will now be measured against each player’s hand in turn. Whoever is closest to 21 wins the hand.
Cashing Out Casino Winning At Blackjack
A player can choose at any time not to begin a new hand and leave the blackjack table with the balance of his chips. The dealer will ask the player before he leaves if he wishes to “color up” his chips. This simply means that the dealer will convert the total of your chips into a higher denomination of chip. For example, let’s assume you decide to leave the game with $100. You have 20 $5 chips in front of you. The dealer will now “color up” those $5 chips by taking them and giving you 1 $100 chip in exchange. Doing this enables the chips which are most frequently used to remain at the blackjack table rather than being carted off to the cashier’s cage.
Once your chips have been colored up you can then proceed to the nearest cashier’s cage to exchange your chips for legal tender.
Cashing Out Online
Leaving a game of blackjack online with your winnings is a very simple matter. Simply locate the button which says “Leave Game” and click it. You’ll immediately be returned to the lobby of the online casino and the balance of your chips will be added back to your account
3 Simple and Best Blackjack Rules to Remember
You can spend years refining your blackjack strategy and studying the game in order to become a better player. While advanced blackjack strategy can be quite complex, there are a few tips which will help anyone who plays the game:
- Don’t split tens. Two ten-value cards gives you a total of 20, the second-best hand you can have at the blackjack table. Splitting them is a losing proposition.
- Always split A’s and 8’s. While more advanced strategy will provide examples where this is not a good play, stick with the basics and split these cards. The reason is simple. Splitting aces gives you a chance to make a blackjack on each of the new hands. Eights should be split because their total is 16, the worst total you can have at the blackjack table.
- Always Double Down a total of 11. You will receive one additional card after doubling down. There are more ten-value cards than any other card in the deck and the odds of making a total of 21 are favorable
Blackjack Glossary: Common Terms
Blackjack – a popular card game played in casinos where players attempt to reach a total of 21 but not exceed it; the name given to a “natural” or the best possible hand in blackjack which is made up of two cards-an ace and a 10-value card (10,J, Q, or K).
Bust – having a hand which totals over 21. This hand is a losing hand.
Double Down – A player can choose to double his original wager after seeing his first two cards. When a player doubles he receives ONE additional card which is added to his total and must then stand.
Even Money – when a player elects to take insurance on his own blackjack when the dealer shows an ace as his upcard, thus guaranteeing themselves a payoff of 1-1 instead of a tie.
First Base – the seat at a blackjack table to the immediate left of the dealer; the first player to receive cards and act on their hand in a game.
Hard Hand – a hard hand is classified as any hand comprised of the original two cards dealt which does not contain an ace.
Hit – to take an additional card in order to improve the total of a hand. A hit which results in a total that exceeds 21 busts the hand.
Hole or Hole Card – the second card received by the dealer in a round of play which is not visible to the players in the game.
Insurance – a bet equal to half of the player’s original bet which can be made when the dealer shows an ace as his up card. If the dealer has a blackjack, the player collects 2-1 on the insurance bet but loses his original bet.
Push – a tie between the dealer and the player.
Shoe – a plastic tray which contains 6-8 decks of playing cards. The dealer deals the cards from the shoe.
Soft Hand – any original hand of two cards, except a blackjack, which contains an ace. This soft hand cannot be busted by the first hit taken to improve the hand.
Split – any pair of cards (8-8, 7-7, 10-K, etc.) can be split into two separate hands. The split cards then receive an additional card to form a new hand.
Stand – what a player does when they are satisfied with the total of their hand and do not wish to receive additional cards.
Surrender – an option which allows the player to forfeit half of his original wager and end the hand.
Third Base – the seat to the immediate right of the dealer and last to act.
Up-Card – the first card dealt to the dealer which is visible to all of the players at the blackjack table.