Blackjack -- also known as 21, or pontoon -- is the most popular gambling table game. Blackjack is commonly spread at friendly home games, local charity events and at casino properties worldwide. Regardless of the locale or chosen stakes, the most enjoyable aspect of playing blackjack is getting paid on winning hands -- and getting paid correctly, at that.
Getting to Know the Game
Blackjack is a banking game, played with one to eight decks of playing cards, in which the goal is to accumulate 21 points or as close to it as possible without going over. Card values are as follows: deuce through ten: face value jack through king: 10 points * ace: 1 point or 11, player's choice
Play begins with a blind wager after which each player, including the dealer, receives a two-card hand. Players are then given the option to stand, hit, split, double or surrender their hand. A tie is a possible result in this game -- called a push -- and results in the original blind wager being returned. Further information on blackjack rules and gameplay can be found in the article How to Deal and Play Blackjack.
In all payout scenarios, it is the responsibility of the player to drag their winnings off of the playfield, lest the checks be considered in play for the next round.
Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner!
The most common payout in blackjack is the 1-1. In this scenario, either the dealer has busted or has failed to reach a hand as valuable as a player's. Whatever blind bet the player anted at the beginning of the hand is matched and paid out. If the player wagered a $10 check, then a $10 check is placed beside it and the winning hand is collected and mucked, leaving only the winnings. Many friendly dealers will announce your winning with the phrase, "Winner, winner, chicken dinner!" This phrase hearkens back to the days when $2 was the most common wager at blackjack tables and also the price of a three-piece chicken dinner at many casinos.
You're a Natural
You've just made the biggest blind wager of the night and you're dealt an ace and a king. Congratulations, you're a natural! Or your hand is, at least. Natural is the term for a two-card hand valued at 21, and it's impossible to beat. If you're playing at a table where hands are dealt face down, politely turn over your cards to reveal your good fortune. The best the dealer can hope for is to turn over another natural, which would result in a push. If you win a hand with a natural, you get the best payout of the game: either 3-2 or 6-5, depending on the house rules. At 3-2, a $10 check is matched at the side, and a 50 percent bonus of $5 is paid in addition. At 6-5, a $10 check is matched at the side, and a 20 percent bonus of $2 is paid in addition.
Double or Nothing
One way to rack up a big stack quickly is to "double down" on favorable hand matchups. If you're dealt a nine and a deuce for a total of 11 and the dealer is showing a five, it's common practice to double down in this situation. What this means is you're placing another bet up to the amount of your original wager in return for only one more card. Although it is possible, doubling down for less than your original wager is rarely a good decision. To initiate this wager, move matching checks forward beside your original bet and signal one finger to the dealer to signify you're playing one hand. If you win this hand, your payout will be 1-1 on your total wager. If you wagered a $10 check and matched it for the double down, two $10 checks will be matched at the side and your cards cleared and mucked.
Never Split 10s
Splitting a hand is another way to build your wager. Any two-card hand with matching ranks can be split, resulting in two live hands instead of one. To initiate this wager, move matching checks forward beside your original bet and signal two fingers to the dealer to signify you're playing two hands. Payouts on split hands are always 1-1. If a natural is dealt to a split hand, it is not paid as a blackjack and is still eligible for a push. If you win a split hand, a $10 wager will be matched at the side before your cards are cleared and mucked.
Insurance, the Sucker Bet
If the dealer shows an ace, he will ask the players if they wish to take insurance on their hand, a side bet that the dealer has blackjack. If you feel the dealer has been a little too lucky, place your side bet in the area of the table marked insurance. The price of insurance is half the amount of the blind wager and pays 2-1 if the dealer proceeds to reveal a natural 21. If the dealer does not have blackjack, insurance bets are cleared before play continues. If the dealer does have blackjack, a $5 insurance bet is paid with $10 and then all blind wagers and dealt cards are cleared so the next round can begin.
Know When to Fold 'Em
It's important to know when you're beat because there will be scenarios where surrendering your hand is the best decision. If you decide to quit the current round and wait for the next deal, you will at least get half your blind wager back. When it's your turn to act, verbally announce to the dealer that you wish to surrender and your wager will be halved, your cards cleared and mucked. This is a good time to look for a waitress and plan your next hand.
- University of Las Vegas Center for Gaming Research: Understanding Casino Math
- Blackjack Info.com: Blackjack Rules: Part 2 – Blackjack Basics
- On the Felt: Myth Debunked – "Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner!"
- Casino City Times: Doubling Down for Less in Blackjack Is a Big No-No
- Blackjack Info.com: Blackjack Rules: Part 4 – Insurance and Surrender
Matthew H. Freeman is a poker professional, chess champion and accomplished poet. He has over a decade of experience playing in card rooms online and across the United States. Having won multiple open tournaments including a state scholastic championship, he's rated with both the United States and international chess federations.