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How to play blackjack
Blackjack is a simple yet exciting card game that pits the player against the dealer to see who will make the best hand without going over a total of 21. There are two ways for the player to win – by having the highest hand total at the end of the hand, or by not going over 21 when the dealer does. Consider it like playing a game of chicken with cards.
Blackjack rules for the player and the dealer are slightly different. The dealer must play by a fixed set of rules and will always stand on all totals of 17 or higher but is required to draw on all totals of 16 or less. The player has more flexibility with their blackjack strategy and can stand or hit on any total. There is a catch however; the player must make their play decisions before the dealer draws any additional cards. Let’s take a look at the order of play in a hand:
• To start the hand, the player will make a bet.
• The player and the dealer are dealt two cards each. Only one of the dealer’s cards is visible to the player; the dealer’s second card remains face down.
• In blackjack, number cards count as their face value. Kings, Queens and Jacks all count as 10. Aces are worth 1 or 11 depending on the total of the hand. An Ace and a 10-value card on the initial deal make a blackjack which will pay 3:2, unless the dealer has a blackjack too.
• If neither the player nor the dealer has blackjack, the player will have the first opportunity to improve their hand. The player can decide to hit, stand, double down or split.
• After the player’s actions are complete it’s the dealer’s turn to draw until they make 17+ or go over 21. The player wins when the dealer goes over 21 or by having the higher of the final hand totals. If the player and the dealer end with the same total, the hand is push and neither side wins or loses.
Unlike the dealer’s rigid rules, the player has some unique options they can choose while playing their hand. The player can:
Double Down: After doubling their initial wager, the player will receive a single additional card. Players most often double down with totals of 10 and 11 when the dealer’s up card indicates a weak hand.
Split: Players make an additional wager the same size as their initial wager and can split their starting pair (cards of equal value) into two hands. Players will have the option to hit, stand, double down or re-split additional pairs creating a total of up to 4 unique hands. The only exception here is Aces. When splitting Aces, each hand will receive only one card and additional aces can’t be re-split.
Stand: Stay on their current total. Most players will stay on totals of 17 or greater. Sometimes players will stand on a hand total of lower than 17 because they know the dealer will have to draw to what appears to be a total that can easily bust.
Hit: Draw one or more additional cards. Drawing cards can improve the player’s hand total, but sometimes results in a loss when the player’s hand total exceeds 21.
(PA ONLY) Surrender: On the initial deal, a player that doesn’t like their hand will have the option to give up, known in blackjack as surrender. When a player surrenders, they will receive a refund of half of their initial wager and they will forfeit their change to draw to improve their hand. The decision to surrender must be made before the player takes any of the actions listed above (immediately after the initial deal).
Insurance is offered to the player when the dealer has an Ace as their exposed card. Since the dealer has a decent chance of having a 10-value card in the hole, players are offered a side wager where they can buy insurance against the dealer having a blackjack. Insurance pays 2:1. If the player has a blackjack when the dealer has an Ace up, the player can decide to end the hand by taking even money (1:1 payout) before the dealer checks their hole card.
tips and hints
The dealer’s worst up cards are 3-6. When the dealer has a middle card there is a good chance the dealer will be required to draw and their hand total will exceed 21. Not only should the player look for opportunities to increase their wager when the dealer has a weak up card, the player can also stay on weaker hand totals and give the dealer the opportunity to bust.
Doubling down and splitting are two of the biggest weapons the player has in their arsenal. Blackjack is one of the few games where players can add money to their initial wager when they have a mathematical advantage. Double down opportunities are fairly easy to spot; if a 10-value card will improve the player’s hand to 20 or 21 and the dealer has a weak up card the player should double down almost every time.
While any pair can be split, not all pairs should be considered split candidates. A couple of face cards total 20 which is too strong of a total to ruin for the chance to make what could end up being two worse hands, and 5,5 should be doubled down on, never split. There are two pairs that should always be split: Aces and Eights. Splitting A,A gives you two chances to make 21 and splitting 8,8 gives you a mathematically better chance to win than drawing to a hard total of 16.
Sometimes in blackjack you’ll have to choose between two options you don’t like. Nobody likes to bust and then find out that the dealer had a 6 in the hole under their 10, but you shouldn’t be afraid to make the correct play even if it doesn’t always win.
Make sure your bet size leaves you enough wiggle room to split and double down as the opportunities present themselves. There is nothing worse than running out of funds and hitting 11 instead of doubling, only to be dealt a 21 that can’t lose!