Blackjack Rules


Graphic of a dealer's hand with 10 showing.

Graphic of a dealer’s hand with 10 showing.

Though it may simplistic to the casual observer, blackjack is a deceptively complex game. Players may have a passing familiarity with how the game works, but anyone hoping to hit the tables and head home with a bigger bankroll than they started with will definitely want to brush up on blackjack rules before they head to their local live or online casino. Of course, you won’t get far without understanding the basics, so lets start at the beginning.

The Objective

A player’s goal at the blackjack table is to amass a collection of cards that equals 21 or fewer. The closer one gets to 21, the stronger the hand – though anyone whose totals exceed 21 instantly loses. Players compete against a dealer, who both parses out the cards and plays a hand. Gamers place wagers that their hand will be better than that of the dealer, and payouts for these wagers will vary based on the outcome of the deals.

Other Players

There may be as many as seven players at a blackjack tables. Unlike players of casino games like poker, these players do not directly compete with one another – they only play against the dealer. This helps make the game a more social experience, as gamers need not worry about their opponents’ hands, and can celebrate with them should they win.

Card Values

Players’ scores are based on the cards they are dealt. Cards numbered of 2-9 are worth face value, while the 10, jack, queen and king are all worth 10. Aces are unique in this game, in that they can serve two point values depending on the players’ other cards and decisions. Aces can serve as a value of either 1 or 11, making it the most versatile card to draw. As such, the best hand that a player can have is an ace and a 10-value card – a hand called blackjack.

It’s important to note that most blackjack tables found in modern online or live action casinos play with multiple decks of cards at any given time, so there are more than 4 cards of any given value whenever you play the game.

Gameplay

Blackjack is a relatively fast-paced game that is broken up into individual rounds. At the beginning of each round, players are asked to place a bet. Depending on the table, there are both minimum and maximum bets that can be made at this point.

Once all the initial wagers are in, the dealer will begin passing out cards in a clockwise fashion. Every player at the table, including the dealer, will receive a single card dealt face down before a second round of cards are dealt, this time face up. At this point players will have a number of options for how to proceed.

Decision

The most common choice a player will have to make is whether to hit or to stay. When a player hits, they take an additional card in the hopes that it will bring their score closer to 21 without going over. If they stay, then they end their turn with their current point total. Players can hit as many times as they feel is necessary, but will lose if their total exceeds 21.

Depending on the scenario, players may have a few other options:

Double Down: A player can opt to double their initial bet in exchange for a single additional card.
Even Money: At some tables, when a dealer shows an ace and the player has blackjack, the player can opt for even money. This means the player will instantly receive their wager back, rather than risk a push.
Insurance: Should the dealer be showing an ace, players can protect themselves from losing all of their money by placing a separate bet called insurance. This only pays out if the dealer makes a blackjack.
Split: Should a player have two cards of the same ranking (i.e. 2 and 2, 8 and 8, etc.) then they have the chance to split their cards into two separate hands. Players will have to provide a matching wager for the newly created hand, and they can hit or stay as they would on any new hand.
Surrender: When a player has no confidence in their hand’s strength, some tables will allow them to abandon their hand and regain half of their initial bet.

The dealer must stay on a hand of 17.

The dealer must stay on a hand of 17.

Casino Rules

In addition to the rules mentioned above, there are some guidelines that inform the pace of play and the actions of the dealer. First, and most importantly, there is the rule that a dealer must stay on any hand of 17 or better. This is designed to standardize dealer practice and provide players with a small advantage at the table. Some tables will show some leeway when the dealer has what is known as a “soft” 17, i.e. their 17 includes an ace. In these instances, the dealer can often treat the ace as a 1 and take another card.

There are also rules of conduct as to how you behave at the table. In a live casino, you cannot touch your cards once they have been dealt. Similarly, you cannot touch your chips once your wager has been made, and can only add if making one of the plays mentioned above. Breaking these rules once may only warrant a warning from the dealer, but continued infractions may inspire a pit boss to remove you from the casino.

Payouts

Payouts in blackjack are relatively simple, but are an important thing to know when you hit the tables. Should a player lose their hand, any and all money they placed in the betting circles will be forfeit. Should they win, however, the dealer will double the player’s investment, so if one wagers $5 on a hand and wins, the dealer will give the player an additional $5.

In the event that the player and the dealer have the same hand, the hand will be a push. This means that any wagers made in the hand will remain in the betting circle and carry over to the next round.

Should a player have a blackjack, or any two cards totalling 21, the payout will be 1.5 times the initial wager – ergo, should the player bet $5, the payout would be $7.50.