How Blackjack Is Played?
The best hand in blackjack is a two-card 21. This is natural, also called a blackjack, and beats every other hand, although the player and the dealer can tie (push) if both have blackjacks. However, the player does not have to get a 21 to win. A player can have a lousy hand and still win because the purpose of the game is to beat the dealer’s hand. The player can do that in two ways: have a higher hand than the dealer that does not go over 21 or have the dealer bust his hand by going over 21 and the player does not.
- Jack, queen, and king count as 10
- Aces count as 1 or 11
- All other cards are face value
- Card suits are irrelevant (except in bonus games, which are usually rip-offs for the player)
For example, a hand containing a 5-4-8 totals 17. Another containing a jack-4 totals 14. The ace always counts as an 11 initially, but if a player draws one (or more) cards, and the hand totals more than 21, then the ace can be counted as 1. For example, 4-ace-8 counts as 13, because counting the ace as 11 would bust the player.
Soft Hands and Hard Hands
Any hand that counts the ace as 11 is known as a soft hand; ace-6 is a soft 17, and ace-3-3 is also a soft 17. A hard hand is any hand that either does not contain an ace or, if it does, the ace counts as 1; 10-8 and 5-ace-10-2 are hard-18 hands. Soft hands are played differently than hard hands.
Number of Players
Blackjack tables can accommodate five, six, or seven players. The cards are always dealt with by the casino dealer. Players compete against the dealer and not against each other.
Many casinos do not allow players to enter midgame. If this is the case, wait until the dealer finishes the deck(s) or shoe and begins to reshuffle before you place your cash on the table for chips or your chips in the betting circle in front of you. This rule is called “no mid shoe entry.”
Number of Decks
Blackjack games go from one to eight decks. Single-deck and double-deck games are usually dealt by hand. On four-deck, six-deck, and eight-deck games casinos almost always use a box-like device called a “shoe.”
Once all players have made a bet by placing chips in their individual betting spots, each player and the dealer receive two cards. One of the dealer’s cards is dealt face up so players can see its value. The other dealer’s card, the hole card, is unseen.
The two-player cards can be dealt either face-up, facedown, or sometimes one up and one down. In general, in games that are dealt from shoes, the players’ cards are dealt face up. In this case, you should not touch the cards.
When a player is dealt an ace and a 10-value card (10, jack, queen, or king) as his first two cards, it is called a “blackjack” or “natural” and generally is paid one and a half times the original bet, meaning a 3-to-2 payoff. It is this payout that keeps the game close between player and dealer, as blackjacks will occur about 5 percent of the time.
When your hand totals the same as the dealer, this is known as a “push” or “tie,” and you get to keep your bet. If you have a blackjack and the dealer has a blackjack, that is also a push, so a player blackjack does not automatically win every time
Money-Management Ideas That Don’t Work
There is a belief that if you lose three or four hands in a row, the table is cold and you should leave and go to another table, where your luck will change. Doing this might indeed find you at another table, where suddenly you start to win. Doing this might also find you at a table where the dealer is even hotter than the dealer you just left. Or you could go to the next table and find that you win some, lose some, and get a little ahead there or a little behind there.
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The key ingredient in playing a powerful game of blackjack is the use of basic strategy. Check out the next chapter, which contains the basic strategies for just about all blackjack games. Don’t panic because they look intimidating—you can photocopy the strategy you wish to use and take it to the table with you.