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The Cards and Rules of Blackjack Play

A standard deck of 52 cards is used in the game of casino blackjack. At one time most games were played with this single deck of cards, but today there are many multiple deck games in existence. But no matter how many decks are used, whether two or eight, they are merely multiples of the standard 52 deck game. Therefore, if a player is at a table where two decks are used, the dealer is using 104 cards, made up of two standard decks of 52 cards each.

The standard deck of cards contains four suits; clubs, diamonds, hearts and spades. In blackjack, the suits have no material value and can be disregarded. What is important is the value of the cards.

Value of the Cards

Each of the four suits contains the identical 13 cards, ranging from an ace to a king. The cards are ace, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, jack, queen and king.

In casino blackjack, the following cards are counted as 10s, and have that value for adding purposes to ascertain the total of the hand: 10, jack, queen and king.

In the future, we’ll refer to any of these cards as 10-value card or simply as a 10. There are sixteen 10-value cards in the standard deck, and therefore these are the most frequent cards in play. All the other values consist of only four cards.

To value a card, other than the ace, which we’ll discuss last, we simply examine the spots on the card, as well as the numerical value in the form of a number at the corners. Thus a 2 has two spots, the 3 three, and all the way up to the 9, which has nine spots.
The ace is the most powerful card in blackjack, and one of the reasons for its importance is that it can be valued, at the option of the player, as either a 1 or 11.

Blackjack is also called 21 because that is the highest total that a player may validly hold. Any hand totaling more than 21 points is a loser, and so called a “bust”. The ace, which can be valued at 1 or 11, sometimes prevents hands from going over 21, or “busting” – that is, losing, when it is valued at a 1.

For example, a hand containing 10-3-Ace is merely a 14, not a 24, because the player simply values the ace as a 1. The ace gives players, especially beginners, the most trouble. Often they think they’ve busted, because they value the ace as an 11 instead of as a 1. If in doubt, show the hand to the dealer and let him value it for you.

Object of the Game

When we discuss the object of the game, we write about the object from a player’s standpoint. The dealer has no object to his play; he simply must follow the rules set forth by the casino, which is typically to stand on hands of 17 or more, and to draw to all hands of 16 or less.

The object of the game, in its simplest terms, is to beat the dealer. To do this, the player can win in two ways. First of all, he or she must have a total higher than the dealer’s total, or he or she must have a valid hand, of whatever total, while the dealer “bust” or goes over 21.

The player loses if his or her total is less than the dealer’s total, or if the player busts. Once the player busts, his hand is out of play and his bet is removed. It doesn’t matter to this player if the dealer subsequently busts his own hand; once the player busts, he loses.

If both the player and the dealer have the same totals in their respective hands, it’s a tie, a stand off. The casino term for this is a “push”. And that’s just what it is, a push. Neither the player nor the dealer win.

How does a player improve his total? First, to understand this concept, we have to look at the original hand dealt to the player.

The Original Hand

The dealer, to put a round in motion, deals out two cards to each of the layers and two cards to himself. The cards are dealt one at a time, face down, the player to the dealers left gets the first card, and then each player after that getting a card in clockwise fashion. After each layer has received one card, then the dealer gives himself a card, also faced down. Then a second card is dealt to each of the players, also face down, in the same order, and the dealer gets his second card, and turns it face up.

This face up card is known as the upcard. Thus, all the players see one of the dealer’s cards, but the dealer sees none of the players’ cards. It wouldn’t matter if he saw the players’ cards or not, for the dealer, as we have said, is bound by strict rules. In some casinos, in multiple deck games, the players’ cards are dealt face up.

Most players prefer to have their cards dealt face down, for it gives them a feeling they’re actually involved in a secret game of some sort, hiding their cards from the dealer, who couldn’t care less. But most experts prefer to see all the cards dealt face up, because they get a better grasp of what cards are in play and out of the deck, and gives them a slight advantage.

The two cards that the player gets at the outset play is an original hand. The highest total he can get is 21 on an original hand; an ace and a 10-value card. When a player (or dealer) gets his this hand, it’s known as a blackjack, or a natural. A blackjack pays 3-2 if it wins. All other winning hands pay even-money. If the dealer gets a blackjack and none of the other players have a blackjack, the dealer simply wins the player’s bets bet at even-money; he doesn’t get that extra bonus.

If a player and the dealer have a blackjack, then it’s a push; neither wins.

The next highest total is a 20. This is a very strong hand, and usually a winning one, either on the part of the dealer or the player. Thereafter, that hands go down in value.
The important thing to remember is that neither a player nor a dealer can bust on the original hand. The following are some original hands and their totals:

Hitting and Standing

If a player wants to improve his hand, he can draw a car for that hand. This is called hitting or drawing. For example, if a player is dealt a 5-3, his total is only 8. Even if he hits the hand, he can’t bust, or go over 21. So he hits the hand, not worrying about busting.

If a player is dealt a 10-king, he has a total of 20. He doesn’t want to hit this hand, for his total is very strong, just one below the highest possible total, and if he hits the hand he will bust unless he gets an ace, and the odds against getting gone of four aces is very indeed, so he stands.

Hard and Soft Totals

Any hand that doesn’t contain an ace is a hard hand, and the total of those hard hands are hard totals. Most of the hands dealt to either the player or the dealer will be hard hands like these.

Some examples of hard hands:

  • 5-4, which is a hard 9.
  • 10-5, which is a hard 15.
  • Jack-king, which is a hard 20.

There is another way to have a hard hand, and that is to have a hand containing an ace, where the ace is counted as 1, not as an 11. For example, suppose the player were dealt an original hand of 10-4, and hit it and got an ace. He now would have hard 15, because he must value the ace as 1. If he valued it as an 11, the hand would total 25 and bust.
Other hard hands containing an ace:

  • 10-6-Ace, which is a hard 17.
  • 9-4-Ace, which is a hard 14.
  • 8-3-Ace, which is a hard 12.

Any had which contains an ace that is valued at 11, rather than as 1, is a soft hand, and its total is a soft total.

For example: suppose a player received an original hand of Ace-9. It would be a soft 20, with the ace counted as 11. Of course, the player would have the option of counting the hand a 10, but that would be foolish, since his 20 is very strong, and if he counted it as 10 and hit the hand, any card drawn other than an ace or ten would weaken the hand.

Here are some examples of soft hands:

  • Ace-9 is a soft 20.
  • Ace-8 is a soft 19.
  • Ace-7 is a soft 18.

A soft hand has one important advantage. Even if the hand is hit, it can’t bust. So if a foolish player hit a soft 20, consisting of an ace and 9, he still couldn’t bust.

A soft hand can become a hard hand, if it’s drawn to. For example, if a player were dealt an Ace-6 for a soft 17 and hit and got an 8, his hand would now be a hard 15 (Ace-6-8 =15). An Ace-4, which is a soft 15, if hit with a 7, would become a hard 12. But the same Ace-4, if hit with a 5, would become a soft 20.

The Blackjack

This is the strongest of all hands, and consists of a 10-value card and an ace dealt as an original hand. It is an immediate winner for the player – unless the dealer has a blackjack also, in which case it is a push. But if the dealer doesn’t have a blackjack, it pays off at 3-2.

If the dealer has a blackjack and none of the players have one, then the dealer wins all the bets on the table.

As we shall see, the player has an option of splitting aces and playing each aces a separate hand. If a ten-value card is dealt to a split ace, it’s not a blackjack, just a 21.
Remember, only an ace and a 10-value card in the original hand is a blackjack.


Sometimes this is also known as breaking, but busting ids the more common term used in the casinos. When either a player or a dealer has drawn cards to his or her original hand and gone over 21, the hand is a losing one; for he or she has busted. The only valid hands are those of 21 or fewer points.

When we bust-that is, go over 21 after hitting our hand- we must turn the cards over immediately to show that we lost, and the dealer will, at that point, take away both our cards and our chips. We’ve lost, and are out of the game for that round of play, even if the dealer subsequently busted. This is the really big edge the casino has over us. If the dealer and the player both bust, the player still loses.

Well, then, you might ask, why would anyone risk drawing and busting a hand? As we shall see, there are times when the dealers upcard forces us to hit our hand, even though we may bust, because he probably has a 17 or higher total, and if we stand with a stiff total, or 12-16, we’ll lose our bets without even trying to improve our hands.

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