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Blackjack (also known as Twenty-one, Vingt-et-un (French for Twenty-one), or Pontoon) is one of the most popular casino card games in the world. Much of blackjack's popularity is due to the mix of chance with elements of skill, and the publicity that surrounds card counting (calculating the probability of advantages based on the ratio of high cards to low cards). The casino version of the game should not be confused with the British card game Black Jack (a variant of Crazy Eights).

How to play Blackjack

black jack

The hand with the highest total wins as long as it doesn't exceed 21; a hand with a higher total than 21 is said to bust or too many. Cards 2 through 10 are worth their face value, and face cards (jack, queen, king) are also worth 10. An ace's value is 11 unless this would cause the player to bust, in which case it is worth 1. A hand in which an ace's value is counted as 11 is called a soft hand, because it cannot be busted if the player draws another card.

Each player's goal is to beat the dealer by having the higher, unbusted hand. Note that if the player busts he loses, even if the dealer also busts. If both the player and the dealer have the same point value, it is called a "push", and neither player nor dealer wins the hand. Each player has an independent game with the dealer, so it is possible for the dealer to lose to some players but still beat the other players in the same round.

Player decisions

The player's options for playing his or her hand at blackjack are:

  • Hit: Take another card. Signalled to the dealer by tapping the table in front of you, or pointing at your cards.
  • Stand: Take no more cards, also "stick" or "stay". Signalled to the dealer by waving your hand, palm down, once across the cards without touching them.
  • Double down: Increase the wager to a maximum of double the original bet and take exactly one more card. For example, if the player's orignal bet was $25, the player could increase the bet by up to an additional $25, for a new total bet of up to $50. Increasing the wager to less than twice the original bet is called "double down for less". Signalled to the dealer by placing the new chips next to (not on top of) the original bet. If the cards are the same rank, a single finger is also held up to indicate a double is desired, rather than a split.
  • Split: Double the wager and have each card be the first card in a new hand. This option is available only when both cards have the same rank. Signalled to the dealer by placing the new chips next to (not on top of) the original bet, and holding up two fingers to indicate a split is desired, rather than a double.
  • Surrender: Forfeit half the bet and give up the hand. A surrender option is very rare and there is no standard hand signal. Players must verbally request this from the dealer.

Hand signals are required in most casinos, so that in case of a dispute, a video record exists of the players decisions.

The player's turn is over after deciding to stand, doubling down to take a single card, or busting. If the player busts, he or she loses the bet even if the dealer goes on to bust.

After all the players have finished making their decisions, the dealer then reveals his or her hidden hole card and plays the hand. House rules say that the dealer must hit until he or she has at least 17, regardless of what the players have. In some casinos a dealer must also hit a soft 17 (a combination of cards adding up to either 7 or 17, such as an ace and a 6).

If the dealer busts then all remaining players win. Bets are normally paid out at the odds of 1:1. Players who push (tie) with the dealer receive their original bet back.

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