Path: Black Jack: Rules


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Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with the basic workings of the casino, it’s time to look at the game itself.

The Goal.

In Blackjack, you want to get as close to 21 points as you can – and closer than the dealer gets to it – without going over. This is a game in which the other players really don’t matter, because it is all about what goes on between you and the dealer. You are playing against him alone. You can feel free to show the dealer, and the other players, your cards, and even ask them advice as to what your next move should be. In shoe games, the player’s cards are even dealt up so that everyone can see them.

The Cards.

The cards are valued as follows: 2-9 are exactly as indicated (i.e., 2 is worth 2 points, etc). The 10 and each of the face cards (Jack, Queen, King) are all worth 10 points. And the Ace is worth either 1 or 11 points. The suit of the cards is irrelevant in this game. The value of your hand is the sum of the points within it. For instance, a hand containing a 2, 5 and 7 would be 14.

The Ace is what makes the counting of a hand’s value tricky, though you should know that the value assigned to it will always be the value that is most beneficial to you. In other words, if you have an Ace and a six, you either have 17 points or 7 points. If you ask for another card and you get a five, it is automatically assumed that the Ace will count as 1 so that you will not “bust” (i.e., go over 21 points).

If you decided to “stand” at just the Ace and the six, it would be assumed that you had 17 points, which is a lot closer to 21 than 7 points is. In other words, the value of the Ace can change, depending on the other cards in your hand.

Some terminology that’s important to know: A hand containing an Ace and a six would be called a “soft 17” because you can draw another card to it and not bust. A hand containing an Ace, six and ten would be called a “hard 17” because the Ace has to be counted as 1; if it were counted as 11, you would bust. A soft “total” is when the Ace in the hand can be valued as either 1 or 11 and still not bust.

Let The Game Begin!

Now it’s time to play. The dealer deals out the cards by going around the table twice, beginning at his left, until all players plus the dealer have two cards each (except in certain casinos in Europe, and elsewhere, where the European No Hole Card rule applies, in which the dealer gets only one card face up and only after the players have finished their hands does he get his second card).

The dealer will expose the value of one of his cards by flipping it over. In shoe games, the two player cards will be exposed (or “face up”). The shoe game is good for beginners not least because in shoe games you’re not allowed to touch the cards – one less thing to worry about if you’re someone who’s not used to handling cards and don’t want to have to deal with that.

Hand-held games, in which (obviously) you DO handle the cards, require a bit more thought. The cards are dealt face down, then picked up and held by you, but you can only touch them with ONE HAND, and you must always keep the cards above the table. Subsequent cards dealt to you are not to be put into your hand with your first two cards – these are to be left on the table. Okay, so now the cards have been dealt.

Play begins at the first seat to the dealer’s left (otherwise known as “first base”). Each player will say how he wishes to play his hand (I will discuss the various playing options further on). Once the players have finished playing their hands, the dealer finishes his. Then it is time to pay out and collect bets.

The dealer.

Unlike the player, the dealer does not have playing options. He has to play in a certain way, with no flexibility, each and every time. Specifically, he cannot split pairs and he must hit (i.e., take a card) until either he reaches 17 or goes bust. There IS one rule variation, however, which will always be clearly marked at your casino table, and it is important to take note of this at the start.

If the sign says “Dealer Stands on All 17’s” (the more common of the two rules) it means that the dealer is required to take hits until he has reached a total of 17 or more. The Ace in the dealer’s hand counts as 11 unless it means busting, so if he had an Ace and an eight, he’d have 19 points and he would not draw any more cards. In “Dealer Hits Soft 17” (the less common rule, and slightly more advantageous to the casino), the dealer does NOT stand on a soft total of 17, but rather on soft 18 or higher or hard 17 or higher. In other words if he had a hand consisting of Ace and six, or Ace and five and Ace, or Ace and two and four – these are all cases of soft 17’s but instead of standing on them, he would hit.

A Blackjack (or natural), and how it differs from a 21.

To be a Blackjack (or natural) you don’t just need 21 points in your hand. You need to get that total of 21 in a certain very specific way – from YOUR FIRST TWO CARDS – meaning that the 21 will come from having an Ace and a 10-point-card in your initial two-card hand. That is the only possible combination, and it must happen with your very first two cards.

Now, sure, you can get a 21 in other ways (for instance, you could split a pair of Aces and then draw a 10-valued-card to one of them for a total of 21 points) but it will only be a 21, not a Blackjack, because it did not meet the requirement of coming “naturally” as your first two cards. I stress this because a winning Blackjack pays 3 to 2 (or $15 on a $10 bet) – and a 21 does not. A player Blackjack beats a Dealer 21.

If (unlikely as it is) both player and dealer get Blackjacks, it’s a tie (also known as a “push” or stand-off). Now, WHEN you get the money for your Blackjack varies a bit from casino to casino. Some dealers will pay off your bet right away – on your turn, when you flip over your cards and show your Blackjack. Other dealers, with a face-up card of 10, say, might postpone until the hand is finished and they’ve had a chance to check their hole card. Statistically speaking, a Blackjack or natural only occurs about once out of every 21 hands.