Even the most naïve casino beginner knows that the best game in the casino, odds-wise, is blackjack.
But what if you don’t know how to play?
Or what if you have some understanding of the basics but aren’t sure about other things?
If that describes you, you’ll need the answers to these 7 important beginner blackjack questions:
1 – How Do You Play Blackjack in a Casino?
To play real money blackjack in a casino, you start by finding an open seat at a blackjack table. Look for a placard on the table, first, though. This sign will indicate what the minimum and maximum bets are. If you only have a bankroll of $200, you don’t want to sit down at a table with a $100 minimum bet.
To buy in, you lay your cash on the table, and the dealer converts your cash into chips. Never hand the money to the dealer – lay it on the table. You’ll bet with chips throughout.
To make your first bet, put the appropriate chip into the circle drawn on the felt of the table in front of you.
The dealer will give you and the other players two cards each. In some games, these cards will be face-up; in others, the cards will be face-down.
If the cards are face-up, you’re NOT allowed to touch them.
If the cards are face-down, you are allowed to pick them up and look at them.
The dealer also gets two cards – one face-up and the other face-down.
You make your decisions based on the total in your hand and what the dealer’s face-up card is.
The goal is to get as close to 21 as you can without going bust or by beating the dealer hoping that she’ll go bust.
A bust is any hand totaling 22 or more.
The cards are worth the value printed on them – for example, the two of spades is worth two points, the three of hearts is worth three points, and so on. The suit doesn’t matter.
The face cards – the jack, queen, and king – are always worth 10 points each.
The ace is special – you can count it as one point or as 11 points, and you can change your mind about that whenever you want.
The basic move in the game is to decide when to hit or stand. To hit is to take another card from the dealer. The upside to hitting is that it increases your point total. The downside is that this new higher point total might bust your hand.
To stand is to decline any more cards.
If you bust after hitting, you immediately forfeit your bet – it’s an automatic loss.
And the dealer plays her hand last. She doesn’t get to decide how to play her hand, either. She must hit any total of 16 or lower and stand on any total of 17 or higher.
To make things more interesting, you have some other options besides hitting or standing.
You can double down, which means to place an additional bet the same size as your original bet and take one more card – no more and no less.
You can split if you have a pair – two cards of the same value. In that case, you put up an additional bet the same size as your first bet. Each of the cards in your original hand becomes the starting hand of a new blackjack hand.
Those are the basics of blackjack strategy – if you get stuck, ask the dealer. She’s happy to help as long as you’re smart and don’t slow down the game with your questions.
2 – What Happens When You Get a Blackjack?
One thing I didn’t cover in the section about how to play is how the dealer handles a blackjack – it’s not just the name of the game, it’s also the name of a 2-card hand totaling 21. Such a hand consists of any card worth 10 and an ace, which counts as 11.
In some casinos and in some blackjack games, a blackjack only pays off at 6 to 5. This means a $100 bet would only win $120. You should avoid these 6/5 blackjack variations.
The only time your blackjack doesn’t pay off is when the dealer also has a blackjack. In that case, the bet is considered a push.
3 – How Do Side Bets Work in Blackjack?
Side bets work great for the casino but are usually lousy propositions for the casino gambler.
The most prominent example of a side bet in blackjack is the insurance bet, which is available in all casino blackjack games that I’m aware of.
If the dealer has an ace showing, the insurance bet becomes available. To place this bet, you put up a bet half the size of your original bet. If the dealer has a blackjack, you win 2-to-1 on your insurance bet – which is just enough to cover the automatic loss you’ll face. (Any time the dealer gets a blackjack, you automatically lose unless you also have a blackjack.)
Insurance is a bad blackjack bet, though, as are most side bets in a casino. The house edge – the casino’s statistical advantage – on the insurance bet is about 7.5%.
This means that, on average, over the long run, for every $100 in insurance bets you place, you’re going to lose $7.50.
How does that compare to the basic game itself?
The house edge for blackjack when played with perfect basic strategy is between 0.5% and 1%.
So, it’s easy to see why a bet with a 7.5% edge is such a sucker bet.
The house edge on this bet is also around 7%, but it can vary based on the pay table. (The above pay table is just an example.)
My advice is to skip all the side bets at the blackjack table – just stick with the basic game.
4 – What Is a Push in Blackjack?
I’ve mentioned a push a couple of times now. It’s just another word for tie. In a push situation, you get your bet back, but you don’t get any winnings. You also don’t lose any money, though – it’s like the hand never happened.
5 – Can You Use Your Phone at the Blackjack Table?
The rules for using your phone at the blackjack table vary from casino to casino. In many casinos, it’s not allowed at all.
Even in casinos where using your phone at the table is allowed, it’s considered poor casino etiquette at best and very rude at worst.
Just turn your cell phone off at the blackjack table, please.
6 – Can Blackjack in a Casino Be Rigged?
Sure, any casino game – including blackjack – can be rigged.
But blackjack is seldom or never rigged in the casino the way you think it is.
You’ll occasionally read about a casino dealer who’s in league with one of the other players. Such stories end badly. Colluding with players and dealers is a crime in Nevada.
They already have the odds in their favor, and I explain how that happens in this next post.
7 – How Does the Casino Make Money From Blackjack?
The casino makes its money from all casino games by a small, subtle rule detail. That rule detail varies from one game to the next. In roulette, it’s the presence of the 0 and the 00 on the wheel.
But in blackjack, the house gets its edge by forcing you to play your hand first. If you bust, you lose immediately. The dealer doesn’t play her hand until you’ve already played yours.
In a fair game, if you and the dealer both busted, the result would be a push.
But that’s not what happens in blackjack.
Those are the seven biggest questions most newcomers to blackjack have. If I missed anything, let me know in the comments.