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Blackjack Rules

Blackjack hands are won by achieving the highest point total without going over 21. Going over 21 is called a bust, and results in that player losing the hand. Cards 2 through 10 are worth their face value, and face cards are also worth 10. An ace is worth 11 unless this would cause the player to bust, in which case it's worth 1. If a hand is played in which the ace's value is 11 then it's called a soft hand.

The goal of every player is to beat the dealer. If the player busts, he loses, even if the dealer also busts, which is the source of the house's advantage. If the player's and the dealer's hands have the same point value, this is known as a "push", and no one wins the hand. After initial bets are placed, the dealer deals the cards. The dealer gives two cards to each player, including himself. One of the dealer's two cards is face-up so all the players can see it, and the other is face down. (The face-down card is known as the "hole card".) A hand of 21 (an ace plus a ten-value card) is called a blackjack, and is an automatic winner. A player with a blackjack is usually paid 3:2 on his bet.

After the cards are dealt, if the dealer has a blackjack, all the players who don't have a blackjack lose immediately. If a player has a blackjack and the dealer doesn't, the player wins automatically. If the player and dealer both have a blackjack, it's a push. If the dealer does not have a blackjack, then the first player completely plays out his hand, followed by the next player, and so on. When all the players have finished the dealer plays his hand.

The player's options for playing his or her hand are:

* Hit: Take another card.
* Stand: Take no more cards.
* Double down: Double the wager, take exactly one more card, and then stand.
* Split: Double the wager and have each card be the first card in a new hand. This option is available only when both cards have the same value.
* Surrender: Forfeit half the bet and give up the hand. Surrender is no longer offered at most establishments.

The player's turn is over after deciding to stand, doubling down to take a single card, or busting. If the player busts, he or she loses the bet even if the dealer goes on to bust as well.

After all the players have finished making their decisions, the dealer then reveals his or her hidden hole card and plays the hand. House rules say that the dealer must hit until he or she has at least 17, regardless of what the players have. In most places a dealer must also hit a soft 17 (such as an ace and a 6). The felt of the table will indicate whether or not the house hits or stands on a soft 17.

If the dealer busts then all remaining players win. Bets are normally paid out at the odds of 1:1.

If the dealer's upcard is an Ace, the player is offered the option of taking Insurance before the dealer checks his 'hole card'.

The player who wishes to take Insurance can bet an amount up to half his original bet. The Insurance bet is placed separately on a special portion of the table, which usually carries the words "Insurance Pays 2:1". The player who is taking Insurance is betting that the dealer's 'hole card' is a 10-value card, i.e. a 10, a Jack, a Queen or a King. Because the dealer's upcard is an Ace, this means that the player who takes Insurance is essentially betting that the dealer was dealt a blackjack, and this pays off 2:1 if it wins.

Example: The player bets $10, the cards are dealt, the player's hand is 19, and the dealer shows an Ace. The player takes Insurance by betting an additional amount of $5. The dealer checks her hole card and sees that it's a 10-valued card. The player loses his $10 bet on his blackjack hand, but he wins the insurance bet, so the player gets 2:1 on his $5 Insurance wager and receives $10 (on top of the $5 which is returned to him). The player came out even on that round.

Conversely, a player may win his original bet and lose his Insurance bet. Let's say we have the same situation as above except this time the dealer's hole card is not a ten, but rather a seven. In this case the player instantly loses his $5 Insurance wager. (All Insurance wagers are settled as soon as the dealer turns over his 'hole card', before all else.) But the player wins his $10 bet. The player made a net profit on that round.

A player may lose both his original bet and his Insurance bet.

Insurance is statistically a bad bet for the player because Insurance has a negative expected value for the player. Even for the player who has been dealt a blackjack it is unwise to take Insurance. In such a case, the dealer usually asks the player "Even money?" This means that instead of 3:2, the player with the blackjack accepts to be paid at 2:2. Thus it is exactly the same thing as buying Insurance, losing the Insurance bet and getting paid 3:2 on the blackjack.

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