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Beginners Guide to Blackjack

Beginner's Guide to Blackjack

With approximately 95 percent of U.S. citizens having gambled at one point or another and 89 percent of Americans approving of casino gambling, the odds are good that you have placed a wager or two over the course of your lifetime. While 74 percent of adult Americans have gambled in casinos, you do not necessarily have to visit one to gamble. You can play the lottery, for instance, or bet on a dog or horse race.

Although you do not have to visit a casino to place a bet on something, Americans still flock to casinos across the country on a regular basis. While some visit a casino with the hope of “hitting the big one,” most casino visitors are simply interested in having some fun. Some people who visit a casino are not even interested in gambling. Instead, they want to enjoy the amenities that a casino offers, such as five-star restaurants, boutique shopping, live shows or an exclusive sporting event.

For the people who do go to a casino to gamble, they tend to play certain games more often than others. Overall, slots are the most popular casino game, followed by blackjack, roulette, craps and poker. Slots remain the most popular game largely because players do not have to make many decisions and there is no strategy to study to increase the chances of winning. In fact, the only useful piece of advice you can apply to slots is to make the maximum permissible bet per spin. While this will not increase the odds that you will win, it will increase the amount you will get if you do.

Blackjack is the most popular casino table game, with more casino visitors in the United States playing it than craps, roulette and baccarat combined. Blackjack is a favorite among casino visitors for a variety of reasons. While there is a basic strategy to follow, it is generally easier for people to learn how to play blackjack than it is for them to master other casino games. It is also the game of choice for many gamblers, because the game typically moves quickly and the house has a smaller edge than it does in other games. When played with the most liberal house rules, the house’s edge is only 0.28 percent, making blackjack the casino game that has the smallest edge under most circumstances.

The house's edge is only .28%

Even though blackjack only gives a slight advantage to the house, it does not matter if you do not know how to play the game. While you are free to play blackjack however you want, there are some basic rules that many gamblers will expect you to follow after you take a seat at the table. Failing to follow these guidelines can cause other people to get frustrated with you, and it can earn you a stern glare or unsolicited advice from your table’s dealer, because the decisions you make influence the fate of those who play after you. In general, blackjack dealers and players offer advice to help you make the right decisions and improve the results of everyone at your table, with the exception of the dealer whose hand you and your tablemates are trying to beat.

While advice is often shared at a given blackjack table, players typically talk about things other than the game they are playing, especially when the table is on a winning streak. If you want to impress your tablemates, you can share some facts about the history of the most popular casino table game.

A Brief History of Blackjack

While you can trace blackjack’s roots to the French game, vingt-et-un, in the early 1700s, blackjack did not arrive in America until the 1800s. When it first came to the United States, blackjack was not an immediate success. In fact, casinos had to change the rules of the game and pay a 10-to-1 bonus when a player’s initial two cards included a jack of clubs or spades paired and the ace of spades to motivate people to play. The modern game derived the name “blackjack” from the combination of cards required to win the 10-to-1 bonus.

Casinos had to change the rules of the game and pay a 10-to-1 bonus when a player's initial two cards included a jack of clubs or spaces paired and the ace of spades to motivate people to play.

After Nevada legalized gambling in 1931, blackjack made its way into the state’s casinos. After the rules of the game changed again to reduce the house’s edge, an increasingly larger number of gamblers started playing blackjack. Although more people were playing the game, no one attempted to create an accurate strategy to play until 1956. In that year, Roger Baldwin, Wilbert Canty, Herbert Maisel and James McDermott, together known as the “Four Horsemen of Aberdeen,” developed the world’s first credible strategy for blackjack. In recognition of their work, the Four Horsemen of Aberdeen were inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame 52 years after their work was published in the Journal of the American Statistical Society and 51 years after they published a book entitled, “Playing Blackjack to Win.”

Although some players developed systems to count cards to win at blackjack as early as the 1940s and 1950s, there were not any notable books discussing card counting until 1962. In that year, Dr. Edward O. Thorp’s book, “Ten Count,” earned a spot on the New York Times best-seller list. Because Thorp’s book was so widely read, casinos adopted new rules for blackjack, such as players only being able to double down on two cards that totaled 11 and gamblers no longer being allowed to split aces. As a result of these changes, many players stopped playing blackjack, which forced casinos to revert back to the game’s traditional rules.

There were not any notable books discussing card counting until 1962.

Unable to impose new rules, casinos made a different change to limit the effectiveness of counting cards. Instead of using just one deck of cards, many casinos started to use four decks per game, and introduced dealing shoes. Even though millions of people bought a copy of Thorp’s best-seller, many players thought his system was too complicated and they continued to play blackjack the way they always had. Thorp’s book did more than teach people to count cards. It also increased blackjack’s popularity. Since most people abandoned Thorp’s card counting system and did not increase the amount they won at the table, the author’s work increased the amount of money casinos made off blackjack as well.

Today, blackjack is typically played with six decks of cards per game in a casino setting, although you can often find games that use anywhere from two to eight decks of cards. While many books about card counting have been written since Thorp published his work, casinos have taken further action to reduce the effectiveness of counting cards to win at blackjack. The plastic cut card is arguably a casino’s best defense against professional card counters.

After the dealer shuffles the cards, they will ask one of the players at their table to insert the cut card in the shuffled cards. This will prevent a certain number of cards in the shoe from being dealt before the cards are shuffled again. Since no one knows what cards will not be in play, it makes it much more difficult for people to count cards accurately.

Blackjack for Beginners

Even though counting cards to gain an edge at the table is legal, many casinos frown upon the practice and will ask you to leave if you are caught doing it. Rather than trying to learn a complex system to count cards, your time will be better spent learning the basic strategy that players use to play blackjack.

Though counting cards to gain an edge at the table is legal, you will be asked to leave a casino if caught doing it.

Every discussion of blackjack for beginners should begin with a simple explanation of the point of the game. While there will normally be other players sitting at a blackjack table with you, the goal of the game is not for you to beat them. Instead, you and your tablemates all have the same goal, to beat the dealer or the house. Since you and your tablemates have a common goal, it is possible for more than one person to win in a single round of play.

Even if you have never played blackjack before, you have probably heard people refer to the game as “21.” Blackjack often goes by that name because the point of the game is for you to get a count as close as possible to 21, without going over that number. Ideally, your count will equal 21 naturally or you will get to 21 by hitting a time or two. If your hand does not equal 21 and you have not gone over that mark, you want your hand to be closer to 21 than the dealer’s hand is. If it is, you win. It does not matter what your tablemates’ hands add up to because you are only competing against the dealer.

As you learn how to play blackjack, it is critical that you remember that every action you make at the blackjack table will have a direct effect on the results the other people at your table experience. That is why it is normally advisable to play the game according to some generally accepted rules.

In addition to explaining the object of the game, a guide to blackjack for beginners should also include an explanation of how cards are valued or scored. With the exception of face cards and aces, every card has a value that is equal to the number on the card. A five of clubs, for instance, adds five to your hand’s total. The suit of a card does not influence its value in conventional blackjack.

Card values in Blackjack

Aces and face cards are valued as follows:

  • Ace: One or 11
  • King: 10
  • Queen: 10
  • Jack: 10

Every blackjack table in a casino has minimum and maximum betting limits that are clearly visible. Before the dealer deals, players place bets within these limits. Once everyone has wagered, the dealer gives every player a single card working in a clockwise rotation, with the dealer getting the last card. All of the cards in this first pass are dealt face-up. The dealer then hands out a second round of face-up cards, but deals their second card face down. Because the players’ cards are dealt face-up, there is no need for players to touch them.

If you are at a table using only one deck, the cards will normally be dealt face down. If this is the case, you may touch your cards. As a general rule, if you receive cards face-up, avoid touching them.

If the first two cards you are dealt are an ace and a face card or a ten, your hand is a “natural” or “blackjack.” If you have a natural and the dealer does not, you will receive one-and-a-half times the amount of your wager. If you and your dealer have blackjacks, the round is a stand-off or a tie, and you get to keep your bet. If the dealer has a natural and you do not, the dealer will collect your wager.

If the first two cards you are dealt are an ace and a face card or a ten, your hand is a

Dealers only look at their face down cards before it is their turn to act, when the face-up card is an ace or it has a value of ten to see if they have a blackjack. If the dealer’s first card is not an ace and does not have a value of ten, the dealer will wait to look at their second card.

The action at a blackjack table begins with the person to the left of the dealer and moves from one player to the next in succession. When it is your turn, you will need to decide if you want to “stand,” which means not asking for another card, or “hit,” which means requesting another card to bring the overall value of your hand closer to 21. When you hit, you will receive one card at a time until your hand equals 21, you are satisfied with your hand’s total or your hand goes “bust.” If your hand goes bust, it means the value of your hand exceeded 21 and you lost your bet.

If your initial two cards include an ace and a card that does not have a value of ten, you have a “soft hand.” This is because you have the option of treating the ace as if it has a value of 11 or a value of one. If you are using a value of 11 and you get a card that would put the value of your hand over 21, you can simply change the value of your ace to one in order to keep playing.

Depending on where you play blackjack, verbally telling the dealer what you want to do may not be sufficient to move the action along. Some establishments will require you to use hand signals that can be recorded on their security cameras to avoid disputes at the table. If you want to hit, you simply scratch the table lightly in a motion toward yourself with one or two of fingers. Alternatively, you can wave your hand the same way you would to signal someone to head in your direction. To stand, wave your hand from side to side slightly above the table.

Some establishements will require you to use hand signals that can be recorded on their security cameras to avoid disputes at the table.

Whereas players have options during play, a dealer’s actions at a blackjack table are formulaic and they are dictated by the cards. Here are the actions you will see a blackjack dealer take depending on the first two cards in their hand:

  • Total is 17 or Greater: Blackjack dealers must stand if the total value of their first two cards is equal to, or greater than 17.
  • Value is 16 or Less: If the combined value of the first two cards a dealer gets is 16 or less, the dealer must take cards one at a time until the value of their hand is 17 or more without going over 21.
  • Dealer Has an Ace: When dealers have an ace and giving the card a value of 11 would bring their hand to a total of at least 17, they have to use the value of 11 and stand.

In addition to hitting or standing, you have the option of doing the following when it is your turn to act:

If your first two cards are the same, you can split them into two separate hands.
  • Splitting Pairs: If your first two cards are the same, you can split them into two separate hands. Your original bet will go on one hand and you will have to place another wager of the same amount on the second hand. You will play the hand on the left-hand side first and then you will play your second hand after you are done with the first one. If you split aces, you will only be able to hit once per hand. If you get a ten card to pair with one of your aces, the payout will only be one-to-one instead of the usual one-to-one-and-a-half you would normally get for a blackjack.
  • Doubling Down: When your first two cards have a combined value of nine, 10 or 11, you can double down by doubling the amount of your bet. If you do this, you will get just one more card, dealt face down. That card will not be turned over until all of the other bets are settled at the end of the hand.
  • Buying Insurance: If the dealer’s face-up card is an ace, you can buy insurance, which is a side bet of up to one-half of your original bet. If the dealer’s face down card has a value of ten, you will win twice the amount of your side bet, which means you will break even on the hand overall unless you also have a blackjack. If you have a natural, you will do more than break even, you will win money. Unless you are certain that many cards that have a value of ten are left in the shoe, it is generally unwise to buy insurance.

When players go bust, they lose their wagers, even if the dealer ultimately goes bust in the same round of play. When dealers go over 21, they pay the players who stood the amount that they bet. When dealers stand with a 21 or a lesser value, players who have a higher value while remaining under 21 win. Players whose hands have a value lower than the dealer’s cards lose their wagers. When there is a stand-off or a tie between a dealer and a player, no chips are exchanged between the dealer and that person.

Basic Blackjack Strategy for Beginners

It really does not matter if you are a new player or a seasoned veteran, the basic strategy for blackjack is the same. When you play blackjack, you should do your best to stick to the following guidelines:

You should double down if your initial two cards have a combined value of 11
  • If the dealer’s face-up card is a seven, eight, nine, 10, face card or an ace, you should continue hitting until your hand has a value of at least 17.
  • If the dealer’s face-up card is less than seven but more than three, you should only hit until the value of your hand hits a minimum of 12.
  • If the dealer’s face-up card is a two or a three, you should hit until your hand is worth 13 or more.
  • If you have a soft hand such as an ace and a five, you should continue hitting until the value of your hand is 18 or more.
  • You should double down if your initial two cards have a combined value of 11.
  • If your cards total 10, you should double down if the dealer’s up card is an ace, face card or a ten.
  • If your initial two cards have a total value of nine, you should only double down if the dealer is showing a two, three, four, five or six.
  • If you have a pair of aces or eights, you should split your hand.
  • If you have a pair of twos, threes or sevens, you should split your hand unless the dealer is showing an eight, nine, ten, face card or ace.
  • You should only split sixes if the dealer’s face-up card is a two, three, four, five or six.
  • Do no split your hand when you have a pair of fours, fives or tens.

Different Blackjack Games

While traditional blackjack is a ton of fun to play regardless of whether you are winning or losing, different variants of the game and various side bets have developed over the years that are equally exciting. Here are some of the side bets and games you may come across in a casino:

Golden 21

This side bet gives you the chance to win more with the hand you are dealt while playing blackjack. All you have to do is place an optional Golden 21 side bet. If the first two cards you are dealt equal a poker hand, you win money in addition to any money you win in blackjack. At Dover Downs Hotel & Casino, the Golden 21 side bets pay out as follows:

    • Blackjack pays 3:2
    • Straight pays 1:1
    • Pair pays 2:1
    • Straight Flush pays 5:1
    • Golden 21 pays 30:1 (A/K suited)


This side bet involves your two cards and the dealer’s face-up card. If you place a 21+3 side bet and your cards and the dealer’s up card form a flush, straight, three-of-a-kind or a straight flush, you win. As a general rule, the payout for these bets can be as high as nine-to-one.

Spanish 21

Spanish 21 is a variant of blackjack that uses six or eight Spanish decks, meaning each deck of cards has had the tens removed. Since taking the tens out of each deck improves the house’s edge, Spanish 21 includes bonuses and rules that reduce the house’s edge to a level sometimes lower than its edge in traditional blackjack. The rules for Spanish 21 vary from one location to another, so be sure you are familiar with them before you take a seat at the table. In Australia and Malaysia, Spanish 21 is called Pontoon.

Dover Downs Hotel & Casino

Whether you are looking for a place to try your hand at blackjack or you want to enjoy amenities you will not find anywhere else, visit Dover Downs Hotel & Casino. At our award-winning, luxurious property, you will always find more.

If you want more gaming action, you will find it in our breathtaking casino, which has more than 2,300 slot machines, 41 gaming tables, an 18-table poker room, virtual gaming and a high stakes area. If you need more variety, you can choose to dine in an upscale or low-key setting, enjoy some boutique shopping or spend some time in our relaxing spa. By offering blackjack, Spanish 21, 21+3, Golden 21 and more, we give you plenty of choices when it comes to blackjack, too. If you are looking for something else to do, you do not have to look beyond our gorgeous property for entertainment such as headliner shows, boxing and racing.

As the number one hotel and casino destination in Delaware, we always give you more when you visit our property. Give us a call to book your next stay with us today.