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Blackjack Rules

Are you interested in learning how to play Blackjack?  Or in fine-tuning the Blackjack skills you already have?  Either way, whether you’re a novice or an old-hand who wants to improve his game, you’ve come to the right place. 

Over the next few pages I will give you everything from soup to nuts on this very popular casino game, also known as 21.

If you are an international visitor, please note that when I refer to currency amounts and chip colors, I am doing so from the perspective of a visitor to a United States casino.

All the other information I am providing, however, should be useful and relevant to you no matter where you’re playing the game.

The Casino

Before we get into the game of Blackjack, there are a few things you’ll need to know about the casino itself.  This is basic introductory information, and if you’re already an experienced casino-goer, feel free to skip ahead.

  1. The Table.  There are three important things to check for when selecting the table you’re going to play at.

    One:  are they playing Blackjack at this table?  You can usually find the answer to that question fairly easily, as there should be a sign printed on the table felt that says “Blackjack pays 3 to 2.” 

    After you’ve determined you’ve got the right game, you’ll want to check what the betting limits are, and again there should be a sign on the table-top specifying exactly what the maximum and minimum limits are. 

    You’ll often discover that the biggest crowds are gathered around the low-limit tables ($3 or $5).  Frequently you’ll see that these betting limit signs are color-coded. 

    In other words: red is for a minimum bet of $5, green is for a minimum bet of $25, and black is for a minimum bet of $100. 

    The third thing you’ll want to check is what type of game is being dealt.  A “shoe” game – where 6 or 8 decks are being used – is often the best kind of game for beginners to play in, because all of the player’s cards are dealt face-up and the dealer can be helpful in answering questions.

    The downside with these shoe games is that they are ultimately advantageous to the casino, which is why I would suggest moving on to fewer-deck-games once you’ve become more experienced in playing. 

    For the beginner I would say it’s worth giving the casino the advantage in exchange for some very important peace of mind and learning experience.

  2. The Chips.  When you find a table that suits your needs, you will need to purchase chips.

    There is a standard way in which this is done – a way which is commonly accepted and recognized by the dealer and which you must therefore familiarize yourself with beforehand.

    Basically, you’re going to put your cash down on the table in front of you, at a point when there’s a break in the action (though at some casinos you will not be permitted to join the game until the dealer shuffles).

    In any event, you can’t simply give your cash to the dealer.  Though you may think of this as harmless or even more respectful of the dealer than just placing it down on the felt, he is not allowed to take the money from your hands.  When you put the money on the table he’ll take it and give you the playing chips you’ve paid for in return.

    You should know ahead of time that you will not be getting any change back; whatever amount you give him will be the exact amount he converts into playing chips, which he’ll then push across the table to you.

    There is a slot in the tabletop into which he will drop your cash.  Now, as for amounts.  Across the casino industry it is pretty much universally accepted that red chips have a $5 value, green chips have a $25 value, and black have a $100 value.

    If you see white chips, those have a $1 value, and in some casinos there’s a pink chip worth $2.50.  There’s also such a thing as a $1 token, which is silver.  For amounts over $100, there’s some variation, but you will usually find the color purple representing a $500 chip.

    The buy-in amount usually ranges from 10 to 20 times your average bet (meaning $50 to $100 if you are a $5 bettor).

    You should always make sure you understand and can identify the values of the chips, and if you aren’t clear on something, you should feel free to ask the dealer.  Though in the game of Blackjack itself he is playing “against” you, it is actually part of his job to help you learn and understand.

  3. The Bet.  Okay.  When you are ready to make your bet, there will be a circle or box right in front of you on the table.  You will put your bet into the circle in a single stack, before the game begins.

    The larger-valued chips must be placed on the bottom of the stack, smaller-valued chips on top of them.  You may not touch the bet in the circle once the cards have been dealt, so you must be very sure of your bet before that point.

    At the end of the hand, the dealer will come around the table both to pay winners and collect chips from those who have lost.  Only after the dealer has done this can you remove your chips from the circle.

    You can then place your next bet.  Two commonly asked questions are:  what if I need to know how much I bet for doubling or splitting (concepts I will explain a little later)?  Since you are not allowed to touch the chips at that point, you’ll have to ask the dealer and he will count them for you.

    The other question: what if I want to let my winnings ride?  In that case, after the dealer pays you, you will make one stack of chips from the pre-existing stacks on the table.

  4. The Pay-Off.  Exchanging chips for cash – or cashing in – takes place when you’re done playing.  If you’ve got a lot of smaller-value chips, the dealer may want to exchange these – or “color up” – for the larger-value chips.

    If you are ready to cash in, you should wait until the end of a hand and then push your chips out in front of you.

    As you won’t want the dealer to think this is a bet, you should put these chips between betting boxes, at which point he’ll take them, count them (also known as “counting down”) and give you the equivalent in fewer but larger-value chips.

    These chips can either be taken to the cashier and cashed in, or they can be used to play more games at other tables.

The Game of Blackjack

Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with the basic workings of the casino, it’s time to look at the game itself.

  1. The Goal.  In Blackjack, you want to get as close to 21 points as you can – and closer than the dealer gets to it – without going over.  This is a game in which the other players really don’t matter, because it is all about what goes on between you and the dealer.

    You are playing against him alone. You can feel free to show the dealer, and the other players, your cards, and even ask them advice as to what your next move should be.  In shoe games, the player’s cards are even dealt up so that everyone can see them.

  2. The Cards.  The cards are valued as follows:  2-9 are exactly as indicated (i.e., 2 is worth 2 points, etc). The 10 and each of the face cards (Jack, Queen, King) are all worth 10 points.  And the Ace is worth either 1 or 11 points.

    The suit of the cards is irrelevant in this game.  The value of your hand is the sum of the points within it.  For instance, a hand containing a 2, 5 and 7 would be 14. 

    The Ace is what makes the counting of a hand’s value tricky, though you should know that the value assigned to it will always be the value that is most beneficial to you.

    In other words, if you have an Ace and a six, you either have 17 points or 7 points.  If you ask for another card and you get a five, it is automatically assumed that the Ace will count as 1 so that you will not “bust” (i.e., go over 21 points).

    If you decided to “stand” at just the Ace and the six, it would be assumed that you had 17 points, which is a lot closer to 21 than 7 points is.  In other words, the value of the Ace can change, depending on the other cards in your hand.

    Some terminology that’s important to know:  A hand containing an Ace and a six would be called a “soft 17” because you can draw another card to it and not bust.

    A hand containing an Ace, six and ten would be called a “hard 17” because the Ace has to be counted as 1; if it were counted as 11, you would bust.  A soft “total” is when the Ace in the hand can be valued as either 1 or 11 and still not bust.

  3. Let The Game Begin! The bets are made.  Now it’s time to play.  The dealer deals out the cards by going around the table twice, beginning at his left, until all players plus the dealer have two cards each (except in certain casinos in Europe, and elsewhere, where the European No Hole Card rule applies, in which the dealer gets only one card face up and only after the players have finished their hands does he get his second card).

    The dealer will expose the value of one of his cards by flipping it over.  In shoe games, the two player cards will be exposed (or “face up”).

    The shoe game is good for beginners not least because in shoe games you’re not allowed to touch the cards – one less thing to worry about if you’re someone who’s not used to handling cards and don’t want to have to deal with that.

    Hand-held games, in which (obviously) you DO handle the cards, require a bit more thought.  The cards are dealt face down, then picked up and held by you, but you can only touch them with ONE HAND, and you must always keep the cards above the table. 

    Subsequent cards dealt to you are not to be put into your hand with your first two cards – these are to be left on the table.  Okay, so now the cards have been dealt.  Play begins at the first seat to the dealer’s left (otherwise known as “first base”).

    Each player will say how he wishes to play his hand (I will discuss the various playing options further on).  Once the players have finished playing their hands, the dealer finishes his.  Then it is time to pay out and collect bets.

  4. The dealer.  Unlike the player, the dealer does not have playing options.  He has to play in a certain way, with no flexibility, each and every time.  Specifically, he cannot split pairs and he must hit (i.e., take a card) until either he reaches 17 or goes bust.

    There IS one rule variation, however, which will always be clearly marked at your casino table, and it is important to take note of this at the start. 

    If the sign says “Dealer Stands on All 17’s” (the more common of the two rules) it means that the dealer is required to take hits until he has reached a total of 17 or more.

    The Ace in the dealer’s hand counts as 11 unless it means busting, so if he had an Ace and an eight, he’d have 19 points and he would not draw any more cards.

    In “Dealer Hits Soft 17” (the less common rule, and slightly more advantageous to the casino), the dealer does NOT stand on a soft total of 17, but rather on soft 18 or higher or hard 17 or higher.

    In other words if he had a hand consisting of Ace and six, or Ace and five and Ace, or Ace and two and four – these are all cases of soft 17’s but instead of standing on them, he would hit.

  5. A Blackjack (or natural), and how it differs from a 21.  To be a Blackjack (or natural) you don’t just need 21 points in your hand.

    You need to get that total of 21 in a certain very specific way – from YOUR FIRST TWO CARDS – meaning that the 21 will come from having an Ace and a 10-point-card in your initial two-card hand.

    That is the only possible combination, and it must happen with your very first two cards.  Now, sure, you can get a 21 in other ways (for instance, you could split a pair of Aces and then draw a 10-valued-card to one of them for a total of 21 points) but it will only be a 21, not a Blackjack, because it did not meet the requirement of coming “naturally” as your first two cards.

    I stress this because a winning Blackjack pays 3 to 2 (or $15 on a $10 bet) – and a 21 does not.  A player Blackjack beats a Dealer 21.  If (unlikely as it is) both player and dealer get Blackjacks, it’s a tie (also known as a “push” or stand-off).

    Now, WHEN you get the money for your Blackjack varies a bit from casino to casino.  Some dealers will pay off your bet right away – on your turn, when you flip over your cards and show your Blackjack.

    Other dealers, with a face-up card of 10, say, might postpone until the hand is finished and they’ve had a chance to check their hole card.  Statistically speaking, a Blackjack or natural only occurs about once out of every 21 hands.

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