Blackjack - Hit, Stand, Double or Split?

Blackjack is one of the best loved card games in the world. There are many variations and several different names including Pontoon, Twenty One and the French name Vingt-et-Un. However they are all based on one simple goal - beat the dealer!

When playing, you have four options: HIT - STAND - DOUBLE DOWN or SPLIT but first we'll see how the game works.

How to play Blackjack

Please note: this is just a general guide. Always check the house rules before you play!

  • You place a bet to indicate you're ready to play.
  • The dealer deals each player two cards face up. He also deals two cards for himself - the first card is face-up and the second is face-down. (The dealer's face-down card is often called the "hole" card.)
  • You add the total points on your two cards.
    Cards 2-10 are worth their own number.
    All picture cards are worth 10.
    ACE is worth either 1 or 11 (you choose).

  • At this point you decide whether to take another card. The object is to make your cards total 21 or get as close as you can. If you go over 21, then you're bust and you lose immediately. You can take up to three extra cards.

  • After you have played, the dealer turns over the hole card. The dealer then tries to get to 21 without going bust. Usually if the dealer has less than 17 points he MUST take another card, if he has 17 or higher he MUST stand.

KEY WORDS:

The differences between
PONTOON
and Blackjack

KEY WORDS:

  • Pontoon: is the same as Blackjack - an ace plus any 10 value card.
  • Twist: is the same as Hit - you want another card.
  • Stick: is the same as Stand - you don't want another card.
  • Buy: similar to Double Down, but you can buy again or twist afterwards.
  • Five card trick: you hold five cards with a total of 21 or less.

PONTOON RULES

The Good News...

  • Getting a Pontoon pays 2/1
  • A five card trick beats any score except Pontoon and pays 2/1.
  • Usually you can buy more than one card, and the rules are more relaxed about when you can split cards.

...and the Bad News!

  • Both the dealer's cards are dealt face down.
  • If hands are equal, the dealer wins. There are no "push" games.
  • Usually, a player must twist on 14 or less.

As always - check the rules before you play!
  • BLACKJACK : an ace plus a picture or 10 card making 21.
  • HIT : you ask for another card.
  • STAND : you don't want another card.
  • BUST : your point total is over 21.
  • PUSH : your hand is equal to the dealer. You don't win or lose and your stake is returned.
  • SOFT : any hand with an ACE except Blackjack. An ACE is worth 1 or 11, so if you have ACE and 4, the total is called a soft 15. This means that you can get another card knowing you won't go over 21, because the ACE value will just become 1 if necessary.

WINNING AND LOSING

  • WIN if your first two cards give you Blackjack... unless the dealer also gets Blackjack, in which case it's a PUSH. You can't lose!
    Blackjack pays 3/2 (So $10 wins you $15)
  • WIN if you are still in the game, and the dealer goes bust.
    Straight win pays evens (So $10 wins you $10)
  • WIN if you end up with a higher score than the dealer.
    Straight win pays evens (So $10 wins you $10)
  • LOSE if you get a card that takes your total over 21, you go bust immediately. (It doesn't matter what happens to the dealer.)
  • LOSE if the dealer gets a higher score than you.
  • PUSH if your score matches the dealer or you both get Blackjack.
    Push means your stake is returned, but no winnings.

OTHER THINGS YOU CAN DO

So far we've looked at the basic game, but there are lots of different rules and variations played all over the world.

Remember: always check the house rules before you play.

  • DOUBLE DOWN After the deal, if you want a third card and you're feeling optimistic, you can double your bet at the same time. You are not allowed any further cards. See When do I Double Down?
  • SPLIT If your first two cards have the same value, most places let you separate them and ask for a second card to go on each one, and so you can play two hands at the same time. You will need to add a second bet. See Should I Split?
  • INSURANCE If the dealer's face-up card is an ACE, you might be worred he'll get a Blackjack and beat you, so you can take out insurance. This is an extra bet which is usually half your original stake. If the dealer's second card is worth 10 (giving him a Blackjack), you win.
    An insurance win is paid at 2/1, so if you bet $5, you'd win $10.

RULE VARIATIONS

  • Multiple decks Home players usually play with a single deck of 52 cards. This means that if you're holding an ACE, the chance of the dealer's hole card being an ACE is about 1/17. Online and casino games usually play with eight decks all mixed up together, so if you're holding an ACE the chance of the hole card also being an ACE is closer to 1/13, so it's a bit more likely.
  • Soft 17 If the dealer has an ACE and a 6, this gives him a soft 17. Some casinos say he must stick, some say he must hit. If the rules say he must hit on soft 17, that gives players a slightly better chance!
  • Spanish decks* Some places remove the 10 spot cards from each deck, leaving just 48 cards which slightly increases the dealer's chances of winning.
    (* Card games have been played in Spain for over 600 years. In the early days a standard deck had numbers 1-9 plus Jack, Queen, King. There was also a 40 card deck which left out the 8's and 9's.)
  • There are varied rules on splitting and doubling down, so do check first!

Blackjack Quick Guide
DOWNLOAD *PDF
HIT, STAND, DOUBLE DOWN or SPLIT?

These calculations are based on EIGHT FULL DECKS mixed together.
This means that cards already drawn will have a negligible effect on the chances of what may yet turn up.

Should I SPLIT?

If your two dealt cards are the same value, this is the first decision you have to make.
Generally it is agreed there are only two card values you should split:

TWO ACES: this gives a soft 12 points which is not much fun. If the house rules let you split your aces, you have a 52% chance that at least one of your hands will give you a Blackjack.
Be aware that some places only pay out 1/1 on a Blackjack after splitting.

TWO 8s: sixteen is a lousy total to work from, but splitting the 8's gives you a 62% chance that at least one of your hands will give you 18 or even a soft 19. Some people argue that if the dealer is showing 9 or 10, then don't split and hit on your 16. It's your decision!

After you have split you play both hands separately.

Should I HIT or STAND?

This is THE big decision!

If your points total is 11 or less you MUST hit as your hand will improve and you can't go bust! Once your score is 12 or higher, you have to do some thinking. (If you're holding an ACE, things are slightly different. See the soft hands section.) This is a summary of the advice built up by experts over the years. Look at the dealer's upturned card and then act as follows:

The Dealer's Upturned card What you should do Dealer's chance of going bust!
2 or 3 There's a reasonable chance the dealer will go bust, and he will be lucky if he finishes in the 17-21 zone. If you've got 13 or more then stand.
Hit on 12 or less.
36%
4, 5 or 6 This is bad for the dealer! Don't risk going bust.
Hit on 11 or less.
42%
7, 8, 9 The dealer is likely to get a high score, so you have to take more of a chance.
Hit on 16 or less.
25%
10, J, Q, K
21%
ACE There's a 4/13 (31%) chance of a blackjack against you, plus the dealer has more options to get a score between 17 and 21. As it's likely you'll be beaten it's worth being brave.
Hit on 17 or less.
12%

When do I DOUBLE DOWN?

Aha! This is the question that sorts out the champions from the also-rans.
Everybody has their own opinions, so when playing hard hands (i.e. you don't hold an ace) this is just a guide.

Double Down when...

  • You hold 11.
  • You hold 10 and the dealer is showing 4, 5 or 6
  • You hold 9 and the dealer is showing 5 or 6.

SOFT HANDS!

Suppose you're holding an ACE and a 3, this is called a soft 14. If you hit and get 7, you've got a perfectly valid 21, but if you hit and get 8, then your ACE is worth 1, and your total becomes 12. You're still in the game!

Having an ACE is a very powerful weapon against the dealer providing you know how best to use it.
Here's the basic advice:

  • Always stand on soft 19 and soft 20.
  • Stand on soft 18 if the dealer shows 7 or 8.
  • Hit all other soft hands!

If the rules allow it, you should also Double Down as suggested by this table. (If you can't Double Down then Hit.)

Dealer's face-up card
Your Soft Hand! 2 3 4 5/6 7/8 9/10/ACE
ACE-ACE = soft 12
ACE-2 = soft 13
ACE-3 = soft 14
H H H D H H
ACE-4 = soft 15
ACE-5 = soft 16
H H D D H H
ACE-6 = soft 17 H D D D H H
ACE-7 = soft 18 H D D D S H
ACE-8 = soft 19
ACE-9 = soft 20
S S S S S S
S = Stand H = Hit D = Double Down

Of course, these are only suggestions to help you! If everything could be accurately predicted, where's the fun?

HOW LIKELY ARE YOU TO GO BUST?

Suppose you're on 14. Any card 7 or below is good, but the six cards higher than the 7 are bad. Therefore if you hit on 14, you have a slightly better than even chance (7/13 = 54%) of improving your hand, and you are slightly less likely (6/14 = 46%) to go bust. 7 is actually the "middle number" or "median" of the card values.

Whatever your hand, you can work out your chances of going bust by considering how many cards (out of the thirteen different ranks available) are against you. For these calculations, ACE always counts as 1 and we're assuming multiple decks have been shuffled together.

How many points you hold 11 or less 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21
Number of cards against you 0/13 4/13 5/13 6/13 7/13 8/13 9/13 10/13 11/13 12/13
Your chance of going bust 0% 31% 38% 46% 54% 62% 69% 77% 85% 92% Don't do it!

HOUSE PROFIT

Like any casino game, Blackjack should return a profit to the dealer, but this profit is very low compared to most casino games. With a reasonably skilled player this profit is less than 1%!

Never bet more than you can afford to lose.

Good luck!


Blackjack Quick Guide
DOWNLOAD *PDF

There are more stats and facts about games here:

Chances of Card Hands

The UK National Lottery Odds

How many ways can you put a pack of cards in order?

The Roulette Wheel ... and how to worry the casino!

The Betting Guide - and how to work out the Bookie's profit!

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