Blackjack Terms


Among the many enjoyable aspects of playing blackjack is the idiosyncratic lingo that is associated with the game. Going from first base to third base doesn’t involve the guy behind you in a baseball lineup hitting a double or the physical progression of a relationship with someone you’re dating, it’s about which seat you take at the blackjack table. And when you’re discussing the “shoe” it has nothing to do with your footwear.

In order to act and sound like a blackjack pro, you’ll need to do more than learn the odds and probabilities or how to interact with the dealer and your fellow players, you’ll also need to learn the language of the game.

Basic Terms

There are several basic terms that you will need to know in order to make your way through a round of blackjack. For more on the basics, read our Blackjack Basics guide.

Hit/Stay (Stand): These are the first two words you need to learn. Simply, “hit” means that you’d like another card dealt to you, and “stay,” or “stand,” means that you are satisfied with your current holding and don’t want another card. These are also signified by hand gestures, with a tap of the table indicating hit and a wave of the hand over your cards denoting that you want to stay.

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An ace and a ten equal 21.

Blackjack: The name of the game – when you’re dealt two cards totaling 21 (an ace and a 10 or face card).

Bust: When you take additional cards that make your hand equal more than 21. By busting you lose your bet and are eliminated from the rest of the hand.

Push: When the player and dealer end up with hands of equal value. There is no winner or loser and the original bet is returned to the player, unless the dealer and player both have blackjack, in which case the dealer is declared the winner.

Shoe: The device that holds the decks of cards as they are being dealt. It’s also the term commonly used to describe a round of blackjack, i.e., all of the hands dealt in between shuffles. For example, a profitable run of hands that came off of one shuffle would be referred to as a “good shoe” or a “hot shoe.”

A shoe device for holding card decks.

A shoe device for holding card decks.

Hole Card/Upcard: The dealer’s two cards. The hole card is the one dealt face down that you can’t see, the upcard is the exposed one.

Action: The amount of money being bet; the hands as they are dealt and played; the overall movement and excitement of the game.

Intermediate Terms

Since even people who haven’t played blackjack are often aware of these basic terms, they have come to be used even in non-blackjack situations. The same can be said of this next set of terms, which, while pertaining to slightly deeper levels of blackjack strategy, have also made their way into popular culture.

Double Down: When you place a second bet on top of your original wager (typically doubling the amount of that initial wager, though many casinos allow what’s called “doubling for less” where your double down bet can be as little as half of the original wager), whereupon you will be dealt one, and only one additional, card to complete your hand.

For a guide to double down strategy, please see the article on it elsewhere on the site.

A player holds two fours.

A player holds two fours.

Splitting: When you are dealt two of the same card and elect to place a second wager that splits those cards off into two separate hands. The dealer will then place another card on each of those original two, and you will proceed to make hit and stay decisions on each.

For a guide to splitting strategy, please see the article on it elsewhere on this site.

Insurance: When the dealer’s up card is an ace, they will offer the player(s) an extra bet, which pays 2:1, to protect against a possible blackjack.

For a guide to double down strategy, please see the article on it elsewhere on the site.

Surrender: Most venues don’t offer this option. However, in those that do, you can surrender when you have a hand you don’t think will win (e.g., a poor starting hand like 15 or 16) and recover half of your bet.

Even Money: When you’ve been dealt 21 and the dealer’s up card is an ace, thus giving them the opportunity to have blackjack as well, they will offer you “even money.” By accepting even money you choose to get paid the equivalent of your bet, instead of the one-and-a-half times your bet you would normally receive on a blackjack, in order to hedge against losing to a dealer blackjack.

Bankroll: The money you have with which to gamble.

Burn Card: The first card at the top of a new shoe, which is peeled off the top and discarded, never to be seen by the players. The card is burned in order to help assure players that the game isn’t rigged.

Cut Card: The plastic card used by the dealer to help control the shuffle, which is then handed to one player at the table to literally cut the deck. Again, this is to help assure players that no one has tampered with the deck.

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First base begins to the left of the dealer.

FirstBase/Third Base: The two end positions at a blackjack table. First base is the seat immediately to the dealer’s left, third base is the one immediately to the dealer’s right.

Soft 17, or Soft Hand: A soft hand is when a player or the dealer has been dealt two cards, one of which is an ace. An ace can be valued at one or 11, thus making it strategically malleable, or “soft.” A soft 17, which occurs when someone has been dealt an ace and a six, applies mainly to the dealer. Some gambling venues require the dealer to hit on a soft 17, others require that they stay.

Advanced Terms

Once you’ve mastered the basic and intermediate terms you’ll need to sound like a savvy blackjack veteran. As such, it’s time to learn some of the phrases that apply to deeper strategic thinking – primarily card counting and betting systems.

Card counting itself can refer to several systems that players use to gain an advantage over the house by tracking high and low cards as they are dealt. Betting systems, or progressive betting systems, usually involve a pre-set rule where you determine how much to bet on each hand based on previous results

Ace-Neutralized/Ace-Reckoned: These two terms refer to whether aces are counted as “zero” or are given value in a card counting system. With ace-neutralized, they aren’t counted, or are valued at zero, in order to increase playing efficiency. When the ace is reckoned, it’s incorporated into the count to simplify betting

Back-Counting: The process by which you count cards while standing near a table and not playing. This is usually done when a player is looking for a favorable count at a table before sitting down, or is getting ready to signal a partner to play when the count is favorable.

High-Low: The simplest form of card counting. Number cards between 2 and 6 are assigned a value of +1. Cards between seven and nine are valued at zero. All cards worth ten, and aces, are given a score of -1. You track the cards in your head, and the higher your count goes (meaning that there will be more high cards left in a deck) the more you bet.

25-5-Various-Suits

High-Low counting assigns a value of +1 for card values 2 through 6.

Multi-Level Count/Multi-Parameter System: The multi-level count refers to a system that uses numbers higher and lower than one. A multi-parameter system is one that uses two or more different counts, usually with aces being tracked separately from the rest of the deck.

Wonging: Placing bets only when there is a high count. Rarely used due to the difficulty of maintaining the count and the fact it can easily give away that you are counting, something most casinos try to dissuade players from doing.

Shuffle-Tracking/Ace-Tracking: Following specific cards through the shuffle process in an attempt to determine their location in the next shoe. This is most often done with aces.

Martingale System: The simplest and most popular betting system. The player doubles their bet after each loss.

For more on the Martingale system, see the article on Progressive betting systems.

While this last set of terms requires an in-depth knowledge of blackjack that few players ever achieve, they can be helpful to an overall understanding of how the game works. In the end, as long as you understand the principles of blackjack many of the terms are incidental. However, it always helps to know as much as you can about what you’re betting on, and by knowing the lingo you will appear and feel much more comfortable at the table.