A round starts when players place their bets. The dealer deals each player (and himself) two cards. The dealer gets one card face up and the other card face down. The face down card is called the dealer’s “hand card”.
If a player is dealt an ace along with a 10 on his first two cards, then he has a “blackjack” or a “natural”. This is an instant win UNLESS the dealer also has a natural talent. If the dealer and the player both have blackjacks, you have a “push”, in which case the player gets their bet back, but with no winnings.
The dealer checks for blackjack before any further action. If she has a blackjack, then all players at the table who If she has a blackjack, then all the players at the table who do not have blackjack automatically lose. They don’t even get a chance to play their hands.
But for the most part, players will have to make decisions about their hands. Players make all their decisions before the dealer and players can make whatever decisions they want. The dealer’s decisions come after all players have acted, and the dealer has no latitude in deciding how to play his hand. She has to follow the game rules established by the house.
Players act one at a time, starting with the first player to the left of the dealer. Players have the following options.
Take out insurance
This is a side bet that is only available if the dealer has an ace showing. The bet is the same size as your original bet. If the dealer has a 10 up his sleeve, you will be paid even money on this bet and lose your original bet. If the dealer doesn’t have a 10 in the hole, you lose your insurance bet and play the rest of the hand normally.
This gives you the option of giving up half your bet and keeping half your bet. You don’t need to play the rest of the hand. Different casinos have different rules about when and if surrender is available.
If you are dealt two cards with the same point value, you can split your hand in two by placing a 2nd bet of the same size as your initial bet. Each of the 2 cards you have becomes the first card in two new hands. (You could split a king and a monkey, for example, although they are not in the same category. They have the same point value.)
This is an option to double your bet size and take one – and only one – additional card.
Hitting a blackjack hand means taking an additional card and increasing your point total by the corresponding amount.
Standing means refusing to accept any additional cards and moving on with the total you have.
The dealer does not act until all players have finished. Any player busting during their turn immediately loses the bet. When all players have finished their actions, the dealer turns over his card and plays his hand according to casino rules.
The dealer must be dealt additional cards on any hand with a point value of 16 or less. It must also remain upright in any hand with a point value of 18 or higher. But if she has a total of 17, she has to make an additional distinction – is she playing a soft hand or a hard hand?
A soft hand is a hand with an ace. A soft 17, for example, can be an ace with six or an ace with four and a three. A hard hand is a hand without an ace or a hand where the ace has to count as 1 to avoid breaking.