Irrespective of whether you are playing at a Land Based Casino or Online, every player including the dealer are initially dealt two cards each. Each player’s hand is played against the dealer’s hand only. If you obtain a hand value closer to twenty-one (without going over) than the dealer does, you will win your hand. You might conclude that the object of the game is to obtain a hand value as close to twenty-one as possible without going over. However, this is NOT true for the expert player. His objective is simply to Beat The Dealer!
The most powerful hand possible is a hand value of twenty-one in your first two cards. This hand contains an ace and a ten valued card and is known as a “blackjack”. When you receive a blackjack, the dealer will pay you three chips for every two that you have bet unless the dealer also has a blackjack. When both you and the dealer have blackjacks your bet is simply retained by you. You, as a player, determine when to “hit” (take another card) and when to “stand” (stop taking cards). The dealer has fixed rules governing his play. He must hit until he has seventeen or more. Each player that obtains a hand value less than or equal to twenty-one and greater than the dealer’s hand value wins an amount equal to his wager. Conversely, when the dealer gets a hand value less than or equal to twenty-one and greater than a player’s hand value, that player loses his bet. If both a player and the dealer end up with the same hand value, it is known as a “push”. A push bet is neither won nor lost. If you go over twenty-one, you “bust” and lose your bet. This feature of the game gives the dealer his greatest advantage over the players. You, however, have the advantage of flexible play. Primarily, you have four options. You determine when to hit, when to stand, when to split (play two separate hands) and when to double down (double your wager in favorable situations). All player options and strategies will be discussed in detail later.
The Card Values
The cards two through ten have a numerical value equal to the number printed on the card. All face cards (Jack, Queen and King) as well as Tens have the value of ten. (Hereafter, all ten valued cards may simply be referred to as tens.) Aces may be counted as either eleven or one.In the game of blackjack, card suits have no value. For example, a hand consisting of a ten of hearts and a queen of hearts is equal to a hand consisting of a ten of diamonds and a king of spades. Both of these hands are also equal to a hand containing two fives and a ten, regardless of suit.The value of the ace seems to confuse some players under the “heat of the action”. Always count the ace as eleven until a count of eleven will put your hand over twenty-one, then count the ace as one. Thinking of the ace in these terms will make adding your total card value easier.
Soft and Hard Hands
When you have an ace in your hand that counts as eleven, you have what is known as a “soft hand”. If you hold no aces or have an ace in your hand that counts as one, you have a “hard hand”. Think of an ace in your hand as flexible or “soft” because the hand value can always be reduced. Whenever you have a soft hand, you hold a distinct advantage over the dealer. This is because you can never bust when you hit a soft hand.
Bets and the Deal
At the outset of each hand, the player places his bet in the square on the table or on a number of squares if playing multihand blackjack. The dealer always deals his own cards face down. After the dealer has dealt the player two cards, he will turn his first card face up. The dealer’s other card, his face down card, is often referred to as his “hole card”. After the player has played out his hand, the dealer will turn his hole card face up and, if necessary, hit his hand until he has a hand value of seventeen or more.
If the first two cards dealt to you are cards of equal value, you may “split” the pair combination. Remember, all face cards and Tens are cards of equal value. When you split you effectively play two individual hands. The right most hand is played out first followed by play on the hand on your left. Any ace drawn to a split ten is not a blackjack. Nevertheless, the dealer will need a blackjack to beat any hand of twenty-one. You may “double down” on a hand which consists of two cards. As this move implies, you double your original wager. When you double down, you are dealt only one additional card to your hand. Some casinos restrict the double down option by not allowing doubling down on split hands and/or only permitting doubling down when your two card hand totals ten or eleven. Doubling your wager whenever a favorable situation arises can appreciably add to your advantage. Therefore, it is advisable to seek out the casinos with the least restrictive double down rules of play.
The insurance option is simply another form of wager that is offered to the players when the dealer has an ace showing. Those who take the insurance wager are betting that the dealer has a blackjack. The insurance bet costs one-half your original wager, and the payoff, should the dealer indeed have a blackjack, is two-to-one. A two-to-one payoff on a wager that is one-half your original wager is an amount equal to your original wager. Therefore, whenever you win the insurance bet, the dealer will pay you by simply leaving your original wager on the table.