Basics of Blackjack

Premise of the game

Blackjack's basic premise is that you want to get you hand's value as close to 21 without going over. You win the hand if your value is greater than the value of the dealer's hand. Although there could be a number of other players at the table they will have little effect on your game and you shouldn't be concerned with them. In tradition Blackjack it is just you against the dealer. The dealer has a specific set of rules they must follow when playing out their hands. The rules can vary from table to table but they will be clearly marked on the table felt. Some rules are 'Dealer's stand on all 17's or Dealer hits on soft 17.'

Values of the cards

Even though there are some slightly different variations in Blackjack house rules the value of the cards does not change.

The card values in Blackjack are:

  • Cards between 2 and 9 are valued at their face value.
  • 10s, Jacks, Queens, and Kings are all valued at 10.
  • The Ace can be valued at either 1 or 11.
Unlike other card games the card suites do not matter in Blackjack. The only thing that matters in blackjack is the combined value of the cards. For example if your hand contained a 10 and a 5 the value of the hand would be 15. If you hand contained an Ace and a 5 the hands value could be either 6 or 16. This would depend on what your next move is. The Ace's value will always be determined by what is best for the hand. If you hit and received a 5, so the hand is now Ace, 5, and 5. The hand value would be 21. If you had received a 6 the hand value would be 12. In these cases the Ace takes on the best value. in the first example the Ace valued at 11 is far better than being valued at 1. In the second example a value of 11 would bust the hand so having the Ace valued at 1 is better. When a hand with an Ace that can be counted as a 1 or 11, the hands value is considered a "soft" hand as you can hit another card without busting. If the Ace can only be valued at 1 then the hand is considered a "hard" hand.

The deal of the cards

After all the bets have been made the dealer will start dealing cards starting with the player to their immediate left. The dealer will deal one card to each player making their way around the table and one card to themselves. The dealer will then deal a second card to each player and themselves. After all all the cards are dealt the dealer will turn over one card, exposing it so that all the players can see it. Depending on the type of game the player cards may or may not be dealt face up, and the players may or may not be allowed to handle the cards. For example in single deck blackjack the cards are usually dealt face down and the player is allowed to handle the cards. In multi deck blackjack the cards are generally dealt face up and the players are not allowed to touch the cards.

If you are playing in a game that allows you to handle the cards there are some important things to remember. These are:

  • Only use on hand when handling the cards. This might be hard to get used to but it is necessary.
  • Always keep the cards over the table. The casino may think you are cheating if you lower the cards out of the dealers sight.
  • If you ask for another card(s) be it a hit or double down the card(s)must remain on the table.

Once the dealer has finished dealing the cards, the game begins with the player seated to the dealer's left, this position is also referred to as first base. As play moves to each player they will indicate to the dealer how they wish to proceed with their hand. The options available to each player depend on a number of factors which will be covered later but the options generally are Hit, Stand, Surrender, Double, and Split. After all the players have finished playing their hand, the dealer will complete their hand and will collect losing wagers or pay off winning wagers.

How the dealer plays his hand

Unlike the players, a Blackjack dealer has no choices when it comes to how they are going play their hands. There are 2 popular rule variations that casinos use to govern how their Blackjack dealers will play out their hands. It is very easy to determine which of these two rule variations are being used at a Blackjack table. The rule that any given table is using will be printed on the Blackjack tabletop.

The two rules variations are:

  • 'Dealer stands on all 17s': This is the most common of the two rule variations. Like the name implies the Blackjack dealer must hit until or stand when their hand total is 17. With this rule the dealer cannot have a soft 17 (Ace, 6) as the Ace will always be valued at 11 when the other card is a 6. If the dealer's hand consisted of a Ten, 8 then the dealer must stand, with an Ace, 5 the dealer would hit until they reached a hand value of 17 or higher. In the later example, if the card drawn was an Ace through 5, the dealer's total would be 17 or higher and they must stand. If the dealer draws a 6 or higher than the Ace counts as one and they must draw more cards until their hand value meets or exceeds 17.
  • 'Dealer hits soft 17': This is the other rule variation. This variation has the dealer hitting on soft 17 (Ace, 6). When the dealer has a soft 17 they must hit until their hand value is a hard 17 or a soft 18 or higher. This rule gives the house a slight advantage over the player.

The important thing to remember here is that the dealer does not have any say in how the dealer's hand is played. They can only hit or stand depending on the hand value and the rule variation being used at the table.

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