Blackjack is a popular banking card game that can be played in just about any casino on the planet. Like other banking games that are popular in the casino, such as Baccarat, Blackjack at the professional level includes a single unchanging Dealer/Banker that must follow a particular dealing procedure that is taught to them during their training.
Blackjack, also known as the 21 Card Game, is one of the most popular games in the world. It is a favorite of both casinos and Players due to its relatively even odds and the quick nature of the game. Someone can sit at a Blackjack table and be putting up their first wager within three minutes even if a hand was ongoing as they sat down.
This is a fast-paced, simplistic game that also possesses a depth of strategy. Blackjack is one of many popular casino card games that are easy to learn, but hard to master.
How to Play Blackjack?
Blackjack is played with the Standard Anglo-American 52-card deck, although depending on if you are playing at home, or at the casino, there may be more than just a single 52-card deck in a Blackjack deck.
While the game can also be played at home. This guide will primarily be focused on providing step-by-step instructions for playing at the casino.
Home Games vs Casino
The rules for home games are similar to the casino rules, with the exception of the Dealer and the Shoe.
Rather than the permanent Dealer of the casino, a game of Blackjack at home will normally have a “changing” Dealer, where each hand has a different Player (usually moving clockwise or counterclockwise) take the role of Dealer.
The other difference is that of the shoe. A Shoe is a box that Dealers use to easily draw cards from the deck and is also the name of a deck made up of multiple decks.
At home, most people will just be playing Blackjack with a single deck of cards. At the casino though, a Dealer will have anywhere from 6 to 8 standard 52-card decks inside the Shoe for one table.
Aside from the above, the rules for Blackjack play at home are the same as below.
Before the hand begins, each Player must make a wager. Each casino is different, though generally there will be a sign on the table, next to the Dealer, which explains how and when to bet.
It also advertises the particular betting rules, or minimum and maximum bets for a particular hand of Blackjack.
- A minimum bet is the least amount of money that can be wagered. For example, if the table minimum is $20, then every Player must wager at least $20 worth of chips before they will be dealt cards.
- Conversely, a maximum bet is the opposite, the most amount of money that can be wagered, and a wager cannot exceed this value.
Keep in mind, however, that if a Player that has already put down a maximum bet chooses to, they may still Split or Double Down.
In the case of a Split or Double Down, a Player must double their original wager. This can still be done, even if the maximum wager has already been met.
At the casino, it will not be necessary for the individual Player to be involved in the set up. Instead, the Dealer will either shuffle cards by hand, or more likely will use a shuffling and dealing machine.
The shoe will be made up of multiple decks, so it is possible that there can be duplicates of the same card. Multiple copies of the Q♦ for instance.
- Once the deck is shuffled, the Dealer will deal two cards to each Player.
- The first card will be dealt face up, and the second card face down.
- The Dealer will also deal out two cards to themselves in the same manner.
- Once each Player has been dealt their cards, the game begins.
As Blackjack is not a team game, but rather one Player (the Dealer) facing off against all other Players, it is only important to pay attention to your own play.
Still, keep other Player’s cards in mind in order to eliminate them from the deck in your mind.
The winning condition of Blackjack is to reach 21 or as close as possible to it.
Once it is your turn to hit or stand, flip your face-down card in order to reveal it and decide your procedure from there. Each of the following procedures may only be done when it is your turn to hit.
A Player may ask the dealer for a “hit”. This can be done by tapping two fingers on the table when the Dealer turns to you. A “hit” is asking for the Dealer to deal another card to you.
A Player may hit as many times as they like, but if your hand total is 22 or greater, you “bust” and automatically lose the hand without seeing the Dealer’s cards. This means one should only hit when they are unlikely to bust, which usually means hitting on totals of 16 or less.
A Player may also “stand”. This can be done non-verbally by waving your hand over your cards. This means that you will keep the cards that you have.
A Player may stand at any time, even after a hit, though they must keep the card dealt to them after the hit.
The split can only be done when both cards dealt at the start of the hand are the same card numerically, but do not have to be the same suit. A hand with Q♦ and Q♥ or 5♣ and 5♠ for example, are hands that can be split.
In order to indicate a split non-verbally to the Dealer, separate your two cards and place another wager, equal to your initial wager, next to the other card.
A split essentially allows a Player to play two hands simultaneously. A Player may hit on both hands, and busting, on one hand, does not make the other hand bust.
There is also the “Double Down”. When doubling down, you indicate this to the Dealer by keeping your cards together, and placing another wager on the table equivalent to your initial wager.
When doubling down, the Player may only hit a single time, as in, they may only be dealt one additional card. However, as the wager has been doubled, exceeding the normal maximum wager, the potential payout for a double down is much greater than normal.
Surrendering allows a player to fold their hand and forfeit only half of their initial wager, instead of the entire amount. By surrendering, a player is effectively taking a 50% loss on their bet and leaving the round.
There are two types of surrender – early and late:
- With early surrender, the player can give up before the dealer checks for blackjack.
- On the other hand, late surrender is when the player can surrender after the dealer has already checked for blackjack.
Although not a special procedure necessarily, as the Player makes no decision or choice in this matter, there are also Naturals, or the titular Blackjack. When dealt a natural, also known as Blackjack, the person dealt the natural automatically wins the hand.
All other Players, including the Dealer, will flip their cards to demonstrate if they also were dealt a natural. If a Player and a Dealer were both dealt a natural, it is considered a “push” and no wagers are awarded. If two Players are dealt a natural, but the Dealer was not, then both Players win the hand.
This is an optional wager available to players when the dealer has an Ace showing and the player has a total of 15 or more. Players can bet that the dealer’s hidden card is worth 10, making them blackjack.
The maximum bet is usually half of what the player wagered initially. Insurance is available before the dealer reveals their hole card.
These are extra bets that can be placed before any cards are dealt, and focus on predicting which cards the dealer or player will receive. Placing these bets is usually not mandatory.
A few of the most popular side bets are Insurance (like discussed above), 21+3, Perfect Pairs, Bust it, and Lucky Ladies.
There are a lot more additional side bets that come with their own rules and payouts.
The Dealer’s Procedure
After each Player has followed their own chosen procedure, it is time for the Dealer to choose their procedure.
As the Dealer does not wager on individual games, the Dealer does not benefit from Splitting and Doubling Down.
Therefore, those two procedures are prohibited for play by the Dealer, and instead, the Dealer follows their own specific Dealer rules and procedures (unique for each casino) with regards to hitting and standing.
Ending the Hand
Once the Dealer’s final total is decided, the hand has ended. All Players that exceed the Dealer’s total, without reaching 22 or higher, win the game and receive their payout.
All Players that exceed 21, or have a total that is valued less than the Dealer’s total, have lost and lose their wager.
Here are some simple Blackjack rules that are most important:
- If the Dealer is dealt a natural or “blackjack” in their first two cards, only Players that are also dealt a natural tie with the Dealer. All other Players’ hands will be considered lost.
- Various forms of advantage play, including card counting, are legal in the United States. However, despite not being criminally illegal, card counters will be asked to leave a casino once they are suspected of advantage play. In the United States, a casino is required to cash out the chips already in your possession, but is within its rights to ban you from its premises afterward.
- Cards are valued numerically, except for face-cards which are valued at 10, and aces, which are either 1 or 11.
- Ties with the Dealer result in a “push”, in which neither the Player nor the Dealer collects chips from each other. Instead, a Player who winds up in a “push” will instead have their wager for that hand returned to them.
Blackjack, on a game-to-game basis, is “scored” only by the chips that you win or lose. As chips have cash value, Blackjack’s meta-game is scored by the amount of money won or lost at the table.
Winning more chips means that a Player won more money, and therefore played more successfully consistently than a Player that ended up losing.
The odds of winning a hand of Blackjack are about 42%, while the odds of a push are about 9%. This means the Dealer does have a slight advantage in a particular hand of about 7%. As the Dealer’s win is your loss, it can be said that there is about a 49% chance of losing a hand.
Blackjack is scored, on a hand-to-hand basis, by the numerical value of the cards in one’s hand. Below is a helpful scoring chart that can remind you of the value of particular cards.
Card Values in Blackjack
Below will explain the number values relating to each individual card, and the face card value in a game of Blackjack:
|Aces||1 or 11|
- A=1, or 11 depending on Player choice.
- K, Q, J, 10=10
- All other card values follow their numerical value.
Imagine the following situation:
- The Dealer has 5♣ flipped up, and a card flipped down.
- Player 1 has 8♦ flipped up and one card flipped down.
- Player 2 has A♥ flipped up, and one card flipped down.
- Player 3 has K♣ flipped up, and one card flipped down.
- It is Player 1’s turn to hit, and Player 1 reveals their other card to be 10♦
- Player 1 stands.
- Player 2’s turn to hit and Player 2 reveals their other card to be 9♣
- Player 2 stands.
- Player 3’s turn to hit, and reveals their other card to be 2♦
- Player 3 hits and is dealt a 6♥, then stands.
- Dealer’s turn to hit, and reveals their other card to be 6♦
- Dealer hits, and is dealt a Q♥
- Dealer wins the hand with 21.
- Player 1 loses with 18.
- Player 2 loses with 17.
- Player 3 loses with 18.
The above combinations of cards resulted in different totals, but only the Dealer had the winning hand. Remember, a winning hand in Blackjack is merely a hand that results in a total of 21.
Here are some basic Blackjack strategies to keep in mind when playing in a casino, simplified for easy understanding:
- Split when possible. Although a Split requires double the investment that a normal play does, a Split gives a Player two different hands that they might be able to win with. A Split essentially gives a Player a second chance to win a hand that they bust on.
- Doubling Down is risky, but offers double the payout from a single hand. However, keep in mind, after doubling down, a Player may only hit a single time. Only double down if there is a reasonable expectation that a single card will be enough to win the hand.
- Pay attention to the other face-up cards on the table. These cards can give a rough indicator of other Player’s hands, including the Dealer. Generally, a high-value face-up card indicates a competitive hand or even a possible natural, while a low-value face-up indicates a player that will need to hit multiple times.
- Do not hit when you are at 17 or above, unless it is a “soft 17” (explained in the FAQ). A good rule of thumb to follow is one that the Dealer also lives by: if the total in your hand is less than 16, hit. If it is 17, unless it is a “soft 17”, stand. When it is the aforementioned soft 17, hit if the Dealer’s face-up card is a face card or a 10, and otherwise consider standing.
- Remember, as in other banking games, you are not versing the other Players, but instead the Dealer. It is important to know the other Player’s face-up cards in order to reason out the Dealer’s hand based on the process of elimination, but you and another Player can both win without competing against each other. Worry more about the Dealer.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many decks are in Blackjack?
This depends on whether you plan on playing the home game, or at a casino. At home, merely one standard Anglo-American is enough. Just have the Dealer shuffle the deck each hand or after two or three hands depending on the number of people playing.
At the casino, a professional Dealer may use 5 to 7 decks in the shoe. This is to make it as hard as possible for card counters to gain an edge on the casino.
How many cards do you get in Blackjack?
During the initial deal, each player gets two cards. After this initial dealing phase, a Player may choose to “hit”. This means they are asking for another card to be dealt to their hand.
A Player may hit until they bust (have a total greater than 21) or choose to “stand” and be dealt no more cards.
When does the Dealer have to hit?
Generally speaking, there are certain procedures that a casino Dealer is supposed to follow. When a Dealer has a total of 16 or less, the Dealer is supposed to hit in order to increase their likely odds of victory.
There is also a fringe possibility of the “Soft 17”. In Blackjack, as aces can be both high and low simultaneously, there sometimes comes the situation in which a Dealer’s hand could be 17 or 7 because of the ace in it.
In this case, the 17 is “soft” because it can be either 17, or 7. This makes the next hit much less risky for the Dealer, because if a high-value card is turned up on the hit the Dealer does not bust.
Many casinos train their Dealers to normally stand on 17, unless it is specifically this “soft 17” discussed above. When the Dealer’s total is less than 16, they will almost always hit.
How many times can you hit?
The only limit to the number of hits a Player can make is the total value of 21. So long as the total in the hand is below 21, the Player can keep asking for hits.
The Player, when it is their turn to hit, can ask for as many cards as required. Either the Player will be satisfied with their number of cards and choose to stand, the Player will achieve 21, or the Player will bust. In all three cases, the Dealer will stop dealing out cards to that particular Player.
Can the Dealer split in Blackjack?
No, the Dealer may not split in Blackjack. This is because all other Players win or lose based on the Dealer’s hand total at the end of a particular hand. If the Dealer were able to split, it would confuse which hand total the other players are supposed to use for the purposes of scoring.
How much is the ace in Blackjack?
In Blackjack, the ace can have two values depending on the strategy of the particular Player who has it in their hand. For example, an ace can either be worth 1 point, or 11 points, for the purposes of tallying a score relative to 21.
An ace has its value changed when it is a Player’s chance to hit or stand. If the Player hits with an ace in their hand, they cannot bust as the value of their ace simply becomes one point, and they can continue to hit if they desire. An ace can also be high though, as an ace and a face card is an automatic victory due to the 21 total.
What happens if you tie in Blackjack?
In order to protect their overall profit margin, casinos will employ several rules that slightly tip the rules in favor “of the house” or in the casino’s favor. One such way to protect that carefully crafted statistical advantage is for the Dealer and Player to “Push” when there is a tie.
A push essentially resets the betting for that Player. They do not lose, nor win any money. Instead, both the Player and the Dealer keep their wagers.
What happens if you exceed 21?
This is the situation a good Blackjack Player should always avoid through crafty hitting and bold stands. Exceeding 21 is known as a “bust”, and is an automatic loss for the game.
The Dealer gives each Player their chance for hits or more cards to be dealt to them. If their hand total exceeds 21 though, and they bust, that hand is automatically lost, and the Player’s wager is taken by the Dealer. The Dealer can also bust, in which case all Players win their wager so long as they did not bust.