The Basics of Blackjack


Blackjack is a casino card game played between one or more players and the dealer. It is distinguished from other casino games by its combination of chance and elements of skill. The game’s popularity is due in part to its mix of risk and reward, and the publicity surrounding techniques for gaining an advantage such as card counting (keeping track of which cards have been played).

In general, the goal is to beat the dealer by having a higher, unbusted hand. A player who has a blackjack wins, usually paying out 3:2 of the initial bet. A hand that exceeds 21 is busted and the player loses. A player may also win if the dealer has a blackjack, in which case the bet is returned without adjustment. A player can also make side wagers on the outcome of specific hands, such as a “perfect pair” or “aces up.”

Players are dealt two cards, customarily facing up or down depending on the rules of the game. The dealer is also dealt two cards, but only one is exposed. A blackjack is a pair of matching cards, or an ace and a ten-value card, giving a count of 21 in two cards. The hand is paid out at odds of 3:2 if it beats the dealer’s hand, but some casinos have started to pay only 6:5 for blackjacks since 2003.

While the game of blackjack is primarily a matter of chance, the house has a statistical advantage that will play out over the long run. However, players using basic strategy can reduce this edge to less than one percent. Other strategies, such as card counting, can give the player an advantage of 0.5 to 1.5% over the house.

Blackjack rules vary between casinos and games, but the basic rules are universal. The number of decks used, the position of the dealer’s up card and whether doubling down is permitted are among the key differences.

Most casinos permit the player to double down on any two cards except a king, queen or jack. Doubling down on a split is not permitted, but if the player has a two-card 21, it is considered a “natural” and pays out at 3:1. The dealer will offer insurance if the player has a natural, but this bet is rarely profitable to the player.

Some casinos allow the player to make additional side bets on specific blackjack outcomes, such as a perfect pair or aces up. These side bets are usually made independently of the main blackjack wager and must be placed before the dealer deals his or her hand. However, some games require that a blackjack wager equal or exceed any side bets. This rule is designed to prevent players from making a bet that does not have any chance of winning. It also discourages excessive betting by players who are losing. In this way, the game maintains its integrity and encourages fair play by all players.