Basic Rules     Additional Bets      Tips on Winning     Basic Strategy

Blackjack is easily the most popular table game of all. If you enter any Las Vegas casino, you will find that blackjack tables outnumber other table games by a margin of about two to one. The game enjoys its immense popularity for many reasons, but one of the primary reasons is that, when played correctly, it offers the best odds out of all the casino games. In fact, a good blackjack player's odds of winning are about even with the house.


Basic Rules

The purpose of blackjack is to obtain a hand as close to 21 as possible without going over. A hand with a value over 21 is called a bust, and it is an automatic loser. Your opponent in blackjack is the dealer, and in order to win, you must beat the dealer's hand.

Each card in blackjack has a certain value. Cards between 2 and 10 have values of 2 to 10, respectively, regardless of the suit. All face cards (jacks, queens, and kings) have a value of 10. An ace is a special card that can be counted as either as a 1 or an 11, whichever is more advantageous to your hand. If counting an ace as 11 makes your hand go over 21, then you would obviously count it as 1 so you can stay in the hand.  

The best possible hand is called a blackjack, which is composed of two cards that equal 21. The only way this can happen is if one of your cards is an ace, and the other card is a 10-value card (e.g. an ace and a king, and an ace and a queen are both blackjacks). A blackjack beats all other hands except another blackjack. If you have a blackjack, and the dealer has 3 cards that add up to 21, you still win the hand even though you both have hands valued at 21. If both the player and dealer have blackjacks, the two hands push, or tie.  

Each player must place a bet at the beginning of the hand, before the cards are dealt. To make a bet, simply place your chips in the appropriate box or circle, as shown below.

Typical Blackjack layout
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After placing a bet, the player receives 2 cards, dealt face-up. The dealer also receives two cards, but only one of the dealer's cards is face-up. Since the other card is face-down, the player will not know what the dealer's hidden card (also called the hole card) is until the end of the hand. In a sense, the dealer's hand remains a mystery. 

After receiving two cards, the player must decide whether to keep the hand as is, or take additional cards in an attempt to raise the value of the hand. Remember, players must be careful when requesting additional cards, because if their hand goes over 21, they lose automatically. The decision to take an additional card is called a hit or a draw. There is no limit on the number of hits a player can take. When players are done taking hits, they have chosen to stand

Next, it is the dealer's turn to play his/her hand. First, the dealer reveals the face-down hole card. If the dealer's hand is between 17 and 21, the dealer is NOT allowed to take additional hits, and MUST stand. If the dealer's hand is 16 or under, the dealer MUST take additional hits until the dealer's hand has a value of 17 or higher. If the dealer goes over 21 while taking additional cards, he/she busts, and automatically loses. 

When you lose a hand, you lose the amount you originally bet. When you win a hand, you get paid even money, which means that you win the same amount you wagered (1:1 odds).  If your hand is the same value as the dealer's hand, it is called a push, or a tie, and neither side wins nor loses any money. 

Since a blackjack is a special hand, it is paid extra. Normally, a winning 5 dollar bet will net you an additional 5 dollars. But with a blackjack, you receive 1.5 times your original wager, or stated another way, you get 3:2 odds. This means you win a total of $7.50 on a 5 dollar bet when you have a blackjack. 


Additional Bets 

As stated earlier, you must place an original bet at the beginning of each hand. But that is not the only bet a you can make. During the middle of the hand, you have the option of making additional bets, often doubling your stakes.  

The additional bets you can make are:

1) Double Downs

As the name implies, a double down allows you to double your wager. You can double down only when you have 2 cards in your hand. However, there is one condition: When you double down, you MUST take one additional card. You can NOT receive any more hits after this. Oftentimes, players will double down when their first two cards add up to 10 or 11. Players in such cases are hoping to receive a 10-card, thus making their hand a 20 or 21. The likelihood of this happening is relatively high, since a 10-card is the most frequently occurring card in blackjack (10, J, Q and K are all valued at 10). For this reason, experienced players will almost always double down when their first two cards total 10 or 11.  

2) Splits

Splitting is another way of doubling your stake. You can split when you have two cards of the same value. To split your hand, you must put up an additional bet equal to your original bet. You then divide your cards and create 2 separate hands, each starting with one of the split cards. For example, if you have two 8's and split them, you would end up with two hands, each with a value of 8. You would then play out each hand separately, by hitting them until you are satisfied with the total. If you obtain a blackjack on a split, you only get paid 1:1 odds. You don't get the 3:2 blackjack odds because your original hand was not a blackjack.

3) Insurance 

You are allowed to make an optional insurance bet when the dealer's face card is an ace. Whenever the dealer has an ace card showing, there is a possibility that the dealer has a blackjack. If the dealer does, you would normally lose, unless you also have a blackjack, in which case you would push. 

By purchasing insurance, you prevent yourself from losing money if the dealer has a blackjack. The cost of insurance is normally half of your original bet. So, if your initial bet is $10, it costs $5 to buy insurance. If the dealer does not have a blackjack, you lose your insurance bet, and the hand is played out normally. If you purchase insurance, and the dealer does have a blackjack, you lose your original bet ($10 in our example), BUT you win your insurance bet. Since insurance pays 2:1, you would receive $10 on your $5 insurance bet. In effect, you lose the original $10 bet, but get paid $10 in insurance, so it's a wash. To summarize, buying insurance will keep you from losing money if the dealer has a blackjack, but if the dealer does not have a blackjack, you would end up losing the amount you paid for insurance.

In most cases, you should avoid buying insurance. It is a sucker bet that heavily favors the house. The only time you should make the insurance bet is when there is a high proportion of 10-cards left in the deck. You would not know this unless you count cards.

For most players, a good rule of thumb is to simply ignore the insurance bet. Just pretend it doesn't exist.


Tips on Winning

Back in the sixties, a university professor put every conceivable blackjack hand into a computer and, by using statistics, determined the most advantageous way to play in each and every situation. The strategy he devised based on his research was called basic strategy. Many experts have modified this strategy over the years. The strategy was so effective in slicing the house advantage that casinos later counterattacked by modifying some of their blackjack rules to make basic strategy less effective. But make no mistake: In order to maximize your chances of winning, you MUST follow basic strategy. All good players do. 

There are many different basic strategy charts, and each one is a bit different. Below is a pretty standard version you can follow in order to increase your odds of winning.


Basic Strategy Chart

The horizontal numbers, in red, represents the dealer's face-up card. The vertical numbers, in green, represents the value of your hand. Match the two to find the recommended move. 

Example: If the dealer has a 6-card showing, and you have a hand valued at 15, you would stand.

H= Hit, S=Stand, Sp=Split, D=Double Down.

2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Ace
8 or less Always HIT
9 D D D D D H H H H H
10 D D D D D D D D H H
12 H H S S S H H H H H
13 S S S S S H H H H H
14 S S S S S H H H H H
15 S S S S S H H H H H
16 S S S S S H H H H H
17 or more *Always STAND - unless you have an ace in your hand - then see below


*A3 H H D D D H H H H H
*A4 H H D D D H H H H H
*A5 H H D D D H H H H H
*A6 D D D D D H H H H H
*A7 S D D D D S S H H S
*A8/A9 Always STAND
88 Always SPLIT


Blackjack rules can vary quite a bit, depending on the casino you play at. For instance, in Reno, you can only double down on 10's and 11's, while in Las Vegas, you can double on any two initial cards.  On the whole, online casinos have rules that are quite liberal, but there are variations to basic strategy depending on the specific conditions of play. The chart above therefore can not cover the best playing situation in each and every gaming condition. In most situations, the chart will give you the best move, but you should use it for reference only.

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