Blackjack gets more attention on television than any other casino game (with the exception of poker). Every other week on The History Channel, Breaking Vegas features one cunning blackjack player after another manipulating the system to beat the house edge in Las Vegas or Atlantic City. Besides taking months to learn card counting, though, blackjack offers other techniques to allow a player to reduce the house advantage. So it is no surprise that new players would look at blackjack as a natural casino game with which to begin. Learning how to play blackjack is a reasonably straightforward process.

Contrary to popular belief, the object of blackjack is NOT to get as close as you can to 21 without going over. The object is to beat the dealer. To beat the dealer, you either need to be involved in the hand and have closer to 21 than the dealer does, or still be playing when the dealer busts. This distinction might seem minor, but as you learn to play blackjack, you’ll realize that it has a crucial effect on your strategy decisions.

The first thing you do when approaching the blackjack table is to let the dealer know you want in the game. You’ll usually have no problem getting his or her attention. If you need to turn your cash into chips, the dealer can usually accommodate you. The dealer normally holds the money up to the overhead camera, shows the money to the pit boss, or does both. Don’t get nervous that they’re taking such interest in your cash; it is standard operating procedure to show everything is on the up-and-up.

The dealer deals clockwise around the table one card at a time. Each player gets two cards in his hand. Then you have the choice of asking for more cards or not. If you want another card, you say “hit me” and tap on the table once or twice as if you were checking in poker. If you do not want another card, that is called standing. To do this, simply wave your hand over the table in a negative motion. It is proper etiquette to verbalize either “hit me” or “I stand”, so there is no confusion about your intentions.

Your bets go where bets are indicated on the felt. This is usually self-evident. When you make your bet, place it out for both the dealer and the cameras to see. When you are deciding whether to stand or be hit, you can also decide whether to double or split (if either is appropriate).

Doubling down is normally only allowed when you have an 11, but rules vary from casino to casino, and some casinos offer doubling down options on other hands as well. This is a big plus for the player. To double down, you place an additional bet the same size as your initial bet on the felt and tell the dealer you’re doubling down. You will receive 1 and exactly 1 more card at this point, and the game moves on. (The dealer is always last to act unless he has a blackjack.)

Splitting cards is only done when you have two cards of the same rank. To split cards, you put an additional bet on the table, and the two cards become the first cards in two more hands of blackjack. Traditional wisdom is that you always split aces and eights, and you never split 4′s, 5′s, or 10′s.

The dealer than continues to deal cards until you stand or go bust. Those who win are paid off by the dealer, while the dealer collects money from those who lose. Never touch your money after it has been bet, until the game is over and you’ve won. If there is a tie between you and the dealer, neither side wins. This is called a push, and you get to keep your money. You move on to the next hand.

(About dealer play: The dealer must play by certain rules and doesn’t get to make decisions about whether or not to hit or stand. The dealer stands on 17 or better and hits a 16 or worse. The dealer never splits his hand. This also affects your strategy, because you’ll stand more often when the dealer has a 6 showing than you will if the dealer has a 10 showing. )

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