If you’ve never taken a seat in a live blackjack game before, the idea can be pretty intimidating, but you’ll soon discover that the game is easy to learn. Before you play your first hand though, it can definitely be helpful to run through the mechanics of the game, because this will help you anticipate any situation that you’re likely to encounter.
First things first: the objective of blackjack is to reach the closest total to 21 without going over (or “busting”) or letting the dealer bust. After being dealt two cards, you have the option to take another card (or “hit”) in an effort to move closer to 21. You can hit as many times as you like (unless you bust of course), and when you like your hand enough you can stand pat (or “stay”). While the goal of blackjack is to get 21 or near it, that can be a deceptive in a sense, because even when dealt a 4 and a 9 (for a 13 total), you can stand and still win the hand when the dealer happens to bust.
In blackjack all cards ranked 2 through 9 are valued at their numerical rank. All 10s and face cards (jacks, queens, and kings) are valued at 10, while aces are valued at either 1 or 11 depending on the rest of your hand.
You can join a blackjack game anytime you’d like just by sitting down in an empty seat and producing some cash. The dealer will pause the game and exchange your bills for chips, before moving on to deal the next hand. Some players choose to wait until a new shoe (the container holding multiple decks of cards) begins before joining a game, but this is just a matter of personal preference.
After you receive your chips you’ll notice the other players at the table placing one or many chips in the designated betting area. This is your cue to do the same, and you’re able to bet any amount that exceeds the table limit. Depending on where you play, you’ll find blackjack tables with minimum bets as low as $1 and as high as you can imagine, but for the sake of this discussion the typical table limit of $5 per hand will be considered.
After moving your bet forward, the dealer will then distribute one card face up to each player at the table, including themselves, followed by another card face up for each player. The dealer’s second card is dealt face down, and the strategic elements of the game then come into play, as each player hand can be played optimally according to the dealer’s “up card.”
Depending on the value of your two-card hand, you may elect to hit and take another card (or cards), or you can stay and keep your hand as is. For example, if you receive a king and a 9, your hand equals 19, so standing is the right play because the only “safe” cards you can draw are the ace and the deuce. The deck obviously contains many more high cards than these safe cards, so your play is to stand and hope the dealer produces a worse hand – or goes bust trying to improve. On the other hand, if you receive a 4 and a 5, your total of 9 can be improved upon with any card in the deck, so hitting is clearly the right play.
After each player at the table hits or stands, the dealer reveals their down card. Any total of 16 or less must be hit, while totals of 17 through 21 stands. After the dealer runs through this process they can bust, in which case all players left with live hands win. When the dealer doesn’t bust their hand is compared with each live player hand, and the closest to 21 wins.