Blackjack has long been considered to be one of the most elegant card games ever devised, and that reputation is well earned due to a simple set of rules.
In blackjack the player competes against the dealer with the objective of the game being to reach the closest total to 21 without going over or having the dealer bust. While multiple players can face off against one dealer at a blackjack table, the game is essentially a two-way affair, as players contest hands against only the dealer and not against fellow players.
In blackjack all cards ranked 2 through 9 hold the numerical value stated on the card. Any 10s or face cards (jacks, queens, or kings) are valued as 10. Aces hold a variable value, as they can be used as either a 1 or an 11 depending on the situation.
A blackjack game begins when players place their wager. This amount can be anything the player has on the table, so long as it meets or exceeds the table minimum. Most blackjack tables are played with $5 minimum bets, but you’ll occasionally encounter minimums as low as $1. And of course, the minimum bet can escalate to $10, $15, $25, or even higher.
After all wagers are placed players receive one card, as does the dealer, followed by a second card to each player. The dealer’s second card is dealt face down. The player seated to the dealer’s direct left acts first, and based on their current total (while also factoring in the strength of the dealer’s exposed card), they must decide whether to draw another card (or “hit”). If the player hits, they receive another card and decide once again. Players can also elect to “stay,” which simply means stand pat and keep their hand intact.
The danger of hitting is that the next card can push a hand’s total above 21, which causes the player to lose (or “go bust”). Conversely, there’s risk in staying on a low number as well, as the dealer can receive a pat high hand, or draw more cards to move closer to 21.
Another option afforded to the player include “doubling down,” which means doubling your initial wager and taking a single additional card. Doubling down is typically done on 10s and 11s, as the deck will produce 10s (and extremely strong hands of 20 or 21) often. Players can also “split” when they receive two cards of the same rank. Splitting your hand means separating the cards into two hands. This is done by placing an additional wager the same size as the initial bet. Both cards receive another card and are played as two separate hands.
Whenever a player is dealt an ace along with a 10-value card, their hand is considered to be a “blackjack” and an automatic winner. Rather than the standard 1 to 1 payout for winning hands, blackjacks receive an additional bonus of either 3 to 2 or 6 to 5. The dealer can also be dealt blackjack, and in this instance their hand is declared the automatic winner. In the event both the dealer and a player are dealt blackjacks, the hand is considered to be a tie (or a “push”).
After all players hit, stand, or bust, the dealer then exposes their down card. When the dealer holds a 16 or lower, they are forced to hit until busting or reaching a total of 17 or higher. When the dealer has a 17 or higher, they automatically stay. Some tables require dealers to hit on a so-called “soft” 17, or any 17 containing an ace that is being used as an 11. Other tables require a stay on soft 17s, so always be sure to check with the dealer regarding this rule.
The dealer can hit until they go over 21 and bust, which leaves all players still holding live hands as winners. When the dealer stands on any number, their hand is compared to all live player hands. Winning hands are paid out at 1 to 1, losing hands forfeit their wagers, and tied hands are deemed a push. After settling all wagers the dealer repeats the process and begins a new hand.