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It's All About Blackjack

11 Dec 2021

By Jerry Stickman
This is the seventh article in a series that examines several aspects of popular casino games. Each article briefly explains how the game is played as well as highlighting some of the positive and negative features of that casino game.

This article examines blackjack.

Game Description:

Blackjack is a casino banking game. In fact, blackjack (also called 21) is the most popular casino banking game in the world. Unlike poker, players do not compete with each other. Rather each player competes against the dealer.

The game of blackjack has a long history. The first references to “ventiuna” (Spanish for 21) date back to the beginning of the 17th century or before.

One popular version of blackjack’s introduction to the United States has it appearing in the early 1800’s, during the first world war or in the 1930’s depending on the source. Whenever it was, it is said that gambling houses offered a bonus payout of 10-to-1 for a hand of the ace of spades and a black jack – hence the name of the game.

Card Values:

The ace can count as 1 or 11. Face cards count as 10, and the other cards are added at face value.

The goal of the game is to beat the dealer without going over 21.


Player bets are placed in a betting circle in front of each player.

Many tables also have betting circles for side bets in which the players can also place a bet.

Dealing the cards:

The cards are shuffled and usually the dealer offers a yellow or red plastic cut card to one of the players. The selected player places the cut card somewhere in the deck and the dealer splits the deck at that point and moves the front portion to the back.

The dealer then inserts a cut card which signals the last hand. It is placed somewhere in the last half of the shoe (in most cases). Some casinos have notches in the shoe to indicate where the cut card should go. Most casinos, however allow the dealers to determine where to place it – do doubt with instruction from casino management.

One or more cards are then “burned” face down into the discard tray.

Cards are dealt one at a time starting with the player at the dealer’s far left in a clockwise direction until each player and the dealer has two cards.

In a shoe game the cards are dealt face up and the players cannot touch the cards.

Games that are dealt from the dealer’s hands (pitch game) are normally dealt face down and the players can pick them up with one hand to look at them.

The dealer has only one card face-up. Normally, the dealer deals the first card (hole card) face-down and the second face-up. In some games the dealer only deals one card face up with the second and any subsequent cards being dealt after all players have played out their hands.

Play after initial hands are dealt:

If the dealer has an ace or a 10-value card face up, players are asked if they want “insurance.”
Insurance is a separate bet which is half the size of the original bet. It is a bet that the dealer has a blackjack (an ace and a 10-value card – also called a natural). If the dealer has a blackjack, the hand is over. Players with a blackjack keep their original bet. Those who do not, lose their bet. Players who made the insurance bet are paid 2-to-1 for that bet.

If the dealer does not have a blackjack, starting with the player on the dealer’s far left, each player indicates what he or she wants to do. They can:

• Play just the two cards they were dealt (Stand).

• Take another card (Hit). The player can continue taking additional cards until they signal “stand” or until the total of their hand exceeds 21 (Busts). If a player busts, the cards and bet are immediately removed from the table.

• Double their bet and take just one additional card (Double Down).

• If the player has a pair, they can add an additional bet of the same size as the original and form two hands that are played as if they were initially dealt.

o The only difference is a blackjack on a resulting hand is paid even move.

o The first hand is played until the player stands or busts before the second hand is played.

As each player stands or busts, the play moves clockwise to the next player.

Resolving the bets:

When all players have completed play, the dealer reveals the hole card and completes the dealer hand according to the rules of the casino.

The dealer’s final hand is compared to each player’s hand. If the player has a blackjack and the dealer does not, the player is paid. In most games they are paid one and a half times the bet (3-to-2). However, many casinos are now paying just 6-to-5 for a natural which substantially adds to the casino’s edge.

If the dealer hand is higher than the player hand, the player loses and the bet is collected by the dealer.

If the player hand is higher, the bet is paid at even money (1-to-1).

If dealer and player hands are equal, it is a push and the player keeps the original bet.

House edge:

Depending on the house rules, the house edge can vary a great deal. It also varies depending on whether or not the player uses “basic strategy.” With great (meaning player-friendly) rules and the use of basic strategy, the house edge can be as low as ½ of 1 percent. With poor rules (house-friendly such as a blackjack pays 6-to-5) and standard play (no basic strategy), the house edge can be 4 percent.

Other attributes of the game of Blackjack:

• The game can be slow-paced and relaxed, or it can move along very quickly, depending on the dealer.

• Minimum bets can vary from $5 (quite rare) to $100 on the main casino floor.

• Variance is moderate. There can be fairly large swings in a player’s bankroll while playing the game.

• There are no huge jackpots in blackjack. Other than side bets, the player wins no more than 3-to-2 on bets they make. Side bets tend to be in the range of 2-to-1 to 10-to-1 or so.

• The actual play of the game is fairly straightforward. As with any table game, however, there are several rules of play that should be known and followed.

• There is no physical skill required to play.

• In order to obtain the best return for the game, the player should know basic strategy. This varies depending on the house rules.

• Unlike many other table games, the player can increase the return. This can be done by counting cards and modifying bets and play according to the count.

o It takes a relatively high degree of skill to successfully count cards.

o Though it is not illegal, casinos frown upon this practice and will take action such as barring players they suspect are employing it.

• As with most table games where the players play against the house, there is camaraderie among the players.

• Also, because it is players against the house, other players will admonish you if you make a play they don’t like.



• Very low to moderate house edge depending on the skill level of the player.

• Very skilled card counters can get an edge over the house on a game with good rules.

• There is camaraderie among players.

• No jackpots. Most bets pay no more than 3-to-2.

• In order to maximize returns, knowledge is required.

• The casino actively looks for card counters and they can be barred from playing.

• Other players will comment about your plays if they don’t like them.


Blackjack can be a relaxing and low house-edge game. It can also be fast paced. It all depends on the dealer.

In order to get the highest return a high level of skill is required.

There tends to be a camaraderie among the players.

There are no jackpots, so thrill junkies may not enjoy this game.

The next article in this series looks at the game of Video Poker.

As always, may all your wins be swift and large, and your losses be slow and small.

Jerry “Stickman”

Jerry “Stickman” is an expert in craps, blackjack and video poker and advantage slot machine play. He is a regular contributor to top gaming magazines. He authored the video poker section of Everything Casino Poker: Get the Edge at Video Poker, Texas Hold'em, Omaha Hi-Lo, and Pai Gow Poker! You can contact Jerry “Stickman” at

This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at

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