Blackjack is undoubtedly one of the most exciting casino games whose rules are moderately simple to grasp. This card game is played by hundreds of players all over the world as it offers them a good dose of adrenaline and a high level of entertainment. It is a skill-based game which gives casino fans the opportunity to master it to a huge extent by applying a strategy that significantly reduces the house edge.
The first step toward becoming a proficient player in blackjack is to learn its basic rules and moves. It is essential to be prepared for all of the tricky situations beforehand as this way players will be able to make the best possible move.
Basic Rules of Blackjack
The main rules of blackjack are very straightforward and simple which makes it even more enticing. Even though the game is played with several players at once, all of them compete only against the dealer. Each participant has to form a hand whose total value is as close to 21 as possible, without surpassing this number. The game gets its name from its main objective and this is the reason why it is often referred to as twenty-one, instead of blackjack.
Just like in many other casino games, in blackjack, the cards are valued according to a unique card system. It should be noted that the suits in this game are irrelevant since they don’t play a part in the total value of the hand. All of the cards are counted as their pip value, except for the face cards – a King, a Jack or a Queen as they get ten points each. The card values in blackjack are as follows:
- All face cards, including Jack, Queen, and King count 10
- Aces can be either 1 or 11 (players can choose whether an Ace is worth 1 or 11)
- Number cards are worth their face value
The most desired card in the deck is the Ace due to the fact that its value can be either 1 or 11. It gives players the chance to be flexible with their hands and form winning combinations much easier. Once they get an Ace, players can decide whether it counts 1 or 11. A hand that consists of a Ten and an Ace is considered a natural blackjack and a hand that contains an Ace, that can be valued as 11 without surpassing twenty-one, is referred to as a soft hand.
Decks of Cards in Blackjack
In blackjack, the number of the decks involved depends on the variation of the game as well as the casino. From one to eight standard packs can be used in the game. The most common blackjack variations use six to eight decks of 52 cards. The place where the cards are dealt from is called a shoe and this term is used in other table games as well. The shoe is a box designed to hold multiple decks of cards. A blank plastic card is placed toward the bottom of the deck by the dealer. This card is also referred to as the cut card and once it is reached, the dealer reshuffles the cards.
In general, the house edge is higher when the game uses more decks. Years ago, blackjack was played with only a single pack of cards, however nowadays this is not the case. Due to the fact that a number of efficient card counting systems have emerged, the casinos increased the number of the decks in an attempt to prevent card counters from successfully gaining an advantage.
Once players have received their first two cards, they have the chance to choose whether to hit, stand, double down, or split. In order to indicate any of these moves, blackjack fans have to use an already established gesture or clearly state them to the dealer. It should be noted that most casinos have their preferences when it comes to this matter and thus, it is best to get familiar with them in advance.
The first move is hit and it is used when players want to take another card in order to form a stronger total in their hand. In face-up games, they should either point at their cards or tap the table with their fingers in order to make this move.
The opposite move of hitting is standing and in such cases, players are not dealt any cards. In order to indicate it, they should move their hand above the cards horizontally. The next available move that can be made is doubling down and it is used when players want to make their initial bet twice as much. In order to do so, they have to put an amount that is equal to their original wager and after that, they are dealt one more card. To indicate it, players have to place their extra bet next to their initial wager and simply point at it.
One of the card combinations that players are bound to get at some point during the game is a pair of two cards of the same rank. In such cases, it is possible to split them and this way, form two new hands that are completely independent. If players want to make this move, they are required to put the same amount as their initial bet and spread their fingers as if they wanted to show the letter V. If players get another pair, it is also possible to resplit it. However some casinos have certain restrictions on the number of times that they are allowed to do so.
Besides these main options, players also have the chance to take advantage of two additional moves – ‘surrender’ and ‘take insurance’. Whether these moves are allowed or not, depends on the casino and the variation of the game. When available, players can surrender by giving up their current hand, without playing it and in return, they get to keep half of their bet. The rest of their wager goes to the casino. Since there is no established signal for this move, it is made verbally.
Even though rookie fans might be tempted to insure their hand, every blackjack expert can tell you that the insurance bet is not worth it. If the dealer has a blackjack, you will lose your original wager, win the insurance, and break even. On the other hand, if the dealer has no blackjack, you lose the insurance and keep on playing with your original hand. However, you still have the chance to lose your original wager if you bust (the total value of your hand goes over 21) or the dealer’s hand is stronger than yours.
Once all bets are placed, the dealer gives a card to each player that is usually face-up. On rare occasions, the players’ first cards are dealt face down. This is a common practice in single- and double-deck blackjack variants. The cards are dealt in clockwise, meaning that the player who sits on the left side of the dealer is the first to receive a card. After all blackjack enthusiasts on the table have a card, the dealer gives a card to themselves. Then, every player and the dealer receive a second card in the same order.
One of the dealer’s cards is face up and the other one is face down. The exposed card is also known as the dealer’s up card, while the other card is also referred to as the hole card. Since blackjack is a game with many variations, it may not surprise you to learn that in some variations, the hole card is absent. If you play blackjack at a land-based casino, you should not touch the cards on the table. After all, that is one of the reasons why the players’ cards are usually dealt face up.
In the next stage, players should make up their minds and choose one of the above-mentioned moves. Their final decision should be based on the total value of their hand and the up card of the dealer. In order to manage to make the best possible move, players should follow a basic strategy and stick to it throughout the game.
While players can choose from different moves, dealers have to play according to the rules established by the casino. They cannot split, surrender, or double down. They can either stand on all 17s or hit on Soft 17.
Different Blackjack Games
As we mentioned above, the dealing of the cards and their position can differ from one casino to another. For instance, games that contain a face-down card are called Hole card games and in them, the dealer peeks for blackjack. These games are considered more advantageous for players as in them, they are prevented from placing large bets when the dealer is bound to win.
It is also possible to play No-Hole-Card blackjack variations in which the dealer doesn’t peek for blackjack. Players also have the chance to try the so-called hand-held games in which their first two cards are dealt face down. In contrast to hand-held games, in shoe games, the first two cards of the players are dealt face up.
Next to that, the number of decks varies greatly between the different blackjack variations. Needless to say, games with fewer decks favor players. In other words, it is always better to play single-deck blackjack. However, casinos tend to change other rules of the game to compensate for this and keep their advantage over players.
Common Rule Changes
An important rule that defines the game is whether the dealer stands on all 17s or hits on Soft 17. If the dealer must stand on all 17s, it means that they do not draw another card and have no chance of improving their hand. Following that stream of thoughts, blackjack variations in which the dealer must stand on all 17s are more advantageous for the players. Provided that the dealer must hit on Soft 17, they receive an extra card if their hand consists of an Ace and 6. This rule stacks the odds in favor of the house.
When it comes to the players’ possible moves in the game, we can outline several other rule variations. Let us start with doubling down. Most casinos allow blackjack fans to double down on the first two cards dealt to them. A few casinos provide players with the opportunity to double down on any number of cards.
Splitting is a blackjack move that also has its variations. Perhaps, you know that if you split Aces, only one more card is dealt to each of your newly-formed hands. Some casinos allow for more draws – a rule that favors players. Even though most casinos provide blackjack fans with the opportunity to split a pair of cards of the same value, a few casinos allow splitting only if the pair is of the same rank. For example, only a pair of Kings or Queens can be split.
Split any time is yet another split rule that stacks the odds in favor of the players as they can split a hand even after drawing additional cards only if the hand consists of two cards of the same value. While on the subject, we have to mention that resplitting is a common rule that provides players with the opportunity to resplit an already split hand.
Surrender is a move that is not available in all blackjack variations. However, there are two types of surrender, and more precisely early and late surrender. Early surrender allows players to give up their hand before the dealer peeks for a blackjack. As for the late surrender, it is more common and blackjack devotees can forfeit their hand only after the dealer checks for a blackjack. If you want to surrender, you have to know that the house will keep half of your original wager. On a more positive note, you can collect the other half.
In most cases, blackjack pays 3:2 but players should bear in mind that the payout can differ from one casino to another. Some casinos pay 6:5 for hitting a natural blackjack that increases the house edge. In addition, you will pocket less money for hitting a blackjack. For example, if you bet $10 and you play a blackjack variation that pays 3:2, you will get $15. On the other hand, if you play a variation that offers a 6:5 payout, you will receive $12 for your natural blackjack. Hence, players are advised to avoid blackjack variations that pay 6:5.
Blackjack is a card game whose basic rules are fairly easy to learn. In order to be able to play the game properly, novice players should learn the assigned value of the cards, the possible moves they can make, and how the gaming process is conducted. When it comes to blackjack, knowing the rules is not enough to win as the game also requires skills and a strategy. However, every expert was once a beginner, and learning the basics of the game is surely a decent start.