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Blackjack 101: How to Play Blackjack
Lesson 1: The Basics
Lesson 2: Betting on the Right Blackjack Table
Lesson 3: Playing the Game
Lesson 1: The Basics
Blackjack is sometimes referred to simply as 21. This is because getting your cards to total 21 is the basic premise of the game. Your ultimate goal is to have a hand value that is closer to 21 than that of the dealer, without going over 21. You are only playing against the hand of the dealer not against any of the other players at your table. The dealer has certain rules of play, which he or she must abide by so there no problem with the dealer or the other players seeing the cards in your hand. If you're playing at a game where six or eight decks are being used all players cards will be dealt face up, the dealer's first card will not. Games with fewer decks are usually dealt face down. Whether your cards are dealt face up or not, don't be afraid to show the dealer or other players your cards in order to ask questions.
In blackjack only the value of your cards are important the suits of the cards have no meaning. The cards from 2 through 9 are the value indicated. If you have a 6 and an 8 then your hand is worth 6 + 8 = 14. The 10, Jack, Queen and King each have the value of 10. If you have a 10 and a King then your hand is worth 10 + 10 = 20. If you have a 5 and a Jack then your hand is worth 5 + 10 = 15. An Ace may be counted as either 1 or 11 depending on the other cards in your hand. If you have a 6 and an Ace then your hand is worth either 7 or 17. If you stop at this point then your hand will be worth 17. Let's say you draw another card and it is an 8. Your hand is now a 6, an 8 and an Ace. This hand has the value 6 + 8 + 1 = 15. In this case the Ace must be worth 1 otherwise the hand would be 6 + 8 + 11 = 25, which is over 21 and a losing hand regardless of what the dealer has. Going over 21 is called "busting" in blackjack. If you bust then you lose the hand even if the dealer also busts. In the case mentioned earlier (6 + Ace = 17) this is referred to as a "soft" 17. A soft total occurs when you have a hand with an Ace that can be either a 1 or 11 without busting. If you added a 10 to the previous hand (6 + 10 + Ace = 17) you would have a "hard" 17. In this case the Ace can only be counted as 1 in order to avoiding busting. With a soft total you can always draw another card with no risk of busting.
The dealing begins to the dealer's left and goes around the table in a clock-wise manner. The dealer makes two passes, first dealing each player one card then giving himself a card face down. On the second pass the dealer will again give each player a card and then will deal himself a second card, this time face up. This can vary in Europe and Australia where the dealer may deal his first card face up and deal his second card after all players have finished their hands. This is called "European No Hole Card Rule." In games where players' cards are dealt face up, players should not touch their cards. In games where the cards are dealt face down the players will hold their cards in their hand. You may only touch the cards one had and you must keep your cards held over the table. Any subsequent cards will be dealt face up on the table and should not be picked up. Play begins to the dealer's left and progress around the table in the same fashion as the dealing. Some of these rules may sound odd but they are there place to prevent players from cheating the casino. If you're new to the game you may want to stand by a table and watch what people do before sitting down to try your new skills.
Part of the beauty of blackjack is the fact that you're only playing against the dealer and the dealer must play their hand in a specified way. There are two common rule variations that dictate how the dealer must act.
1. The dealer stands on all 17s
In this variation the dealer must continue to take cards, or "hit", until their total is 17 or greater. This includes the soft 17 combinations.
2. The dealer hits soft 17
In this case the dealer will always hit on any total less than 17 and will also hit a soft 17. For example: if the dealer has a 3 and an Ace the dealer will hit because the total is 3 + 11 = 14, which is less than 17. If the dealer gets a 3 he now has, 3 + 11 + 3 = 17. Under this variation the dealer will hit again because this is a soft 17. This variation is less common than the first.
In either variation, the dealer has no influence over whether or not he draws a card. If you have 20 and the dealer has 18 he must stop even though you have the winning hand. The dealer may also bust by going over 21 in which case all players who did not bust will have a winning hand. When you and the dealer have the same total it is called a "push." In a push the dealer will leave your bet on the table, you do not win or lose. A win with a normal hand will earn you an even money return, if you be $10 you win $10. The exceptions to this are "blackjack" and "insurance" which will be discussed later.
The most desired hand is the blackjack, or natural. A blackjack is a hand where the original two cards you are dealt are an Ace and a card with a 10-value, this can be either a 10, Jack, Queen or King. The blackjack usually pays the player odds of 3 to 2. Therefore, if you bet $10 and are dealt a King and an Ace the dealer will pay you $15. A player's blackjack beats any dealer total other than a dealer's blackjack. If the dealer also has a blackjack the outcome is a tie or "push" and the player keeps their money. Usually the dealer will pay your winning blackjack bet immediately when it is your turn to play. If you are playing a face down game you should show your blackjack to the dealer when it is your turn.
Next >> Lesson 2: Betting on the Right Blackjack Table
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