How to play blackjack!

By: Ed Teller

Equally well known as Twenty-One. The rules are simple, the play is thrilling, and there is opportunity for high strategy. In fact, for the expert player who mathematically plays a perfect game and is able to count cards, the odds are sometimes in that player's favor to win.

But even for the casual participant who plays a reasonably good game, the casino odds are less, making Blackjack one of the most attractive casino games for the player. Today, Blackjack is the one card game that can be found in every American gambling casino. The dealer is in charge of running all aspects of the game, from shuffling and dealing the cards to handling all bets. In the home game, all of the players have the opportunity to be the dealer (a "changing bank").

The Pack

The standard 52-card pack is used, but in most casinos several decks of cards are shuffled together. The six-deck game (312 cards) is the most popular. In addition, the dealer uses a blank plastic card, which is never dealt, but is placed toward the bottom of the pack to indicate when it will be time for the cards to be reshuffled. When four or more decks are used, they are dealt from a shoe (a box that allows the dealer to remove cards one at a time, face down, without actually holding one or more packs).

Object of the Game

Each participant attempts to beat the dealer by getting a count as close to 21 as possible, without going over 21.

Card Values/Scoring

It is up to each individual player if an ace is worth 1 or 11. Face cards are 10 and any other card is its pip value.


Before the deal begins, each player places a bet, in chips, in front of him in the designated area. Minimum and maximum limits are established on the betting, and are indicated by signs on the tables.

The Shuffle and Cut

The dealer thoroughly shuffles portions of the pack until all the cards have been mixed and combined. He designates one of the players to cut, and the plastic insert card is placed so that the last 60 to 75 cards or some amount set by casino policy will not be used.

The Deal

When all the players have placed their bets, the dealer gives one card face up to each player in rotation clockwise, and then one card face up to himself. Another round of cards is then dealt face up to each player, but the dealer takes his second card face down. Thus, each player except the dealer receives two cards face up, and the dealer receives one card face up and one card face down. (In some games, played with only one deck, the players' cards are dealt face down and they get to hold them. Today, however, most all Blackjack shoe games feature the players' cards dealt face up on the condition that no player may touch any cards.)


If a player's first two cards are an ace and a "ten-card" (a picture card or 10), giving him a count of 21 in two cards, this is a natural or "blackjack." If any player has a natural and the dealer does not, the dealer immediately pays that player one and a half times the amount of his bet (unless the table has a sign that says Blackjack pays 6:5). If the dealer has a natural, he immediately collects the bets of all players who do not have naturals, (but no additional amount). If the dealer and another player both have naturals, the bet of that player is a stand-off (a tie), and the player takes back his chips.

If the dealer's face-up card is a ten-card or an ace, he looks at his face-down card to see if the two cards make a natural. If the face-up card is not a ten-card or an ace, he does not look at the face-down card until it is the dealer's turn to play.

The Play

The player to the left goes first and must decide whether to "stand" (not ask for another card) or "hit" (ask for another card in an attempt to get closer to a count of 21, or even hit 21 exactly). Thus, a player may stand on the two cards originally dealt him, or he may ask the dealer for additional cards, one at a time, until he either decides to stand on the total (if it is 21 or under), or goes "bust" (if it is over 21). In the latter case, the player loses and the dealer collects the bet wagered. The dealer then turns to the next player to his left and serves him in the same manner.

The combination of an ace with a card other than a ten-card is known as a "soft hand," because the player can count the ace as a 1 or 11, and either draw cards or not. For example with a "soft 17" (an ace and a 6), the total is 7 or 17. While a count of 17 is a good hand, the player may wish to draw for a higher total. If the draw creates a bust hand by counting the ace as an 11, the player simply counts the ace as a 1 and continues playing by standing or "hitting" (asking the dealer for additional cards, one at a time).

The Dealer's Play

When the dealer has served every player, his face-down card is turned up. If the total is 17 or more, he must stand. If the total is 16 or under, he must take a card. He must continue to take cards until the total is 17 or more, at which point the dealer must stand. If the dealer has an ace, and counting it as 11 would bring his total to 17 or more (but not over 21), he must count the ace as 11 and stand. If the dealers hand total 17 and includes an Ace rules at certain games may require the dealer to hit.The dealer's decisions, then, are automatic on all plays, whereas the player always has the option of taking one or more cards.

Signaling Intentions

When a player's turn comes, he can say "Hit" or can signal for a card by scratching the table with a finger or two in a motion toward himself, or he can wave his hand in the same motion that would say to someone "Come here!" When the player decides to stand, he can say "Stand" or "No more," or can signal this intention by moving his hand sideways, palm down and just above the table.

Splitting Pairs

If a player's first two cards are of the same denomination, such as two jacks or two sixes, he may choose to treat them as two separate hands when his turn comes around. The amount of his original bet then goes on one of the cards, and an equal amount must be placed as a bet on the other card. The player first plays the hand to his left by standing or hitting one or more times; only then is the hand to the right played. The two hands are thus treated separately, and the dealer settles with each on its own merits. With a pair of aces, the player is given one card for each ace and may not draw again. Also, if a ten-card is dealt to one of these aces, the payoff is equal to the bet (not one and one-half to one, as with a blackjack at any other time).

Doubling Down

Another option open to the player is doubling his bet when the original two cards dealt total 9, 10, or 11. When the player's turn comes, he places a bet equal to the original bet, and the dealer gives him just one card, which is placed face down and is not turned up until the bets are settled at the end of the hand. With two fives, the player may split a pair, double down, or just play the hand in the regular way. Note that the dealer does not have the option of splitting or doubling down.


When the dealer's face-up card is an ace, any of the players may make a side bet of up to half the original bet that the dealer's face-down card is a ten-card, and thus a blackjack for the house. Once all such side bets are placed, the dealer looks at his hole card. If it is a ten-card, it is turned up, and those players who have made the insurance bet win and are paid double the amount of their half-bet - a 2 to 1 payoff. When a blackjack occurs for the dealer, of course, the hand is over, and the players' main bets are collected - unless a player also has blackjack, in which case it is a stand-off. Insurance is invariably not a good proposition for the player, unless he is quite sure that there are an unusually high number of ten-cards still left undealt.


A bet once paid and collected is never returned. Thus, one key advantage to the dealer is that the player goes first. If the player goes bust, he has already lost his wager, even if the dealer goes bust as well. If the dealer goes over 21, he pays each player who has stood the amount of that player's bet. If the dealer stands at 21 or less, he pays the bet of any player having a higher total (not exceeding 21) and collects the bet of any player having a lower total. If there is a stand-off (a player having the same total as the dealer), no chips are paid out or collected.


When each player's bet is settled, the dealer gathers in that player's cards and places them face up at the side against a clear plastic L-shaped shield. The dealer continues to deal from the shoe until he comes to the plastic insert card, which indicates that it is time to reshuffle. Once that round of play is over, the dealer shuffles all the cards, prepares them for the cut, places the cards in the shoe, and the game continues.

Basic Strategy

Winning tactics in Blackjack require that the player play each hand in the optimum way, and such strategy always takes into account what the dealer's upcard is. Players should master Basic Strategy as the cost of errors can be very large. See the free Basic Strategy tables in our Product area

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