In order to deliver a thorough blackjack overview, it’s important to look at the rules of the game and the possible factors that affect the odds. Before you start memorizing basic strategy or committing to a specific card counting system, it’s vital to understand the basic mechanics of the game. Once this has been accomplished, you can move on to more advanced concepts.
Rules of Blackjack
Blackjack can be played with one to eight decks. Aces are worth one or 11, face cards are worth 10, and all others are worth their printed value. The goal of the player is to get closer to 21 than the dealer without exceeding this total.
The players begin by making their wagers. Once this has occurred, the dealer starts on his left and gives each player two face-up cards. The dealer then receives two cards, one facing up and another facing down (the “hole card”). In Europe and Australia, the dealer’s second card may not be drawn until just before the conclusion of the game.
If the player’s first two cards equal 21, then he has a true blackjack and receives a payout. If the dealer also has a blackjack, then it is considered a tie (and the player gets their wager back).
Once the cards have been dealt and any blackjacks have been resolved, each player has a number of options. These include:
- Hit – The player receives an additional card.
- Stand – The player takes no additional cards.
- Surrender – If this option is available, the player can give up their hand and get back half their initial bet.
- Doubling Down – Player receives one additional card and can increase their bet up to double the initial amount.
- Split – When the first two cards are the same value, the player has the option of splitting them into two individual hands. Each receives an additional card, and the player must also place a wager on the extra hand. From there, the hands are played out as usual.
- Resplit – The player may split cards more than once. This isn’t always allowed, so be sure to check the house rules.
- Insurance – The player may purchase insurance if the dealer’s card is an ace. In the case of a dealer blackjack, the player’s insurance wager (up to half their initial bet) pays 2:1. Most experts advise passing on this option.
Once all players have completed their hands, the dealer reveals their hole card and adds up the totals. Payouts are issued for anyone who beats the dealer’s total without going over 21. The house keeps all losing bets.
While the rules of blackjack are similar from one casino to the next, the odds can change based on the payouts, number of decks being used, and several other factors. Before you can determine accurate blackjack odds for a game, you need to take the following into consideration:
- On a soft 17, does the dealer hit or stand?
- How many decks are used? This usually ranges from one to eight.
- In the case of a player blackjack, what payout is offered by the house? The most common are 6 to 5 or 3 to 2.
- If the dealer gets a blackjack, does the player lose their entire wager or just the initial bet?
- What’s the resplit limit for a player?
- After splitting cards, is the player allowed to double down?
- Is the surrender option offered?
- If the player splits aces, can they choose to hit afterwards?
- Are aces eligible to be resplit?
- Is the player using basic strategy or just winging it?
As for how the number of decks affects the game, here’s a breakdown of how the house edge increases with each new deck that’s added. If the house uses fewer decks, expect them to alter certain rules to compensate.
- One Deck – 0.17%
- Two Decks – 0.46%
- Four Decks – 0.60%
- Six Decks – 0.64%
- Eight Decks – 0.65%
In a perfect world, the available rules can be so favorable that they give the player an actual edge over the house. Before you get too excited, however, keep in mind that no sane casino on the planet is going to offer blackjack odds that favor the customer. If they did, it wouldn’t be long before they were out of business.
Even if the worst possible rules are used, the house edge usually maxes out at just over 2%. While this percentage might not be good enough for advantage players, it’s still far superior to the odds offered by most slot machines.
I hope this blackjack overview has proven useful, especially when it comes to understanding the basic rules and how the odds can fluctuate. The game of 21 can be an immense amount of fun, but it’s important to establish a strong foundation before you lean about advanced techniques such as card counting.