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Blackjack, also called 21, is a staple of any casino. Easy to learn but difficult to master, it can be played in a highly casual manner or scientifically, using a regimented strategy. Players at a table can socialize while gambling and unite as one against their common enemy: the dealer.
The object of blackjack is to draw cards that add up to 21 or as close to 21 as possible, without going over the magic number. The dealer gives each player two cards and deals two cards for the house—usually one card face down and the other face up. After each player has asked for as many additional cards as he or she wants to try to reach 21, the dealer turns up the hidden card. The dealer must "hit" or draw additional cards if the first two cards total 16 or under. If the house's first two cards are 17 or over, the dealer must stand and cannot draw additional cards. In blackjack, queens, jacks, kings and 10s count as 10. Aces count either as 1 or 11, whichever the player chooses. A king and an ace, for example, would total 21 and would be a blackjack. When the dealer and a player tie, it is a standoff, or a push, and nobody wins. If the player's cards total a higher number than the dealer's but are 21 or under, the player wins. If the situation is reversed, the house wins.
Professional gamblers who specialize in blackjack often are known as “card counters.”

They’ll seek out games where only one or two decks of cards are used, and almost all of them are dealt face up. This allows a counter to make a fairly accurate guess as to when it’s advisable to put a large bet on the table. Although it’s not illegal to be a card counter, casinos have the right to ban them from their tables.

Amateurs can improve their odds slightly by investing in a laminated cribsheet—available at most casino newsstands—that explains in a glance when to hit, stay, split pairs, double down and take insurance.

 Learn more games with our Gaming Guide.

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