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Blackjack Basics

The game of blackjack is quickly learned and mastered. The first step is learning some blackjack basics. Blackjack can be played with a few as one deck of cards and as many as eight decks. Before a new game begins, the dealer will spread out the new cards to be used across the table, first face down so the backs can be inspected for markings, and then turn them over so that they can be checked that there are no extra or missing cards. Refer to the picture on the right for a standard blackjack table layout. A standard 52 card poker sized deck is used. The four suits in the deck have no significance; only the numerical value of each card is important. Twos through nines are counted at their face value, and all tens and face cards are valued at 10. The ace is unique, as it can be counted as 1 or 11 at the player’s option.

After the cards have been inspected, the dealer thoroughly shuffles the one to eight decks of cards. When the shuffle has finished, a player is given a colored cut card, which is inserted anywhere in the stack of cards. Some people prefer not to cut, and the option is then offered to the next player. The dealer will cut the deck should no one want to cut. After the cut has been completed, the dealer places the colored card toward the back of the stack to indicate when to reshuffle. The cards are then placed in a wooden or plastic dealing box which is called a shoe. In any case, the first card – called a burn card – is not used, but is placed on the bottom of the single deck or in a discard rack. The burn card is not usually shown, but often the dealer will expose it if a player asks to see it.

Now that we have the structure of blackjack explained it time to continue with our blackjack basics lesson and learn the art of the deal. The dealer will start the game with the player on his left (often called first base) and continue around the table in a clockwise direction. He deals each player and himself one card; then he deals each player a second card. However, the dealer’s second card is dealt face down, under his up card. In a single deck game both of the player’s cards are usually dealt face down and face up in a multi deck game. Whether the cards are exposed or not, the game is played in the same manner. Although many bettors prefer the single deck with it’s feeling of secrecy as they peek at their cards, there is an overwhelming trend toward multi-deck games. Not only is face-up play much faster, and therefore more profitable for the casino, but bettors are not permitted to touch their cards, thus the opportunity for players cheating is nearly eliminated.

When everyone has their two initial cards, again starting at first base, each bettor is permitted to draw additional cards as needed. These cards are always dealt one at a time, face up. If the player goes over 21 (busts), he loses; the bet is collected, and his cards are placed with the rest of the discards. After each player has taken the appropriate action for their respective hand, the dealer must then complete his own hand based on rules printed on the table covering. These usually include hitting on all 16s, and standing on all 17s. Some games have the dealer hitting on soft 17’s (A, 6).

The players’ exposed hands do not affect the dealer’s play; his decisions are mechanical. If the dealer does not go over 21, he collects the bets from players that lost, pays off the players with winning hands, and tied hands (pushes).

Now you are ready for the next hand, which is dealt from the remaining cards. This continues until the colored cut card appears, signaling a reshuffle after the completion of the hand in progress, and the entire procedure is repeated.

As you play, you may notice a well dressed person with a look of authority casually observing the dealer, the players, and the action; this is the pit boss or floor person, who is responsible for a group of tables and settles all disputes. His decisions are final.

Blackjack Basics - Terms and Procedures

This section of blackjack basics will define standard blackjack terms and describe how to play the game.

Blackjack. After receiving your initial two cards from the dealer, you simply add the two cards together to determine you hands value. A 5 and 3 is 8; a King and 6 is 16; and an Ace and 7 is either 8 or 18. Should your first two cards comprise an ace and a 10 or any face card, you have a “Blackjack”, or a natural. This is the perfect hand in blackjack. Unless the dealers hand is also a blackjack, you automatically win. Instead of the usual even-money payoff, a blackjack pays off at one and a half times your bet. For example, with a blackjack you get $15 on a $10 bet, on a non-blackjack winner you receive $10 on a $10 bet and on a tie you get you bet back.

Hard and Soft Hands. Hands that do not contain an ace are known as hard hands, and any hand that includes an ace are called soft hands. For example, a hand with an Ace, 5 (with the ace valued as 11) is a soft 16; if hit with a 2, the hand now a soft 18. If another card is drawn (a 9), the ace is revalued as 1 and the final hand now becomes a hard 17. Any hard hand of 12 through 16 is known as a breaking hand or stiff, because it is possible to bust with the addition of just one more card.

Standing. In Blackjack the payer always has the option of standing at any time. Typically the usual procedure is to use a hand signal rather than a verbal one. A simple wave of your hand with the palm down over your cards is enough to inform the dealer that you wish to stand. In many places including Atlantic City players are not allowed to touch your cards or your initial bet. The dealer will then move on to the next player. In many Nevada games the cars are dealt face down and the players must pick them up to play the hand. In a game where you have to hold your cards, you inform the dealer that you wish to stand by tucking your cards under your chips.

Hitting. If you are not satisfied with your hand, you may draw one or more cards, just as long as you don’t bust. A simple motion with your fingers, or in Nevada scrapping your cards towards you on the felt are indications to the dealer that you want another card. Should the hit card bust your hand, the dealer will automatically scoop up the bet and place your cards in the discard tray, even if the dealer subsequently breaks you still lose. If you bust in Nevada, just toss your two cards to the dealer – face up.

Splitting Pairs. If the first two cards you receive are of equal value, you may choose to split them and play each as a separate hand. When split you play the two cards as you would any other blackjack hand. You play the card on your right first followed by the card on you left. There is a special case when aces are split, most casinos permit drawing only one card after you split aces. If a card with a value of 10 is drawn to a split ace, or vice versa, the resulting hand is not a blackjack but simply 21, this hand is also paid off at 1 to 1 and not the 1.5:1 a blackjack is paid off at. This 21 would tie any dealers 21 but would lose to a dealer blackjack. In many casinos, you can re-split if a pair is split and a third or forth card of the same rank is drawn. If you wish to split your hand simply slide up another bet of equal value next to your first wager without touching your cards or the original bet. In Nevada, just turn over your pair and put out the extra bet.

Doubling Down. If you think that with just one more card will make your hand beat the dealer, you are allowed to double your original bet and draw one single card. While most casinos will allow you to double down on any initial hand except for a blackjack, some casinos limit the double down option to hands that total 10 or 11. To signal a double down, place a second bet up to the amount of original bet beside your first bet. In Nevada, turn your two cards over and place your extra bet. Because you will always have the advantage when you exercise this option, you should double for the full amount. To minimize the opportunity for a player to cheat, players are not permitted to touch either their cards or the original bet. When you split a pair, many casinos will permit you to double down after you draw the first card to each of the split hands.

Insurance. When a dealer’s up-card is an ace, before anything else happens with the hand, she will ask, “insurance, anyone?” If you think that the dealer’s hole card is a 10 thus resulting in a blackjack, you can place a side bet up to half of your original wager on the Insurance line in front of you. If the dealer does indeed have a 10 in the hole, you are immediately paid 2 to 1 on your insurance bet. However you still lose your original wager unless your hand is also a blackjack and you tie the dealer. Although called an insurance bet you are not really insuring anything; you are simply placing a side bet that the dealer’s hole card is a 10.

Surrender. A few casinos offer the option of surrender. If after receiving your first two cards, and you don’t believe that you can beat the dealer, you may announce “Surrender” and the dealer will pick up your cards and along with half of your bet and returning the other half to you. This is the only decision in blackjack that uses a verbally indication.

If the dealer first checks his hole card for blackjack, then the casino is using an option called “late surrender.” If you are turn in your hand before the dealer checks for blackjack, this option is called “early surrender.” It is important to check the rules for the casino as some require that you announce your surrender before the dealer deals to the first hand.

Dealer’s Play. After offering cards to all players, the dealer exposes her hole card. If there are players who still have not busted, the dealer then acts on her hand according to fixed rules, with none of the player options. When the dealer’s cards total 17 or more, she must stand, and with a hand of 16 or less, the dealer must hit until she reaches 17 or better. It doesn’t matter what the values of the player’s hands are. If the player’s hands total more than 17 the dealer still must stick at 17, conversely if the dealer has a 16 and the players have hands lower than 16 the dealer must hit. If the dealer busts, all remaining players win. In most casinos, the Ace must be counted as 11 by the dealer if it will raise her hand to 17, 18, 19, 20 or 21. There are a few casinos make an exception to this rule and require the dealer to hit A, 6, or soft 17. If the dealer does not break and reaches a hand between 17 and 21, she collects the bets of the losing hands, pays out even money to the winning hands, and pushes to ties. Players can now pick up their winnings, if any, and make a new bet as the whole process is repeated.

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