The Object of the Game
In Blackjack, also known as 21, the object of the game is to beat the dealer, not the other players. There are two ways to win: Get a hand of cards with a higher total points value (up to 21) than the dealer; or not to “bust”, i.e. get a total over 21 points, before the dealer does. That’s it.
How the cards work
In Blackjack, only the card’s face value counts, not the suit. So, for example, the 8 of spades is counted as 8 points. The total number of points of the cards equals the value of the hand.
Clubs, diamonds, hearts and spades numbered from 2-10 are worth their face value.
Picture cards are worth 10 points each, so the King, Queen and Jack are each valued at 10 points.
The ace is worth either 1 point, or 11 points: it’s the player’s choice and depends on the hand.
What's in a hand?
What's a bust, a push or a soft hand? Before you play the game, get a handle on the terms:
How to play Blackjack in four steps
Start with a game plan; set a budget in advance and stick to it.
Know how a round is played, from the points value for every card and hand, to what it takes to beat the dealer.
Hit, stand, split or double down: Learn all the right moves and how to use them.
Choose the right Blackjack table, starting with the lowest minimum if you’re new to the game. Feel free to watch at first to get the feel of the play.
1. Start with a Plan
Blackjack is exciting. Be sure to have a game plan before you play, so you don’t get carried away. Start with a budget.
Set a budget
Decide how much you want to spend in advance. Treat this as part of your entertainment budget: Money you’d spend on a night out, not expecting to bring it home.
Don’t bring credit cards
To make sure you only spend what you bring, use cash and leave the cards at home.
Set a win limit
It’s no fun to be up and then lose it all. When you’re winning, decide in advance when it’s time to walk away. Some players set this at the point when they double their money.
2. How to play a round
Let the games begin. A round of Blackjack starts with the dealer. If the dealer doesn't have Blackjack to start, then regular play begins.
The action starts with players placing bets, using chips purchased from the dealer, until the dealer signals “no more bets”. The dealer then deals two cards facing up to each player, and two to herself, with one card face up, the other face down.
If she has a ten or an ace, she will check to see if the face-down card adds up to a Blackjack, or 21 points. If so, the round is over and all players automatically lose – unless one of the players also has Blackjack, in which case they get to keep their original bet.
If the dealer goes over 21 points, then any player who didn’t already bust, or exceed 21, will win. If the dealer doesn’t bust, then the higher point total between the player and dealer will win. If point totals are the same, it’s a tie, or push, and the player keeps their original bet.
3. Know the moves
Each player, starting from the dealer's left, starts with two cards face up and must decide their next move from four possible options:
This is to request another card from the dealer when you have a low hand, such as 10 points or less. If this card takes your total points above 21, then it’s a “bust”, or loss. The move: Tap your finger on the table behind your cards.
A player is satisfied with their points total, such as a hand of 17 or more, and will “stand”, or stay with the hand as is. The move: Wave your hand over the cards, palm down.
A player with two similar cards can choose to separate these into two individual hands, called a split. With this move, a player must make another bet equal to the original bet.
The dealer will automatically give the first hand a second card, which the player may hit, stand, or double, before moving to the second hand. The move: Show the dealer a splitting gesture of your index and ring finger.
When splitting aces, each ace gets only one card. If the player gets a ten and ace after splitting, then it counts as 21 points (not a Blackjack).
Double the initial bet in return for receiving one, and only one, draw card. The move: Place a chip next to the original chip bet on the hand.
You can only double down after you receive your first two cards and before drawing another card.
4. Selecting a Blackjack Table
Not all Blackjack tables are created equal. Before you sit, select a Blackjack table for its posted minimum and maximum bets. New players might prefer to start with the lowest minimum table, usually with bets from $5 to $15. That way, the play can last longer.
For new players, it’s a good idea to watch a few rounds and get comfortable with the table, the play and the other players before getting into the game.
Many think avoiding a table where the dealer is on a “hot” streak is the way to go. But what happens in the game is only in the cards – not because of a “hot” or “cold” dealer.
What is Blackjack insurance?
Insurance is a side bet that the dealer has Blackjack and is treated independently of the main wager. It pays 2:1 (meaning that the player receives two dollars for every dollar bet) and is offered if the dealer’s up card is an Ace. This is a bet that the dealer’s down card, or “hole” card, is valued at 10.
Blackjack Variations & Side Wagers
Blackjack is so popular that it’s spawned a number of variations, from additional side bets to more complex versions with unique betting options and play dynamics.