Blackjack is played at a table with a single dealer and from one to seven players. The layout gives a few basic rules, such as the payoff for blackjack; for insurance; and whether the dealer hits on soft seventeen.
There will usually be a small sign to one side of the dealer that gives the table stakes and any special rules, such as whether surrender is allowed. You must ask to discover the other unposted rules and regulations. You will need to know, for example, whether doubling down after splitting is allowed, whether a player may double down on any two cards, whether pairs may be split a second time, and whether aces may be resplit. Such rules determine whether the basic game is favorable or unfavorable.
The game itself is simple. You, the player, attempt to accumulate cards with a numerical total closer to (but not more than) twenty-one than those accumulated by the dealer. If you do so, you win. If the dealers’ total is closer to twenty-one than yours, you lose. Winning hands are paid off at even odds. If you and the dealer both arrive at the same total, the hand is a “push,” and nobody wins. All bets must be made before any cards are dealt, and no bet may be changed once the first card has been dealt.
Each player is initially dealt two cards; they may be face-down or face-up, depending on the rules of the casino. The dealer gets two cards, one face-up and one face-down. The value of the cards is given by their face value except that the ace (A) counts as either 1 or 11 and the 10, jack (J), queen (Q), and king (K) all count as 10.
The combination of an A and any 10 on the first two cards is a blackjack and is an automatic winner (unless both dealer and player have it, in which case it’s a push). A player blackjack is paid at 3 to 2. When the house has a blackjack the player merely loses his bet and not one and a half times that bet. Any combination of cards that exceeds 21 is a bust and a loser. The player always goes first, so if the player’s total exceeds 21 the hand is lost — even if the dealer also busts later. If the dealer busts, all remaining players are winners. The dealer has no options; play is fixed by the rules.
After the first two cards are dealt, the player must decide whether or not to take additional cards based on two pieces of information: the cards held and the dealer’s upcard. This is where the game begins to get interesting. A wide variety of options offer themselves, and unless the player understands the principles of the game there are numerous ways to go wrong.