Twenty-one is so-named because the object of the game is to get nearest to the number 21 without going over. Numbered cards have the same value as the number on their card face. Jacks, queens, and kings have a value of 10. The ace can have a value of 1 or 11, depending on what’s most valuable. If you have ace in your hand and it’s value is 11, this is called a “soft” hand, because the hand’s value can change to avoid busting. A hand with no ace or an ace acting as 1 is called a hard hand, because it cannot change.
When you receive two cards (only) and they equal “21”, it’s called a natural blackjack. This is the best hand in most forms of twenty-one and, unless you’re playing under special house rules, the most the dealer can do is tie you. If you hand ties the dealer’s, it’s called a push. If you receive an ace-10 twenty-one and the dealer receives an 10-6-5 twenty-one, then you win. Any twenty-ones built with three or more cards are considered the same value, unless special rules apply (and they do sometimes). The natural 21 pays at 3:2 in most blackjack games, though you’ll see the payouts at 1:1, 6:5, and 7:5. If you see any of these other payouts, avoid the game.
Insurance allows players to make a side bet when the dealer is showing the possibility of a natural blackjack (showing an ace). The side wager lets a gambler hedge their bets by getting a 2:1 payout if that natural 21 occurs. Since the odds of hitting the natural are 70% against and taking the insurance only gives you a payback 50% of the time, you should never take insurance.
Dealers have specific procedures they follow which dictates when the hit or stand. One common game mechanic is the soft-17 rule. If the dealer is holding a soft 17, the dealer hits. If they hold a hard 17 (or higher) or a soft 16 (or lower), the dealer stands. If you find a game where the dealer must stand on a soft 17, this is much better, because it lowers the chance they build their hand to 17. With a soft 17, they can’t bust, so it’s complete gain for someone to hit in this situation.
These are just the basic rules. Other rules to keep in mind are surrender, which lets you surrender by handing over 1/2 of your wager. When a gambler uses this rule effectively, in those instances when their opponent has a better than 50% chance of winning, it can be an effective rule. Other rule options to study are splitting pairs, doubling your bet, and the dealer peak rules. These can be complicated, because of the many options for splitting and doubling. Also, early surrender and late surrender are game options, too.
Etiquette might be a little different in online and land-based gambling. For instance, when you play in a casino, never hand the dealer your money. Instead, put the money on the table. You’ll notice that the dealer spreads the money out. This is so the casino cameras can film the transaction and management knows the dealer isn’t pocketing cash.
When you play at a table where the deal is face down, always pick the cards up and manipulate them with one hand–not two. The casino needs to know you aren’t marking the cards or palming them, so never use two hands. Just as important, don’t pull the cards down below the dealer’s view. If you put the cards in your lap, you’ll get a stern rebuke. If the cards go under the table, all kinds of horseplay can occur. If the deal is face up and your cards are showing to everyone at the table, you should never touch your cards under any circumstances.
Additionally, it is not rude to ask for the dealer’s help and suggestions. They are not hired to beat you at cards. They are paid to run a professional, fair game. If you ask for advice, they will tell you the proper play.
Once you place chips down for a bet, never touch them. This keeps someone from pulling back chips and disputing their original wager, if they lost. When you win or tie, you can touch the chip stack and make new bets accordingly. If the house win, the dealer’s going to take your chips.
Instead of calling out your decisions, make hand signals to show what you want to do. This keeps the dealer from misunderstanding you due to crowd noise. Also, signalling with hands lets the cameras see what you wanted to do (and have a record of it), so there’s never any dispute about what your bet was. If you want a new card, scrape the cards to signal “hit”. If you don’t want a new card, tap the cards on the table to signal “stand”. If you want to double, place a chip stack next to the old chip stack, but never on the chips. If you want to split, place chips next to the old chip stack, but outside the betting area.
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