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The basic object of the game of Blackjack (or "21") is to acquire cards that add up to twenty-one without going over. Players make their bets and the dealer then deals two cards to each player; and two to himself, one up one down. Aces count as one or eleven. Face cards (jacks, queens and kings) all count as ten. All other cards are face value. The best hand in blackjack is an ace and any ten. This pays three-to-two odds. All other bets pay even money. Each player then plays their hand starting with the player to the left of the dealer.

There is a basic strategy to blackjack - when to hit (ask for another card), when to stand (pass) - based on what card the dealer is showing. Simply put, if the dealer is showing a seven or higher, a player should hit any hand of sixteen or lower. Conversely, if a dealer shows six or lower, a player should stand on twelve or higher. If you want to hit, or pass, most casinos require a hand signal rather than a verbal response. For a hit, tap the table behind your cards. To pass, wave your hand. Most casino gift shops sell a credit card size chart called a blackjack strategy card which tells you when to hit when to stand, when to split, when to double. For a  Newbie this is a good buy.

If the dealer is showing an ace he will ask if anyone wants insurance. If you would like insurance, you may bet up to half your original bet. The dealer then checks his hole card. If he has a ten, making blackjack, he takes the losing bets and pays any insurance two-to-one. Since insurance is half your bet, you end up exactly even. If he doesn't have blackjack, the insurance bet loses and the hands are played out in the usual fashion. Generally, insurance is not considered a good bet. If a dealer is showing an ace there are only four cards in a deck that give him blackjack: ten, jack, queen and king. However there are nine cards (ace, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9) that can cost you your insurance bet, and still leave you with the house percentage against you on the original bet.

Some casinos also allow you to "surrender". This means giving up half your bet without even playing the hand. For example, suppose you have a sixteen and the dealer is showing a ten. You know that sixteen isn't enough to beat the dealer's probable hand, but you're convinced the next card is a seven. You surrender and watch the dealer take $50 of your $100 bet, then move on to the next player and unsmilingly deal him a five. There goes your twenty-one! Our advice: don't take insurance and don't surrender, they are both sucker moves.

The big advantage the house has in this game is that you have to play your hand first. If you bust (i.e., go over twenty one), you lose. The dealer might also bust, but since you are already out of the picture, your money remains the property of the casino.

    Do's and Don'ts.

  • If you want to play without really learning how, don't do it on a fifty dollar game with five serious looking people. How you play can affect the outcome for others, and it's bad manners to mess it up for everyone.

  • Don't split fives or tens, ever.

  • As on all games, tips are appreciated. You can hand tips directly to the dealer, or place a bet for him or her in front of your bet.

  • Actually playing is the best way to learn. Dealers are used to newbies, it's part of their job to help you out. Ask questions and bet small.


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