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Playing the Games - BlackJack
Basics of Blackjack
The basic premise of the game is that you want to have a hand value that is closer to 21 than that of the dealer, without going over 21. Other players at the table are of no concern. Your hand is strictly played out against the hand of the dealer. The rules of play for the dealer are strictly dictated, leaving no decisions up to the dealer. Therefore, there is not a problem with the dealer or any of the other players at the table seeing the cards in your hand. Indeed, the player cards are all dealt face up. When you're just learning to play, don't hesitate to ask the dealer or other players questions.
Value of the cards
In blackjack, the cards are valued as follows:
- An Ace can count as either 1 or 11, as demonstrated below.
- The cards from 2 through 9 are valued as indicated.
- The 10, Jack, Queen, and King are all valued at 10.
The suits of the cards do not have any meaning in the game. The value of a hand is simply the sum of the point counts of each card in the hand. For example, a hand containing (5,7,9) has the value of 21. The Ace can be counted as either 1 or 11. You need not specify which value the Ace has. It's assumed to always have the value that makes the best hand. An example will illustrate: Suppose that you have the beginning hand (Ace, 6). This hand can be either 7 or 17. If you stop there, it will be 17. Let's assume that you draw another card to the hand and now have (Ace, 6, 3). Your total hand is now 20, counting the Ace as 11. Let's backtrack and assume that you had instead drawn a third card which was an 8. The hand is now (Ace, 6, 8) which totals 15. Notice that now the Ace must be counted as only 1 to avoid going over 21.
A hand that contains an Ace is called a "soft" total if the Ace can be counted as either 1 or 11 without the total going over 21. For example (Ace, 6) is a soft 17. The description stems from the fact that the player can always draw another card to a soft total with no danger of "busting" by going over 21. The hand (Ace,6,10) on the other hand is a "hard" 17, since now the Ace must be counted as only 1, again because counting it as 11 would make the hand go over 21.
Dealing the cards
Once all the bets are made, the dealer will deal the cards to the players. He'll make two passes around the table starting at his left (your right) so that the players and the dealer have two cards each. The dealer will flip one of his cards over, exposing its value.
The players cards will be dealt face-up, and the players are not allowed to touch the cards.
Once the cards are dealt, play proceeds around the table, starting at the first seat to the dealer's left, also called first base. Each player in turn indicates to the dealer how he wishes to play the hand. The various player decisions are covered in their own section below. After each player has finished his/her hand, the dealer will complete their hand, and then pay or collect the player bets.
How the dealer plays his hand
The dealer must play his hand in a specific way, with no choices allowed.
"Dealer stands on all 17s": This is the most common rule. In this case, the dealer must continue to take cards ("hit") until his total is 17 or greater. An Ace in the dealer's hand is always counted as 11 if possible without the dealer going over 21. For example, (Ace,8) would be 19 and the dealer would stop drawing cards ("stand"). Also, (Ace,6) is 17 and again the dealer will stand. (Ace,5) is only 16, so the dealer would hit. He will continue to draw cards until the hand's value is 17 or more. For example, (Ace,5,7) is only 13 so he hits again. (Ace,5,7,5) makes 18 so he would stop ("stand") at that point.
Again, the dealer has no choices to make in the play of his hand. He cannot split pairs, but must instead simply hit until he reaches at least 17 or busts by going over 21.
What is a Blackjack, or a natural?
A blackjack, or natural, is a total of 21 in your first two cards. A blackjack is therefore an Ace and any ten-valued card, with the additional requirement that these be your first two cards. If you split a pair of Aces for example, and then draw a ten-valued card on one of the Aces, this is not a blackjack, but rather a total of 21. The distinction is important, because a winning blackjack pays the player odds of 3 to 2. A bet of $10 wins $15 if the player makes a blackjack. A player blackjack beats any dealer total other than a dealer's blackjack, including a dealer's regular 21. If both a player and the dealer make blackjack, the hand is a tie or push.
The dealer will usually pay your winning blackjack bet immediately when it is your turn to play. Some casinos may postpone paying the blackjack until after the hand is over if the dealer has a 10 card up and has not checked for a dealer blackjack. Other casinos check under both 10 and Ace dealer upcards, and would therefore pay the blackjack immediately. Regardless, when you are dealt a blackjack, sit back and smile. It only happens about once every 21 hands, but it accounts for a lot of the fun of the game.
The Player's Choices
The most common decision a player must make during the game is whether to draw another card to the hand ("hit"), or stop at the current total ("stand"). The method you use to indicate your decisions to the dealer is important as the dealer will go by hand gestures more than voice commands.
You would indicate that you want another card (“hit”) by tapping the table behind your cards with a finger. You'll be required to make the hand signals, rather than just announcing "hit" or "stand" to the dealer. This is to eliminate any confusion or ambiguity in what you choose, and also for the benefit of the ever-present surveillance cameras. If you go over 21, or "bust", the dealer will collect your bet, and remove your cards from the table immediately. When you decide to stay at your current total (“stand”), just wave your hand in a horizontal motion over your cards.
The descriptions are a lot tougher than the actual play. Just pay attention to what other players are doing and you'll fit right in.
Among the more profitable player options available is the choice to "double down". This can only be done with a two card hand, before another card has been drawn. Doubling down allows you to double your bet and receive one, and only one, additional card to the hand. A good example of a doubling opportunity is when you hold a total of 11, say a (6,5) against a dealer's upcard of 5. In this case, you have a good chance of winning the hand by drawing one additional card, so you might as well increase your bet in this advantageous situation. Place the additional bet behind the original bet, not on top of it. The dealer will deal one additional card to the hand.
Players are allowed to double down for any amount up to the original bet amount, so you could double down "for less" if you wanted. Just remember that you do give up something for being allowed to increase your bet: the ability to draw more than one additional card. If the correct play is to double down, you should always double for the full amount if possible.
When you are dealt a matching pair of cards (remember, ignore the suits), you have the ability to split the hand into two separate hands, and play them independently. Let's say you are dealt a pair of eights for a total of sixteen. Sixteen is the worst possible player hand, since it is unlikely to win as is, but is very likely to bust if you draw to it. Here's a great chance to improve a bad situation.
To “split”, place a matching bet beside the original bet in the circle. Note that you must bet the same amount on a split, unlike a double-down, where you are allowed to double for less. The dealer will separate the two cards, and treat them as two independent hands. Let's say you draw a 3 on the first 8, for a total of 11. Many casinos will allow you to double down on that hand total of 11 at this point. When this is allowed, the rule is called "Double after Split", predictably enough. Regardless, you can play the first hand to completion, at which point the dealer will deal a second card to the second hand, and you can begin making play decisions on it.
If you get additional pairs (in the first two cards of a hand), most casinos will allow you to resplit, making yet another hand. The most common rule allows a player to split up to 3 times, making 4 separate hands, with 4 separate bets. If double after split is allowed, you could have up to 8 times your initial bet on the table if you chose! Another fine point is that you are allowed to split any 10-valued cards, so you could split a (Jack, Queen) hand. However, this is usually a bad play: Keep the 20.
The other complication for pair splits concerns splitting Aces. Splitting Aces is a very strong player move, so the casino restricts you to drawing only one additional card on each Ace. Also, if you draw a ten-valued card on one of your split Aces, the hand is not considered a Blackjack, but is instead treated as a normal 21, and therefore does not collect 3:2 odds. With all these restrictions, you may wonder whether it makes sense to split Aces. The answer is a resounding YES. Always split pairs of Aces.
Insurance and Even Money
Insurance is perhaps the least understood of all the commonly available rules for Blackjack. This is not necessarily a bad thing because the insurance bet is normally a poor bet for the player, with a high house advantage. However, that's not always the case. So, here we go:
If the dealer turns an up-card of an Ace, he will offer "Insurance" to the players. Insurance bets can be made by betting up to half your original bet amount in the insurance betting stripe in front of your bet. The dealer will check to see if he has a 10-value card underneath his Ace, and if he does have Blackjack, your winning Insurance bet will be paid at odds of 2:1. You'll lose your original bet of course (unless you also have a Blackjack), so the net effect is that you break even (assuming you bet the full half bet for insurance.) This is why the bet is described as "insurance", since it seems to protect your original bet against a dealer blackjack. Of course, if the dealer does not have blackjack, you'll lose the insurance bet, and still have to play the original bet out.
In the simplest description, Insurance is a side-bet, where you are offered 2:1 odds that the dealer has a 10-valued card underneath ("in the hole"). A quick check of the odds yields this: In a single deck game, there are 16 ten-valued cards. Assuming that you don't see any other cards, including your own, the tens compose 16 out of 51 remaining cards after the dealer's Ace was removed. For the insurance bet to be a break-even bet, the hole card would have to be a ten 1 out of 3 times, but 16/51 is only 1 in 3.1875.
The situation is often thought to be different when you have a Blackjack. The dealer is likely to offer you "even money" instead of the insurance bet. This is just the same old insurance bet with a simplification thrown in. Let's ignore the "even money" name, and look at what happens when you insure a Blackjack. Let's say you bet $10, and have a Blackjack. You would normally collect $15 for this, unless the dealer also has a blackjack, in which case you push or tie.
Let's assume that the dealer has an Ace up, and you decide to take insurance for the full amount, or $5. Now, two things can happen:
- The dealer has a Blackjack. I tie with the $10, but collect 2:1 on the $5 insurance bet for a total profit of $10.
- The dealer does not have Blackjack. I lose the $5, but collect $15 for my BJ. Total profit, again $10.
In either case, once I make the insurance bet, I'm guaranteed a profit of $10, or even money for my original bet.You're probably thinking that sounds like a pretty good deal. You're guaranteed a profit even if the dealer does have Blackjack. Just remember that the guaranteed profit comes at a price. You'll win more money in the long run by holding out for the $15, even though you'll sometimes end up empty-handed.
The basic strategy player should simply never take the insurance bet. So, unless you know the bet is favorable, just ignore it.Basic Blackjack strategy for any hand:
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