How to Play Blackjack
There is no other card game that is more popular than blackjack in the world. It is simply player vs dealer. The player doesn’t even have to obtain 21 or let alone get close to 21, he just needs to beat the dealer’s hand. What makes blackjack so popular is that skill can be used as well! Not just luck. It is the skill factor that allows good players to keep the casino edge extremely low.
The Origins of Blackjack
It’s not entirely clear how blackjack came about, however many believe blackjack started in the 1700’s in the France casinos. The game was called vingt-et-un which means “twenty one”. The game began to spread in popularity in England, which was called Van John then to Australia which was called Pontoon. In America, however, it was a different story. Not so popular was twenty one, so the casinos decided to change the odds for either a black card jack (jack of spades or jack of clubs) coupled with an ace of spades. With this change of rules the game was thus called blackjack.
In 1931 gambling was legalized in Nevada, and soon blackjack was gaining popularity in Las Vegas. The rules were soon changed to pay 3-2 bonus on the blackjack, and to include red jacks and red aces. Further rule changes allowed for double down and pairs to be split. The introduction of these rules made blackjack the most popular game played to date.
A high level summary
Blackjack is normally played with the standard deck of cards of consisting 52 cards as the Jokers are removed. Initially, casinos used a single deck but with the issue of card counting, they introduced multi-deck blackjack games making it hard to track every single card. Today, there is either a single deck variant, double deck variant, 4 deck variant, 6 deck variant, and 8 deck variant. Of course, online variants can be more considering as they are easy to manage.
In blackjack, cards between 2 and 10 retain their face values. The Jacks, Queens, and Kings have a value of 10, whereas the Aces can either be 1 or 11. The Aces can only be valued as 11 if the hand goes over 21, in such a case they will be valued at 1.
Any hand that has an Ace is valued at 11 and it’s called a ‘soft’ hand. The rest are referred to as “stiff” or ‘hard’ hands.
If a player is lucky enough to have a starting hand of an Ace and a 10 valued card, it’s called a natural hand or blackjack and wins over all other hands save for another blackjack. If both the dealer and a player happen to have a natural hand, neither wins and the result is considered a tie, and the bet goes back to the player.
Blackjack begins by placing a bet using the chips on the table. After that, the dealer starts dealing the cards. If the game happens to be either single or double-deck dealt from the hand, the cards are distributed facedown and the players can only pick them using one hand. In a shoe game, the cards are dealt faceup, although this time players aren’t allowed to touch their cards. Either way, a single dealer’s card is placed face up for the players to see it.
Once the card distribution is done, the players then decide how to play out their hands. Once the players have played, it’s the dealers chance to play adhering to a set rules.
I cannot emphasize enough, irrespective of whether its an online or offline game, that players should first familiarize themselves with the rules of blackjack in particular to variation that they are playing.
Blackjack pits player against the dealer. Either the player wins or the dealer wins.
Blackjack is also known as 21. The significance of the value of 21 is that whoever holds the total value of their cards closest to 21 is the winner. If player or dealer exceeds 21 on a draw of a card , this results in an automatic loss. The jargon associated with exceeding 21 is “bust”. It is whoever is closest to 21 and not over is the winner.
For Player to be the winner:
The hand is higher than the dealers but does not exceed 21. Or
The dealers hand exceeds 21 and dealer has busted.
For Dealer to be the winner:
Dealers hand is higher than players hand but does not exceed 21. Or
Players hand exceeds 21 and player has busted.
Count the value of a hand
A 2 to 10 numbered card is the value that they represent.
A Jack, Queen or King is a value of 10.
An Ace is either a value of 11 or 1.
Now that we have covered the basics, the game begins with the players sitting at a table that is in the shape of a semi circle. The players sit around the arc of the semi circle while the dealer stands behind the straight edge facing the players. With this table position the dealer can play against many players in one game. Each player is still trying to beat the dealer and is not competing against each other.
Before the cards are dealt by the dealer, each player is required to place their amount that they would like to wager on the table. The dealer will usually request verbally “Please place your bets”, meaning the round is now open to players to join. And after a short period of time the dealer will declare “No more bets”. At this point the players who have put forward a wager are in the game and cannot change the amount put forward. And those who have not put forward a wager are not participating in the game. Players cannot withdraw from participating during a round nor new players join in.
After “no more bets” has been declared, the dealer begins to deal the first card to each player. Beginning with the player to his left and then to each proceeding player along the semi circle finishing with the last player to his right. The dealer will then deal one card to himself and proceed with dealing a second card to all the players again starting from his left and finishing to the last player on his right. At the conclusion of dealing, each player will have two cards dealt to them face up, and the dealer will have two cards, one facing up and one facing down.
The cards have been dealt and now it’s time to go from one player to the next. Each player has a few options depending on the value of the cards. The dealer begins with the first player to his left.
If the player’s two cards add to 21, the player automatically beats the dealer. In this instance the player has received the ultimate winning hand and doesn’t need to do anything. Two cards were dealt, they add up to 21 and boom, the player is a winner! The dealer is the loser. The dealer collects the cards dealt to the player and places them to the side and “pays out” the winnings to the player. The player must now wait for the other players to complete their turn until next round to begins with the dealer declaring “Please place your bets”.
If they add to under 21 (and, no your cards cannot exceed 21 on the first deal) the player has a decision to make that must be conveyed to the dealer. The two most common decisions to make are either “Hit” or “Sit” ( also known as “stand”). There are further options available which will be discussed later.
The player has the option to ask the dealer for another card to be given to him from the undealt cards. This request is commonly referred to as a “hit”. To convey this message to the dealer there are several methods depending on the etiquette of the casino. The most common method is by the player tapping the fingers of one hand on the table behind the pair of cards that have been dealt. The dealer will acknowledge the signal and will deal an extra card to the player.
After dealing the extra card, the player now has a total of 3 cards. The original two dealt and the third from the hit. We now sum the value of the three cards in the player’s hand and if it exceeds 21 then the player has automatically lost. “Bust”. The dealer collects the three cards and places them to the side. The dealer also collects the amount wagered. The players hand is now empty with no cards and there are no wager chips on the table. This signifies the game is complete and finished for the player. The player now waits for the next round. And the dealer proceeds to the next player in the semi circle.
If the player’s hand value is still under 21, a further card can be requested to make the total number of cards in the hand four. Again this can be communicated by the player by tapping his fingers of one hand on the table behind the cards. Another card will be dealt, the total value summed and if it exceeds 21 the player has lost.
If an extra card is continually requested then won’t the player bust?
Yes! So there is an option for the player to stop further additional cards to the hand, and this is called “sit”.
Sit or Stand
To not request for an additional card, and to stop and pass on to the next players turn, is called “Sit” (aka “Stand”). This can be communicated to the dealer by the player waving one hand with palm down over their cards. Once the dealer acknowledges this, he will then move on to the next player to see what they would like to do. The dealer will proceed from player to player from his left to right. He will not go back to previous players and will continue until the last player to his right has busted or sits.
If all players have busted then the round is finished and a new round can begin. Dealer will declare “Place your bets”.
If there are players who have not busted, the dealer will then play out his own hand to see how close he can get to 21 or bust. The dealer cannot decide arbitrarily whether to hit or sit. There are casino rules that that the dealer must follow. The dealer turns over his one face down card so that both his cards are now face up Everyone can now see the value of the two cards that the dealer holds.
The dealer must hit (and continue to hit) if the total value of his cards is under 17. If the total value of his cards is 17 or above, the dealer must sit. If the total value of his cards exceeds 21 after a hit, then dealer busts.
So what does this mean in terms of dealer outcomes. The dealer can only end up with a total value of 17 to 21 or bust in the process. He cannot have a value under 16.
If the dealer is on 17, he cannot hit for another card irrespective of the hands that the players hold.
If the dealer is 16 or below he must hit, irrespective of the hands that the players hold.
In summary the dealer is not influenced by the players.
Once the dealer has landed on a position for his hand, the dealer will then proceed to determine who won between dealer and player (again starting with the first player in his left sweeping around the arc to his right).
The dealer will payout the winner and collect from the losers. Once complete a new round can start and the dealer can declare “Place your bets!”
Other options for players
Besides Hit and Sit as detailed in previous paragraphs, depending on the variation of blackjack, there are other options available to players when it is their turn.
Double down – the player is allowed to double their wagered amount on the condition of only receiving one additional card. To perform this at the casino the player will place more chips besides the initial wager and the dealer will then deal one more card to the player. The player may bust on the extra card and lose double the amount of the original wager. Or beat the dealer and win twice the amount.
Split – the player receives two cards on initial dealing which are the same value or for picture cards jack, queen and king , the same picture.
The player can “split” the two cards, and the dealer will provide an extra two cards to create two hands for the one player. The player must therefore offer an additional wager as he is now effectively playing two hands. The player continues to play as if he is playing two hands.
Should either of the two new hands contain the same values again, in some variations of the game, further splitting can be done.
Surrender – the player is allowed to give up and lose half their wagered amount without hitting or sitting. Why would a player wish to surrender? Everyone can see (players included) the one face up card of the dealer. If the dealer holds an ace some players may believe that the dealer will land on blackjack and therefore losing half is better than losing the whole wagered amount.
Insurance– the player has the option to place a side bet that the dealer will land on blackjack. Effectively the player, in some ways has hedged their bets.
Double down, Split, Surrender and Insurance are not always available to players as it depends on the variation of the game played at the casino.
In summary blackjack is a relatively easy game to master. It doesn’t require bluffing like poker, and its simply the player vs the dealer. Each player has a turn, one turn to decide hit or sit. After which the dealer must play by given rules to either hit or sit. The outcome is, whoever is closest to 21 between the dealer and the player is the winner.
Additional pointers to know when playing at the casino
When playing or when preparing to play blackjack at the casino there are a few other pointers to be wary about, which doesn’t fall directly with playing the game of blackjack itself, but with etiquette.
Sometimes casinos allow a non participating player of a blackjack game, to wager with a participating player. When this occurs the non participating player must put forward his wager/chips and place it next to the participating players wager. When this occurs, the non participating player forfeits the right to make any decisions in the game. The non participating player becomes a spectator but is attached to the fortunes of the participating player, i.e. can win or lose the wager driven by the decision of someone else. Often, this may occur if people notice a player who is on a winning streak. And then this occurs people will often wager with the player and “ride” that player’s luck.
Minimum and Maximum
At a table for blackjack, often the casino will advise what is the minimum and maximum amount that can be wagered on a single game. Players must therefore wager within that range.
Often the dealer will “assist” the players in the following manner:
1. The dealer will count the value of the cards for the player and for all to hear. For example: if the players cards are blackjack, the dealer will declare “Blackjack!”. If the player has a total hand count of 10, the dealer will declare “ten!”. 2. The dealer may, at times, offer basic advise to beginners. For example, if the player has a total card count of 20, he may kindly suggest not to “hit” to the player to avoid busting.
3. The dealer will clarify for beginners the required hand signals for hit and sit. Often beginners are unsure of the hand signals to make and need help from the dealer.
4. The dealer will advise a player on how to exchange real money for casino chips at the table. The player is required to place the physical cash on the table, then remove any physical contact with the cash. The dealer will then layout the cash on the table for all to see and count the cash. Once counted, he will then provide the casino chips onto the table for the player and remove the cash from the top of the table.
Sometimes a dealer will make a mistake
Yes, it is possible for a dealer to make a mistake. Especially for the dealers that are too fast, or those who have just started as being a dealer. When this occurs, the dealer will attempt to put each player back into their respective positions, and to determine what the correct result should have been. A dealer error doesn’t occur often, but it has happened.
Dealers will change
Dealers are human and need breaks. Therefore at a table there will be assigned dealers who take different shifts during the day and night. Players cannot govern which dealer they want.
Dealer shuffling the cards
At the casino usually six decks of cards are shuffled together. The dealer will oversee the shuffling of the cards and will ask that a player cuts the cards at least once. One the shuffling is complete a plastic divided will be placed to stop short of playing the remaining 50 to 80 cards. The use of six decks and to reshuffle with undealt cards remaining is to reduce the ability to card count.
Playing two or more hands at once
If there is an empty space on the semi circle with a dealer, a player can play more than one hand at once. If he wants to, he could play at all the empty spaces as long as he is able to place a wager on all of them.
A draw or push
It is possible for a dealer and a player to end up with the same hand value as each other. When this occurs there is no winner and there is no loser. There is a draw, and the player is able to retrieve his original wager. This is also known as a “push”.
Talking and talking
The beauty of blackjack is that everyone can talk to each other without influence on each other games. A dealer can talk to the players, and the players can talk amongst themselves. Unlike poker, which involves bluffing and players playing against each other, there is no edge or advantage to be lost if there is talk between players. This often leads to a more exciting atmosphere.
The chair at a table is tilted forward
Often a title chair at a blackjack table, or any table for that matter, indicates that the chair and position at the table is taken. The player has either gone to the bathroom, or for whatever reason has had to leave the table, but will come return to play at the table at that particularly chair. Therefore a tilted forward chair, leaning forwards, means “I’m taken”.
Get up and change tables
Sometimes players “don’t like” a dealer or a new dealer. They perhaps don’t like the feng shui, the position at the table. Whatever the reason, the player can stand up and leave the table and sit at a different table. They are not confined to stay at the one table all the time.
Mind Your Own Business
A player cannot control or enforce other players and the dealer to play their hand(s) in they way they want. Each player has the right to play how they wish. No player can dictate to another play what they should and shouldn’t do.
In the deck of cards used for blackjack, all jokers are removed from the deck. Jokers are not required to play blackjack.