How to play Blackjack

Feb 10, 2020 | Blackjack

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There’s more that goes into the game of Blackjack beyond understanding the rules. Whether you’re playing live or online, there are certain actions or terminology that might crop up – but you don’t have to let them trip you up. Be a proper Blackjack player by understanding all the little details. 

The object of the game

Each participant attempts to beat the dealer by getting a count as close to 21 as possible, without going over 21. We get into the rules in more detail here.

Who’s in charge?

In the casino version of Blackjack, the House is always the dealer. The dealer also runs the entire game, which means they do all the boring (and more complicated) stuff like shuffling, dealing and handling all bets. 

The deck

This part of things is also pretty straightforward. The dealer uses standard decks of 52 cards. Most casinos will use several decks of cards and shuffle them together. It’s most common to find Blackjack games that run with six decks of cards (312 cards in total). 

Once all the decks have been shuffled, they’re placed into a shoe. This is a card dispenser that’s usually made of plastic, allowing the dealer to deal more efficiently. The dealer will also use a blank plastic card at the bottom of the pack. This dummy card is never dealt, its purpose is to signal that the deck needs to be reshuffled when it makes an appearance.

Shuffle and Cut

The dealer thoroughly shuffles portions of the pack until all the cards have been mixed and combined. Then one of the players will be asked to cut. This means placing the plastic dummy card in the deck. It’s a technique employed to reduce the success of card counters, which you can read more about here

Betting

But before cards can even be dealt, players need to have their chips. These must be placed in front of the player in a clearly marked section. The player pushes forward the amount of chips they would like to bet on each hand. There are no set limits on minimum and maximum bets, and these will vary from casino to casino.

The Deal

Once all the players have placed their bets, the dealer will deal out the first card, always one player at a time, face up and clockwise. They deal the last face up card to themselves. The process is repeated a second time until the players have 2 face up cards each. However, the dealer deals their own second card face down. 

The reason for this is that the dealer only requires the second card if one or more players are in the game. If all players bust on their first two cards then the dealer automatically wins. 

Navigating naturals

A ‘Natural Blackjack’ only occurs when the first two cards dealt add up to 21. This means an Ace (carrying the value of 11) and a 10 card (any of the face cards or the number 10). 

So long as the dealer also does not have a natural, the player wins one and a half times the amount of their bet. If the dealer and another player both have naturals, then it’s a ‘push’ and the player gets back the bet amount but no profit.

The dealer only looks at their face down card if their first is a ten card or an Ace. In any other scenario the face down card remains hidden until it’s the dealer’s turn to play. 

Player decision-making

The game is underway as soon as the cards are dealt, and the player to the left of the dealer must make the first decision. They can either ‘hit’ (ask for another card) or ‘stand’ (decline another card). If you choose to hit then you can continue to do so until you decide to stand or go bust (over 21). You don’t need to wait for another turn. Once a player stands or busts, the dealer moves on to the next player. For more details on the right times to hit or stand, take a look at our strategy chart

Dealer plays

The dealer isn’t allowed to play as freely as the players, and must instead adhere to House rules. Once the dealer has dealt all players their first two cards, they’ll turn over their face down card. If the total is 17 or more, they’re forced to stand. If the total is 16 or under, they’re forced to hit. If the dealer has an ace, and counting it as 11 would bring the total to anything between 17 and 21, then the dealer must stand. 

Blackjack Signals

If you’re playing live, then signals become a part of the game. Some players prefer not to speak, replacing words like ‘hit’, ‘stand’ or ‘no more’ with signals instead. For example, a player can indicate that they want another card by pointing at their cards or tapping the table. When the player decides to stand, they can signal this intention by moving their hand (not the whole arm) sideways, palm down from left to right. If you want to double down you hold up 1 finger, or 2 fingers to split, pushing forward your additional chips in both scenarios. We discuss splitting and doubling down in more detail here