Blackjack Rules - How to Play Blackjack

This tutorial teaches you the basics of the game of blackjack. Learn how to play blackjack and learn the various blackjack options that are offered during a blackjack game.

Blackjack Basics - Placing Your Bet and Dealing the Cards

A blackjack game begins with all players placing their bets. To place a bet, you put your betting chips into the betting circle (or square). If you hesitate, the blackjack dealer may simply deal you out. Or she may point to your betting circle to signal that no bet is there.

All blackjack tables have minimum and maximum bets allowed for that table, which should be clearly marked with a sign on the blackjack table. You cannot bet less than the minimum, or more than the maximum, as your initial bet.

Once all blackjack players have placed their bets, the dealer deals the cards from a Shoe. The shoe is the box where all the cards are kept ready to be dealt. Each blackjack player will end up with two cards. Do NOT touch your cards. This is a big taboo. A blackjack player who touches his cards could be viewed as a potential cheater. Remember the old slick trick of hiding a card up your sleeve?

Some players may place several bets, and play multiple hands from their seat at the blackjack table.

The cards are now dealt and you have two cards in front of you, and the dealer has two cards, but one of them is face down, unless you are playing a variation of blackjack called Double Exposure where the dealer's cards are face up. This face down card is called the Hole Card. The face up card is known as the Up Card.

Blackjack Basics - Your Objective

Now that the cards are dealt you can study them to determine how best to achieve your objective. Blackjack is also known as 21 (twenty one). The goal of the game is for your cards to total as close to 21 as possible without going over 21. Any total over 21 busts. This means it automatically loses and the dealer takes your bet. All players will fully take their turns before the dealer exposes her Hole Card. So you may lose by busting before the dealer ever plays. You will never bust on your initial two cards. You can only bust by taking more cards.

Blackjack Basics - Hard Hands and Soft Hands

Face cards (Jacks, Queens and Kings) are worth 10 points each. All other cards are valued at face value (the number on the card), with the exception of Aces. Aces are worth 1 or 11 points, whichever is preferable to you. This is your choice. Any hand with an Ace in it whose total is 21 or less whether the Ace is counted as 1 or 11 is known as a soft hand.

For example, if you have an A-6, your hand could be totaled as 7 or 17, whichever you prefer. If A=1, then 1+6=7. And if A=11, then 11+6=17. The term soft means that the hand has two possible totals.

On the initial deal, if you have an Ace, your hand will always be considered soft. It will not go over 21 if you take another card.

A hard hand is one where there is only one possible total for the hand, even with an Ace in it. If counting any Aces as 11 puts the hand over 21, then they must be counted as 1. A hand without Aces is always hard. A hand with Aces that must be counted as 1 is also hard.

Blackjack Basics - The Dealer's Hand

The dealer's hand is always taken as the highest number on the initial deal. The Ace is automatically assumed to be an 11. There is one exception to this rule, and that is determined by whether the dealer Hits or Stands on a Soft 17. This rule is usually written on the blackjack table itself. Normally, if a dealer has A-6, it is counted as 17. In all blackjack games, the dealer stands on 17. The dealer does not take any more cards in an attempt to get a higher total.

But if a blackjack table is playing with the rule Dealer Must Hit on Soft 17, this means that the dealer's A-6 will be counted as 7 and the dealer will take another card when her turn comes. This is a bad blackjack rule for you. You have better odds of winning at blackjack if you play at a table where the dealer stands on soft 17.

Blackjack Basics - Winning, Losing and the Payout

Your ultimate goal is to have a higher hand total than the dealer without going over 21. If the dealer ends up with 17 and you have 18, you win. If you both have 17, you push (or tie) unless you are playing a variation of blackjack where the dealer wins certain ties. But we will assume you are playing a standard game of blackjack.

Dealer=17, you=18, you win.
Dealer=17, you=17, you push (tie).
Dealer=17, you=16, you lose.

If you bet $5 and you win, the dealer will pay you $5. So you've won the amount of your bet, which was $5. The dealer will place a $5 chip next to your bet.

If you bet $5 and lose, the dealer will take your $5 chip. Bye bye. Off it goes into the dealer's chip tray.

If you push (tie), nothing happens. Your $5 bet remains in the betting circle. You can leave it there as your next bet, add to it, or remove it and not play.

Blackjack Basics - Getting a Blackjack

So how does a blackjack fit into all of this? First of all, contrary to the name of the game, you do NOT need to have a "black jack" to have a blackjack. A blackjack is defined as two cards totaling 21.

If you are dealt a ten-value card (10-Jack-Queen-or King) and an Ace, these two cards total 21. Two cards totaling 21 is a blackjack. This is also known as a natural 21. A natural 21 only happens on the initial deal, as your first two cards.

A two-card 21 or blackjack is ranked higher than a 3-or-more card 21. So if the dealer has 10-5-6=21, and you have 10-A=21, YOU WIN. This is the one exception to a tie.

If you are dealt a blackjack, also known as a 2-card 21, you are payed at a higher rate than any other win. Most blackjack tables will have a blackjack payout of 3:2 or 3-to-2. This means that for a $5 bet, you win $7.50 instead of $5. The actual math would be ((3 divided by 2 = 1.5) times your $5 bet = $7.50). Or put another way, a $3 payout for every $2 bet.

There are exceptions to this blackjack payout as well. Casinos have created many variations of blackjack, and most of these variations are designed to put more money into the casino's coffers than into yours. For example, some blackjack tables have a blackjack payout of 6:5. If you were betting $10, you would win $12 instead of the standard 3:2 payout of $15.

At this point in the game, we are still on our initial two cards.

Blackjack Game Play - The Dealer Has An Ace Showing

Several rules come into play when the dealer has an Ace showing. Virtually all blackjack tables offer Insurance and Even Money. A very rare few tables will also offer Early Surrender.

Blackjack Game Play - Insurance

Most blackjack games allow you to buy Insurance if the dealer has an Ace showing. This happens after the cards are dealt, but before anybody starts taking hits. This is a side bet. You are betting that the dealer has a blackjack. You are betting that the hidden card is worth 10 points. You place an additional bet of up to half of your original bet. Once all players have placed an insurance bet (or declined to - you do NOT have to make this additional bet) the dealer then turns over the hidden card. If she has blackjack, all insurance side bets win at a payout rate of 2:1. So a $5 insurance bet would win you $10. ((2 divided by 1 = 2) times your bet of $5 = $10).

The logic behind this bet is supposed to allow you to break even instead of losing to a dealer's blackjack. The assumption is that a dealer showing an Ace has a blackjack, which beats you. So you buy insurance. Your initial bet is $10, and the insurance bet is $5 (traditionally it is half of your regular bet.) You win the insurance bet, so you win $10. You lose your regular bet of $10. End result = you break even. Be aware that unless you are a serious card counter, it rarely works this way. Just as often as not the dealer does not have a blackjack, and you end up losing both bets.

This side bet does NOT affect your regular bet. It is a completely separate bet. You can win one bet and lose the other. Or you can lose both bets. It is not possible to win both bets unless you are playing an unusual variation of blackjack where the player wins blackjack ties.

If the dealer has blackjack, all players who do not also have blackjack lose. Any player with a blackjack ties, unless they took Even Money. This hand ends and a new hand begins.

If the dealer does not have blackjack, insurance side bets lose. Player blackjacks win. And the hand continues.

Blackjack Game Play - Even Money

This brings us to Even Money. If you are dealt a blackjack and the dealer has an Ace showing, she may offer you Even Money for your blackjack. She is offering you the chance of a guaranteed blackjack win at a lesser payout. She will payout your blackjack at a rate of 1:1 instead of 3:2. So for a $5 bet, instead of taking a chance that you MIGHT win $7.50, you are taking the guarantee and winning $5. She offers this before checking for her own blackjack.

Most of the blackjack advice and strategies will tell you not to take it. That you are better off holding out for the higher payout. Personally, I am rather fond of Even Money. I don't get dealt enough blackjacks to take chances. Whatever seat I am in at the table, the guy next to me is getting blackjacks all over the place. So I prefer the guaranteed payout. Know that this flies in the face of virtually all official blackjack strategies.

Blackjack Game Play - Early Surrender

Early Surrender is another blackjack offering that is particularly useful when the dealer has an Ace showing. This is a very rare rule these days. Few casinos still offer it, and most experts agree that it is a good rule for the player particularly if you count cards.

Surrendering offers you the chance to give up and NOT play this hand, forfeiting one half of your bet. You simply conclude that your odds of losing are almost guaranteed, so you are cutting your losses in half. You Surrender, and lose half of your bet instead of all of it. Surrendering always occurs before the dealer takes any additional cards beyond the initial two.

There are three different versions of Surrender. Early Surrender, Late Surrender and Surrender Anytime. Early Surrender is offered immediately after the cards are dealt, before the dealer checks for blackjack.

Late Surrender is offered only after the dealer checks for blackjack, when your turn comes to actually play. But you must take Late Surrender before taking any additional cards beyond your first two.

Surrender Anytime is another unusual blackjack rule allowing you to Surrender even after taking hits. No matter how many cards you have drawn, you still have the option to Surrender if this rule is in effect.

Most blackjack tables support Late Surrender. Very few offer Early Surrender or Surrender Anytime.

Blackjack Game Play - When It's Your Turn

All of the above happens very quickly. It can come and go in a blink and be very confusing if you are new to the game of blackjack. Very few words are said. The dealer often justs runs her hand around the table palm up in askance of whether someone wants to invoke the pre-game rules. You might let a dealer know that you are new to the game so that she takes a bit more time to explain your choices. Otherwise, she will likely assume that you already know.

All of the initial options have come and gone and the dealer turns over her Hole Card. Now we get down to the guts of the game of blackjack. Each player will now have the chance to take additional cards, Split Pairs, Double Down, or take Late Surrender.

Blackjack Game Play - Splitting Pairs

If you have a matched pair, such as two Eights or two Kings or two Aces, you have the option to Split Pairs. The only variation of this option is for unmatched Tens.

The general rule for splitting in blackjack is that the number of the card be an exact match (the suit does not matter). Two Tens are an exact match. Two Jacks are an exact match. But a Ten and a Jack are not an exact match, even though both are worth 10 points.

If unmatched Tens are supported, and some blackjack tables do support this option, then you can split a Ten-Jack or other variations of Ten value cards. But this is the odd blackjack rule, not the standard.

So how does Splitting Pairs work?

You put an additional bet down next to your first bet, of exactly the same amount. If you've bet a $5 chip, you put another $5 chip out there if you want to Split Pairs. This tells the dealer that you want to Split Pairs.

If you are Doubling Down on a matched pair, you might want to tell the dealer very clearly so that she does not assume you are Splitting. Putting your additional bet ON TOP OF your first bet is another way of telling the dealer that you want to Double Down rather than Split. Putting the bets side by side is your indication of a Split.

The blackjack dealer then splits your cards, making two separate hands. Each hand now has one card and its own bet. You will play each hand individually.

Blackjack Rules After Splitting Pairs

There are many variations of blackjack when it comes to Splitting Pairs. Some tables only allow one hit on a split Ace. In other words, if you split Aces, each Ace only gets one more card. The play moves to your next hand if you have one, or the next player.

You may or may not be able to Double Down after Splitting. You may or may not be able to split again if you get another matched pair.

When a Blackjack isn't a Blackjack

Some blackjacks are considered to be lower on the totem pole than other blackjacks. If you get a blackjack after splitting a pair, this is NOT considered a natural 21. Consequently, it is ranked lower than a blackjack that you are dealt.

For example, if you are dealt an A-A, you can split the Aces to make two hands. Each Ace will become the beginning of its own hand, and you place a new bet on the second Ace equal to your original bet. Now you have two bets, and two hands. If you take a hit (take a card) on one of these Aces and the card is a 10-value card, you have a blackjack, or 2-card 21. However, because you've split, this blackjack has a lower rank.

Quite often the payout on a split blackjack is 1:1 instead of 3:2. So for a $5 bet, you win $5 instead of a natural 21 payout of $7.50.

Another trick the casinos play is that your split blackjack loses to their natural blackjack. This is the rule in European Blackjack.

So being aware of the rules at a particular blackjack table is very important. Even in the same casino, the rules at individual blackjack tables will vary from each other.

Blackjack Game Play - Double Down

Double Down means doubling your bet, and taking only ONE more card.

To Double Down you put an additional bet down next to your original bet, of the same amount. The dealer will deal you one more card for that hand, and you are done. If you are Doubling After Splitting (DAS) the play moves to your next hand, otherwise it moves to the next blackjack player.

Some casinos allow you to Double Down only on your first two cards of a hand. Others allow you to Double Down even after taking hits.

You might be able to Double Down on any hand total. Or you might be limited to Doubling Down only if your hand totals a certain amount, such as 10-11 only.

You may or may not be allowed to Double Down after Splitting Pairs.

Blackjack Game Play - Late Surrender

If Late Surrender is offered, this is where you will invoke it. The dealer has checked for blackjack and you know she does not have one. Before taking any more cards you will have the option to Surrender. You lose half of your bet instead of all of it, and you do not take any hits. The hand is over for you. This is known as giving up, or cutting your losses. The dealer takes your cards and half of your bet, and this hand is over for you. If you have another hand to play, the blackjack play moves to that hand. Otherwise it moves to the next blackjack player.

Blackjack Game Play - Taking Hits

All options have now been offered and it's time to either Hit or Stand. To take a Hit means to take another card. To Stand means to stop taking cards, and go with your hand as it is.

Taking a Hit is also known as a Taking a Draw. Unless your hand total is less than 12, you will risk busting, or going over 21, with every Hit you take. If you bust, the dealer takes your bet and your cards. You lost that hand.. If you have another hand to play, the play moves to your next hand. Otherwise it moves to the next blackjack player.

You must decide whether your hand total could win as it stands, or whether you need to try for a higher total. Remember that just because your blackjack hand totals 16 for example, doesn't mean it will automatically lose if the dealer must draw to 17. There is always the possibility that the dealer will bust.

In all blackjack games the dealer MUST keep taking Hits until she has at least 17. This gives her a good chance of busting if her hand total is 15 or 16 and she takes a Hit.

If the dealer Stands on Soft 17, this means that the moment the dealer reaches 17, regardless of any Aces that could be counted as 1 or 11, the dealer will stop taking cards.

If the dealer Hits on Soft 17, then the dealer will hit if she has 17 but it could be counted as less than 17 because of an Ace. In other words, the dealer will hit on a hand of A-6.

Blackjack Game Play - End of Hand and Payouts

Once all of the blackjack players have played their hands, whether they Split, Doubled, Busted, or still have cards on the table, it is now the dealer's turn.

The blackjack dealer will turn over the hidden card (Hole card), and will take Hits until she reaches 17 or higher.

If the dealer busts (goes over 21), all hands that remain win. If the dealer doesn't bust, then each hand is compared to the dealer's hand and whoever has the higher total wins, unless it is a tie.

The dealer takes the bets of all losing hands. Everyone who wins is paid, and this round ends.


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