Object of the Game
Blackjack is a card game in which one or more people play against the casino dealer. Both the casino dealer and the player are trying to get cards that add up to 21 without going over 21. An ace can count as 1 or 11. Jack, Queen, and King count as 10. Whoever gets the closest to 21 without going over wins. If both the dealer and the player end up with the same total like 19 or 20 then it is a tie or a push.
Value of Cards in Blackjack
How the Blackjack Dealer Must Play
The casino dealer has the advantage in this game for the simple reason that the players have to go first. This is an edge for the dealer because as soon as a player goes over 21 and busts, his bet is lost and he is now out of the hand. The dealer may still bust afterwards, but the player has already lost his bet.
The dealer must follow always follow a specific set of rules when playing his hand. If the dealer has less than 16, he MUST HIT. If the dealer has 17 or higher, he MUST STAND (a possible exception is if the dealer has a soft 17 which is an Ace and a 6).
As an example, if everyone at a blackjack table has a hand totaling 13, and the dealer is showing a 6, the basic strategy is to stay. The dealer flips over his other card revealing a 10. The dealer has a total of 16. His hand is higher than everyone else’s at the table.
However, the dealer MUST hit his hand since it is a 16 or less. The dealer hits his hand, has an excellent chance of busting, and the entire table wins.
On the flip side, let’s say everyone at the table is dealt an 18 (and stays) and the dealer shows a 7. The dealer flips over his under card revealing a 10 for a total of 17. Even though he’s losing to everyone at the table, he is not allowed to take a hit, and thus the entire table wins.
Because the dealer must play his hand in this fashion, this is a benefit to the player and by applying perfect blackjack strategy, we can exploit this to the maximum potential. Consulting our blackjack charts while playing blackjack will help you make the best moves possible in any situation.
Overall, the casino dealer has an advantage in this game, however it is very slight if you play perfect blackjack strategy. And if you can learn to count cards – which is not as difficult as it sounds – you can sway the odds to your favor! We discuss card counting in the more advanced strategy section.
How to Play a Hand of Blackjack
Using an example makes it easier to understand how to play blackjack. Suppose Fred sees an empty blackjack table and sits down. The dealer shuffles cards or uses an automatic shuffle machine. The dealer then puts the cards in a shoe. Fred must place his bet down to start the action.
Two cards are dealt to Fred and the dealer gets two cards as well. One of the dealer’s cards is face up and the other is face down. In places like Las Vegas all of Fred’s cards are face up but there are some casinos in places like Reno where the player’s cards are face down.
If your cards are dealt face down, you can only use ONE hand to lift your cards to see their values.
Blackjack Table Terminology
The player is first to act and you have the following options after your first two cards are dealt:
- You can Hit – which is take another card. At the blackjack table, you would point at your finger at your hand or tap the table to signify a hit. If you are holding your cards in your one hand, you would swipe them against the table towards yourself to signify a hit.
- You can Stand or Stay – you will play your hand as is. To signify a stand, you would wave off the dealer with your open hand or wave your hand over your cards. If you are holding your cards, you would slide them under your bet (again while only using your one hand) and leave them there.
- You can Double Down – this means you can double your bet and receive one and only one card. You would place an equivalent bet next to your existing bet (not on top!) and verbally announce “Double Down”. You will receive one card and the dealer may place it face up or face down. You are not allowed to touch the card so if it’s face down, you will have to wait until the dealer flips it over.
- You can Split – if you are dealt two of the exact same cards, like a 7 7, you may elect to split the cards. Like the Double Down, you would place an equal bet beside your current bet and verbally announce “Split”. The dealer will then split up your two cards and you will now play two hands. The dealer will immediately deal you a second card for your first hand, so you will have a 7 and a new card. Now you can play these two cards like any other hand – you may Hit, Stand, Double Down, or Split again (if the re-splitting rule is allowed).
- Finally, if the table rules allow, you may Surrender. You will have to ask the dealer if Surrender is allowed. If you Surrender, you sacrifice your hand and receive 50% of your bet back. This happens before you see the dealer’s hole card. This is a more advanced move and should only be used in certain specific scenarios!
How You Should Play Blackjack
We’ve made mention of the “basic strategy chart”. The basic strategy chart will guide you on how to optimally play your hand. The key, however, is to be consulting the RIGHT basic strategy chart. There are many!
The chart changes depending on:
- how many decks you are playing
- if you are allowed to double down on any 2 cards
- if you are allowed to double down after splitting
- if the dealer stands or hits on soft 17
Visit our Blackjack Charts page to find the right chart for the game you are playing!
All beginners should carry the chart with them when playing blackjack. You ARE ALLOWED to have the chart with you when you are playing real money blackjack! You can keep it in your pocket or place it on your lap and reference it when you need to.
Below is an example of a chart for a typical shoe (6-8 decks) game in Las Vegas.
Using the chart is simple, the top row shows the card the dealer is showing, the left column represents your hand.
The action would go as follows. Fred places his bet and then the hand is dealt.
Suppose the dealer is showing a Ten of clubs and Fred has a 7 of hearts and Jack of diamonds. The action is on Fred to make his move. Fred consults the chart and finds the Dealer’s Card of 10. He then cross-references that column heading with the row that shows 17.
Reading the Blackjack Chart
The basic strategy chart shows a red S, which means that Fred should Stand. Fred waves his hand over his cards to signal a Stand.
The dealer turns over his hole card revealing a 6 of spades. The dealer has a hand that is less than 17 so he must hit. In this case let’s say he draws the King of hearts. The dealer now has a total of 10 + 6 + 10 or 26 and busts, so Fred wins.
The best way to learn how to play blackjack is to use the blackjack trainer on our home page. Our trainer simulates real blackjack but you don’t risk losing any money. And, most importantly, our blackjack trainer will tell you when you’ve made a correct move or incorrect move.
You can also use this simple Blackjack Calculator below to tell you the best move to make given your hand and the Dealer’s up card. Simply click on the Dealer’s card (top) and then select which card he has from the deck.
Then click on the Player’s cards below to select your cards from the deck. The tool will then tell you the best move to make. This tool assumes you are playing a 6-deck shoe, double down after splitting is allowed, surrender is allowed, and the dealer stands on soft 17 (a typical Vegas blackjack shoe game).
The blackjack tool below simply reads the blackjack chart for you and tells you the best moves to make.
It is easier to learn blackjack if you understand terms used in the game like third base (the last player to act), hole card (the dealer’s face down card), and busting (having cards that add up to more than 21 which means losing). Check out our blackjack dictionary if you run across any confusing lingo in the blackjack world.
Check out the casino section at FlopTurnRiver.com at http://www.flopturnriver.com/casino/ for a wealth of casino resources.