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How to Play Blackjack

One of the most popular games in all casinos is Blackjack. The rules are simple and the application of strategy can give players a better chance against the house's edge.

Players place a bet on the table for the coming hand. They are dealt two cards (either one up and one down or both up - depending on the individual table) from a multi-deck "shoe" to play against the dealer's two cards. The objective is to get as close to 21 as possible without going over. If the player isn't sufficiently close to 21, he or she may take additional cards (hitting) to approach the key number.

The dealer must also take cards, generally, until his or her cards count 17 - then the dealer cannot hit. If the player's hand is over the dealer's hand (without passing 21) the player wins.

If the dealer's hand beats the player's hand, the house wins. If the dealer goes over 21, if the dealer "busts," every player at the table who hasn't "busted" is paid.

The dealer pays 1-1 on all bets on the table. If a player has increased his or her initial bet by doubling down (doubling the original bet for a single card) or splitting (doubling the bet to turn two identical cards (8s or Aces, for instance) into two hands - in those cases the dealer pays 1-1 on each bet. If the player gets 21 on the initial two cards, and the dealer does not, the player is paid at a higher rate, usually 3-2 or 2-1.

There is a strategy that players can use to minimize the house's edge which revolves around the concept that since all face cards and all 10s are worth 10, it is the most plentiful value in the entire shoe. Using the strategy isn't a foolproof way to win, but it is proven to minimize losses over time.

Blackjack is, however, a beatable game. Since there are a finite number of cards in a shoe, an observant player can remember which cards have been played and adjust their betting strategy to maximize a "hot" or beneficial shoe or minimize the effect of a "cold" or unhelpful shoe. This practice, called card counting, isn't illegal but casinos do not permit people who use this strategy to play at their tables.

It is the job of the dealer to put the cards on the table and instantaneously calculate what the totals of the hands are. The dealer must know every option open to the players, how the utilization of those options changes the play on the table and how to keep the game moving. The casino benefits from a greater volume of hands per hour, so a fast-moving dealer is a good dealer.

The dealer must also be able to interact with the players, advice them on proper strategy when they ask for it and be the courteous front line for the casino's management. They must also be able to spot someone who is counting cards so that the pit bosses can be alerted and the player watched.

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