Your object in casino blackjack is to beat the dealer. You can beat the dealer in two ways:
In casino blackjack, if both you and the dealer hold the same total of 21 or less, the hand is a push and nobody wins.
Each card is counted at face value. 2 = 2 points, 5 = 5 points, 10 = 10 points. The face cards—jacks, queens and kings—are counted as 10 points. The ace can be counted as 1 point or 11 points at your discretion. When you count the ace as 11 points, your hand is called soft, as in the hand A-7 = soft 18. All other totals, including hands where the ace counts as 1 point, are called hard, as in the hand 10-6-A = hard 17. The dealer must count his ace as 11 if that gives him a hand totaling between 17 and 21; otherwise he must count the ace as 1 point. In some casinos the rules dictate that the dealer must draw on soft 17. In these casinos, the dealer’s ace will count as 1 point when combined with cards totaling 6 points, and the dealer will have to draw until he forms a hand of at least hard 17.
If your original two-card hand contains an ace with any 10 or face card (J, Q, K), the hand is called a blackjack or natural, and is an automatic winner—you’ll get paid off at 3 to 2, or, as in the case in some casinos now, 6 to 5. If the dealer gets a blackjack, all players lose their bets. (The dealer wins only the amount bet, not the 3 to 2 or 6 to 5 payoff that you would receive for a blackjack.) If both the dealer and you are dealt a blackjack, the hand is a push. Immediately turn up your blackjack. When you can, find games paying 3 to 2, rather than the reduced 6 to 5. If drawing additional cards to the initial two cards you’re dealt causes your point total to exceed 21, your hand is busted—it is an automatic loss. Once a player has busted, his hand is lost, even if the dealer busts afterwards. If the dealer busts, all remaining players automatically win their bets.
All bets are paid off at even money ($5 bet wins $5), except in cases where you receive a blackjack, or when you exercise an option that allows you to double your bet. In these instances (doubling and splitting), the payoff is equal to the new doubled bet. Therefore, if a bet has been doubled from $5 to $10, a win pays off $10.
The dealer must play by prescribed guidelines. He must draw to any hand 16 or below and stand on any total 17-21. As mentioned above, some casinos require the dealer to draw on soft 17. The dealer has no options and cannot deviate from these rules.
Unlike the dealer, you can vary their strategy. After receiving your first two cards, you have the following options:
Players make their bets, then the cards are dealt. Two cards will be dealt to each player. The dealer will also get two cards, one face down, and one face up. The players in order, beginning with the one closest to the dealer’s left hand, play out their hands. After the last player has acted on his options, the dealer will turn his hole card over so that all players can view both of his cards. He must play his hand according to the strict guidelines regulating his play: drawing to 17, then standing. (In some casinos, the rules state that the dealer must draw to a soft 17.) If the dealer busts, all players still in the game for that round of play win automatically. The dealer will pay off the winners and collect from the losers, and then a new hand will be dealt after the players place their new bets.
About the Writer
Avery Cardoza has written twenty-one books on beating the casino and is the world’s largest publisher of gaming and gambling titles (www.cardozabooks.com). Cardoza is also the owner of the legendary Gambler’s Book Club (www.gamblersbookclub.com), home to the world’s largest selection of gaming books. His novel, Lost in Las Vegas, is a critically acclaimed dark comedy about two hapless vacationers who find themselves hunted by the mob, FBI, six killers, and the Rat in a world where nothing is as it seems—and then things go downhill for them. “A fantastic read… The Vegas underbelly as if presented by the Coen brothers.”—Kevin Pollak.