The purpose of Blackjack is to get your hand to be as close to 21 as possible without going over (or busting) while at the same time beating the dealer’s hand. Having other players be at the table should not matter to you. The only cards that will affect you are yours and the dealers, regardless of whether other players win or lose. If the player and the house tie, it’s called a push and no one wins.
- Hitting vs. Standing
- Surrender or Fold
- Splitting Pairs
- Doubling after Splitting
- Multi Action Blackjack
The average Blackjack table seats around 6 players and uses around 8 decks of cards which are shuffled together; though some casinos may have more or fewer players and may use a different number of decks.
How Points Are Calculated
Each individual card has a specific point value. An Ace can count as either 1 or 11, Jacks, Queens and Kings (Face Cards) have a point value of 10, and all other cards are worth the number printed on the card. Your total points are calculated by adding up the value of each individual card in your hand. Card suits have no value.
When either the player or the dealer gets 21 points with their initial two cards this is called having blackjack. Blackjack can be accomplished by being dealt an Ace in combination with a 10 or any face card. Blackjack usually pays 1 and a half times the initial bet and is an automatic win unless the dealer also has blackjack, in which case the game becomes a draw (or a push) and nobody wins.
Soft vs. Hard
A hand containing an Ace is considered soft because the Ace can be used as either a 1 or an 11. For example, an Ace plus a 6 is called a soft 17; soft because it can also have a value of just 7. So the person can hit (take another card) and if he/she busts (goes over 21) then he/she would simply reduce the value of the Ace to 1 and continue playing.
A hand is considered hard when there is no Ace. Points accumulated on a hard hand are set and cannot be reduced. So a jack and a 7 would be considered a hard 17 because there is no possibility of reducing the point value.
Placing the Bet
All initial bets must be made before any cards are dealt. After receiving the first two cards you will be given to opportunity of folding or surrendering in which case you will only lose half of the amount of your initial bet or you may stand or hit. You may also have the opportunity to make further bets if you decide to double down, or when you decide to use the splitting pairs option. Making an insurance bet (a side bet for as much as half of your original bet) is also possible and should be made if you feel the dealer will have blackjack.
The most common decision a player will have to make once he/she is dealt the initial two cards is whether to hit or stand. Hitting simply means asking for another card. Standing means that you will stay in the game using only the first two cards you were initially dealt.
If you hit (take another card) you risk busting (going over 21) but you can also get much closer to 21 or obtain a 21 itself. Most people hit when they feel their chances of busting are lower than that of getting closer to 21.
If you stand (keeping only your first two cards) you risk losing if the dealer’s hand is higher than yours. Most people stand when they feel there is a high probability of busting if they hit.
How does the dealer decide whether to hit or stand?
A casino, regardless of whether it is land based or online, will have set policies as to when a dealer has to hit or stand. It is important to familiarize yourself with the individual casino’s policies before you play.
In most casinos a dealer is required to hit if the points in his/her hand are equal to or less than 16 and is required to stand if his/her hand is equal to or greater than 17. Depending on the casino, a dealer may also hit on a soft 17 (example a 6 and an Ace).
Some casinos offer blackjack players the opportunity to fold or surrender their hand if they feel they will most likely lose if they continue. A player can surrender his/her hand at half the cost of the original bet. Surrendering can only be made if the player has not hit or decided to stand yet. There are two types of surrendering options: early surrender and late surrender.
In an early surrender option a player is free to fold as soon as he/she receives his/her initial cards; regardless of whether or not the dealer has blackjack. In this case the player simply decides to leave the game and recovers half of the bet he/she placed. Very few casinos offer the early surrender option as they feel it gives the player an undeserved advantage over the house.
Late surrenders are much more common than early surrenders. In a late surrender the dealer is first allowed to see if he/she has blackjack before permitting players to surrender. Most casinos offer this option. You are free to fold as long as the house doesn’t have Blackjack and as long as you haven’t yet decided to hit or stand.
You bust when your hand goes over 21. Busting means you automatically lose unless you were playing with a soft hand. For example, if you had a soft 17 (an Ace and a 6) and the dealer hits you with a 7 you would theoretically bust with 24 (17 + 7) but since your hand was soft your Ace will automatically turn into a 1 and your point value will decrease to 14 (1+6+7), in which case you would be permitted to continue hitting until you decide to stop or until you bust again.
An interesting possibility to raise your bet when you find it advantageous to do so is called “doubling down”. Here’s how doubling down works:
You will be allowed to raise your bet for any sum up to the original amount of your bet if (1) you have only been dealt the first two cards, and (2) You agree to hit but only to hit 1 card.
An example of a good time to double down is when you are dealt a hand of 11 (2 and 9; 3 and 8; 4 and 7; 6 and 5). In this case the chances of getting a 10 are fairly high and doubling down would therefore be wise. The risk is that if you are dealt a low card such as a 2 then you would be stuck playing with a hand of only 13. In such a case your only chance of winning is if the dealer busts.
If you are dealt a matching pair of cards you may be given the option of splitting the cards and converting them into two separate hands. It is not necessary that the cards be of the same suit. Once you decide you want to split your hand the dealer will deal you an additional card for each of the two hands. If you are dealt another match you may split pairs again up to 4 times or more depending on casino policies.
An example of a good time to split pairs is when a player is dealt two 8s. This would give the player a chance to turn a bad hand (16 is considered to be the riskiest hand because of the high probability of you busting if you hit and of the low probability of winning if you stand) into two possibly good hands.
Some casinos place restrictions on certain plays. For example, a player that wishes to split a pair of Aces (usually a good move) is many times restricted to drawing only one card on each Ace. Again, it is important to find out what the rules are before deciding to split pairs.
Splitting pairs may sometimes better your chances of winning (example, when you get a pair of 8s) or it may lessen them (example a pair of 10s or a pair of face cards). In the case of a pair of 10s it would probably be wiser to keep the 20 points as it is considered a very good hand.
When the dealer’s up card is an Ace the probability of him/her having 21 or blackjack is high. In these cases players are sometimes given the chance to place an insurance bet in order to try to minimize their potential loses. Insurance bets work as follows: If the dealer’s up card is an Ace you will be allowed to place a side bet of up to 50 percent of the amount you initially bet. If the dealer does indeed have blackjack your side bet will pay you 2 to 1 so you will recover the amount lost on your initial bet. If the dealer does not have blackjack you will lose your insurance money but will be able to play out your hand and possibly win if you beat the dealer or if the dealer busts.
When a player has blackjack and the dealer’s up card is an Ace the casino may offer the player what is known as “even money”. A normal blackjack hand pays 1.5 to 1 but if the house also has blackjack nobody wins. So when a player having blackjack doesn’t want to risk a tie he/she can settle for a gain of 1 to1, or a gain of “even money”.
Most casinos do not permit you to double down after having split pairs but some do. The doubling after splitting option is more likely to be found in virtual casinos. You need to find out what your individual casino’s policies are regarding this opportunity.
Hardcore blackjack enthusiast may enjoy a multi action version of blackjack. This option allows players to make up to 3 simultaneous bets against the dealer. In a multi action blackjack game the dealer will deal each player one hand but will deal himself 1 up card and 3 down cards. The up-card will play separately with each of the 3 down cards. The players can make a separate bet against each of the dealer’s 3 hands.
After the players have finished making their moves (hitting, standing, doubling up, splitting, etc.) it is the dealers turn to play his cards. The dealer will be able to play each of the 3 separate cards as if it were a separate game. Each hand will be played according to the casino’s policies as those don’t change at all.
It is important to note that each bet in a multi action game is separate and should therefore be placed in separate spot. In multi action blackjack a player can win 1 out of 3 hands, 2 out of 3, all hands or lose everything.
Multi action blackjack is usually only recommended for advanced or experience players. If you are a beginner it is more advisable to play a one hand game. At least until you fully master all aspects of the game.