The Basics of Blackjack

Blackjack is a casino card game played between a dealer and up to seven players. The dealer is dealt two cards and players decide in turn how to play out their hand. If a player has an ace and a ten-card, giving a count of 21 in the first two cards, this is called a “natural” or “blackjack.” If the dealer also has a blackjack, the player and dealer both win their bets. If the player and dealer have equal cards, it is a tie and all bets are returned.

Players can bet on the fact that the dealer has a blackjack by placing a side bet known as insurance, which pays 2 to 1. The dealer asks for insurance bets before dealing the cards. If the dealer shows an ace, the players may also choose to make a side bet known as even money. This pays if the dealer has a blackjack, but loses if the player has a blackjack.

In addition to the standard bets, players can place optional side bets, including those that pay when the dealer has a particular poker hand, or when the player’s cards match the dealer’s up card. The game is played on a semicircular table that can accommodate different numbers of players, from five to 12. A clear plastic disk marks each player’s spot on the table.

The player’s goal is to get as close to 21 as possible without going over. The value of each card is determined by its rank and suit. Each card from 2 through 10 counts as its face value, and Jacks, Queens and Kings count as 10. An ace can be counted as either a 1 or an 11 if that helps the player’s total more than 21.

After the players have finished their hands, the dealer draws more cards for his or her own hand. The dealer must draw to a total of 16 or less, and stand on any hand that is 17 or more. If the dealer has a blackjack, all bets are paid and the player’s hands are collected.

Some players use a system of counting cards to improve their odds. This system, which is not illegal, allows them to determine the concentration of aces and tens in the deck. When the concentration is high, the counters increase their bet sizes; when it’s low they reduce them. The best card counters are experts in mathematics and can analyze the results of thousands of hands to determine the best strategy.

Despite its popularity, blackjack has lost ground to other games such as baccarat and slot machines. In addition, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a table because of competition from online casinos. Nevertheless, blackjack still offers one of the lowest house edges in the casino, and skilled players can significantly reduce this edge. In fact, basic strategy players lose less than 1% of their bets on average, making blackjack one of the most profitable casino games.