In blackjack at a casino, the dealer faces one to seven players from behind an arc-shaped table. Each player plays their 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. The object of the game is to get a higher card totaling than the dealer’s hand, but without going over 21, which is called “busting” or “breaking”. 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; the ace card can be either 1 or 11 according to the player’s choice. The player goes first and plays their hand by taking additional cards if they desire. If the player goes over 21 points, they “bust” and automatically loses the hand and their bet. Then the dealer plays their hand. If the dealer busts, they lose 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 (this means player does not lose their bet, but wins nothing either). It is possible for the dealer to lose to some players but still beat other players in the same round.
Order of Play
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 their cards are dealt face-down or face-up since the dealer must play according to predetermined rules. If the dealer has less than 17, they must hit. If the dealer has 17 or more, they 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.”
Blackjack and Insurance
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” (tie). When the dealer’s 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 their hole card). The insurance bet pays 2-to-1 if the dealer has a blackjack. Whenever the dealer has a blackjack, they win against all players except those who also have a blackjack (a “push”).
The minimum and maximum bets are posted on the table. The payoff on most bets is 1:1, meaning that the player wins the same amount as they bet. The payoff for a player blackjack is 3:2, meaning that the casino pays $3 for each $2 originally bet.
After receiving their initial two cards, the player has four standard options: they can “hit,” “stand,” “double down,” or “split a pair.” At some tables, the player may have a fifth option, “surrender.”
- Hit: Take another card from the dealer.
signal: (handheld) Scrape cards against table. (face up) Touch finger to table or wave hand toward themself.
- Stand: Take no more cards; also known as “stand pat”, “stick”, or “stay”.
signal: (handheld) Slide cards under chips. (face up) Wave hand horizontally.
- Double down: After receiving their first two cards and before any more are dealt to them, a player has the option to “double down.” This means the player is allowed to double their initial bet in exchange for receiving only one more card from the dealer. The hand played consists of their original two cards plus one more from the dealer. To do this they move a second bet equal to the first into the betting box next to their original bet.
signal: Place additional chips next to (not on top of) the original bet.
- Split a pair: If their first two cards are a “pair,” meaning two cards of the same value, the player can “split the pair.” To do this, they move 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 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 their bet and not playing out the hand.
signal: There is no commonly accepted hand signal; it is just done verbally.
After all players have finished making their decisions, the dealer then reveals their hole card and plays out their hand according to predetermined rules.