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The rules of blackjack are quite simple. Once you have learned these basic rules of play you can begin to look at more advanced blackjack strategies.
What is Blackjack?
A blackjack or “natural” is when a player’s hand totals 21 with two cards only. If your hand has three cards and totals 21 it is not a blackjack. The difference is important because blackjacks pay 3 to 2.
The object of the game is getting a hand larger than the dealer’s and as close to 21 as possible without going over or “busting”. You play against the dealer and the hands of the other players are of no concern (when you look at more advanced strategy, the cards of the other players will be important, see Card Counting).
Choosing A Table
Blackjack tables can be identified by the phrase “Blackjack pays 3 to 2” written across the felt. The rules of blackjack can vary from table to table. Each blackjack table will have its betting limits posted. You’ll see betting limits such as a $15 minimum bet with a $300 maximum bet. Usually, the lower limit tables ($3 to $5) tables are the most crowded. Most blackjack tables deal cards from a multi-deck (6 to 8 decks of cards) shoe that automatically continuously shuffles the cards. The casino edge is higher when more decks are used. These games are usually good for new players to play as the cards are dealt face up and players can ask for help on playing decisions.
When playing blackjack, you’ll need casino chips to make your bets. If you don’t already have casino chips, you may buy them from the dealer. Many will “buy-in” for 10 to 20 times their average bet. When you sit down, wait for a break in the action and place your money on the table in front of you and the dealer will exchange it for chips. For security purposes, dealers are not allowed to take anything from your hand, you must lay your money on the table and the dealer will pick it up.
The colors of chips are fairly standard in the gambling industry. Red chips usually represent $5, green chips represent $25 and black chips represent $100. $1 chips are usually white, $2.50 chips are pink and purple chips usually represent $500. Chips will usually have their values printed on them. Don’t be afraid to ask the dealer for help if you need it, that’s part of their job.
The suit of cards in blackjack is of no importance. What matters is the face value. An ace is worth 1 or 11. Ten, jack, queen and king are worth 10 and the rest of their cards are worth their face value. You don’t have to specify the value of an ace, it is always assumed that the ace is whatever makes the best hand. A hand that contains an ace is said to have a “soft” total. However, a hand where the ace must be counted as a one is said to be a “hard” hand, such as Ace, 6 and ten - a hard 17.
Before play begins all players must place their bets. Place your bet according to the table limits within the circle or square on the table in front of you. Remember to place the larger denomination chips on the bottom and place them in a neat stack. Once the cards are dealt, you may not touch your chips. After the hand is over the dealer will move from hand to hand collecting chips from the losing players and paying out chips to the winning players. Winners may let their winnings ride and place all the chips in one stack or remove their chips from the table and place a new bet.
Dealing The Cards
After all bets have been placed, the dealer will deal two cards to each player face up and two cards to him or herself - one face down and once face up. The dealer always deals starting with the player on the farthest left and deals each player moving to the right. In shoe games when cards are dealt face up, players may not touch the cards. In a hand-held game, you can only use one hand to touch the cards, the cards must remain on the table, and newly dealt cards must remain on the table and not be added to the cards in your hand.
Once the cards are dealt, play begins with the player furthest to the dealer’s left. Each player in turn may choose to draw additional cards to stay with what they have. After each player is finished their play, the dealer will draw cards according to the rules of the table. These usually require the dealer to draw cards on hands up to and including 16 and stay on hands of 17 or more.
The dealer makes no decisions of their own with respect to playing their hand. They are governed by the rules of the table. The main rules that govern the dealer’s hand are spelled out on the blackjack table. “The dealer stands on all 17s” - this means that the dealer must draw additional cards as long as their hand totals 16 or less. An ace is always counted at 11 as long as it doesn’t put the dealer’s hand over 21. Dealers may not split pairs and must draw to 17 or a bust.
Hitting / Standing
To indicate to the dealer that you’d like another card you need to make a brushing gesture behind your cards on the table. Often games move quickly and this motion looks more like a tap of the index finger on the table behind your cards. To tell the dealer that you would not like any further cards, you need to wave your hand in a horizontal motion above your cards. These hand signals are usually required in casinos, because the casino can be loud and make it easy for a dealer to misunderstand a verbal request. Also, it makes for a visual record on the casino’s security cameras.
When you are dealt two identical cards, you have the option to “split pairs”. This means that you play each card as separate hands, with separate and equal bets. Some hands are better to split than others. For example, a pair of eights makes sixteen which is a bad hand. However, if you split them, its likely you’ll draw a ten and make one or both of the hands, eighteen.
Most blackjack tables give you the option to double your bet and draw only one more card. This is a good play when your hand totals 10 or 11, as you are likely to draw another ten, giving you 20 or 21.
When the dealer’s face up card is an ace, they will offer insurance to the players. Players may purchase this insurance which will protect their original bet in the event that the dealer has a blackjack. Insurance may be up to half of your original bet. If the dealer does have blackjack, you’ll lose your original bet and get paid 2 to 1 on the insurance bet. Insurance bets have a very high house advantage and is normally not recommended.
Some blackjack tables may allow players to “surrender” their bets. You may surrender or end your hand and give up half of your original bet, if you feel the hand is not going your way. This decision must be made before any other cards are drawn or decisions are made. Some tables may allow an “early” surrender, before the dealer checks their cards or a more common “late” surrender, after the dealer has checked for blackjack.
If you have a large number of small denomination chips you may choose to “color up” your chips and exchange the smaller ones for larger denomination chips. Just put down your chips and ask the dealer to color up. You may leave a blackjack game at any time and cash in your chips. This may not be done at the blackjack table. You must take your chips to the casino cashier and exchange your chips for cash there.
That’s all there is to blackjack. The next best way to learn blackjack is to play it. So grab a deck of cards, or click here to play our free blackjack game. After you practice, practice some more. When you get comfortable with the basic rules, you can start to explore basic strategy and other techniques like card counting.