How to Play Blackjack

How to play Blackjack

Blackjack is an easy game to learn but difficult to master.

The basic premise to blackjack is get as close to 21 without going over. If you go over 21, you automatically lose, no matter what the dealer has.

Beyond the basic premise though, what you really want to do is beat the dealer’s hand.

You see, you and all of the patrons sitting next you are playing against the dealer. Your hand against the dealer. If the dealer has 18 and you have 19, you win what you bet.

Before we get into strategy, let’s take a look at what happens during the course of a hand of blackjack.

The Basics of Your Play

When you first sit down, you will place your cash and player’s card on the table directly in front of you. Always give them your player’s card to get points.

When the dealer is done with the current hand, they will take your money and card and will give you chips.

Before the cards are dealt, you place a wager (at least the table minimum) in the little box, circle, or graphic in front of you. If you are unsure where to put your wager, ask the dealer.

The dealer will deal out two cards for every player and themself. Most casinos deal all of the patron cards face up but a few deal them down. It doesn’t matter to you if they are face up or down. If your cards are dealt face up, you should never touch the cards. The dealer will have one of their cards up and the other down.

In order from the dealer’s left to right, each player is given an opportunity to hit (take another card) to improve their hand, or stand with the cards they have. If your cards are dealt face up and it is your turn, you either tap on the felt by your cards to get a hit or wave your hand back and forth over your cards to stand. Remember to not touch your cards.

If the cards were dealt face down, you pick up the cards with only one hand to look at them. If you want a hit, you scratch the cards on the table toward you. If you want to stand, you tuck the cards under the chips you are wagering.

If you have a two-card blackjack (ace and a ten value card like a ten, jack, queen, or king) the dealer will pay you 1 1/2 times your wager and you are done with the hand.

The Dealer’s Play

Once all players have had a chance to hit or stand, the dealer will reveal their hole card, their card that was face down.

The dealer always has to hit anything they have that is less than 17 and stand on anything they have that is 17 or more. That is why it doesn’t matter if your cards are dealt up or down. The dealer always has to hit a soft 17 (ace-6) in most casinos. An ace can be used as a one-value card or eleven value, whichever you choose.

If the dealer has an eight card showing and flips a face card, they have 18 and must stop. They will then pay those with 19 or more and take the wager from those with less than 18. If you also have 18, that is called a push (a tie) and your wager is left for you to play the next hand or you can remove it to sit out.


There is some strategy involved in when you should take a hit, stand, or even spit your cards or double down. Most of it revolves around what the dealer’s one up card is. This is called Basic Strategy. Using Basic Strategy reduces the casinos odds and help make it a more even game for you. Let’s explain this further.

I have included a link to several basic strategy charts below that outlines exactly what you should do depending on what your cards are and the dealer’s up card according to Basic Strategy.

It may be a little overwhelming and difficult to remember at first, but gets easier when you start playing.

The general guideline to use is this: Assume that the dealer’s down card is a ten-card value and that if they need to take a hit that the hit will be a ten-card value.

If the dealer has an eight as their up card, assume that they have 18 and hit your hand accordingly. If they have a six, assume that they have 16 and will need to hit because they always have to hit anything below a 17.

If the dealer has a seven or higher as their up card, you should always hit your 16 and below. No matter what the dealer has, you never hit a hard 17 (seven and a ten-value card) or higher.

If the dealer has a six or less, you know they will need to hit their hand and could bust by getting more than 21. In this case you might stand with a lesser hand like 15 or 16.

Double Down and Splitting

There are options you can do to increase your wager when the dealer has a weak card showing, these are doubling down and splitting.

If the dealer has a somewhat weak card showing like an eight or less and your first two cards total nine, ten, or eleven, you can double your wager for one hit. Say you bet $5, you can put out another $5 chip to double down for one more card. When doubling down, you only get one more card and cannot take another hit if it is a low card. This is optimum if the dealer has a four, five, or six showing and may have a bust hand.

If your two cards are the same value, like two eights, you can put out another equal wager to split the eights into two separate hands. You play each eight taking a hit and standing as if they are separate hands.

Point of note here…never split two ten value cards. Together they are 20, the second best and very powerful hand. Don’t get too greedy and be stupid. Also, never split fives. Together they make ten so double down if you want.

The Bottom Line

That is the basic premise of the game of blackjack with some Basic Strategy thrown in. Look over the chart to get a good idea of what you should do.

The best way to practice is to deal some blackjack at home and use the chart. It isn’t always right or the casinos would be broke. It just helps to better your odds of winning.

When you get to a table and you can’t remember what to do, assume the dealer’s down card is a ten and play accordingly.

Here is a Google image link to several blackjack basic strategy charts. Pick one that you can read and understand and print it out for future use.

Good luck and have fun.

For more information about all Iowa casinos and how to find them, see the Iowa Casinos Map.

For information on slot machines, please see my post on Just the Facts About Slot Machines.