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Blackjack is the table game of choice in most casinos. Its popularity is easy to understand. Game play is fast and you can see lots of hands. The house edge is lower than in virtually any other casino game, so you have a better chance of winning money. Better put, you have a better chance of not losing all your money, so you can go on gambling hour after hour.

Of course, the payback percentages work for you only if you how to play blackjack. There are several key decisions you have to make any given hand. To make these decisions, a player must know basic blackjack strategy. So here are a few blackjack basics for the beginning player.

Beat the Dealer

A common mistake with novice blackjack players involves the strategy of the game. Many beginners believe the object of blackjack is to get close to 21. Actually, the object of blackjack is to beat the dealer. If you have a hand worth 16 and the dealer busts out, you win. But if you press your luck to get a 21 and you bust out, it doesn't matter what hand the dealer gets.

When you play blackjack, remember that you need to stay in the hand to have a chance to win. Pushing your luck that you will get a 4 or less is always a bad idea, probably around 30% or less. So you should never hit on a 17 or higher. There are detailed charts which dictate when you should hit or stand.

Blackjack Deck

Different online casinos use different size decks. These range from 1 to 2 all the way up to 4, 6 or 8. Most casinos these days use 6 or 8 decks, which tends to eliminate the advantage of card counting. When you are using 4 or more decks, the cards are shuffled with an automatic card shuffler and the cards are dealt from a small card box called a "shoe".

Card Values

The number cards in Blackjack have the same value as the number on the card. All face cards have the value of ten. This means that 4 out of 13 cards in a blackjack deck will have a value of 10, roughly 30% of the cards. You should keep this in mind while playing, because around 30% of the time, you can expect to receive a 10 with your next card.

An Ace can have a value of 1 or 11, depending on the wishes of the player holding the card.

Hard or Soft Hands

A hard hand in blackjack is one without an Ace. A soft hand is just the opposite, a hand containing an Ace. It is called a soft hand because the Ace can be either a 1 or an 11, so the player has a lot more flexibility than otherwise. Generally speaking, a soft hand is less likely to bust out immediately, and generally affords two chances for you to make a good hand.

The Blackjack Table

Players stand at a semi-circular table. There are usually spots for six players. Each player has a small circle or square on the table surface in which to bet. On the non-circle half of the table, the dealer stands.

The dealer deals each player two cards face up. The dealer receives one card face up and one card face down. The face down card is called the "hole card". When the deal is done, players begin to act. Play starts to the left of the dealer and moves around the table.

After the players have gone, the dealer takes his turn. All the players who have busted out automatically lose, even if the dealer busts out on his or her hand. This is the house edge in blackjack, where the casino makes its money. Even at that, the house edge in blackjack is better than in most other casino games, usually hovering around 1% for optimal play.

Hit or Stand

Once you are dealt two cards, you have the choice to stand or be hit. When you receive an extra card, that is a hit. When you signal that you want no more cards, you are standing.

Double Down

After you receive the first two cards, you have the option to double your wager. This is called doubling down. Players need to know when it is advantageous to double down. This is one of the best ways to lower the house edge - especially if you are card counting.

Splitting Pairs

A player who receives a pair on the original deal has the option to "split" the pairs. That means the two cards are split to make their own hands. The dealer then deals a second card for each of the split cards.

For example, imagine you receive a pair of 8's on the deal. You split these 8's. The dealer deals a card to pair with the first 8, then deals a second card to pair with the second 8. Each of these new hands acts separately of one another. You are doubling the amount of money being wagered, because you are playing two hands instead of one.

There are somewhat complicated rules for splitting pairs. Always split Aces and 8's. Never split ten cards. For the rest, the decision to split depends on the card the dealer is showing. You can find a detailed splitting chart elsewhere on this site.

Blackjack Insurance and Surrender

If the dealer is showing an Ace, a player can take "insurance". Basically, this is a side bet that the dealer has a blackjack. This side bet is one-half of your original bet. If the dealer makes a blackjack, then you win back half of the money you lost on the original bet.

Never take the insurance bet. You are simply yielding a larger house edge to the casino.

Some blackjack casinos allow you to surrender after seeing your dealt cards. This means you lose your chance at winning, but must pay only half of your original wager. This strategy has advantages if you know when to employ it, though most casinos no longer allow players this option.


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