The Basics of Blackjack

Blackjack is a card game played by players against the dealer. The objective is to get a higher hand value than the dealer without going over 21. Suits are irrelevant in this game. Usually, a player will double their initial stake when they receive two cards of the same rank and will split pairs of equal value (excluding Aces) to form two hands. Typically, the players will then place their bets in the betting areas marked on the table.

At a glance, blackjack seems like one of the simplest games in the casino and is certainly the most popular. However, it is a complex game with many variations and strategies.

Before you begin playing, make sure you understand the rules of blackjack. Here’s a quick primer on the game:

In most blackjack games, each player and the dealer are dealt two cards face down. The player then decides whether to “stay” (stand) or ask for another card (‘hit’). If the player’s first two cards add up to 21 or higher, they win and pay the dealer. If they have any other total, they will draw additional cards until they are satisfied with their hand or bust.

The dealer will then reveal their card and, if they have blackjack, they win your bet and pay those who did not bust. If they do not have blackjack, they will stand and continue to draw cards until they are satisfied with their hand or break (bust).

Some casinos will allow you to make side bets along with your main bet. These side bets may include wagering on getting a pair as your first two cards, betting on the dealer’s up-card matching yours, making a poker hand with your cards and the dealer’s, etc. Side bets can add an element of strategy to the game, especially for a skilled card counter.

Generally speaking, the odds of getting a blackjack are about 3 to 2 but this varies between different casinos and types of games. Some casinos will even offer special bonuses for players who get a blackjack.

The best way to improve your chances of winning is to learn the basic strategy. In a nutshell, the basic strategy is to always split Aces and never split 10’s or 5’s. Also, always double down on 11’s and never split 8’s. It is important to note that this strategy will not work if the dealer has an ace up in a hole, which happens less than one-third of the time. This is why it is essential to know the dealer’s up card before deciding whether to stay or hit. Edward Thorp’s 1962 book Beat the Dealer describes a simple strategy that can reduce the house edge to about one-third of 1%. Using this strategy will dramatically increase your odds of winning at blackjack. However, this strategy requires a high level of skill and patience, and it is not recommended for beginner players.