Blackjack in Florida – Blackjack Basics for Beginners

Learn the basics of blackjack now that Florida features the game at many casinos.

The table game of blackjack has finally arrived in the Florida casinos. So what’s the big deal you ask? The big deal is this: unlike slots and other table games, blackjack gives the average player the best odds at winning. And it’s not a difficult game to learn to play. In fact, blackjack has been the most popular table game for over 50 years (even more popular than poker). So what are you waiting for? Stay with me and I’ll show how easy it is to play blackjack plus I’ll be giving you some tips on how to win.

Let’s begin with the basic rules of how the game is played.

The objective of blackjack is to beat the dealer’s hand and you can do so in one of two ways:
1. When the total of your hand exceeds the dealer’s total, or
2. By having 21 or less when the dealer’s hand goes over 21 (known as “busting”).

Blackjack is played on a table with up to 6 players. Every player is playing against the dealer (i.e., you are not playing against your fellow table players). Every table has minimum and maximum betting limits and this information is usually posted on the table (or you can ask the dealer or a floor supervisor).

It’s no secret that the casino has the mathematical advantage, or edge, over players. But do you know how the casinos get their edge? It arises from this simple rule of the game: Players always must act on their hand before the dealer and if a player busts, he will automatically lose even if the dealer subsequently busts. Later I’ll show you how you can take advantage of this rule to play your hand in a manner that improves your chances of winning.

It doesn’t matter which seat you take when you play blackjack. Historically, some of the betting or seat positions have names. The seat position to the right of the dealer is known as “first base,” and this player is the first to act on his hand. On the other side of the table, the last seat position is known as “third base” and the player seated there is the “last player” to act on his hand before the dealer acts on his hand. Some blackjack players mistakenly believe that the third base player can “control” what cards the dealer will get by how the third base player plays his hand. But this is nonsense and in a future column I’ll explain why. For now just take any seat and don’t worry which one it is.

All cards count their face value in blackjack. Picture cards count as 10 and the ace can count as either a 1 or 11. Card suits have no meaning in blackjack. The total of any hand is the sum of the card values in the hand. A hand containing a 4-5-8 totals 17. Another containing a queen-5 totals 15. It is always assumed that the ace counts 11 unless your hand exceeds 21 in which case the ace reverts to a value of 1. Generally hands which contain an ace that counts as 11 are known as soft hands (i.e. ace, 7 is a soft 18 hand and ace-3-3 is soft 17). A hard hand is any hand that either does not contain an ace, or if it does, it counts as 1 (i.e. 10-8 and 5-ace-10-2 are hard 18 hands).

Fortunately for players, the playing rules that they must follow are not the same as the dealer’s rules. In fact the dealer has to follow the house rule which says he must hit if his hand totals 16 or less and stand if it totals from 17 through 21. So if your hand totals 15 and you stood, and the dealer’s hand totals 16 and is beating you, the dealer must still hit his hand since it’s less than 17.

Players have several options available to them when it comes to acting on their hand. These include the following:

Hit. This means you want the dealer to give you another card to your hand. In shoe games, indicate to the dealer that you want a hit by making a beckoning motion with your finger or tapping the table behind your cards with your finger. In hand held games, scratch the edges of the cards in your hand lightly on the felt.

Stand. This means you are satisfied with the total of the hand and want to stand with the cards you have. In shoe games, indicate that you want to stand by waving your hand over the cards. In hand held games, tuck your cards under the chips that you have in the betting box.

Pair Split. If you have two like cards (e.g. a pair of 6’s or aces), you could exercise the option to split. When you split you must make another bet equal to your original bet. By pair splitting you play each card as a separate hand and you can draw as many cards as you like to each hand (except split aces-most casinos will only allow one draw card to each ace). For example, if you were dealt a pair of 8’s (16) and split, you would have two separate hands containing an 8. You would be required to play out one of the split hands first before the other. In shoe games you indicate that you want to split by placing another chip next to the original chip. For hand-held games toss your cards on the table and then make the secondary wager. Most casinos will also allow players to split all ten-value cards such as a jack-ten or queen-king (although this is not a recommended playing strategy).

Double down. This playing option allows you to double your bet in return for receiving one and only one draw card. In most casinos you can only double down after you receive your first two cards and before drawing another card. To signal the dealer that you want to double down just place your chip next to the original chip bet on the hand (shoe games) or toss your cards on the table face-up in hand held games and then make the secondary bet.

Insurance. When the dealer’s upcard is an ace, the dealer will ask players if they want to make the insurance wager. It is a side bet in which players are betting that the dealer’s hole card will be a ten-value card. Players can make an insurance bet equal to one half of the initial bet made on the hand. To make the insurance bet you simply place your chips on the insurance line, which is located right above the player betting box. You win your insurance bet if the dealer has a ten-value card in the hole. A winning insurance bet pays off at 2 to 1 odds.

Even Money. When the player has a blackjack hand and the dealer has an ace showing the dealer will ask the player if he wants “even money”. Even money means the dealer will automatically give you a 1 to 1 (or even money) payoff on your bet before he checks his downcard for a potential blackjack. Taking even money yields the same result as making an insurance bet on your blackjack hand.

Now that you know the basics of how to play, next issue I’ll explain some table etiquette so you feel comfortable playing, and then begin to review some playing strategies that will help you win.

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