Blackjack is one of the most popular casino card games, combining chance with some elements of skill. A player’s goal is to beat the dealer by having a higher, unbusted hand. A perfect combination of an ace and a card with a value of ten (blackjack) beats all other hands, winning the player 3:2 of his initial stake.
Players receive two cards each and must decide whether to hit or stand. If the player’s hand is closer to 21 than that of the dealer, he wins; otherwise, he loses. The dealer must also be able to reach 21, or bust, or he will lose the player’s bet.
The dealer can ask the players for insurance bets before dealing the cards. These bets are usually equal to half of the players’ current bets. If the dealer has a blackjack, the insurance bets pay 2 to 1. If the dealer does not have a blackjack, the bets are pushed and no money is exchanged.
Once the players have made their decision, the dealer takes his turn. The dealer may ‘HIT’ or ‘STAND’. If the dealer has a blackjack, all players who did not bust win immediately – their bets are returned and they receive an additional amount from the dealer’s bank. If the dealer does not have a blackjack, all players who did not ‘HIT’ or ‘STAND’ win their original bets and the game ends.
Some casinos permit players to split their starting cards when they have cards of the same value, e.g., two 8s or two jacks. However, the re-splitting of cards of different values is usually not permitted. Doubling after splitting is not allowed and hitting a split ace does not count as a blackjack.
Other casinos allow players to double before and after splitting. The advantage of this is that the player can re-split his cards if the situation demands it, thus improving his chances to have a better hand. In this way a player can improve the value of a weak starting hand without losing his original bet.
Many casinos also permit early surrender, allowing the player to forfeit half his wager before the dealer checks for blackjack. This reduces the player’s risk of getting a miserable total and is beneficial against a dealer with a strong face or ace up-card.
Despite the high stakes involved, the house edge for blackjack is relatively low, especially in casinos that offer basic strategy. In the long run, players who follow basic strategy lose only about 1% of their bets, making blackjack among the most profitable of casino games. The house edge is greater in games that don’t offer basic strategy and in those where players deviate from the optimal playing strategies described in this article. Also, the house edge increases if the dealer is allowed to peek at his hole card.