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Blackjack Basics

Casino blackjack is perhaps the most practised casino game in the world, if not the most popular (a title usually held by the grandfather of all table games, poker). Unlike poker however, the objective of game is not to beat the other players; instead you are playing against a dealer. The most popular variation of blackjack is called the ‘shoe’, where each player is given two cards – face up. The game is played using all 52 cards (no joker), and in some cases, up to 8 decks for a single game. The more decks there are in play, the bigger the house edge is. The dealer will also deal two cards for himself , but keep one of them face-down. You can beat the dealer only by having a sum total of “21” in your hand; or a sum that is either lower than 21, but higher than that of the dealer, or the dealer draws over the 21 limit. This is blackjack in a nutshell, and if you are interested in learning more about this fascinating table game, please do read on.

The Rules of “shoe” Blackjack

Why is it called ‘shoe’?
Because I am writing this article for people who are not 100% familiar with the concept of blackjack, we are only going to discuss ‘shoe’ blackjack, and not one of its many, many variations. This variation is called ‘shoe’ because the dealer draws his cards from a specially engineered card dispenser (supposedly resembling a shoe). The shoe was implemented back in 1961 by a Las Vegas magician and card specialist John Scarne, to both reduce the chance of the dealer cheating, but more importantly – to allow the game to be played with more than one deck! The more decks the dealer has, the bigger the house edge is (and in addition, for a player to cheat ‘count cards’ as well).

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Card Denominations

The game of blackjack is played using all 52 cards and on occasion, with 6 decks or more. There are the usual four suits of course – club, spade, heart and diamond (don’t worry about suits, they don’t have anything to do with the game itself). What you will be looking at is the denomination of each individual card. Here is how to count them:

1 – 10 You count your cards like you would do normally. An Ace is 1, followed by 2,3,4 etc. right through 10.
Face Cards – Each ‘face card’ (King, Queen, Jack) is regarded as 10.
Ace – Aces are usually counted as 1. In blackjack the ace can be 1, but it can also be regarded as 11 (otherwise it would be very difficult to hit “blackjack”).

You add up the numbers and hope that they add up ‘close to’ 21. Let’s say you have a Jack and an Ace; 11 + 10 = 21 – blackjack! This is also regarded as a “soft” hand, but more on that later.


Placing a Bet

Like all casino games, the player is obligated to purchase chips (checks is actually the correct term) before sitting at a table; although some casinos will sell you chips right at the blackjack table. Never place actual money on a blackjack table (that is considered poor gambling), and always make sure you know which colour chip stands for each denomination. Once you have placed your bet there is no going back. Usually, casinos pay even money, with the exception of “blackjack”, where the casino must pay 3 to 2; and when a player requests an “insurance”.

How is the game played


The dealer will give each player and himself two cards. You don’t get to see the dealer’s second card, but you can see the one that is face up. He will then ask you (not ‘ask’ really, but it would be heavily implied) that you either ‘hit’,”stand”, ‘split’, ‘double’, or ‘surrender’. The first stage of the game is dealing the cards, then comes this part.

Hit – Let’s say you were dealt a 2 and a 9. 2 + 9 = 11 – not quite a blackjack yet. You can ask (asking is actually not allowed) for another card by tapping your finger on the table (like you are using a telegraph) or by scratching the table with your index/middle finger. The dealer will then give you an additional card. If you are still not satisfied with the results you can ask for a second, third or even a forth card – as long as you don’t go over 21, there is no limit of how many cards can you ask for.

Stand – Standing is when a player is satisfied with his hand and doesn’t wish for any more cards. Indicate this, by waving your hand slightly above the deck (always make sure that you do all hand gestures near the deck, from your side).

Split – When a player has a pair (two 8 for example) or has two 10 digit cards, he can choose to ‘split those’ into two separate hands (as well as doubling the bet itself). It is like you have just started a second game, using a completely new set of cards. After the split has been made, each hand is treated individually; thus you can either hit, stand, double* or in some cases split again.

Double – When doubling, the player doubles his bet, but only receives one card instead of getting another hand. The card is placed perpendicular next to the original two cards, and a play is no longer allowed to hit. Some casinos will allow a double after a split has been made, but that is up to the casinos themselves.

Surrender – Sometimes players may choose to surrender. When surrendering, you lose only half your wager, rather than the whole thing. This is done when the player feels like he cannot beat the dealer, like when the dealer has an ace showing. There are two major types of surrender: early and late surrender. Early surrender is when a player forfeits his hand

Playing the game

There is only one ‘true’ way to win a blackjack game, and that is to hit a ‘blackjack”. Otherwise, you are just beating the dealer. Beating the dealer refers to you having a larger “sum total” than the dealer, without going over 21.

The Table – Finding a good blackjack table might be more difficult than you think. The first thing you must take into consideration are the minimum and maximum bets. Usually tables that have “lower minimum bets” are the most crowded, but not always. For the trained eye, recognizing a blackjack table is easy and intuitive; but to the initiate this task might not be so easy after all. You will know that this a blackjack table, when you see a sign “Blackjack”, or “Blackjack pays 3:1” etc. Like I said, it is a good idea to start at a ‘shoe’ table, and not on some unknown variation of the game, where both the rules and the pay-off can vary greatly. Just look for the ‘shoe’ and for people who have both their cards facing up – that would be your table.

Decks, Hands and Probabilities – Not many people know this, but blackjack is actually played with more than one deck (up to 8 maximum). If you are wondering why casinos use so many decks for a game that barely warrants half, think about the odds for a second. There are 52 cards in every deck, meaning that there is 4 to 52 probability of you drawing any particular card (because there are 4 suits for each denomination). When we draw the line, we have 1/13 chance of drawing the desired card. But let’s not forget that face cards hold a value of 10, and there are a lot of them in a deck. We have 4 Jacks, 4 Queens, 4 Kings and 4 10s. This equals a total of 14 cards out of 52 that hold the value 10, which is exactly 25%. This way the dealer always has the upper-hand, because he is the last to turn his cards. Let me elaborate: a player gets busted when he hits and misses the 21 mark. The dealer then takes all their bets, even if he himself had busted. So whatever the players do, the house is always going to have an advantage.

Blackjack – The term ‘blackjack’ refers to the player/dealer having a sum total of 21 in his hand. The most common “blackjacks” are done with an ace and a face card (or a 10 respectively). But you can get a blackjack using any denomination, as long as it is your first hand. If you split, hit and get a sum total of 21, this is not considered a blackjack. If you’ve done a split, and have an ace and a jack in one hand, and an ace and a king in the other, both of those are 21, but not blackjacks. The difference is that blackjack pays 3 to 2, where as 21 just wins even money (unless it is a push*). Blackjack also means an automatic win for the holder, thus it is the only ‘true’ way to win.

Push – A push is when you and the dealer both have a blackjack; or an equal sum total of any kind. Let’s say you have 3, 5, and a queen. 3 + 5 + 10 = 18. The dealer has 7, 7, 4, which too equals 18. In this situation, both the dealer and the player are in a state of draw, and the bet is given back to the participants.
Dealer Hits Soft 17

Bust – A bust is when a player (or the dealer) goes over 21. A King, a Queen and a 2 will result in a bust. If a dealer busts, the house pays all players that haven’t busted already. If a player busts, he is out of the game while the other players continue fighting the dealer.

The Dealer
The only obstacle standing between the players and their desired goal of winning is the dealer. So knowing what the dealer can do and the moves he could make would ‘even’ the field, so to speak. Be sure to watch and listen to your dealer, and follow his moves accordingly. For example, if the dealer has an ace facing up, there is a good 30% probability that the other card will be 10. The dealer will peak at his face-down card and if it is indeed a 10(10, King, Jack or Queen), he would declare ‘blackjack’, which of course means an automatic win for the house. Also, the dealer doesn’t make choices when playing, like the players do. Some casinos will have their dealers “stand” on all 17s – meaning that once they reach 17, they must stand. Let’s say the dealer has an Ace and a 6, which of course makes 17. He must then stand and not draw any additional cards. If the dealer has 16 (Ace, 5), then he must draw until the sum total of all cards in his hand is 17 or above.

Soft 17 – A soft 17 is when the dealer has an Ace showing. This situation is called soft 17, because even if the dealer draws a face card, which is of course 10, he still has plenty of room to wiggle; because as we know an ace can be either 1 or 11. If the dealer has an ace and a 6 (11 + 6 = 17) and he hits; it no longer matters what card he draws. If he draws a 4 or less he will be near the blackjack zone; if he draws 4 or more, he can easily declare that his ace is a 1, and play from there. This will save the dealer from busting. For example, if the dealer had drawn a King, he would have 6 + 1 = 7, +10 = 17. Otherwise the dealer would have busted – 6 + 11 = 17, + 10 = 27. Some casinos would require the dealers to “hit when soft 17”. This means that if the dealer has a an ace, and a 6, he must hit again

When the dealer has an ace showing; he could very well have hit a blackjack. A player can be asked to ‘insure’ himself, by betting on the dealer’s hand. If he has a blackjack (the Ace and one “10” card), then both you and the house win, while the other players bust. Of course this doesn’t go against your original wager, but rather you are placing a second wager on the dealer’s hand. The house pays 2 to 1, although the player can only bet half of his original wager. If you lose your original bet, you still get paid what you put down as insurance. If you have a natural (21, blackjack), then there is going to be a push. You don’t lose your bet, you don’t get paid 3 to 2, but you do get to keep your insurance bet. And if the dealer doesn’t have 21 (of course he won’t actually tell you this at the beginning), you lose your insurance bet, but still play against the dealer using your initial hand.

More Articles Covering Blackjack

Blackjack Basics
Blackjack Rules
Blackjack Variations
Multi Hand Blackjack
Single Deck Blackjack Rules
Vegas Downtown Blackjack
Vegas Strip Blackjack Rules
Atlantic City Blackjack
How to Hit a Hand
Splitting Hands in Blackjack
Insurance in Blackjack
Surrender in Blackjack
Standing a Hand
Blackjack Double Down
Splitting Hands in Blackjack
Blackjack Odds
Blackjack Strategy for Playing Hands
Blackjack Cards and Hands Value

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