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I’ll state it right up front. This is a column for people who have never played blackjack in a casino.

I’m going to explain the very basics of the game and some of the common terms. If you are already a regular at blackjack, but need some strategy assistance, you may have to wait a few weeks for that column.

Let’s get right to it. In blackjack, 10’s and face cards all count as 10 points. An Ace may count as 1 or 11 as the player chooses for himself. The goal of the game is to get as close to 21 as possible without going over. If the player goes over 21, he loses and his wager is taken. If the Dealer goes over 21, he busts and all players who have not busted are paid even money for their wagers.

To begin play, you make a single wager. You will be dealt two cards. In some casinos you will get your cards face down. In others, they will be dealt face up. If they are dealt up, you should not touch the cards at all. If they are dealt face down, you may pick them up and look at them. The dealer will be dealt two cards, one face up and one underneath, face down.

Sometimes Surrender Is Best In Blackjack

If the dealer has a 10/Face upcard, he will check to see if he has blackjack. He will either use a small device built into the table or he will peak by bending over the downcard. If he has an Ace underneath, he has blackjack. All players who do not have blackjack will lose their wagers. If a player also has a blackjack, it is a Push, which is a ‘tie’ and the player’s wager is returned.

If the dealer has an Ace up, he will ask if the player wants to take Insurance, which is essentially a sidebet for blackjack. If a player takes insurance, he may wager up to half of his blackjack wager. He is wagering that the dealer does have blackjack.

If the dealer has it, he wins 2 to 1 on his Insurance wager and loses his blackjack wager (unless the player also had blackjack). This is the equivalent of the player merely keeping both wagers — hence why it is called Insurance. In essence, the player does not lose his blackjack wager. If the dealer does not have Blackjack, the Insurance wager is lost and play continues.

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If the player has a blackjack when the dealer has an Ace up, he may ask for ‘even money.’ The player will be paid even money (instead of 6 to 5 or 3 to 2) for his blackjack. The outcome is the same as if the player takes Insurance.

If the dealer does not have an Ace or 10/Face as an upcard or if he checks for blackjack and does not have it, play continues. The player after reviewing his hand has several options. Some are not available at all times. They are as follows:

Hit — The player may take another card. If he hits and goes over 21, he loses his wager. The player may continue to hit until he chooses to stop or until he goes over 21.

Stick — Essentially end his turn and playing his hand as is.

Double Down — This option is only available when the player has two cards. The player may double his wager, but must hit only one card. Frequently, this card is placed face down on the player’s hand, so as to create suspense. It will be revealed after the dealer plays out his hand.

Split — Only possible when the player has a pair. The player “splits” the pair into two new hands, putting a wager equal to his original wager on the new hand.

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The dealer will deal a second card to each of the new hands. The player will play each hand independently. Generally, a player can only split to a total of four hands. Most casinos will allow a player to Double Down after splitting, while the hand has only two cards.

Surrender — The player may ‘give up’ surrendering half of his wager.

Once each player completes his turn, the dealer will play out his hand. He will reveal his downcard. If the dealer has 16 or less, the dealer will hit. If the dealer has 18 or more, he will stick. If he has what is called a “Hard 17” — no Aces or Aces counting as a 1, he will stick. If he has a “Soft 17” — a hand with an Ace counting as an 11, he will hit.

Once the dealer is done playing his hand, he will resolve the wagers. If the dealer busts, all players still in action will be paid even money, unless the player has blackjack, which will be paid 3 to 2 or 6 to 5. If the player’s hand outranks the dealer’s hand, the player wins even money. If the dealer’s hand outranks the player’s hand, the player loses his wager. If the two hands tie, it is a push.

I suggest you watch a table in action for a little while before jumping right in. It seems like a lot is going on, but you can get the hang out of it pretty quickly. Learning proper strategy, on the other hand, takes time and practice. 

About the Author

Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome’s roots run deep into gaming theory and analysis. His father, Lenny, was a pioneer in developing video poker strategy in the 1980s and is credited with raising its popularity to dizzying heights. Elliot is a second generation gaming author and analyst with nearly 20 years of programming experience.

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