Blackjack rules are like most casino games, not so difficult once you get used to it, but a bit tricky up to that point. To help you get started with your play, we outline the blackjack rules of a standard game here, show you how to step up to a table, and even a bit about how to take advantage of what’s available.
What to do
Stepping up to a blackjack table can be an intimidating experience for the novice gambler, but don’t let the dealer or other players scare you, all you have to do is act cool. There are usually six or seven seats around the blackjack table, which is shaped like a semi-circle. Grab any one of the empty seats to start playing. If there are already other players there, you should wait until the current hand is done before buying in. If you already have some casino chips on you, you can start playing immediately by putting your bet down in the betting area in front of your chair. If you don’t have any chips you will most likely want to cash in. To cash in, wait until the round is done, then get the dealers attention and put your money down on the table while saying something along the lines of ‘can I get some chips for this?’ Don’t make the mistake of putting your cash down on the betting area in front of you, some dealers are not so forgiving and may start the next round then and there, and at that point whatever you put down is your bet, so you may end up betting your whole bankroll if you’re not careful!
So you have your bet down and you’re in the action. Here are a couple of tips to make your day go smoother; make sure you only play with one hand on the table. Casinos don’t like players using two hands, as there is too much of a chance of slight of hand coming into play. Don’t bring anything electronic with you to the table. This may sound like a strange one, but a lot of people these days are toting a palm pilot around, and these things make casinos nervous.
Ok, enough negative tips, here are some social blackjack rules to follow: be nice. People generally like nice people better, and dealers always like nice people better. Having a dealer like you can be more valuable than you might think. A good dealer will stop you before you make a bad move, and always offer smart advice when you’re in a pinch.
The real goal
Before we start learning just how to play the game and the exact blackjack rules of play, we have to go over the much-mistaken goal of the game. A million and a half books have been written over the years that clearly misstate the goal of blackjack to be ‘get a card total as close to 21 as possible’. Getting close to 21 is not the goal of blackjack. The only true goal of blackjack is to beat the dealer. It doesn’t matter if you have a grand total of 2, if the dealer busts, you still win! If you play blackjack your whole life thinking the goal is to get close to 21, there will be a number of instances where you will hit when you should probably stand. Knowing when to hit or stand is based more on the dealer’s up-card than any other variable.
How the game is played
This is where blackjack rules become reality. Green gets greener, or turns to bare felt beneath your fingers. So let’s get set, you know the goal of the game, and you know how to sit and put your bet down, the rest is just details. The dealer will deal cards from a shoe (wooden or plastic, and sometimes even auto-shuffling these days) going around the circle from their immediate left, all the way around to their right side. The person closest to the left of the dealer is known as the first base man. The person closest to the right of the dealer is known as the third base man. The dealer will deal everybody including themselves one card which everybody sees, and will then proceed to deal everybody a second card, but nobody is allowed to see the dealer’s second card. This is known as the dealers ‘hole card’ and is the mystery center point of each hand of play. Every player’s decision after this point is based on what they think that hole-card might be.
After everybody has two cards the dealer starts to poll the players one by one, asking if they would like another card. Blackjack rules allow for two major types of player decision (there are more, we’ll go over them in a bit). The player either decides to ‘hit’ (draw another card), or ‘stand’ (keep the hand as is). If the player reaches a total that is more than 21, they have gone ‘bust’, and automatically lose. If a player’s total beats the dealer’s total, or if the dealer busts and the player doesn’t, the player wins.
Of course, there’s a little more to it than that, but not much more. Those are the basics, all you need to do know is learn when to hit or stand, or something else. The other options I mentioned a minute ago include ‘doubling down’ and ‘splitting’. These decisions come about a little less often than you’re hitting or standing, but without them we don’t stand a chance. Most casino games don’t offer any ability to alter your wager mid-play, which is why I consider these additional blackjack rules bonuses.
The act of doubling down is a rare opportunity to increase our bet in mid-hand. Say you are dealt a five and a six as your first two cards for a total of 11. This total may not sound like much, but it’s actually very sweet. There are a large number of 10 value cards in the deck, and so there is a good chance your next card will be worth ten, making your total 21. Since you know this is likely, you can choose to double down, or double your bet before your third card is dealt. To double down place a stack of chips equal to or less than your original bet, directly beside your original bet. Of course by now you know to do this with just one hand. The dealer will then hit you with another card, and your fortune is revealed. The dealer will place this card sideways (usually) to indicate that you are not entitled to any more cards... so if your total ends up sucking after doubling down there is nothing you can do to improve it. Rule of thumb, always double down no a total of 10 or 11, and possibly on a total of 8 or 9 if the dealer is showing busting cards.
If your first two cards are a pair (two fives, two jacks, etc.) you have the added option of ‘splitting’ your pair into two separate hands. Let us say you are dealt a pair of eights as you are first hand for instance, the total of 16 probably won’t thrill you. But since you have a pair in front of you, you have the option of splitting. To split your pair into two hands just say the word, ‘split’ when the dealer asks for your decision, and push your two cards apart a little, so that there is space between them. You’ll also have to put more money down on the second hand, equal to your original wager. At this point the details can differ from casino to casino. Usually you will not be dealt the second card for your second hand until the first hand is completely taken care of. So the dealer will hit your first hand and ask if you want to hit, stand, or split (and at some tables, you can double on a split). If you have another pair you are usually allowed to split again and play a third hand. Once you are satisfied with the total of your first hand, the dealer will deal to your second hand.
So you see, these are your options, limited as they may be, there is no end to the variety of situations a game of blackjack can throw at you. Now, logically if we know the number of decks in use and the rules governing the game, there are enough variables present for us to calculate what our best decision is in any given situation. These calculations were done in the early eighties with relatively primitive computers running through hand after hand and playing each possible situation out to determine the best one. The sum of this work is collectively known as ‘basic blackjack strategy’ these days, and can be expressed as a simple chart. To learn this, which is absolutely essential to being able to play blackjack intelligently, read our blackjack strategy section.