The player to the left goes first and must decide whether to “stand” (not ask for another card) or “hit” (ask for another card in an attempt to get closer to a count of 21, or even hit 21 exactly). Thus, a player may stand on the two cards originally dealt to them, or they may ask the dealer for additional cards, one at a time, until deciding to stand on the total (if it is 21 or under), or goes “bust” (if it is over 21).
In the latter case, the player loses and the dealer collects the bet wagered. The dealer then turns to the next player to their left and serves them in the same manner.
The combination of an ace with a card other than a ten-card is known as a “soft hand,” because the player can count the ace as a 1 or 11, and either draw cards or not. For example with a “soft 17” (an ace and a 6), the total is 7 or 17.
While a count of 17 is a good hand, the player may wish to draw for a higher total. If the draw creates a bust hand by counting the ace as an 11, the player simply counts the ace as a 1 and continues playing by standing or “hitting” (asking the dealer for additional cards, one at a time).
The Dealers’ Play
When the dealer has served every player, the dealer’s face-down card is turned up. If the total is 17 or more, it must stand. If the total is 16 or under, they must take a card. The dealer must continue to take cards until the total is 17 or more, at which point the dealer must stand. If the dealer has an ace, and counting it as 11 would bring the total to 17 or more (but not over 21), the dealer must count the ace as 11 and stand. The dealer’s decisions, then, are automatic on all plays, whereas the player always has the option of taking one or more cards.
When a player’s turn comes, they can say “Hit” or can signal for a card by scratching the table with a finger or two in a motion toward themselves, or they can wave their hand in the same motion that would say to someone “Come here!” When the player decides to stand, they can say “Stand” or “No more,” or can signal this intention by moving their hand sideways, palm down and just above the table.
If a player’s first two cards are of the same denomination, such as two jacks or two sixes, they may choose to treat them as two separate hands when their turn comes around. The amount of the original bet then goes on one of the cards, and an equal amount must be placed as a bet on the other card.
The player first plays the hand to their left by standing or hitting one or more times; only then is the hand to the right played. The two hands are thus treated separately, and the dealer settles with each on its own merits.
With a pair of aces, the player is given one card for each ace and may not draw again. Also, if a ten-card is dealt to one of these aces, the payoff is equal to the bet (not one and one-half to one, as with a live casino games like blackjack at any other time).
Another option open to the player is doubling their bet when the original two cards dealt total 9, 10, or 11. When the player’s turn comes, they place a bet equal to the original bet, and the dealer gives the player just one card, which is placed face down and is not turned up until the bets are settled at the end of the hand. With two fives, the player may split a pair, double down, or just play the hand in the regular way.
Note that the dealer does not have the option of splitting or doubling down.
When the dealer’s face-up card is an ace, any of the players may make a side bet of up to half the original bet that the dealer’s face-down card is a ten-card, and thus a blackjack for the house. Once all such side bets are placed, the dealer looks at the hole card. If it is a ten-card, it is turned up, and those players who have made the insurance bet win and are paid double the amount of their half-bet – a 2 to 1 payoff.
When a blackjack occurs for the dealer, of course, the hand is over, and the players’ main bets are collected – unless a player also has live casino games like blackjack, in which case it is a stand-off. Insurance is invariably not a good proposition for the player, unless they are quite sure that there are an unusually high number of ten-cards still left undealt.
A bet once paid and collected is never returned. Thus, one key advantage to the dealer is that the player goes first. If the player goes bust, they have already lost their wager, even if the dealer goes bust as well.
If the dealer goes over 21, the dealer pays each player who has stood the amount of that player’s bet. If the dealer stands at 21 or less, the dealer pays the bet of any player having a higher total (not exceeding 21) and collects the bet of any player having a lower total. If there is a stand-off (a player having the same total as the dealer), no chips are paid out or collected.
When each player’s bet is settled, the dealer gathers in that player’s cards and places them face up at the side against a clear plastic L-shaped shield. The dealer continues to deal from the shoe until coming to the plastic insert card, which indicates that it is time to reshuffle. Once that round of play is over, the dealer shuffles all the cards, prepares them for the cut, places the cards in the shoe, and the game continues.