Welcome to P4K Free Blackjack Lessons
Blackjack is the only casino game with detectable odds. With with the turn of a card the odds can change. The odds may favor the casino or they may favor the player. Yes, in blackjack, one card can have an influence of .5% on the outcome of your next hand. Knowing basic strategy is not enough. Sure it will reduce the house odds considerably, however, knowing when the odds are in your favor is how a serious blackjack player stands out from a crowd of tourists.
If you are just new to the game and need to learn the general rules, an overview of the plays and table etiquette are presented in the free lessons here.
Blackjack is the American name give to the French card game, Twenty-one. The game is relatively young, originating in the mid 1800’s. Keep in mind, that was about 100 years before computers. The reason I bring this up has to do with how technology has made it possible for savvy blackjack players to know the best plays and recognize favorable odds. A player, who knows in advance when they have an advantage to win the next hand, can make in increased bet to take advantage of the opportunity.
As simple as the game may appear, having a winning hand with at least one point more than the dealer’s hand and less than twenty-two, involves knowing over 540 strategic plays. On top of the basic strategy plays that every player should know, an expert player needs to be able to identify advantageous times to increase bets. Likewise, recognizing unfavorable odds prior to betting allows the card counter to play defensively, risking only a minimum bet.
Blackjack is played with one dealer who runs the game. The dealer shuffles the cards, deals the cards, settles winning bets, and takes the losing bets. A minimum of one player is required for a game to take place and up to a maximum of seven players.
The object of the game is to hold a better hand than the dealer without exceeding 21.
Each card has a value equal to its index. For example, the nine of diamonds has a value of nine. The four of spades has a value of four. The suit of the card is of no consequence. Face cards, jack, queen, and king have the value of ten. An ace is a power card having two values, one or eleven. Although the ace has two values, there is no need for the player to declare its value. The ace value speaks for itself, so to say, to result in the best hand without busting.
The Game: The dealer starts a game with shuffled cards. They may be held in the dealer’s hand or come from a plastic box holding the cards called a shoe. The cards are dealt from the dealer’s left to right. Each player receives one card, with the dealer getting their card last. The dealer continues to deal until every player, including the dealer, has two cards. The dealer will expose one card, having one card up so everyone can see the index of the card.
Decisions of Play: Players who know basic strategy make their decision of play based on two things. 1. The hand that they hold. 2. The dealer’s up card. A card counter’s decision of play includes these two consideration and the card count. You will want a hand of seventeen or better and not exceed twenty-one.
Hierarchy of Plays: There are five moves or plays that can be made with the first two cards. Always make your decision of play in this order:
1. Consider if you have pairs to split and if your hand qualifies for splitting.
2. If no pairs or split, consider if you have a hand to double down with, if your hand qualifies for doubling.
3. If no double down is possible, consider if you need to draw another card. (Take a hit)
4. If taking a hit is not required, then the fourth decision is to stand pat with no further action.
5. The fifth possibility is that your first two cards are a natural winner. A ten count card and an ace, otherwise known as a blackjack or twenty-one. Turn your cards over to the dealer so they can see your natural winner and settle the bet when it is your turn to play. A natural blackjack is paid 3:2.
Who Wins: You win when the total of your hand is greater than the dealer’s hand and does not exceed 21, or when your hand is still in play and the dealer exceeds 21. (Bust)
Who Loses: You lose when the total of your hand is less than the dealer’s hand or when your hand exceeds 21. (Bust) The dealer loses when they bust or when they have a lessor hand than the player, and when the player has a natural and the deal holds any two cards that do not add to 21.
What about a Tie: If the dealer holds a 21, ace/ten and the player holds ace/ten. The hands tie. (Push) The player does not win or lose money. Other ties occur when both the dealer and the player’s hands are the same total, called a push. Note: Your 3, 4, or 5 card hand totaling 21 loses to a dealer’s natural blackjack, ace/ten.
What are the Plays: The possible plays were mentioned above in Hierarchy or Plays.
- Pair Splitting: you must have two alike cards in order to split pairs. When you split pairs, you essentially are then playing two hands and thus need to make a second bet to match your original bet. After splitting the cards and making the second bet, the dealer will deal to the first card of the spit. If this card is also the same index you may split the cards again. You may split hands up to four times. Again, each hand requires an equal bet. You decision of play after the split follows the hierarchy of double down, hit or stand. Stand on 17 or better. Note: If you split aces and receive a ten card with either or both hands, the hand is paid even money.
- Doubling Down: You may double down with a two card total of 11, 10, or 9. Sure, you are usually allowed to double down on any first two cards, but only the above mentioned hands provide you with an advantage, depending on the dealer’s up card. To double down, indicate to the dealer that you are doubling down verbally and adding an equal amount to your bet. In a hand held game, you’d say doubling, turn both cards face up next to your betting box. You can double for less, however it is not advised as this play is advantageous for the player. The dealer will give you one and only one card and the hand is complete. You double down hoping to hit a hand of 21 or 20. A the very least a pat hand.
- Hitting: If you do not have pairs to split or a double down, your decision is based on your two card total. If your two card total is less than 17, you will generally want to draw another card to improve the hand with 17 or more. Depending on the dealer’s up card, if the dealer has a six up or less, (not an ace) you may want to stand and not draw a card. Otherwise, hit to improve your and not to exceed 21.
- Standing: If you have a total of 17 or more, a pat hand, you will want to stand, take no further action with the hand.
Outcomes of Play: Once each player has completed their hand, the dealer is last to play. The dealer turns over their hole card, the unseen card. If the dealer has seventeen or more, they stand pat. If the dealer has less than 17, they will draw a card until their hand adds to 17 not to exceed 21. If the dealer draws and exceeds 21, they bust or lose and any player still in the hand wins.
Settling Bets: The dealer settles bets right to left. Each player’s hand is exposed for the dealer to see its total value. If the player’s hand is greater than the dealer’s they win and they are paid even money for their bet. If the player’s hand is less than the dealer’s, they lose and the dealer removes the wager. Natural blackjacks are paid 3:2. Some games restrict the blackjack bonus to 6:5. It is disadvantageous to play 6:5 blackjack.
Table Etiquette: Polite behavior is expected in any casino table game. No profanity or displays of anger should be exhibited. Throwing cards at the dealer with a losing hand for example.
The game tends to be come social with players aligning as a team to beat the dealer. It becomes a fun game of comradely with players cheering for the dealer to bust.
Each player plays in turn. The dealer cannot pass up a player. Each player must be given an opportunity to make a decision with their hand.
If you do not understand the outcome of a hand or if you disagree, be polite asking for an explanation. The dealer will accommodate your question. With a more difficult situation, the floor manage will intercede. It is always okay to ask for clarification, especially when you are first learning to play the game.
Thank you for taking the time to read this overview for blackjack. There are a few more aspects to the game of course. However, it is my intention here, to provide a novice player with a quick introduction to the game. With this knowledge, one could observe a live game of blackjack and understand what is going on. Observing first before risking money is well advised. Blackjack is a quick paced game which can make it intimidating for a new player. Playing uncomfortably leads to mistakes. In a game with odds to separate you from your money, you cannot afford the luxury of a mistake. After all, aren’t you Playing 4 Keeps™?