Basic Rules of Blackjack

Blackjack is a table game played with one or more standard decks of 52 cards. It involves from two to seven participants. One of them is the “dealer,” also known as the “bank” or “house,” against whom all the others at the table compete.

The objective of Blackjack is for the player to win by drawing cards whose total value is higher than that of the dealer’s cards without going over twenty-one points. The payout for a win is 1-to-1 for all amounts bet. The only exception is when a player wins with a natural “blackjack,” or exactly twenty-one points on the first two cards, which traditionally pays 3-to-2.

All of the cards numbered 2 through 10 are counted at face value. The King, Queen, and Jack—so-called “face cards” or “picture cards”—each has a value of ten points. Aces can be counted as one point or eleven. For example, a hand containing an Ace and a 6 can be counted as either seven or seventeen points.

Playing Blackjack

The game begins with the dealer shuffling the cards and offering one of the players the opportunity to “cut” them by separating the randomized deck into two piles. The topmost pile is placed at the back of the deck. Players then make their initial wagers. Those who place bets are said to be “in” for the deal. They receive two cards each, as does the dealer. Those who do not bet are said to “sit out” the hand and receive no cards.

After the initial cards have been dealt, the dealer turns one of her/his two cards over, face up, for all to see. This is called the “up card,” and the concealed card is called the “hole card” or “down card.”

If the up card has a value of ten, the dealer will peek at the hole card and turn it over if it turns out to be an Ace. That means the dealer has a blackjack, and the dealing stops immediately. Any player who has also been dealt a blackjack is said to “push” (draw or tie) and will retain the original bet. All other hands lose automatically.

However, play resumes if the dealer’s up card is anything other than a ten or an Ace, or if it is a ten but peeking reveals the hole card is not an Ace. Starting on the dealer’s left, in turn, each of the players has four options. They may “hit” by drawing another card; “stand” on what was dealt; “split” a matched pair to create two new hands; or “double down” by increasing the original bet by no more than an equal amount and taking exactly one more card. When doubling down, the player must stand after his/her third card is received and may not draw again.

One other possibility occurs when the dealer’s up card is an Ace. Players may be offered the opportunity to purchase “insurance” for half the amount of their initial wagers. Should the dealer’s hole card be valued at ten for a natural blackjack, the dealing stops immediately. Insured bets are retained, while all other bets are losers. If the dealer does not have a blackjack, the insurance portion of the bet is lost and play resumes.

A special situation occurs when the dealer shows an Ace and a player has a blackjack. In this case, the player may take “even money,” accepting an automatic win for a 1-to-1 payout, regardless of whether the dealer’s hole card has a value of ten.

House Rules

Many casinos and some cash games also provide a “surrender” option. Players are allowed to quit the hand by giving up half of the original bet. The availability of surrender is subject to House Rules, and it may be allowed only on the first two cards, although a few casinos permit surrender at any time.

In fact, House Rules should always be consulted prior to play. Sometimes doubling down is allowed only on hands valued at ten or eleven. The number of times that hands may be split may be limited, and some places prohibit doubling down after a spilt. Others will allow doubling anytime, on any number of cards of any value, although such instances are rather rare.

When a player draws cards whose value exceeds twenty-one, the hand is said to “bust” or “break” and it automatically loses, regardless of what cards the dealer may hold. The losing wager is collected immediately, and the losing player sits out the remainder of the hand. This is where the house gets its advantage in the game of Blackjack. Because the dealer draws last, many players bust before the conclusion. If the dealer breaks, only those players who still have active hands receive a payout.

The dealer does not have any decisions to make regarding whether or not to draw cards; she/he must continue to draw cards until reaching seventeen or more, and then is required to stand. The “dealer must stand on seventeen” must be clarified at the start of the game. Some House Rules require standing on any hand valued at seventeen or more, including so called “soft hands” containing an Ace counted as eleven points. Others require the dealer to hit on soft seventeen and stand on totals of hard seventeen (Ace counted as one) or any higher value.