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 Blackjack Rules


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Blackjack Rules and Terms


Blackjack Rules

The Rules for a Dealer

Player’s Options

Blackjack Terms


Blackjack Rules

Blackjack is a banking game. That means that the players don’t play against each other. Instead, they play against the house (casino) represented by the dealer at the Blackjack table. The players can lose to a dealer or win independently of each other. As in many other banking games the rules for the dealer differ from the rules for the player.

Number of Players

There is one dealer and from one to seven players at the table. If a table is not full a player can play more than one hand. From a card counter point of view, the fewer players are at the table the better the game is due to assumed player’s advantage and the number of hands dealt to him within the same period of time. Any number of 52-card decks from one to eight can be used. If one or two decks are used, a dealer holds the cards in his hand and deals them face down. If it is more than two decks the cards are dealt face up out of the “shoe” (small container).

Cards Value

In Blackjack card suits have no meaning. The numerical value of a card is all that counts.  The cards 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 count at their pip value. Face cards Jacks, Queens, Kings and tens have a value of 10. An Ace has a double value and can be counted as 1 or 11 at a player’s choice.

Object of the Game

The object of the game is to beat the dealer. You beat the dealer if a numerical value of your hand is higher than the value of a dealer’s hand and you hand does not exceed 21. If your hand’s value is higher than 21 your hand is a “Bust” hand. The bust hand is an automatic loser regardless of what happens later with a dealer’s hand. If a player’s card total is less than a dealer’s and a dealer’s hand does not go over 21, a player loses. However, if a dealer’s hand exceeds 21, then a dealer busts and a player wins. The main advantage for the house comes from the rule that if a player, who draws first, busts then a dealer wins even if he also busts later.


Players have to make their bets before the playing round begins and before they have an opportunity to see the cards. They make bets by placing casino chips on a betting space, which is usually a small circle or rectangle on a table layout. Bets, if won, are paid off at even money with the exception of a Blackjack and insurance bets. Betting limits are different at different blackjack tables inside casino and they vary from casino to casino. Casinos choose their own betting limits.

Blackjack or Natural

If a player is dealt a two-card 21 he has a “Natural” or “Blackjack”. It is also called a "Snapper". To get a Blackjack a player must be dealt an Ace and any 10-valued card – a Jack, Queen, King or a 10. Blackjack is paid at the ratio of 3:2, and a player wins 1˝ of his bet. If a player has a blackjack, he has to turn his cards face up immediately. Blackjack is an automatic winner unless a dealer also has a blackjack. In a latter case it’s a tie called "standoff" and “push”.

Soft and Hard Hands

Any hand that contains an Ace and which can have two values is called a “Soft” hand. For ex, A-7 has a value of 8 or 18 due to the double value of the Ace. A-7 is a soft hand. At the same time the hand A-5-10-2 has only one value of 18 because Ace can be counted only as 1, otherwise the Ace value of 11 will make card total of 28 and the hand will be busted. The hands that do not include an Ace and the hands that include an Ace but under the condition that its value can only equal 1 and not 11 - these hands are called “hard” hands.  10-6 is a “hard” hand and so is the hand 9-6-A-4 (the hand value is 20).

Stiff and Pat Hands

The hard hands that can be busted (go over 21) by drawing one additional card are called “Stiff” or “Breaking” hands. These hands are the hands with a total numerical value of 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16.  If a hand has a total value of 17, 18, 19 or 20 it is called a “Pat” hand.

The Rules for a Dealer

Blackjack rules that govern the dealer’s actions completely strip him of his own free will. He has no options but to automatically follow the rules when shuffling, dealing, paying off and hitting (drawing) his hand or standing with it. The rules vary from casino to casino and from one gambling jurisdiction to another.

Shuffling and Cutting

The dealer shuffles the cards and then offers a player to make a cut. To make a cut a player inserts given to him a joker , a blank card or a plastic card between the cards in the deck (or decks) at a place where he wants to cut. The position of a blank card is supposed to mark the point where the new shuffle will begin. After the cut is made, a dealer usually “burns” the top card in a single deck game by placing it face up on the bottom of the deck or he simply puts it in a discard box.

Dealing and Paying Off

After all bets have been made by the players, the dealer starts to deal the cards. The deal goes clockwise starting with the first player on the left side of the dealer. Every player at the table gets his first card and then the dealer deals himself a first card face up. After that the second cards are given to everybody including a dealer who deals himself a second card face down. He slides his second face down card underneath the first face up card. The face up card is called an “up-card”, while the second face down card is called the “hole card”. The cards to the players can be all dealt face up or face down. In one-deck and two-deck games the cards to the players are often dealt face down. In the games with 4 and more decks the players’ cards are usually dealt face up. Since the dealer’s actions are all determined by the rules, it does not matter whether he sees the players’ cards or not.

If a dealer has a Blackjack (2-card 21) it’s an automatic win and all players lose unless some of them also have a Blackjack. If the dealer does not have a Blackjack, he continues to deal the cards to every player until all players are satisfied with their hands or get busted (go over 21 with the numerical value of their hands). If a player is busted, the dealer picks up his bet. If a player ends up with a hand that is less than 21, the dealer moves to the next player etc. After all the players have finished with their hands, a dealer draws the cards to himself. If the dealer busts himself, he pays off to all the players who haven't busted out. If he doesn’t, he compares the value of his hand with the hand of every player. He pays off to the players who have higher card totals then his and takes the bets from those with the smaller hands. If some players have the same total as the dealer then it’s a tie called a “standoff” or a “push” and money don’t change hands. If a player has a Blackjack, it’s an automatic win for a player paid at 3:2 ratio unless a dealer also has a Blackjack. After all bets have been settled, the dealer picks up all the cards and puts them in a discard tray or into a shuffling machine. Players make new bets and a dealer starts a new round of play dealing the cards from the unused portion of the deck or a shoe or straight from a shuffling machine.

Hitting and Standing Rules

If a dealer has a hand with a numerical value of 16 or less, he must, according to the rules of Blackjack, “hit” (draw to) his hand by additional cards until his hand will equal 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, or until it will go over 21 and he’ll be busted. On the other hand, if his hand has a card total of 17 and more, a dealer must stand. Some casinos have a rule, which forces a dealer to draw to a soft 17 (for ex A-6, A-2-4 etc.).

Player’s Options

Blackjack rules are a lot more liberal for a player than they are for a dealer. A player has multiple options not available for a dealer to play his starting 2-card hand. A player improves his odds against a dealer by making correct decisions on what option to use in the case of every particular hand.

Splitting Pairs Option

After a player has been dealt his two cards the first thing he has to do is to look at the cards to see if they are of the same numerical value. If that’s the case he has a pair and the rules give him an option of splitting his pair into two new hands. For ex, his hand is 9-9.  He can split his nines and use every nine as the first card of another hand. To split them he separates them face up on the table and adds another bet so there is a bet in front of every nine. After that he draws additional cards to the first nine until he is satisfied with his first hand or gets busted. After that the same is done with the second nine. If he draws an ace to the first nine and a 3 and a 7 to the second, he now has two hands A-9 and 3-7-9 with respective numerical values of 20 and 19. If he draws another 9, most casinos allow splitting again and a player will play three hands instead of one. The exception is Aces, which usually are permitted to be split only once. In the case of split Aces a player is allowed to draw only one additional card to each Ace. If a 10 is drawn to a split Ace it is not considered to be a Blackjack, but only a hand equal 21. It is paid at even money and not at 3:2. The same applies to splitting tens – a drawn Ace does not create a Blackjack.

Double Down Option

If a player thinks that he can beat the dealer by drawing only one additional card to his first two cards then, then, according to the blackjack rules, he can “double down” ( go down for a double). To double down a player must turn his cards face up and place the second bet of the same amount close to his first bet. After that he’ll be dealt only one more card, usually face down. For ex, if the starting hand was 8-2 and a player doubled down and drew a 10, his final hand became 10-8-2 with a numerical value of 20. He has a good chance to beat the dealer with a sweet 20, having at the same time a doubled bet riding on the hand to increase his win.
Doubling down rules differ from casino to casino. Some casinos allow doubling down on any first two cards, others only on two cards with the hand value of 10 or 11. An opportunity to double down happens more frequently than the option of splitting pairs.

Hitting and Standing Options

Unlike a dealer, a blackjack player does not have to follow any rules if he wants to stand or to hit. He can stand with any first two cards or he can hit them as many times as he wants providing that he does not exceed 21 with his card total. The exception is a Blackjack. If he is lucky to get one he turns his cards up (if they have been dealt to him face down) immediately and his hand is over. If a player decides to stand he moves his hand palm down over his cards from one side to another. If he wants to hit again, he makes a move with his fingers toward himself or pointing to the cards showing the dealer that he wants additional cards. If the cards are dealt face down, the tucking the cards under the chips means standing and scratching with them the surface of table means hitting.

Insurance Option

When a dealer has an Ace for his up-card, Blackjack rules allow a player to make an “insurance” bet, which is a side bet that the dealer has a 10 for a hole card giving him a Blackjack. The dealer asks:” Insurance?” and if a player thinks that the whole card is indeed a 10, he makes that insurance bet, which is usually a half of his original bet. If a player guesses correctly he is paid at 2 to 1 ratio on that side bet but loses his original bet to a dealer’s Blackjack. In result a player breaks even – the original bet lost to a Blackjack is returned to him thanks to a winning insurance bet. If both a player and a dealer have Blackjacks, then it’s a push on original bet and a win on insurance bet.

Surrender Option

This option helps a player when he has a stiff hand and he thinks that he is going to lose his hand. The Blackjack rules let him “surrender” his hand without playing it and keep half of his original bet. A player must say “Surrender” and a dealer will pick up his cards along with the half of his bet.

Blackjack Terms

Ace – a playing card, which in Blackjack has a double value of 1 or 11

Action – a total amount wagered during the playing session

Basic Strategy – the strategy that gives the best advice on how to play the hand on the basis of knowing only the cards of a player and an up-card of a dealer

Blackjack – a two-card 21, which is paid at 3:2

Bust – to exceed 21 with a numerical value of the hand

Break – the same as bust

Breaking Hand – a hard hand with a card total of 12, 13, 14, 15 or 16

Burn Card – one card taken by the dealer out of the play

Check – a casino chip

Cut Card – a plastic rectangular card, a joker or a blank card, which are used to cut a deck or a shoe and to indicate when it’s a time for a new shuffle

Card Counting – a method of play that uses one or another counting system to get the knowledge about the card composition in the rest of the deck or a shoe and to use that knowledge to identify the time when a player has an advantage over the house. It gives a player an advice when and how to deviate from the Basic Strategy and increase the bet

Casing the Deck or a Shoe – the same as card counting

Court Cards – same as Face Cards

Dealer – a casino employee who conducts the game

Deck – a pack of 52 cards

Discard Tray – a plastic container on the right side of the dealer that holds played out cards

Double Down – to increase the amount of wager twofold by taking only one additional card

Draw – to take additional cards to combine them with initial two cards in order to improve a numerical value of the hand

Drop Box – the box under the table that holds the money

Face Cards – 10-valued Jack, Queen and King

First Base – the spot (seat) at the table at the left side of a dealer, which is first to receive cards when the round starts

Hit – the same as Draw

Heads-Up game – a single player playing against a dealer

Heat – attention from pit personnel to a player who wins too much

Hole Card – a dealer’s second face down card

House Advantage – an average percentage of the action that the house wins from the player

Insurance – a side bet by a player that the dealer has a 10-valued card for his hole card when a dealer’s up-card is an Ace

Natural – same as Blackjack

Pair – the cards of the same numerical value; it can also consist of any two face cards or a face card and a ten

Paint – same as Face Card

Pit Boss – a supervisor who is in charge of the game

Pat Hand – a hand that totals 17, 18, 19, 20 or 21

Push – the situation when a dealer and a player both have the same hand values and no money changes hands

Shoe – a container that holds few decks of cards and from which a dealer deals out the cards

Shuffle – mixing of the cards

Snapper - same as Blackjack

Split – to double the wager by splitting the same value cards into two separate hands; a player can split only pairs and face cards

Soft Hand – a hand that has an ace that can be counted as 1 or 11 giving a hand two possible totals

Stiff Hand – a busting hand that can be busted by one additional card; it has a total value of 12, 13, 14, 15 or 16

Stand – to stop drawing additional cards

Surrender – to give up the hand in order to keep half of the bet

Table Limits – max and min bets allowed at the table

Third Base – the last seat on the table at the dealer’s right

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