Betting At Blackjack

The betting starts with all wagers placed in the betting box. When all bets are down, the dealer starts his deal clockwise, usually giving face-down cards to each player and one up and one down to himself. Variations on this deal, incidentally, are found in many casinos.

If the dealer has dealt himself a face-up ace or 10-count card he checks hi face-down or "hole" card to see if it makes a blackjack. If it does he automatically wins and collects from all players, unless another player also has a blackjack, in which case there is a "standoff" and no money is exchanged. On the other hand, if one of the players gets a blackjack he turns over his cards and collects from the dealer at 3 to 2 odds. This, by the way, is the only time a blackjack player gets odds at better than even money.

If no one gets blackjack on the opening deal the player to the dealer's left starts the action. Does he want to "stay," that is, does he decline more cards from the dealer, trusting that the two cards he holds will beat the dealer? Or does he want an additional card, a "hit," in order to increase his point count? What he will do depends on what he is holding.

For example, if the player is holding a 4 and 5, making 9, naturally he will take a hit. He has nothing to lose, for the highest card he could get would still not bring him over 21. So he says, "hit me," and gets, let's say, a 9, making his total 18. If he's wise he'll stay.

Let's pretend, though, that he's not wise, and he asks for a hit. He gets a jack, counting as 10, which with the 18 brings him way over 21. He has busted and must pay off his bet to the dealer. Suppose, however, that our foolhardy friend has gotten lucky and was dealt a 2 instead. His total would have been 20, a hard hand to beat. He would then have stayed and waited to see if the dealer could beat him.

The dealer meanwhile continues around the table. When everyone has played he plays out his own hand. If his two-card count is 17 or over, the house rules say he must stay. If his count is 16 or below, the rules say he must hit and continue to hit till his count reaches or exceeds 17. If the dealer holds a soft 17, the rules still hold true; he must stay, and this is true for all counts of 17 as well.

When the dealer has finished play, either having busted or received a score below 21, he moves counterclockwise around the layout paying off those whose score is higher than his own and collecting bets from those he has topped. If both player and dealer have the same hand it is a standoff. When all bets are collected the dealer picks up the cards, puts them in the discard pile, and deals a new round.

This is the basic betting of blackjack. But that's not all there is to it. There are the refinements, the so-called "proposition bets." First of these is "pair splitting." This happens when a player dealt two cards of the same number value is given the option of playing out each card as a separate hand. If while playing out these two hands the player then receives still another of the same number card he can split this one too and so on up to a maximum of four splits. Naturally the good player will only want to split the good cards. This gives him a nice percentage advantage over the dealer, plus a chance to bet twice as much money on a good card.

Another proposition bet is "doubling down." The rules for this procedure vary from casino to casino. Some, like those in the lower Caribbean, allow doubling only on 10 and 11. Others, such as the Puerto Rican houses, permit it on 11 only, while still others, like those in Las Vegas, let the player double down on any two cards he wants. Doubling down is done by turning the cards face up after the original deal and announcing that one wishes to double his bet. The dealer then gives the player one more card, face down. The player must stand pat on these and await his fate.

Finally there is "insurance betting." In many casinos, when the dealer's face-up card shows an ace, the players are allowed to bet an amount equal to half their original bet that the dealer has a blackjack. If the dealer does have blackjack he pays off the insurance bet at 2 to 1, the best odds in the game. If not, he collects the bet and play continues as usual. Insurance is thus a form of protection the house offers the player. But beware of Greeks bearing gifts. The price on this protection comes high and a good player doesn't recommend using this option not unless you are a card counter.