Blackjack is a casino game that has gained notable popularity in America among casino players because of its basic, easy to follow rules. Also, owing to the simplicity of the rules of blackjack, many players have come to see it as a casino game that can bring in a good number of wins (in other words, it is beatable). Nevertheless, there is a slight edge tilting in favor of the house against the players.

Winning in any game requires proper knowledge on how to play the game under the confines of the rules. Similarly, ending the day with good wins in blackjack requires one to know how to play the game and how to position one’s self for a win. In this five-part series of articles, we will give you all you need to know to become a smart blackjack player and also, how to become a winner at the game.

Before starting our how to play the game tutorial, let us see briefly what the game of blackjack is all about, and how to get set before the cards are dealt.

how to play blackjack: table layout

Blackjack tables in most casinos have six or seven betting areas, or boxes, on them. This allows up to seven players to take part in the game at the same time. Each table has a sign showing the minimum amount you can place in a single bet or round. For example, a table can have a $10, $25, $50 minimum bet sign or more. It is very important to note these signs and only sit at a table where you can afford the minimum required bet.

how to play blackjack: table minimum bets

The next thing to note is that betting is done with chips and not cash. Hence, you’ll be required to give the cash you are ready to bet with over to the dealer who will give you an equal amount of chips in exchange. Please note, that you shouldn’t hand your cash directly to the dealer. Instead, you should lay it on the table and let the dealer take care of it. They will then count it out and give you that same amount in casino chips.

how to play blackjack: buy in

After everyone has gotten their chips, the dealer will deal two cards each to the players (face up or face down, depending on the rules of the particular game). The dealer will also deal two cards to them, one facing down and the other facing up.

It is interesting to know that there are slight variations in the rules of blackjack depending on the casino you visit. In fact, it is the only game in the U.S. with this unique feature. For example, some casinos in Las Vegas use six or eight decks of cards dealt from a “Shoe” (a rectangular box) and the cards are always dealt face up. While some other casinos may use just use one or two decks and deal the cards face down. Some casinos are notable for offering both kinds of games with some rules variations when you change tables.

double deck blackjack | American Casino Guide Book

Also, in Atlantic City, you will that almost all of the casinos use the six or eight deck systems mentioned above. Therefore, you should always be acquainted with these variations before placing your bets. We’ll see later on that some of these deck variations can be good for you, while some are just not player-friendly. Before moving from here, let us quickly say that for casinos that deal their cards face up, never touch the cards with your hands. The dealer is the only one allowed to touch the cards.

Blackjack "Shoe" | American Casino Guide Book

Now, let’s talk about what a win, a loss and a push are, with regard to your bet.

To explain these, note that the cards dealt are counted with respect to the number value on the cards from 2 to 10 with the exception of the picture cards. All the picture cards (Jack, King, and Queen) are valued as 10 each and the Ace can be valued either as 1 or 11, depending on the choice of the player.

With this in mind, how do these card values influence the game? Well, the total value of cards in your hand when added up should not exceed 21 or else you are busted, in other words, you lose your bet. This applies to the dealer also; meaning you won your bet if his total exceeds 21.

So, if you have a total value of cards in your hand closer to 21 when compared to the total in the dealer’s hand, it is a win or if the dealer keeps drawing cards until they have busted (a total exceeding 21), in this case, all the remaining players in the game will be given even money or a 1-to-1 payment on their bets. A win also happens when you have an Ace and any 10-valued card in your hand. This is called a blackjack or a “natural” winner. However, there’s an exception in the case that the dealer also has a blackjack. This is a tie, also known as a push. You neither win nor lose in this case.

When you win a blackjack, one-and-a-half times your bet is paid to you, or 3-to-2. For example, you get $15 for a $10 bet. However, some casinos nowadays may only pay 6-to-5 for your blackjack. You should avoid those games as you will be playing a game where the casino advantage is more than twice as high as a game where the casino pays 3-to-2 for a blackjack.

never play 6-to-5 blackjack | American Casino Guide Book

As stated above, you lose when you bust before the dealer, or his total is closer to 21 than yours. Your entire bet is lost in this case. We’ll talk later about an option that helps cut your losing bet by half if used properly.

By the way, at this point we should mention that many “how-to-play” blackjack tutorials would say that the object of the game of blackjack is to get as close to 21 as possible, without going over. However, that wouldn’t really be correct. The true object of the game is to beat the dealer. And, because of the way the game is structured, where the dealer must follow strict rules as to when they must take a card or stand, sometimes, you will want to stand on a smaller hand total, rather than risking a bust of your hand by trying to get closer to 21. All of these situations are covered in the basic strategy of blackjack, which we will discuss later.

Blackjack table | American Casino Guide Book

This brings us to the question, How is blackjack played?

For the purpose of this illustration, we will assume to be playing in a casino with eight decks and has the cards dealt face up.

Now after everyone on the table has placed their bets, the dealer then deals two cards to each of the players. The dealer also deals their own two cards with one facing up and the other facing down. The players then determine the total value of the two cards in their hands.

Blackjack Insurance

If the dealer’s upcard is an Ace, he’ll make the call to ask if anyone wants to buy insurance. An insurance bet is, simply put, security against losing your bet when the dealer’s upcard is an Ace and he has a 10-value card in the hole, giving him a natural blackjack. This would usually save you only half of your losing bet (though basic strategy says it is a bad move and you should never take an insurance bet) but winning insurance bets are paid at 2-to-1 so you will win back the entire amount of your original bet.

blackjack insurance bet | American Casino Guide Book

So, if your original bet was $10, your insurance bet would be a maximum of $5 and, if your insurance call is correct, you would win $10 for your insurance bet, but lose your original bet. Let us mention here that the insurance call is only made when the dealer’s upcard is an Ace and you suspect the face down-card to be a 10-value card. When your speculation is correct, you lose only half your bet. But if you’re wrong, you will lose your insurance bet and the game will continue.

blackjack dealer with 21 | American Casino Guide Book

Now, if the dealer has a 10-value card as an upcard he will probably check to see if he has an Ace underneath before proceeding. In some casinos, he is allowed to check the down-card to see if it’s an Ace, while in other casinos, he has to wait until after all of the hands are played. No insurance is offered in a situation where the dealer has a 10-value upcard, only when the dealer has an Ace upcard. Of course, if the dealer does have an Ace underneath, he has a blackjack and he will take all bets, unless the player also has a blackjack, in which case it will be a tie.

If the dealer doesn’t have a blackjack, then the players will need to make a decision on how to play their hands, which brings us to Part 2: Blackjack Rules.

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