Blackjack is a card game in which players compete against the dealer. The goal is to have a higher card value than the dealer, without going over 21. In most variations of the game, aces count as 1 or 11, face cards as 10, and other cards at their index value. A hand counting 21 on the first two cards is called a “blackjack” or a “natural” and is an automatic winner. The dealer will usually pay out 3:2 on a player’s blackjack bet, although some casinos have reduced the payout to 6:5.
Blackjack can also be played in tournament form with different rules and strategies. In tournament blackjack, each player starts with an equal amount of chips and the aim is to finish among the top chip holders at the end of a set number of deals. Blackjack tournaments may be single- or multi-day events, and may feature side bets and a variety of betting options.
A standard game of blackjack is played on a semicircular table that can accommodate varying numbers of players. Most tables seat seven players (or seven “spots”), but some can accommodate as few as five and as many as twelve. The dealer stands behind the table and chip rack and faces the players. The dealers’ cards are dealt face up, and the players’ hands are placed in front of them.
Before a player begins to play his or her hand, the dealer will usually offer insurance or even money. This is a side bet that pays out 2 to 1 on the original wager if the dealer has a ten as his or her hole card. Players who have basic strategy knowledge should never buy insurance or even money, as this bet gives the dealer an edge over the players.
As in all casino games, the house has a statistical advantage over the players that will play itself out over time. However, in blackjack – unlike most other casino games – the player can actually reduce the house edge to a small percentage by using what is known as basic strategy. This method of play determines when to hit and when to stand, and it also identifies when doubling down or splitting is the correct action.
Most professional blackjack players have memorized a basic strategy chart or bring one with them to the table, and it is recommended that you do the same. This will help you to make the best possible decisions at the table and will give you the lowest house edge possible.
Besides learning the basic strategy, you should try to read the dealer’s tells as well. While this is technically cheating (and in some states illegal) it is very useful and can increase your winnings dramatically if you are skilled at reading them. There are two major tells to look for: how long the dealer looks at his or her hole card and how much the dealer bends the card when looking at it.