Introduction to 21: A ground-level deduction of blackjack for beginners.
Blackjack is a card game for two or more participants, one
of them being the dealer, also known as the bank or house, whom the player(s)
will try to beat. The game is played with a standard deck of 52 cards and begins
with each player making an initial wager. Those who make bets are called “in”
and they are dealt two cards each, as is the dealer, who places no bet. Players
who don’t wager are “out” for the hand and receive no cards.
The value of each card is the number
shown on its face for all cards 2 through 10. The so-called “face cards” or
“court cards”—the King, Queen and Jack—each have a value of ten. Aces, however,
may have a value of either one or eleven. For example, the combination of an
Ace and a 5 can be counted as either six or sixteen. The object of the game is for
each player to draw cards that total higher than the cards in the dealer’s hand
without going over a total of 21.
Beginning the Hand
First, the deck of cards must be
prepared for play. The dealer shuffles the cards and then offers the stack of
mixed cards to one of the players to “cut.” In most casinos, the player will
insert a faceless plastic marker somewhere in the middle of the deck. The
dealer will then move all of the cards in front of the marker to the rear with
the marker itself at the very end of the deck to keep the otherwise exposed
last card from being seen during play. Next, several cards are drawn from the
top of the deck sight unseen for placement in a discard tray. This is called
the “burn.” Following the burn, the deck is ready for the hand to be dealt.
The dealer will distribute cards clockwise, one at a time to each player, beginning with the player seated to the dealer’s far left. The players’ cards are typically dealt face down in single- or double-deck games, but face up when dealt from a multi-deck “shoe.” The dealer’s two cards are also dealt face down, but as soon as every player has two cards, the dealer will pause and turn over one of his/her cards for all to see. This is the so-called “up card,” and the dealer’s concealed card is called the “hole card.”
If the up card has a value of ten,
the dealer will peek at the hole card and turn it over if it is an Ace. That
means the dealer has exactly 21 and all players’ bets are lost except those who
have also been dealt a “natural blackjack,” i.e., an Ace plus a card valued at
ten. Players with blackjacks do not lose; they “push” (draw or tie) and receive
their original bets back. If the dealer’s hole card is not an Ace, play continues
as indicated below.
If the dealer’s up card is an Ace,
players may be offered “insurance.” By making an additional wager equal to half
of the amount bet initially, they insure against the dealer’s hole card being a
ten or a face card, which would result in a natural blackjack. Insured bets are
retained, a push, when the dealer has twenty-one. All other bets lose. But if
the dealer has anything other than a blackjack, the insurance bet is lost and
Playing the Hand
If the dealer does not have a
blackjack at the outset, players are in turn given four options of play. They may
“hit” by taking another card; “stand” by staying with the cards that were
dealt, “split” by making two new hands out of a matched pair; or “double down”
by increasing the original wager and drawing just one more card. In the latter
case, the player has to stay with whatever result comes up and is not allowed
to draw again. Also note that in some versions of the game, a fifth option of
play is offered called “surrender.” The player can quit the hand and surrender
half of the initial bet.
In turn, each player may draw
cards, hitting and trying to improve the dealt hand until they either go “bust”
(a total exceeding 21) or choose to stand and take no more cards. The dealer, however,
must play according to fixed rules and may not split, double down, surrender or
take insurance. The dealer must draw until the hand reaches a value of
seventeen or more and then stand. No more cards can be taken.
At this point, players who have
not busted win their bets if their hands come closer to 21 than the dealer’s or
if the dealer busts. The payout is 1-to-1 (even money) on the amount wagered
for all winning hands, except for natural blackjacks, which traditionally pay
3-to-2, although the amount has been reduced to 6-to-5 in many modern casinos.
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