THE BASIC RULES OF BLACKJACK

The best place to start learning the game of blackjack is by understanding the rules. Many people have played their own ‘variation’ of blackjack at home but don’t think that rules in a casino will be the same! There are some similarities but you’d be surprised how often a player thinks he’s ‘won’ based on home game rules only to find out that he’s lost based on the actual casino rules.

Having a thorough knowledge of blackjack rules is essential for another reason—every rule added or removed by an individual casino changes the odds of the game. More specifically, rule changes can increase the house edge (making the game harder to beat over the long run) or reduce the house edge (making it easier to beat in the long term).

While every casino operates their blackjack game on the same basic set of rules you’ll find all sorts of variations and additional rules from one property to another. You can even find different rules at different blackjack tables within the same casino. It’s not an exaggeration to say that one of the most crucial real money strategic decisions made by a successful blackjack player takes place before he even sits down at a table.

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We’ll keep our discussion of blackjack rules simplified to begin with. In the section below we’ll outline the most fundamental rules of the game without any modifications or variations. After that, we’ll cover the intermediate and advanced rules and variations:

THE FUNDAMENTALS

Before we start with the game itself it’s important to understand the value of the individual cards. Blackjack is such a popular table game worldwide that this is familiar to most people without explanation:

  • ACES: Can count as a ‘1’ or ’11’ determined by which value produces the best hand for the player.
  • CARDS 2-9: The value of these cards is determined by their face value
  • 10-J-Q-K: In addition to cards with the natural value of ten all face cards (Jack-Queen-King) are worth 10.

Suits are irrelevant in blackjack. A ‘natural 21’ (a dealt blackjack) made up of the Ace and King of spades is worth the same as one made up of the Ten of Hearts and Ace of Clubs. The only exception you might run into are special promotions at certain casinos (eg: a bonus paid for blackjacks in hearts on Valentines Day).

The object of the game is simple and staying focused is key—each player is dealt two cards with the objective of getting the highest hand possible without going over 21. All hands that go over 21 are known as a ‘bust’ and automatically lose. All hands dealt a value of 21 (an Ace and a Ten value card) are known as a ‘blackjack’ and automatically win (with a few exceptions we’ll outline later).

After the opening deal, the dealer will go to each player from right to left. The player has the option to ‘stand’ or ‘hit’. If he ‘stands’, he’s done playing and will await the result of the dealer’s hand. If a player chooses to ‘hit’ he’ll receive another card from the dealer. Assuming he doesn’t go over 21 and ‘bust’ he’ll once again have the option to take another card or stand pat. There are some advanced options at this point that will be covered later.

Once everyone at the table has played their hand, the dealer will play his. The dealer’s hand is dealt with one card face up and one card face down. The dealer has no input on how his hand is played. In most games, he must draw cards until he hits 17 or higher (again, there are slight variations). If the dealer hits a ’21’ when he flips over his hole card he’s an automatic winner (unless you also have a ‘natural’ blackjack in which case it’s a ‘push’ or a tie). If the dealer goes over 21 all players still ‘alive’ (that haven’t busted out earlier) are winners. Otherwise, a player’s hand must be greater than the dealer’s hand to be a winner. If they’re equal, it is a ‘push’ or tie and the player receives his bet back. At this point, the dealer collects money from losing players, pays winning players, swoops up the cards and the next hand begins.

BLACKJACK

The ‘best case scenario’ for a player on a given hand is to be dealt a ‘natural’ or a ‘blackjack’ by receiving a 10 value card and an Ace. A blackjack is paid off at 3-2 and is an automatic winner in most circumstances. The only exception? If a dealer has a ten or ace for his upcard. He’ll ‘peek‘ under the down card before players play their hand to see if he has a blackjack. In this situation, a player can choose to be paid immediately at even money—the same for any other winning hand. If the player takes his chances and the dealer does have a blackjack, the hand is a ‘push’. If the dealer doesn’t have 21, the player wins 3-2.

SPLITS

If a player receives two identical value cards or identical face cards in the opening deal he can choose to ‘split’ his hand. He then places an additional wager down for the second hand and the dealer gives him an additional card for each hand. From then on out, each hand is played individually.

For example:

If a player is dealt two eights:

8-8

He can split them into two hands:

8-* 8-*

And the dealer will deal another card on each:

8-K 8-9

In theory, you can split any pair but in general, you don’t want to split any hand worth 18 or more (9-9 or 10-10).

DOUBLE DOWN

The ‘double down’ is a very important component of advanced strategy. When the player is dealt cards worth a certain value (eg: 10 or 11) he has the choice to ‘double down’. He’ll double his bet and the dealer will give him ONE more card. If the resulting hand is a winner, he wins both bets. If it’s a loser, he loses both bets.

For example:

A player is dealt

7-4 = 11

He chooses to double down and receives an additional card

7-4-*

If this hand wins, he gets paid on both bets. If it loses, he loses both:

7-4-K

There are three common variations on the ‘double down’ rule. Some casinos allow doubling down on 10 or 11. Others allow doubling down on 9-10-11. Best case scenario for the player—casinos that allow doubling down on ANY two cards.

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