Black Jack Rules, Basic & Advanced Strategy
Black Jack (or Blackjack) is one of the most popular casino card games. Black Jack is sought by those players, who are not content with the result being dependent solely on chance. On the contrary, they may and want to influence their winning chances by appropriately chosen strategy. By the best way of play they can even gain an advantage over the dealer, which is rarely seen in most of the casino games.
Black Jack is played with one or more 52-card decks (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K, A suited in four colors) such as Poker for example. Black Jack is definitely worth trying. There is a related game known as Twenty One (21).
Rules & Goal of Black Jack
The goal of the player (or the players as there can be more players playing simultaneously) in Black Jack is to beat the dealer by the total value of their cards approaching 21 as much as possible and, at the same time, by having the higher total value of the cards than the dealer.
If the player exceeds 21 – he or she is over or bust – and loses instantly regardless of the total value of the dealers’ cards. If the dealer goes bust he or she loses against all the players who have not exceeded 21. When both player and dealer have the same total value of their cards, it is a tie and the bet is returned to the player.
If there are more players playing Black Jack, it may happen (or it happens actually) that the dealer beats some player(s) and loses to the other(s) at the same time. Each player wins or loses their own individual bet. The minimum and maximum bet is usually shown near the Black Jack table.
The card values in Black Jack are slightly different from Twenty One. The cards 2 to 10 are worth their face value, while Jack, Queen and King are counted for 10 points. Ace can be worth 1 or 11 points at discretion.
Unlike Twenty One there is a new terminology in Black Jack: so called soft total and hard total. If the player counts an ace for 11 points, the total is called soft as the player cannot exceed 21 with another card; in the opposite case the total is marked as hard.
Black Jack is a hand (or a combination) of an ace and ten or any figure (J, Q, K that are worth 10 points), the color plays no role. Examples of Black Jack:
Deal of Cards & Course of Play in Blackjack
Once the players place their bets on the designated boxes in front of them, the dealer first deals one card to every player including him- or herself in the clockwise order and after that one more card is dealt to the players only. All cards are dealt face up, that is visibly for all players, the dealer and the onlookers.
After that the dealer asks the players in the same order about their intentions and bets and he or she also announces the totals of the cards. Apart from Twenty One there are new possibilities how to continue in the game of Black Jack: split and double. The dealer follows player’s instructions until he or she decides to stand or busts. The bet is lost immediately in case of bust.
As soon as the dealer serves all players he or she deals him- or herself a second card (or even more cards). Then the dealer grabs losing bets, pays out winning bets and returns tie bets. For a completion it is needed to say that in some Black Jack variations (or modifications of rules by a casino), especially when only a single deck of cards is used, the dealer deals the cards face down (invisibly) or he or she deals him- or herself two cards straight away, while one of them is face down.
Dealer’s Rule (Decision Making)
Let us start with the easier, i.e. the play of the dealer who, unlike the players, must stick to the strict rules to hit (i.e. to take another card) or stand:
- If the dealer’s total is lower or equal to 16, he or she must take another card;
- If the dealer’s total is 17 or greater, he or she must stand (= cannot take another card).
In some casinos the dealer must take another card at soft 17. Of course if the dealer busts, he or she loses and pays out all players in the ratio 1:1. The dealer cannot double or split.
The players in the game of Black Jack have more possibilities than the dealer.
Take another card.
Stop or hand over the turn when the player is satisfied with their total or do not want to risk bust by taking another card.
Double the bet, receive one more card and stop the turn. Some rules enable to double only with one card.
The game can be split if the player has two cards of the same value, while a standalone game is played with each of the cards. The initial bet needs to be doubled; therefore split is a specific manner of double.
If the player does not trust their two cards after the deal, he or she may surrender (later surrender is not possible). The dealer returns one half of the bet to the player, the other one falls for casino. Sometimes it is not possible to surrender when the first card of the dealer is 10 or Ace and when he or she would get Black Jack. This rule is also known as late surrender. If it is possible to surrender before knowing that the dealer would get Black Jack, we talk about early surrender.
If the dealer’s first card is Ace, the player(s) can insurance against Black Jack (the total 21) before he or she takes another card. The insurance is paid 2:1 and the maximum insurance is a half of the bet (so that it covers the whole bet).
Basic Rules Modifications
The basic Black Jack rules can be modified in various casinos. The modifications mostly deal with the possibility to double or (re)split.
Double 9/10/11 or 10/11
Double is allowed only at hard totals 9, 10, 11 or 10, 11.
One card only for ace split
If the player is dealt two aces and decided to split the game, he or she receives only one card for each ace and the turn is over. Ace is, of course, worth 11 points in this case.
If the player splits the game and the next card has the same value as well, he or she can further re-split the game. Theoretically there can be three or four standalone games. Re-split for aces is usually not allowed.
No double after split
Double may not be allowed after the game has been split.
Result of the Game
If the player has the higher total value of his or her cards than the dealer, he or she is winning and paid out 1:1.
If the player manages to get Black Jack, that is the total 21 out of two cards, while the dealer is not that successful, the player is winning and paid in the ratio 3:2 (or 1.5:1), that is he or she gets paid 1.5 times the bet. It is clear that Black Jack can be gained only by ace with some other card that is worth 10 points (ten, J, Q, K). If the dealer gets Black Jack as well, the game ends as a tie (aka stand off or push). If the player gets Black Jack and the dealer’s first card is Ace, the dealer offers to pay the player instantly in the ratio 1:1.
If there is a standoff, i.e. the total values of the player’s and dealer’s cards are equal, the bet is returned to the player.
If the dealer exceeds 21 (busts / breaks), he or she pays out all players that have not gone over 21.
Black Jack Basic Strategy
While the player may choose how to proceed in the game, the dealer’s play is given and cannot be deviated. This can be utilized by the player to optimize their play and make the best decisions based on his or her hand and the first card of the dealer. This strategic way of play is referred to as basic strategy in Black Jack. It is based on mathematical and probability models.
The following basic strategy (model) is valid, when:
- 4 to 8 card decks are used;
- The dealer stands at soft 17;
- Double is allowed for any two cards of the same value;
- Double is allowed after split;
- Late surrender rule is applied.
Figure: Black Jack Basic Strategy
How to use the strategy above? The two cards in your hand and the dealer’s first card determine the coordinates of the best strategy – your reaction. For instance: if you have hard 15 (e.g. 8 + 7) and the dealer’s first card is six, then the best thing you can do is to stand (S). If the dealer had seven, then it would be better off to take another card (H – Hit). The strategy is based on mathematics and gives you the best chance of success in the long run.
Another example: If you have Ace and seven (A-7) and the dealer’s first card is three, four, five or six, then it is worth doubling your bet, if the rules allow that, if not then the best decision is to stand (Ds – Double, if not allowed then s – stand). If we moved one row down in the table of soft totals, i.e. we had A-6 in the hand and the dealer’s first card was 3 to 6 again, then the best strategy would be to double the bet again, but if the rules did not allow that, it would be best to take another card (Dh – Double, if not allowed then h – hit).
And the last example: If you have two cards of the same value (or a pair), then the best strategy is to split the game in most of the cases (SP – Split).
Advantage Play – Advanced Strategy
The Black Jack basic strategy gives good prospects for most Black Jack variations (the rules can slightly differ from casino to casino) in the long run, while the house edge ranges from 0.5 to 1%. The house edge is very low compared to other casino games; however there are techniques that can press the house advantage to as low as zero or even turn it around into the player’s favor.
One of the advanced strategies in Black Jack is to watch the cards that have been dealt or even to count them. If you e.g. figure out that there is a great number of tens and aces in the deck (you can see and remember the cards of all players incl. the dealer), you may adjust your play and bet higher amounts or double more often as there is growing probability to get some high total or even Black Jack.
The card counting is a relatively demanding technique that promises the best results. The player can get the edge up to 2% over the dealer. The counting of cards is easier and more powerful the smaller is the number of card decks. When there is a single card deck only, casinos often insist that players do not show their cards to each other. The more card decks, the higher is the house edge.
The card counting or remembering is a quite legal technique, which is, for understandable reasons, not appreciated by casinos. On the contrary various memory or record devices are considered a fraud and prohibited. It is not easy for a player to count the card from the mental point of view. Such player must be very careful not to reveal him- or herself. The course of the play is watched not only by the dealer but by a team behind the camera too. If the player is revealed he or she becomes persona non grata not welcome any more and blacklisted.
Tournament Black Jack
Black Jack, similarly to Poker (see the poker tournaments) can be played in a tournament manner. On the beginning each player receives the same amount of chips and the goal is to get as many chips as possible. Based on the number of players there can be multiple rounds or tables. The principle of the tournament play is to eliminate or top the opponents in terms of chip amount. It can be done in two ways. On each table only one or two player(s) with the highest amount of chips go on, or on the contrary, those with lowest amount of chips at a specified point are eliminated, e.g. after five rounds.
The best strategy in tournament Black Jack can vary from the classic game. The great importance consists in the amount of bet – if you manage to win some high bet, you may get a great edge over the opponents, but if you lose a big one, you can face elimination. As in poker tournaments casinos charge a commission.