Blackjack is played with one or more standard 52-card decks, with each denomination assigned a point value. The cards 2 through 10 are worth their face value. Kings, queens, and jacks are each worth 10, and aces may be used as either 1 or 11. The object for the player is to draw cards totaling closer to 21, without going over, than the dealer’s cards.
The best total of all is a two-card 21, or a blackjack. Blackjack pays 3-2–that is, a two-card 21 on a $5 bet will win $7.50 instead of the usual $5 even-money payoff on other winning hands. However, if the dealer also has a two-card 21, the hand pushes, or ties, and you just get your original bet back. But if the dealer goes on to draw 21 in three or more cards, your blackjack is still a winner with its 3-2 payoff.
The game is usually played at an arc-shaped table with places for up to seven players on the outside and for the dealer on the inside. At one corner of the table is a rectangular placard that tells the minimum and maximum bets at that table, as well as giving variations in common rules. For example, the sign might say, “BLACKJACK. $5 to $2,000. Split any pair three times. Double on any two cards.” That means the minimum bet at this table is $5 and the maximum is $2,000. Pairs may be split according to the rules described below, and if more matching cards are dealt, the pairs may be split up to three times for a total of four hands. The player may double the original bet (double down) and receive just one more card on any two-card total.
Most games today use four, six, or eight decks. After being shuffled, the cards are placed in a receptacle called a shoe, from which the dealer can slide out one card at a time. Single- or double-deck games, most common in Nevada, but also popular in Mississippi and some other markets, may be dealt from the dealer’s hand.
Play begins when you place a bet by stacking a chip or chips in the betting square on the table directly in front of you. After all bets have been placed, each player and the dealer are given two cards. In a shoe game, all player cards are dealt faceup, and the players are not permitted to touch their cards. In a single- or double-deck game dealt from the hand, cards are dealt facedown and players may pick them up with one hand. Either way, one of the dealer’s cards is turned faceup so the players can see it.
Once the cards have been dealt, players decide in turn how to play out their hands. After all players have finished, the dealer plays according to set rules: The dealer must draw more cards to any total of 16 or less and must stand on any total of 17 or more. In some casinos, the dealer will also draw to “soft” 17 — a 17 including an ace or aces that could also be counted as a 7. The most common soft 17 is ace-6, but several other totals, such as ace-3-3 or ace-4-2, on up to ace-ace-ace-ace-ace-ace-ace in a multiple deck game, are soft 17s.
Hit: If you hit, you take another card or cards in hopes of getting closer to 21. If the player’s total exceeds 21 after hitting, the player is said to “bust” and loses the bet. In shoe games, the player signals a hit by pointing to his cards or scratching or waving toward himself. In facedown games, the player signals a hit by scratching the table with the cards. Verbal calls to hit are not accepted — signals are used for the benefit of the security cameras above the table, so a taped record is on hand to settle any potential disputes.
Stand: If you stand, you elect to draw no more cards in hopes that the current total will beat the dealer. Signal a stand by holding a flattened palm over your cards in a faceup game or by sliding your cards under your bet in a facedown game.
Double down: You may elect to double your original bet and receive only one more card regardless of its denomination. Some casinos restrict doubling down to hands in which your first two cards total 10 or 11. Others allow you to double on any two cards. Double down by taking a chip or chips equal to the amount of your original bet and placing them next to your bet. In a facedown game, at this point you also need to turn your original two cards faceup.
Split: If your first two cards are of the same denomination, you may elect to make a second bet equal to your first and split the pair, using each card as the first card in a separate hand. For example, if you are dealt two 8s, you may slide a second bet equal to the first to your betting box. The dealer will separate the 8s, then put a second card on the first 8. You play that hand out in normal fashion until you either stand or bust; then the dealer puts a second card on the second 8, and you play that hand out.
Insurance: If the dealer’s faceup card is an ace, you may take “insurance,” which essentially is a bet that the dealer has a 10-value card down to complete a blackjack. Insurance, which may be taken for half the original bet, pays 2-1 if the dealer has blackjack. The net effect is that if you win the insurance bet and lose the hand, you come out even. For example, the player has 18 with a $10 bet down. The dealer has an ace up. The player takes a $5 insurance bet. If the dealer has blackjack, the player loses the $10 bet on the hand but wins $10 with the 2-1 payoff on the $5 insurance bet.