Casino Blackjack games
Once the initial hands 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. (All of those choices are explained in the next part of this series.)
After all of the players have finished their hands, the dealer will complete his hand, and then pay the winning bets and collect the losing bets.
How the Dealer Plays His Hand
The dealer will first flip over the “hole card” to reveal his two-card starting hand. The dealer is then required to play his hand in a very specific way, with no choices allowed.
He must draw cards until he has a total of 17 or more. The dealer has no choice in how to play the hand. He must continue taking cards until his total is at least 17. (A slight variation of this rule is discussed below.)
Let’s look at one possible dealer hand:
After flipping over the hole card, the dealer’s hand was (Ace, 5). That makes a hand value of 16, so he must draw another card.
He drew a 7, making the hand value 13 (the Ace can no longer be counted as 11). With a total of 13, he must hit again.
He drew a 6, making the hand total 19. Since that is “17 or more”, the dealer stops with a final total of 19.
Wins, Losses, and Ties
Once the hand is over, how does the dealer decide which bets to pay, and which bets to collect?
If you draw a card that makes your hand total go over 21, your hand is a bust. That is an automatic loser. The dealer will immediately collect your bet, and discard your hand.
Assuming you did not bust, the dealer will play out his hand at the end. If he busts by going over 21, all the remaining players win their bets.
If neither you nor the dealer busted, now the dealer will compare his final total to yours.
If his total is higher than yours, you lose the bet, and he will collect your bet and put the chips in his tray.
If your total is higher than his, you win the bet, and he will pay the entire amount you have bet. After he pays you, you’ll have your initial bet plus the amount you won in the circle.
So, what happens if you and the dealer tie, with the same exact total? Nothing at all. A tie is called a “push”, and you do not win or lose your bet. Your chips stay in the betting circle where you can leave them for the next hand if you want, or you can add to or remove from them as you wish before the next hand.
What is a Blackjack, or 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 at 3 to 2. A bet of $10 wins $15 if the player draws a blackjack. A player blackjack beats any dealer total other than blackjack, including a dealer’s three or more card 21. If both a player and the dealer have 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. In the face down games, this means that you should show the blackjack to the dealer at that time. 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, turn the cards face up, and smile. It only happens about once every 21 hands, but it accounts for a lot of the fun of the game.
Hitting and Standing
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”).
You will be required to make 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.
How you signal your intention to the dealer depends on which style of game you are playing:
Hand Signals in the Shoe Game
In the face-up shoe game, you indicate that you want another card by tapping the table behind your cards with a finger.
When you decide to stand, just wave your hand in a horizontal motion over your cards.
Remember that you are not allowed to touch the cards in this style of game.
Hand Signals in the Hand-Held Game
In the face-down game, things are a little different. You will hold the first two cards with one hand.
To let the dealer know that you want to draw another card to your hand, scratch the table with the bottom of your cards lightly. Watch another player at first to see how this works. The dealer will deal your additional cards on the table in front of your bet. Leave those cards on the table, but mentally add them to your total hand value. If you go over 21, just toss the two cards in your hand face up on the table. The dealer will collect your bet and discard your hand.
When you decide to stand, tuck the two cards you are holding face-down under the chips in your betting circle. This can be a bit tricky the first few times. Don’t pick up the bet to place the cards underneath. Remember, once the cards are dealt, you can’t touch the chips in the circle. Simply slide the corner of the cards under the chips.
Describing these moves makes them sound complicated. They’re not. Just pay attention to what other players are doing and you will fit right in.
Much of the excitement and profit in blackjack comes from hands where you are able to “double down”. This option is available only 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 your hand.
A good example of a doubling opportunity is when you hold a total of 11, like 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 should increase your bet in this advantageous situation by doubling down.
If you are playing in a hand-held game, just toss your original two cards face-up on the table in front of your bet.
In either type of game, add an additional bet to the betting circle. Place the additional bet adjacent to the original bet, not on top of it.
The dealer will deal one additional card to the hand. In a shoe game, he will probably deal the card sideways to indicate that this was a double-down. In a hand-held game, the card will be tucked face-down under your bet to be revealed after the hand is over. Depending on what the dealer makes on his hand, it can be an exciting wait to see that card revealed at the end!
You are allowed to double down for any amount up to your original bet amount, so you could actually double down for less if you wanted. That’s a bad move though. 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.
How many decks are used in most casino blackjack games?
The number of decks used in Black Jack differs from casino to casino, but there can be from two to eight decks in the shoe.