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How to Play Blackjack

S. Stoynova (editor) |

Blackjack – A Game of Skills and Luck

IntroThere is no doubt that blackjack is one of the most adored casino games, no matter if it is played online or on a brick and mortar casino floor. One main reason for the card game’s popularity is the skill factor, which plays a major role in the RTP of blackjack variations and the potential outcome of betting rounds. To gain the optimal player advantage, it is required to use the correct blackjack strategy.

Before you go ahead and learn basic blackjack strategy, however, it is crucial to know how to play the game. Understanding the rules of blackjack, variations of the game, and other crucial elements of the gameplay will allow you to learn the optimal move on every hand you play. In this article, we will cover all blackjack basics, providing the foundation for successful blackjack sessions.

Table Layout

The typical blackjack table can be easily distinguished as it is a semicircular one. It has a seating capacity of seven players and all of the available places are located outside the table. The dealer stands opposite the gamblers on the other side of the table from which he operates the game. All bets are placed in an area, especially designed to serve this purpose. It is conveniently located in front of each player which makes the whole betting process very easy to conduct. The game always commences from the left side of the dealer and the position of the first player is known as first base. The last seat, located on the right side of the dealer, is often referred to as a third base position. Most experienced players avoid sitting there as this position is said to be a rather disadvantageous one.

Blackjack Table Layout

In front of the dealer, there is the Chips tray and on his left side – the Shoe with the cards. On his right side, players can find the Currency slot, which is where the dealer puts all the money that was exchanged for chips. The cards of the dealer are placed in the middle of the table so that all of the participants in the game will be able to clearly see them. Every table shows the payout for the highest winning hand (blackjack) which is in most cases 3/2. Nowadays, there are a number of different variations, which is the reason why it is essential to double check the payout for blackjack before playing in order to make sure it is not altered in favor of the casino.

The Fundamentals

The FundamentalsThe basic rules of blackjack are fairly easy to learn which is one of the reasons why the game gained in popularity so much. The main goal is to manage to form a total that is higher than the dealer’s hand, without exceeding 21. If players surpass this number, they ‘go bust’ or in other words, they lose. Even though more than one players can participate in the game, all of them compete only against the dealer. The highest winning combination is blackjack or in other words, a total of 21 that consists of an Ace and a 10-valued card. Usually, the payout for blackjack is 3:2, however some casinos offer other versions which pay differently.

The game can be played with up to 8 decks of cards and their number depends on the casino and the variation. The most favorable games feature a single pack of cards which allow card counters to keep track of the cards successfully. When it comes to blackjack, the number of the decks involved in the game plays a crucial role for the players and therefore, it is definitely something worth considering. The cards are shuffled by the dealer and cut by one of the players who puts the chosen card back at the bottom of the deck. When this card is reached, the deck should be shuffled again.

Before the dealing of the cards starts, every players should place the bet they wish. The cards are dealt one by one until everyone has two cards in their hand.

The Dealing of the Cards

The Dealing of the CardsThe cards can be dealt either face up or face down, depending on the rules of the casino and the version of the game. If players play the so-called hole card games, then the dealer gets one card face up and one card face down which is the hole card. In general, these games are more beneficial for the players as their rules enforce the dealer to peek for blackjack. If the first card of the dealer is a 10-valued one or an Ace, he must look at the hole card. If it helps him form the highest winning combination, then the card is revealed and players lose all of their bets. In case that players have a blackjack as well, then the result is a tie, meaning that they retain their wagers.

There is also a difference in the way players are allowed to manage their initial cards. In hand-held games, the players’ cards are dealt face down and they are allowed to pick them up. It is worth noting that these games have a few specific rules which should be taken into account:

  • Players can touch the cards only on the condition that they use one hand.
  • The cards must be held above the table.
  • Players are not allowed to pick up any of the additional cards that are dealt to them. The only cards that they can hold are their first two cards.

In contrast to the hand-held games, in the so-called shoe games, the cards are dealt face up and the players are completely deprived of the chance to touch them. When it comes to the dealer’s hand, the way the cards are dealt might vary. In some casinos, both of the cards in the dealer’s hand are dealt face up. Even though some of the rules of the game may differ from one casino to another, the basics remain the same.

Value of the Cards

Value of the CardsIn blackjack, the suit of the cards is irrelevant as the total of the hand is determined only by the value of the cards. The cards from 2 to 10 are counted as their face value. All face cards (Jack, Queen, King) are worth 10 points. The Ace can be counted as either 11 or 1 which makes it the most powerful card in the deck. This card gives players the needed flexibility as it allows them to adjust the total of their hand accordingly. For instance, if players have an Ace and a Jack (natural blackjack), the Ace is valued as 11 as this way, the highest winning hand of 21 is reached. In cases such as when players have an Ace, a Ten and a Four, it is best to count this card as one. Once players get an Ace in their hand, they can change its value as many times as they wish and adjust it according to their needs.

Basic Terms

Basic TermsTwo terms are used to describe the different hands in blackjack – a soft and a hard hand. It is essential to get familiar with them in order to be able to distinguish them and this way, make wiser moves. In brief, players have a soft hand when they have an Ace, valued as 11, without exceeding 21 – [A][2] /Soft 13/. This gives them the needed flexibility to switch their hand value accordingly, meaning that it is not possible to go bust, regardless of the next card they are about to get. Following the same logic, hard hand is exactly the opposite of soft hand – whenever players have an Ace that is counted as 1 – [A][9] /Hard 10/.

One of the most important rules which players should always take their time to double check concerns the dealer and more particularly, whether he hits or stands on soft 17. This rule varies, depending on the casino and the variation. In general, the dealer stands on soft 17 which works in favor of players. However, this is also the reason why many casinos offer a wide range of games that enforce the dealer to hit on soft 17 instead. Therefore, players should take their time to consider all of the rules before playing.

Players’ Possible Moves

Players’ Possible MovesAfter the dealing of the cards is done and all of the bets are placed, players have to decide how to play their hand. It is possible to choose one of the following moves: to hit, stand, double down, split and in some cases, to take insurance and surrender. In order to make a particular move, players can either pronounce clearly the respective word or use a universal gesture.

There are also some unwritten rules about how players should behave during the game. For example, it is not advisable to touch the chips or the cards when not allowed or to disturb the game in any way. It is essential to get familiar with all of the accepted gestures in order to manage to play properly. The reason why these signals were invented in the first place was to serve as a proof in case of any disputes between players as the security cameras can clearly record any gestures. It is worth mentioning that when making a particular move, players always need to take into account their hand’s total as well as the dealer’s up card.


Blackjack Player Move Standing

If players decide that the total score in their hand is good enough or if they suspect that taking another card might result in going bust, then they can ‘stand’. By making this move, they choose to end their turn, without taking a third card. This way, they have successfully prevented themselves from going bust as the total in their hand remains the same. In face up games, players can indicate that they would like to stand by moving their hand above the cards horizontally. In hand-held games, they can do so by putting their cards under their wager.


Blackjack Player Move Hitting

If players decide that they would like another card in order to get closer to 21, they can choose the move hit. In hand-held games, they can indicate this move by scraping the cards against the blackjack table. In face up games, they can simply tap on the table with their fingers or wave. Players can continue drawing cards until they decide that their hand value is good enough. However, if they go over 21, the result is an instant loss of their placed bet.

Doubling Down

Blackjack Player Move Doubling Down

If players think that they have a good chance of winning and thus, they would like to increase their initial bet, they can choose the move double down. In case that they decide to do so, they need to place an additional bet that has the same amount as their first one. The new bet should be put in the respective betting area. Doubling down can be performed on the condition that players have received their first two cards but haven’t made any other moves.

The rules that concern this move vary, depending on the casino and the variation of the game. Some casinos allow doubling down on any two cards, whereas others impose certain restrictions when it comes to this move. When players double down, they receive one more card which is dealt face down. In order to indicate this move, they need to simply place their extra chips next to their initial bet and then, point it with their finger.


Blackjack Player Move Splitting

If players’ hand consists of two matching cards, they can decide to split the pair. If this is the case, each card would then form a new hand which is played independently. In order to do so, they need to place a bet that equals their initial wager. The two hands are treated separately and therefore, they get one card each. It is possible to win the first hand and lose the second one in which case, the first hand compensates for the loss of the second one.

In order to split, players should put extra chips next to their initial wager and point with two fingers, forming the letter V. If they get two more cards of the same value, it is also possible to resplit them. When it comes to splitting and resplitting, the rules also vary, depending on the casino. Sometimes players are not allowed to split at all, whereas other times it is possible to split as many times as they want. In most cases, they are allowed to resplit up to 3 times, meaning that they can create 4 separate hands to play with.


Blackjack Player Move Insurance

Insurance is an optional move which can be made if the dealer’s up card is an Ace. In brief, it is a separate side bet which players place in order to ‘insure’ themselves in case that the dealer has blackjack. In order to take insurance, players need to bet half of the amount of their initial bet. If the dealer indeed has blackjack, players lose their initial bet but win the insurance which pays 2/1. The payout for this move varies, depending on the casino and the variation as it is possible to find games that pay differently. If the dealer doesn’t have a blackjack, then the insurance bet is lost and the hand is played as a regular one.


Blackjack Player Move Surrender

This is another optional move that is not available in all casinos. When available, players can take advantage of it only on the condition that the up card of the dealer is an Ace or a 10-valued one. It is possible to surrender only at the beginning of their turn after they have received their first two cards. There are two types of surrender options – early and late surrender. Early surrender gives players the chance to get half of their initial bet back, providing that the dealer doesn’t have a blackjack. Late surrender offers them the opportunity to retrieve half of their original bet instead of playing their hand, after the dealer has peeked for blackjack.

The Role of the Dealer

Blackjack DealerWhen all of the players are dealt two cards, the dealer finally reveals his face down card. In case that the total of his hand is 17 or more, he is enforced by the rules to stand. If his cards total 16 or less, he must draw a card. The dealer must continue to draw cards until he reaches the point at which he needs to stand.

The rules for the dealer’s play are pre-set as unlike the players, he doesn’t have the chance to make different choices. However, it should be noted that these rules can vary, depending on the particular variation and casino. For instance, some casinos enforce the dealer to stand on soft 17, whereas others have adjusted this rule in their favor, meaning that the dealer must hit on soft 17.


ConclusionBlackjack is an exciting casino game whose rules are moderately easy to grasp. In order to get familiar with its basics, players need to learn the way the cards are assigned, the possible moves they can make and how the gaming process is conducted. The role of the dealer is also one of the things which should be taken into account as he is the person responsible for operating the game. Blackjack is a very interesting casino game that attracts a number of players from all over the world. This is the reason why it can be found in most land-based casinos as well as online.

FAQ: How to Play Blackjack

Ever heard the term “sitting in the hot seat”? In blackjack, choosing a seat at the table isn’t just about superstition. The ‘first base’ seat gets the cards first, setting the pace. Meanwhile, ‘third base,’ right before the dealer, is the last seat, facing the pressure to save or sink the table. Choose your seat wisely; it’s not just about the view but about strategy and comfort in the heat of the game.

Think of decks in a blackjack game like spices in your favorite dish – the quantity matters. Playing with fewer decks results in slightly better odds, making it easier for those with a sharp memory or card-counting skills to track cards that are already dealt. But remember that shuffling rules differ across casinos, so keep your eyes peeled for rule variations and adjust your strategy accordingly.

The ability to distinguish between ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ hands is vital for your success as a blackjack player. The former are usually far more advantageous than the latter. A ‘soft’ hand contains an Ace with a flexible value of either 1 or 11, making it impossible to bust on the next hit.  A ‘hard’ hand has no Ace or contains an Ace with a fixed value. Knowing the difference can turn a risky bet into a smart move.

Doubling down or splitting in blackjack is optimal only against specific dealer upcards. Doubling is usually recommended when the dealer is in a weak spot with upcards like 5 or 6 or when the player starts with a solid hand total of 9, 10, and 11. Similarly, some pairs should be split only when the dealer shows certain upcards, while others like 8-8 and A-A should always be split. Pairs like 10-10 and 5-5 should never be split.

Whether the dealer hits or stands on a soft 17 can affect the game’s odds. A dealer standing on soft 17 gives you slightly better odds and vice versa. A dealer hitting soft 17 slightly increases the house edge. Remember you should adjust your strategy depending on the standing rules for the dealer.