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Blackjack is the American variant of a globally popular banking game known as Twenty-One, whose relatives include Pontoon and Vingt-et-Un. It is a comparing card game between one or more players and a dealer, where each player in turn competes against the dealer. Players do not compete against each other. It is played with one or more decks of 52 cards, and is the most widely played casino banking game in the world.The objective of the game is to beat the dealer in one of the following ways:
- Get 21 points on the player’s first two cards (called a “blackjack” or “natural”), without a dealer blackjack;
- Reach a final score higher than the dealer without exceeding 21; or
- Let the dealer draw additional cards until their hand exceeds 21 (“busted”).
Players are each dealt two cards, face up or down depending on the casino and the table at which they sit. In the U.S., the dealer is also dealt two cards, normally one up (exposed) and one down (hidden). In most other countries, the dealer receives one card face up. The value of cards two through ten is their pip value (2 through 10). Face cards (Jack, Queen, and King) are all worth ten. Aces can be worth one or eleven. A hand’s value is the sum of the card values. Players are allowed to draw additional cards to improve their hands. A hand with an ace valued as 11 is called “soft”, meaning that the hand will not bust by taking an additional card; the value of the ace will become one to prevent the hand from exceeding 21. Otherwise, the hand is “hard”.
Once all the players have completed their hands, it is the dealer’s turn. The dealer hand will not be completed if all players have either busted or received blackjacks. The dealer then reveals the hidden card and must hit until the cards total 17 or more points. (At most tables the dealer also hits on a “soft” 17, i.e. a hand containing an ace and one or more other cards totaling six.) Players win by not busting and having a total higher than the dealer, or not busting and having the dealer bust, or getting a blackjack without the dealer getting a blackjack. If the player and dealer have the same total (not counting blackjacks), this is called a “push”, and the player typically does not win or lose money on that hand. Otherwise, the dealer wins.
Blackjack has many rule variations. Since the 1960s, blackjack has been a high-profile target of advantage players, particularly card counters, who track the profile of cards that have been dealt and adapt their wagers and playing strategies accordingly.
Blackjack has inspired other casino games, including Spanish 21 and pontoon.
Rules of play at casinos:
At a casino blackjack table, the dealer faces five to seven playing positions from behind a semicircular table. Between one and eight standard 52-card decks are shuffled together. At the beginning of each round, up to three players can place their bets in the “betting box” at each position in play. That is, there could be up to three players at each position at a table in jurisdictions that allow back betting. The player whose bet is at the front of the betting box is deemed to have control over the position, and the dealer will consult the controlling player for playing decisions regarding the hand; the other players of that box are said to “play behind”. Any player is usually allowed to control or bet in as many boxes as desired at a single table, but it is prohibited for an individual to play on more than one table at a time or to place multiple bets within a single box. In many U.S. casinos, however, players are limited to playing two or three positions at a table and often only one person is allowed to bet on each position.
The dealer deals cards from his/her left (the position on the dealer’s far left is often referred to as “first base”) to his/her far right (“third base”). Each box is dealt an initial hand of two cards visible to the people playing on it, and often to any other players. The dealer’s hand receives its first card face up, and in “hole card” games immediately receives its second card face down (the hole card), which the dealer peeks at but does not reveal unless it makes the dealer’s hand a blackjack. Hole card games are sometimes played on tables with a small mirror or electronic sensor that is used to peek securely at the hole card. In European casinos, “no hole card” games are prevalent; the dealer’s second card is neither drawn nor consulted until the players have all played their hands.
Cards are dealt either from one or two handheld decks, from a dealer’s shoe, or from a shuffling machine. Single cards are dealt to each wagered-on position clockwise from the dealer’s left, followed by a single card to the dealer, followed by an additional card to each of the positions in play. The players’ initial cards may be dealt face up or face down (more common in single-deck games).
The players’ object is to win money by creating card totals that turn out to be higher than the dealer’s hand but do not exceed 21 (“busting”/”breaking”), or alternatively by allowing the dealer to take additional cards until he/she busts. On their turn, players must choose whether to “hit” (take a card), “stand” (end their turn), “double” (double wager, take a single card and finish), “split” (if the two cards have the same value, separate them to make two hands) or “surrender” (give up a half-bet and retire from the game). Number cards count as their natural value; the jack, queen, and king (also known as “face cards” or “pictures”) count as 10; aces are valued as either 1 or 11 according to the player’s choice. If the hand value exceeds 21 points, it busts, and all bets on it are immediately forfeit. After all boxes have finished playing, the dealer’s hand is resolved by drawing cards until the hand busts or achieves a value of 17 or higher (a dealer total of 17 including an ace valued as 11, also known as a “soft 17”, must be drawn to in some games and must stand in others). The dealer never doubles, splits, or surrenders. If the dealer busts, all remaining player hands win. If the dealer does not bust, each remaining bet wins if its hand is higher than the dealer’s, and loses if it is lower. If a player receives 21 on the 1st and 2nd card it is considered a “natural” or “blackjack” and the player is paid out immediately unless dealer also has a natural, in which case the hand ties. In the case of a tied score, known as “push” or “standoff”, bets are normally returned without adjustment; however, a blackjack beats any hand that is not a blackjack, even one with a value of 21. Wins are paid out at 1:1, or equal to the wager, except for player blackjacks which are traditionally paid at 3:2 (meaning the player receives three dollars for every two bet) or one-and-a-half times the wager. Many casinos today pay blackjacks at less than 3:2 at some tables; for instance, single-deck blackjack tables often pay 6:5 for a blackjack instead of 3:2.
Blackjack games almost always provide a side bet called insurance, which may be played when dealer’s upcard is an ace. Additional side bets, such as “Dealer Match” which pays when the player’s cards match the dealer’s up card, are sometimes available.
After receiving an initial two cards, the player has up to four standard options: “hit”, “stand”, “double down”, or “split”. Each option has a corresponding hand signal. Some games give the player a fifth option, “surrender”.
Hit: Take another card from the dealer.
Signal: Scrape cards against table (in handheld games); tap the table with finger or wave hand toward body (in games dealt face up).
Stand: Take no more cards, also known as “stand pat”, “stick”, or “stay”.
Signal: Slide cards under chips (in handheld games); wave hand horizontally (in games dealt face up).
Double down: The player is allowed to increase the initial bet by up to 100% in exchange for committing to stand after receiving exactly one more card. The additional bet is placed in the betting box next to the original bet. Some games do not permit the player to increase the bet by amounts other than 100%. Non-controlling players may double their wager or decline to do so, but they are bound by the controlling player’s decision to take only one card.
Signal: Place additional chips beside the original bet outside the betting box, and point with one finger.
Split: If the first two cards of a hand have the same value, the player can split them into two hands, by moving a second bet equal to the first into an area outside the betting box. The dealer separates the two cards and draws an additional card on each, placing one bet with each hand. The player then plays out the two separate hands in turn; except for a few restrictions, the hands are treated as independent new hands, with the player winning or losing their wager separately for each hand. Occasionally, in the case of ten-valued cards, some casinos allow splitting only when the cards have the identical ranks; for instance, a hand of 10-10 may be split, but not one of 10-king. However, usually all 10-value cards are treated the same. Doubling and further splitting of post-split hands may be restricted, and an ace and ten value card after a split are counted as a non-blackjack 21. Hitting split aces is usually not allowed. Non-controlling players may follow the controlling player by putting down an additional bet or decline to do so, instead associating their existing wager with one of the two post-split hands. In that case they must choose which hand to play behind before the second cards are drawn. Some casinos do not give non-controlling players this option, and require that the wager of a player not electing to split remains with the first of the two post-split hands.
Signal: Place additional chips next to the original bet outside the betting box; point with two fingers spread into a V formation.
Surrender (only available as first decision of a hand): Some games offer the option to “surrender” directly after the dealer has checked for blackjack (see below for variations). When the player surrenders, the house takes half the player’s bet and returns the other half to the player; this terminates the player’s interest in the hand.
Signal: The request to surrender is made verbally, there being no standard hand signal.
Hand signals are used to assist the “eye in the sky”, a person or video camera located above the table and sometimes concealed behind one-way glass. The eye in the sky usually makes a video recording of the table, which helps in resolving disputes and identifying dealer mistakes, and is also used to protect the casino against dealers who steal chips or players who cheat. The recording can further be used to identify advantage players whose activities, while legal, make them undesirable customers. In the event of a disagreement between a player’s hand signals and their words, the hand signal takes precedence. Each hand may normally “hit” as many times as desired so long as the total is not above hard 20. On reaching 21 (including soft 21), the hand is normally required to stand; busting is an irrevocable loss and the players’ wagers are immediately forfeited to the house. After a bust or a stand, play proceeds to the next hand clockwise around the table. When the last hand has finished being played, the dealer reveals the hole card, and stands or draws further cards according to the rules of the game for dealer drawing. When the outcome of the dealer’s hand is established, any hands with bets remaining on the table are resolved (usually in counterclockwise order): bets on losing hands are forfeited, the bet on a push is left on the table, and winners are paid out.