Each player is dealt two cards and is then offered the opportunity to take more. 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 have 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.
The goal of each player 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 (therefore Blackjack favors the dealer). 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 one player, but still beat the other players in the same round.
Example of a Blackjack game
Example of a Blackjack game
The minimum bet is printed on a sign on the table and varies from casino to casino and even table to table. After initial bets are placed, the dealer deals the cards, either from one or two hand-held decks of cards, known as a "pitch" game, or more commonly from a shoe containing four or more decks. The dealer gives two cards to each player, including himself. One of the dealer's two cards is face-up so all the players can see it, and the other is face down. (The face-down card is known as the "hole card". In European blackjack, the hole card is not actually dealt until the players all play their hands.) The cards are dealt face up from a shoe, or face down if it is a pitch game.
A two-card hand of 21 (an ace plus a ten-value card) is called a "blackjack" or a "natural", and is an automatic winner. A player with a natural is usually paid 3:2 on his bet. Some casinos pay only 6:5 on blackjacks; although this reduced payout has generally been restricted to single-deck games where card counting would otherwise be a viable strategy. The move was decried by longtime blackjack players.
The player's options for playing his or her hand are:
- tand: Take no more cards.
- Double down: Double the wager, take exactly one more card, and then stand.
- 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 value.
- Surrender: Forfeit half the bet and give up the hand. Surrender was common during the early- and mid-20th century, but is no longer offered at most casinos.
- 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 most 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.
Some common rules variations include:
- Only one card for split Aces: a single new card is added to each Ace and the turn ends. They are thus regarded as 11-point cards. No other denomination is subject to this process.
- Multiple splits: If a player splits 2 cards and receives a third card of identical value, the hand can be split again, resulting in 3 hands. However, some casinos only allow a single split of the first 2 cards.
- Early surrender: Player has the option to surrender before dealer checks for Blackjack.
- Late surrender: Player has the option to surrender after dealer checks for Blackjack.
- Double-down restrictions: Double-down may only be allowed on certain combinations of cards (usually totaling 9, 10 or 11).
- Double-down after split: Double-down may not be allowed after splitting cards. The split hands are played normally otherwise.
- Split any tens: Players may split any 2 cards which are both worth 10 points, such as a Jack and Queen. This rule is rarely used, since 20 is a very strong hand which is unlikely to be split.
- European No-Hole-Card Rule: the dealer receives only one card, dealt face-up, and does not receive a second card (and thus does not check for blackjack) until players have acted. This means players lose not only their original bet, but also any additional money invested from splitting and doubling down. A game that has no-hole-card doesn't necessarily mean you will lose additional bets as well as original bets. In Australia for example, a player beaten by a dealer blackjack may keep all split and double bets and lose only the original bet, thus the game plays the same as it would if there were a hole card.
There are more than a few blackjack variations which can be found in the casinos, each has its own set of rules, strategies and odds. It is advised to take a look at the rules of the specific variation before playing. Many countries have legal acts and laws, which determine how a casino game of Blackjack must be played.