In casino blackjack, the dealer faces one to seven players from behind a table. Each player plays his hand independently against the dealer. At the beginning of each round, the player places a bet in the “betting box” and receives an initial hand of two cards. Blackjack can be played in a live setting as well as online. Beginners to the game would do well to read up on the rules before playing their first hand.
The object of the game is to get a higher card total than the dealer, but without going over 21 which is called “busting”, “breaking”, or many other terms.
Cards with a number 2 to 10 printed on them count as that value; the jack, queen, and king (also known as “face cards”) count as 10; and the ace card can be either 1 or 11 at the player’s choice.
The player goes first and plays his hand by taking additional cards if he desires. If he goes over 21 points, he “busts” and automatically loses the hand and his bet. Then the dealer plays his or her hand. If the dealer busts, he loses to all remaining players who have cards whose values are equal to or below 21. If neither busts, the higher hand total wins. If a player ties with the dealer the hand is a “push” and the player’s bet is returned,It is possible for the dealer to lose to some players but still beat other players in the same round.
Cards are dealt in three ways, either from one or two hand-held decks, from a box (known as a “shoe”) containing four to eight decks, or from a shuffling machine. When dealt by hand, the player’s two initial cards are usually face-down, while the dealer has one face-up card called the “upcard” and one face-down card called the “hole card.”
(In European blackjack, the dealer’s hole card is not actually dealt until the players all play their hands.) When dealt from a shoe, all player cards are normally dealt face-up, with minor exceptions. It shouldn’t matter to the non-expert player whether his cards are dealt face-down or face-up since the dealer must play according to predetermined rules. Expert players in live casinos, however, might be able to gain the upper hand if they’re familiar with the ins and outs of card counting; but they should be advised that pit bosses are on the lookout for such tactics. While not illegal, a casino is allowed to refuse to allow players (who they feel might have an advantage) to make bets.
If the dealer has less than 17, he must hit. If the dealer has 17 or more, he must stand (take no more cards), unless it is a “soft 17″ (a hand that includes an ace valued as “11,” for example a hand consisting of Ace+6, or Ace+2+4). With a soft 17, the dealer follows the casino rules printed on the blackjack table, either to “hit soft 17″ or to “stand on all 17′s.”
Normally, the highest possible hand is a “blackjack” or “natural,” meaning an initial two-card total of 21 (an ace and a ten-value card). A player who is dealt a blackjack is an automatic winner unless the dealer also has blackjack, in which case the hand is a “push” (a tie). When the dealer upcard is an ace, the player is allowed to make a side bet called “insurance,” supposedly to guard against the risk that the dealer has a blackjack (i.e., a ten-value card as his hole card). The insurance bet pays 2-to-1 if the dealer has a blackjack. Whenever the dealer has a blackjack, he wins against all player hands except those that also have a blackjack (which are a “push”).
After receiving his initial two cards, the player has four standard options: he can “Hit,” “Stand,” “Double Down,” or “Split a pair.” Each option requires the use of a hand signal. At some casinos or tables, the player may have a fifth option called “Surrender.”
- Hit: Take another card from the dealer.
signal: (handheld) Scrape cards against table. (face up) Touch finger to table or wave hand toward himself.
- Stand: Take no more cards; also known as “stick” or “stay”.
signal: (handheld) Slide cards under bet. (face up) Wave hand horizontally.
- Double down: After receiving his first two cards and before any more are dealt to him, a player has the option to “double down.” This means the player is allowed to double his initial bet in exchange for receiving only one more card from the dealer. The hand played consists of his original two cards plus one more from the dealer. To do this he moves a second bet equal to the first into the betting box next to his original bet. (If desired and allowed by casino rules, the player is usually allowed to “double down for less,” placing an amount less than the original bet next to it in the betting box, although this is generally not a good idea as the player should only double in favorable situations but should then increase the bet as much as possible. Adversely, a player cannot “double down for more” than the value of the original bet.)
signal: Place additional chips next to (not on top of) the original bet.
- Split a pair: If his first two cards are a “pair,” meaning two cards of the same value, the player can “split the pair.” To do this, he moves a second bet equal to the first into an area outside the betting box of the original bet. The dealer separates the cards to create two hands, placing one bet with each hand. The player then plays two separate hands.
signal: Place additional chips next to the original bet outside of the betting box.
- Surrender: Some casinos offer a fifth option called “surrender.” After the dealer has checked for blackjack, the player may “surrender” by giving up half his bet and not playing out the hand.
signal: There is no commonly accepted hand signal; it is just done verbally.
Hand signals are used to assist the “eye in the sky,” a person or video camera located above the table but concealed behind one-way glass. This tool is used to protect the casino against dealers or players who cheat. It may also be used to protect the casino against card counters, even though card counting is not illegal.
The player can take as many hits as he wants as long as the total in his hand is not above hard-20. However, if he busts, he loses that hand. After all players have finished making their decisions, the dealer then reveals his hole card and plays out his or her hand according to predetermined rules.