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Casino School

How to Play Blackjack

Blackjack (also known as Twenty-one, Vingt-et-un, or Pontoon) is a mix of chance and skill and is the most widely played casino banking game in the world.

Blackjack, also known as Twenty-one, Vingt-et-un (French for Twenty-one), or Pontoon, is the most widely played casino banking game in the world.

Much of Blackjack’s popularity is due to the mix of chance with elements of skill, and the publicity that surrounds card counting (calculating the probability of advantages based on the ratio of high cards to low cards).

In casino Blackjack, the dealer faces one to seven players. Each player plays their hand independently against the dealer. At the beginning of each round, the player places a bet and receives an initial hand of two cards. The dealer is dealt two cards, one face down and one face up. The object of the game is to get a higher card total than the dealer, but without going over 21 which is called “going bust”. The cards in the deck count as foloows2 to 9; the 10, jack, queen, and king count as ten; an ace can be either 1 or 11 at the player’s choice). The player has a number of options available to them (see below).

Player decisions

After receiving his initial two cards, the player has four standard options: he can “Hit”, “Stand”, “Double Down”, or “Split a pair.” Each option requires the use of a hand signal. At some casinos or tables, the player may have a fifth option called “Surrender”.

  • Hit: Take another card.
    Signal: (handheld) scrape cards against table; (face up) touch finger to table or wave hand towards himself.
  • Stand: Take no more cards, also “stick” or “stay”.
    Signal: (handheld) slide cards under bet; (face up) wave hand horizontally.
  • Double Down: On his first two cards, the player may “double down”, i.e., “double” his bet and receive only one card. To do this he moves a second bet equal to the first into the betting box next to his original bet. (If desired, the player is usually allowed to “double down for less,” although this is generally not a good idea as the player should only double in favourable situations but should then increase the bet as much as possible.)
    Signal: place additional chips next to (not on top of) original bet.
  • Split a Pair: If his first two cards are a “pair”, meaning two cards of the same value, the player can “split the pair”. To do this, he moves a second bet equal to the first into the betting box next to his original bet. The dealer splits 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 (not on top of) original bet.
  • Surrender: Some casinos offer a fifth option called “Surrender.” After the dealer has checked for blackjack, the player may “surrender” by giving up half his bet and not playing out the hand.

The player goes first and plays his hand by taking additional cards if he desires. If he busts, the hand is lost and the bet is forfeit. Then the dealer plays his hand, by turning over his card which is face down. The dealer continuously draws cards until they amount to 17 or more, the dealer busts if his cards value exceed 21. If neither the dealer nor player busts, the higher hand total wins. In case of a tie, no one wins – the hand is a “push” and all bets are returned. It is possible for the dealer to lose to some players but still beat other players in the same round.

Cards are dealt in three ways, either from one or two hand-held decks, from a box containing four to eight decks called a “shoe”, or from a shuffling machine. When dealt by hand, the player’s two initial cards are 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 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 player whether his cards are dealt face-down or face-up since the dealer must play according to predetermined rules. If the dealer has less than 17, he must hit. If the dealer has 17 or more, he 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”.

The highest possible hand is a “blackjack”, meaning an initial two-card total of 21 (an ace and a ten-value card). A player blackjack is an automatic winner unless the dealer also has blackjack, in which case the hand is a “push” (a tie). When the dealer 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 his hole card). The insurance bet pays 2-to-1 if the dealer has a blackjack. Whenever the dealer has a blackjack, he wins against all player hands except those that also have a blackjack (which are 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 he bets. The payoff for a player blackjack is 3:2, meaning that the casino pays £3 for each £2 originally bet. (There are many single-deck games which pay only 6:5 for a blackjack.)

There are many variations of blackjack available, where the rules are slightly different and the house edge changes.

How to Play Hard Hands

  • 8 or less Always hit.
  • 9 Double if the dealer has 3 through 6 – otherwise hit.
  • 10 Double if the dealer has 2 through 9 – otherwise hit.
  • 11 Double if the dealer has 2 through 10, Hit if dealer has Ace.
  • 12 Hit if the dealer has 2 or 3, Stand if the dealer has 4 through 6, otherwise hit.
  • 13-16 Stand if the dealer has 2 through 6, otherwise hit.
  • 17-21 Always Stand

How to Play Soft Hands

A soft hand is when one of your starting hands contains an ace.

If you have:

  • Ace 2 or Ace 3 Double if the dealer has 5 or 6 – otherwise hit.
  • Ace 4 or Ace 5 Double if the dealer has 4 through 6 – otherwise hit.
  • Ace 6 Double if the dealer has 3 through 6 – otherwise hit.
  • Ace 7 Stand if the dealer has 2, 7 or 8. Double 3 – through 6 – otherwise hit.
  • Ace 8 or Ace 9 Always Stand.

How to Play Pairs

If you have a pair of:

  • Aces or 8s Always split.
  • 2s or 3s Split if the dealer has 2 – 7, otherwise hit.
  • 4s Split if the dealer has 4 or 5 – otherwise hit.
  • 5s Double if the dealer has 2 through 9 – otherwise hit.
  • 6s Split if the dealer has 2 through 6 – otherwise hit.
  • 7s Split 2 through 7 – otherwise hit.
  • 9s Split 2 through 6, and 8 or 9. Stand if the dealer has 7, 10 or Ace.
  • 10’s Always Stand.

Whatever you take from the advice above, make sure you remember the following points

  • Always split a pair of aces.
  • Always split a pair of 8s.
  • Always stand on 17 and up.
  • Always double on 11.
  • Never split 10s.

How to Play Blackjack

Blackjack (also known as Twenty-one, Vingt-et-un, or Pontoon) is a mix of chance and skill and is the most widely played casino banking game in the world.

How to Play Craps

Craps can be a daunting game for the beginner. It’s fast-paced and involves a range of bets and commands that can seem like a foreign language.

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