The most important fact to remember, regarding the rules of Blackjack, is that the rules are likely to differ somewhat from country to country, region to region, and from casino to casino. The rules may also differ online from one casino to the next.
For example, the big casinos in downtown Vegas may have rules that are different from those of the casinos on the Vegas Strip. Those rules may differ from the rules of a casino in Laughlin, or Vancouver, Reno, Winnipeg or Tahoe. The rules in a casino in Freeport Bahamas may differ from those in Atlantic City. The wise player, therefore, will always carefully research the rules, which are in effect, in whichever casino he chooses to play.
Before we get into the details of the rules let us take a look at the seating and layout of the typical Blackjack table. The felt covered Blackjack table will seat a dealer and one to seven players. The dealer will be seated, or standing, and will be facing the players. The players also may stand, if they wish. The first seat on the dealer's left is referred to as First Base; the first seat on the dealer's right is referred to as Third Base, or Anchor.
A betting square or circle is printed on the felt in front of each playing position. Immediately in front of the dealer is the chip tray. On the dealer's left is the deck or shoe, and beside that should be the minimum bet sign, which the wise player will read before sitting down to play. On the dealer's immediate right is the money drop slot where all currency and tips, in the form of chips, are deposited. Next to the drop slot is the discard tray. There may be either single or multiple decks in play.
Single deck games are pretty much restricted to Nevada casinos. In the casinos that have one-deck games, the tables are usually full. Multiple deck games usually consist of an even number of decks, i.e., two, four, six or eight, although a few casinos use five or seven decks. There are two main reasons many casinos use multiple decks: They enable the dealer to deal more hands per hour, thereby increasing the casino take, and they reduce, but in no way eliminate, the advantage of the player who might be counting cards.
Before play begins, the dealer shuffles the cards. He offers the deck to the player with the cut card, a solid colored card, typically a piece of plastic, and the player cuts the deck with it. The dealer burns a card, i.e., he takes a top card, shows it to all players, then places it face-up on the bottom of the deck(s). When the so-called burnt card is reached in dealing, the cards must be shuffled again.
Before any cards are dealt, the active players must make a wager by placing the desired chips (value and number) into their respective betting boxes or circles. Once all bets are made, the dealer will deal each player two cards, one at a time, from left to right. That is, he will make two successive passes around the table starting at his left, i.e., the First Base seating position, until he and all of the players have two cards each. The dealer will flip over the last of his cards, exposing its value.
In Vegas casinos, players get both cards face-down. In Atlantic City, and almost everywhere else, the cards are dealt face-up. This is certainly the case with online casinos. As a matter of interest, certain casinos, mostly in Europe, give the dealer only one card face-up until all the players have finished their hands. The dealer then deals his second card, and finishes his hand. This is called the European No Hole Card rule.
There is a distinction between hand-held games and so-called shoe games as well. In hand-held games, the player's first two cards are dealt face-down, and the player may pick them up. In shoe games, the player's cards are dealt face-up, but the player is not allowed to touch them. The cards in shoe games are dealt face-up as a means to discourage certain players from improperly manipulating them. Because players are unable to physically pick up cards that are online, all online Blackjack games are shoe games.
When handling the cards in a hand-held game, however, the player must keep in mind the following hard and fast rules:
The player is allowed to touch his cards during hand-held games, but must use only one hand.
The player must keep his hand-held cards above the table in full view of the dealer.
The player, who calls for a hit, may not pick up any additional cards dealt to him, nor add them to the first two cards dealt. They must be left on the table.
Each player in turn must indicate to the dealer how he wishes to play his hand.
After each player has finished his hand, the dealer will complete his own hand and then pay or collect the player bets.
After the initial deal then, the player evaluates his individual hands by adding the numerical values of his first two cards. The value of a hand is simply the sum of the point counts of each card in his hand. For example, a hand containing three and nine has the value of twelve; a hand with a pair of sevens would be fourteen.
The numerical values of the cards are fixed: ten, jack, queen and king each equal ten; the ace equals one or eleven, as desired by the player; all other cards from two to nine are taken at their face value, e.g., six is worth six, eight is eight and so on. The ace can be counted as either one or eleven. The player need not specify which value the ace has. It is always assumed to have the value that would make the best hand.
A hand that contains an ace is called a soft total, if the ace can be counted as either one or eleven, and the hand does not exceed a total of 21. The suits of the cards, i.e., clubs, diamonds, hearts and spades, do not have any significance in the game.
Depending upon the value of his hand, the player will decide whether or not he wants to take a hit, i.e., to receive any extra card(s). If he decides to stick with his first two cards, the player is said to stand, or stay.
The player is required to clearly indicate to the dealer whether he wants to hit or stand. Since a casino can be a very noisy and distracting atmosphere, hand signals are usually the player's preferred method of signaling a decision to hit or stand. If the cards are dealt face-down and the player wishes a hit, he will pick them up and lightly flick them twice along the felt. If the cards are dealt face-up, he will point at the cards with a short stabbing motion. In either case, he may also nod his head yes, and say, hit.
To indicate he wishes to stand, the player will move a hand, palm down, from left to right, horizontally above his cards.. His hand should remain a few inches or so above his cards. To ensure there is absolutely no misunderstanding as to his decision, he may, at the same time shake his head no, while declaring stay or stand.
The rules the dealer must follow are very simple. If the dealer's hand is 16 or less, he must take a card. If the dealer's hand is 17 or more, he must stand. Keep in mind, however, some casinos have the dealer hit on a soft 17, which gives the house a small additional advantage. The dealer's strategy for the most part is fixed, and does not depend on the size of the wagers made, the cards held or drawn by the players, the number of players or decks, or the strategies of the individual players in the game.
On the other hand, the player will enjoy a greater number of options as far as strategies go. For example, he can declare a player Blackjack, decide to stand or hit, double down, split pairs, surrender, or buy insurance. The conditions, under which he may do so, can vary from casino to casino.
In the best case, should a player get an outright player Blackjack, i.e., where his first two cards are an ace and a ten, and the dealer does not match him, the game is over and the player wins. If the dealer also has a Blackjack, the game is a push, i.e., a tie. The player's payoff on such a hand is 3:2 odds, or 150 percent more than his original bet, e.g., if he bets $20.00 his payoff will be $30.00.
Doubling down allows the player to double his bet and then to add one, but only one, additional card to his hand. Doubling down is restricted to two-card hands, usually totaling nine, ten or eleven, although some casinos will allow doubling down on any two-card hand.
If the first two cards are dealt face-down, and happen to total an acceptable double-down number, the player must turn them over and place them on the dealer's side of the betting box or circle. If the first two cards are dealt face-up, and total an acceptable double-down number, then, when the dealer prompts him for an additional card, the player should point to his cards and say double.
In either case, the player simultaneously should place a wager in chips, in an amount equal to his original bet, next to, but not on top of, his chips which are already in the betting box or circle. The dealer will deal him only one more card, and then he will move on to the next hand.
When a player is dealt a matching pair of cards he has the option of splitting the cards into two separate hands, and playing them independently. If the player's first two cards are dealt face-down, and he discovers a pair he would like to split, he must turn his cards over and place them a few inches apart. If his cards are dealt face-up, and the dealer prompts him for a card, he must point to them and say split. The original bet stays with one of the paired cards, while the player must place a wager in chips, in an amount equal to his original bet, in the betting box or circle near the other card. The player is now playing two hands, as though each was a regular hand.
The exception to splitting pairs is any hand where the player splits two aces. In that case, he gets only one card that, given the best scenario, will be a card with the value of ten. While a ten will give the player a total of twenty-one, the hand is not considered a Blackjack. That is, he will be paid even odds and not 150 percent as for a natural Blackjack.
The insurance side bet comes into play after the first two cards of a hand have been dealt, and the dealer has a hole-card, and an up-card. If the dealer's up-card card is an ace, the player is usually given the opportunity to buy insurance against the possibility that the dealer will come up with a Blackjack. At this point, all the players have two cards. The dealer will not look at his hole-card before asking the players if they want insurance. That's because he does not want to unintentionally reveal the value of the hole-card, in any manner, and of course, he won't if he doesn't know what it is.
If the player wants insurance, he places half of his original bet on the semi-circle labeled insurance, which is printed on the table layout. If the dealer proves to have a Blackjack the player wins the side bet, i.e., the insurance bet, but loses the original bet, thus providing no net loss or gain since insurance pays two-to-one. If the dealer does not have a Blackjack, the insurance side bet is lost, and the hand is played as for a regular hand.
The surrender option is a fairly obscure play that originated in Manila in 1958 and is not today available in many casinos. Surrender offers the player the opportunity to fold a losing hand without losing his entire original wager. In practice, surrender will cost him only one half of his original bet. There are two versions of this player option, early surrender and late surrender. Early surrender allows players to quit two-card hands after seeing the up-card of the dealer. This option provides the player an additional 0.62 percent favorable advantage, which is the main reason why many casinos have ceased to offer the surrender option.
Late surrender is the same as early surrender except that the player must wait until after the dealer looks at his hole-card for a Blackjack. If the dealer does not have a Blackjack then the player may surrender.
Occasionally, a player may sit out a hand or two for various reasons. For example, if the dealer is getting extremely lucky and everyone is losing. If the player sits out too many hands in such a instance, especially when there are others waiting to play at his table, he may be asked to leave the table until he is ready to play.
In sum, whether the player is a highly experienced gambler, a fun-loving, go-for-broke risk-taker, or someone who simply enjoys high adrenaline entertainment, he should not forget that the main purpose behind all games is to have fun. It should not be a form of self-inflicted boredom or drudgery.
Blackjack happens to be fun to play, moreover, it moves at a fairly brisk pace between the hands played and the payoffs, unlike most of the other casino games. The player, who seeks to win at Blackjack, and to have a fun experience at the same time, will always make sure to pick the kind of casino where he is not only comfortable with his atmosphere and surroundings, but secure in the knowledge that the house odds and rules offer him a chance to do just that.