The Basics of Blackjack

Blackjack is a card game that pits a player against the dealer. The goal is to create a hand value that is closer to 21 than the dealer’s without going over. While the game can appear complicated, it is actually quite simple if you understand the rules and strategy.

In a normal game of blackjack, the players are dealt two cards and have the option to hit (request more cards) or stand. The player competes only with the dealer’s hand; other players at the table are of no concern. If you want to hit, you extend your palm near the cards and lightly scratch the table as if you were “scratching an itch.” The dealer then deals you one more card. You continue to hit, or stand, based on the strength of your hand.

When a player has an ace and a ten-value card, this is called a “blackjack” or a “natural.” A blackjack wins 3:2 on the player’s bet. If the dealer also has a natural, it is a push and no money changes hands. If the dealer does not have a blackjack, she will pay out any insurance wagers made by players.

Some casinos have started to offer a reduced payout on blackjacks (known as even money) in an attempt to encourage players to buy insurance. This move has been decried by long-time blackjack players because it reduces the player’s advantage to almost nothing and makes the game less fun to play.

Before the dealer reveals her hole card, she will usually ask players if they would like to make an insurance bet. The amount of the bet is equal to the player’s original bet and is paid if the dealer has a blackjack. The dealer will then collect all of the players’ bets that do not have a blackjack and start the round as usual.

As with other casino games, the house has a statistical advantage in blackjack that will play out over time. However, this advantage can be minimized to a small percentage through the use of basic strategy. Using a simple formula, players can decide when to hit, stand, double down and split based on the value of their hand and the dealer’s visible card. Although there are variations in the basic strategy depending on the number of decks being used, the majority of players should stick to this general strategy. In addition, knowing the house rules is essential for maximizing your winnings.