When you’re playing Blackjack or another table game at a casino, it’s good etiquette to color up before you leave the table. Coloring up is when you exchange all of your low-denomination chips for higher-denomination ones. Coloring up is easy, too; all you have to do is, between hands, place your chip stack in a place accessible to the dealer (be careful not to place it in a betting box on the layout!) and say “Color up”, and the dealer will color your chips up for you.
Why is coloring up so important?
- This keeps the table’s chip rack fully stocked with chips. If you leave the table with a large number of low-denomination chips, the table may run out, and the game will have to be interrupted while more are brought from the vault (this is called a fill).
- If you are simply moving to a different table, the table you move to might end up with too many chips, and, again, the game will have to be paused while some are sent back to the vault.
- You’ll have fewer chips to carry to the cashier cage. Your pockets will be lighter, and there’s less of a risk that you’ll drop a chip without noticing it.
- There’s fewer chips for the cashier to count. That makes it less likely that they’ll make a mistake, and a smoother, faster transaction for you.
You should always color up when you’re leaving a Blackjack or Baccarat table. Poker is usually transacted in large numbers of low-denomination chips, and the dealer is not collecting them from you, so there is usually no need to color up. The casino will allow you to borrow a few chip racks if you need them to transport your chips to the cash cage.
You can click the images to zoom in. Each stack shown contains the same number of chips as the stack splashed next to it. The chips use the standard denominations:
This time, we’re including some exercises using a chip rack. Each row of chips shown in the rack represents a full tube of 20 chips. Don’t forget to include these in your total!
- 6 × 500 = 3000, 11 × 100 = 1100, 16 × 25 = 400, 60 × 5 = 300, 25 × 1 = 25, 3 × 50¢ = 1.50. 3000 + 1100 + 400 + 300 + 25 + 1.50 = 4826.50.
- 2 × 500 = 1000, 28 × 100 = 2800, 26 × 25 = 650, 84 × 5 = 420, 32 × 1 = 32, 9 × 50¢ = 4.50. 1000 + 2800 + 650 + 420 + 32 + 4.50 = 4906.50.
- 3 × 500 = 1500, 11 × 100 = 1100, 20 × 25 = 500, 19 × 5 = 95, 21 × 1 = 21. 1500 + 1100 + 500 + 95 + 21 = 3216.
- 4 × 100 = 400, 3 × 25 = 75, 16 × 5 = 80, 2 × 50¢ = 1. 400 + 75 + 80 + 1 = 556.
- 5 × 500 = 2500, 12 × 100 = 1200, 15 × 25 = 375, 46 × 5 = 230, 17 × 1 = 17, 7 × 50¢ = 3.50. 2500 + 1200 + 375 + 230 + 17 + 3.50 = 4325.50.
So you know the basics of how to count chips...but now you just need practice! Here are five chip counting problems to solve. How quickly can you get the correct totals?
You can click the images to zoom in. Each stack shown contains the same number of chips as the stack splashed next to it. The chips use the standard denominations:
- 8 × 100 = 800, 8 × 25 = 200, 6 × 5 = 30, 3 × 1 = 3. 800 + 200 + 30 + 3 = 1033.
- 2 × 500 = 1000, 6 × 100 = 600, 1 × 25 = 25, 4 × 5 = 20. 1000 + 600 + 25 + 20 = 1645.
- 3 × 100 = 300, 2 × 5 = 10, 2 × 1 = 2, 3 × 50¢ = 1.50. 300 + 10 + 2 + 1.50 = 313.50.
- 5 × 25 = 125, 3 × 5 = 15, 9 × 1 = 9. 25 + 15 + 9 = 149.
- 13 × 100 = 1300, 5 × 25 = 125, 4 × 5 = 20, 1 × 1 = 1. 1300 + 125 + 20 + 1 = 1446.
In part one of our series on Blackjack, we covered the basic rules of blackjack, as seen by the player. Now, we get into some of the intricacies of how to deal Blackjack well. Most of these procedures are in place to ensure the game is run smoothly and consistently, as well as to allow the overhead surveillance cameras found in casinos to track the game. While they may seem unnecessary or out-of-place in a home game, they create a more realistic, casino-like game, adding to the fun for your players.
Blackjack dealing procedures vary greatly from casino to casino and even from dealer to dealer. These are the procedures found in local casinos here in Oklahoma. You might notice differences in your local casino. Note that all references to “left” and “right” in this post refer to left and right from the dealer’s perspective.
As mentioned in part one, dealing Blackjack right requires a number of props, including a shoe, a discard holder, and a chip rack. While it’s not necessary to have these, they make the game run a lot smoother and contribute to a professional feel to your game.
One thing we didn’t mention is a Blackjack layout. Real Blackjack tables have a felt surface with graphics silkscreened on them, designating seven player positions where hand bets and insurance bets are to be placed, as well as aiding the dealer in placement of the cards. While such a thing is not strictly necessary, it helps keep the game organized. You can find layouts printed on felt, for Blackjack as well as many other casino games, inexpensively available on the Internet. These layouts can be placed over a normal table like a tablecloth, allowing you to set up your own faux Blackjack table.
To set up your table like a standard Blackjack table, place the layout with the text facing away from the dealer, then put the shoe to the dealer’s left hand side, near the end of the insurance line, and place the discard holder to the dealer’s right. Chips should be near the edge of the layout in the center of the table, just in front of the dealer. Make sure to leave plenty of room between the chip rack and the text “BLACKJACK PAYS 3 TO 2” to allow room for the dealer’s hand.
Dealing the cards
Before dealing, perform a visual sweep of the players’ bets to ensure that they are between the maximum and minimum bets. Ensure that all bets are in whole unit amounts (otherwise, paying a blackjack will be impossible). Check to make sure that the bets are neatly stacked and have the highest-denomination chips on the bottom of the stack, followed by the next-higher denomination, all the way up the stack. Also, be wary of a lone chip of a different color sandwiched in between chips of the same color. This is to make it easier to correctly pay the player out should they win, and make it easier to return the chips to the rack should they lose. As the dealer, you’re entitled to correct the player’s bet before dealing. Once the cards come out, ensure that the player doesn’t touch their bet. If the bet needs to be moved (e.g. to make room for a split or double wager), only the dealer should touch the bet.
When dealing, you’ll remove the cards from the shoe with your left hand. Cards to the two leftmost positions will be dealt with the left hand, and cards to the other positions (including the dealer’s hand) will be passed to and dealt with the right hand.
Cards are generally placed in a stairstep fashion, with the first card dealt on the insurance line next to the right of the player’s betting box or circle, and subsequent cards dealt below and to the left of the first card. Care should be taken to keep all cards visible; generally, you want to leave the center of each card exposed. If space is getting tight, perhaps because the player has drawn up to a four- or five-card hand, or because of repeated splits, it is usually acceptable to slide the hand back toward the player a bit to create more room, condense the card spacing a bit, or start dealing the cards back toward the player, forming a V pattern.
When a player doubles down, deal the third card at right angles to the other cards to signify that the player cannot receive any more cards. Likewise, if you do not allow drawing to a split pair of aces, turn the second card of each hand at a 45° angle to signify that no further cards can be dealt (there is usually not enough room to put the cards at right angles in this situation).
If a player has blackjack, pay them out immediately, on their turn, not at the end of the hand. After paying out the winning player, collect the cards and put them in the discards, so you don’t erroneously pay the blackjack out again.
If a player busts, collect their winnings and put them in the rack immediately. Then, collect their cards, and place them in the discard holder. Don’t use the cards as a scoop to ferry the winnings over to you; it’s too easy to lose control of the chips and send them rolling off somewhere unrecoverable. Collecting the hand immediately helps you when the hand is over, reminding you that the wager has already been settled, and allows the player to get their wager ready for the next hand. If all players bust, simply reveal your hole card and begin dealing the next hand.
When it’s time to reveal the dealer’s hole card, you can slide a corner of the upcard underneath the hole card and use the upcard as a lever to flip it face up. Remember, a good dealer applies a little bit of showmanship to their dealing to make the game more interesting!
After a hand is over and all bets have been settled, give the players some time to place and adjust their wagers before you launch into the next hand. Players may want to check the amount of chips they have available to determine the size of their wager, or make change. If you start the next hand too early, you may end up leaving some players out of the hand because they’re not ready to play yet.
The dealer is responsible for making change if the player requests it. This will usually happen at two points in the game: when the player needs to break a large chip into smaller chips to make a wager, or to color up the player’s chip hoard to larger-denomination chips, usually at the end of the game.
To make change for a player, bring the chips into the area in front of the dealer, where the dealer’s hand goes. Imagine a vertical line passing through the center of this area; incoming chips will go to the left of this line, and outgoing chips to the right. Place the incoming chips to the left of the line, break them down, and count them. State “cheque change: one hundred” (or whatever the value of the chips to be changed is; in casino jargon chips are sometimes known as cheques) in order to allow the player to correct you if they think your count is incorrect. Then, place chips equal to the value of each row to the right of the line, breaking them down to allow the player to verify the chips are correct. Gather the incoming chips and place them in the rack, then gather the outgoing chips and pass them to the player.
After a hand is complete, you will have to pay out the winners and take the losers’ wagers. Bets are settled from right to left, which is opposite of the usual flow of the game. You will be doing something at each active player position, even if they didn’t win: if the player lost, you’ll collect their winnings; if the player pushed, you will knock on the table with the back of your fist to show that the player pushed and you didn’t just skip them. Of course, you will skip over the vacant positions and those that have already been settled, either because the player busted or because they got a blackjack. After all bets have been settled, collect the cards and get ready for the next hand.
As with the cards, all payouts for the two left-most positions are done with the left hand, and all other payouts are done with the right hand. Payouts done with the right hand go to the right of the original wager, and vice-versa.
If you grab an incorrect or insufficient number of chips, never leave a player partially paid out while you correct the error. They could tamper with the chips while you’re distracted. Instead, collect the incorrect payout and place it in front of the rack while you make corrections. Then, pay the player out correctly.
Regular wagers of only one color of chip are the simplest to pay out. Just grab a big stack of that color—no need to count exactly!—and size into it. Return the excess chips to the rack.
For a multiple-color wager, you’ll first need to separate the chips into stacks of each denomination (put the highest-denomination stack closest to you, with progressively lower denominations toward the player). Then, remove an equal number of chips of each color from the rack and form a stack, keeping the high-denom chips on the bottom, and use each of the player’s chip stacks to size into your stack.
You can also color up the chips as you pay them out. This keeps a player from becoming overloaded with low-denom chips, and encourages them to use the high-denom chips to bet higher. First, if there are multiple colors of chips in the wager, separate them into separate stacks. Then, splash each stack out to verify whether or not each stack can be colored up to the next-higher chip value. Don’t stack it back up—leave everything splashed out. Then, collect the payout from the rack and pay it out, placing chips of equivalent value next to the original wager.
Because blackjack payouts are one-and-a-half times the initial wager, paying them out is somewhat more complex. Exactly how this is achieved depends on how the initial wager was made.
The simplest payout occurs when a player has bet an even number of chips of the same color. Simply collect one-and-a-half times that many chips, collect them into a stack, and size into it. You should be left with chips in your hand equivalent to half of the bet. Drop these chips on top, resting on the two even stacks of chips. This is called bridging the payout.
For all other wagers, including single-chip and multiple-denomination wagers, you will not be able to bridge the payout, since it will consist of multiple colors of chips. (Consider a simple bet of one red chip, or $5—a blackjack payout on this bet is $7.50, one red, two white, and one yellow chip!) Instead, you’ll begin by splashing the bet to verify its amount. Then, mentally figure the total amount of the payout, and place these chips in front of the rack, splashing them so the total amount of the payout is clearly visible. Then, collect the payout into a stack and place it next to the wager, by dropping the bottom chip off the stack and balancing the rest of the stack on this chip’s edge. This is called heeling a payout and is used to signify that the stack contains chips of several denominations.
Remember, blackjack payouts are done on the player’s turn, not at the end of the hand.
Dealer blackjacks and insurance
After dealing the initial hand, but before allowing the first player to act, look at the dealer upcard. If this is a ten-valued card (ten or face card), peek at the hole card. Gently bend the corner of the card up with one hand, using your other hand to shield it from the players. If you see an ace, reveal it, and collect all wagers (except for players who were dealt a blackjack, who push; make the customary knock on the table to indicate a push). Otherwise, initiate the play of the hand as normal.
If the upcard is an ace, you must offer insurance. Before peeking at the hole card, turn the dealer’s hand ninety degrees (parallel to the chip rack); this is done to emphasize that an ace is the upcard (and also allows the hole card to be inserted properly into the dealer’s no-peek mirror device on a casino table). Indicate that insurance is offered by slowly waving your hand, palm side up, over the insurance line, from left to right. Ensure that all insurance wagers are no more than half of the original wager. When all players have placed their insurance bets or declined, indicate insurance bets are closed by waving your hand, palm side down this time, over the insurance line from right to left. Then check for blackjack. If it’s present, reveal it, and collect the original wagers before paying out the insurance wagers. To pay out an insurance wager, follow the procedures for a non-blackjack payout, except size into the chip stack twice—insurance wagers pay 2 to 1, rather than even money. If there is no dealer blackjack, return the dealer’s hand to it usual orientation and continue the hand as normal.
Blackjack (also known as Twenty-One) is the most popular casino card game, and probably the most popular casino game other than slots. Blackjack’s rules are simple—get closer to 21 than the dealer without going over. But playing blackjack and dealing it are two different things—keeping track of seven different players’ hands and who is owed what can be overwhelming! Therefore, we’re going to break our look at blackjack into two different parts. Today, we’ll focus on the basic rules of blackjack: the ones your players see. On Monday, we’ll go over dealer procedures.
A word of caution about Blackjack: it is inherently a casino game, so the dealer has a definite advantage over the players, by design. If you’re playing at home with friends, don’t play with real money! It’s not fair to your friends, and will probably run afoul of local laws against illegal gambling.
Object of Blackjack
The object of the game is to, through selectively drawing more cards, obtain a better score than the dealer without going over 21.
Blackjack requires a lot of props and equipment to do properly. The most basic blackjack game requires one deck of cards, two cut cards, and chips for wagering. However, true casino-style blackjack will require six decks of cards, a box to hold the cards called a shoe, and a discard holder (an L-shaped piece of plastic designed to keep the used cards in a nice stack). The dealer should be seated on the opposite side of the table from the players, with a bank of chips in a rack in front of the dealer, to be used for payouts.
The choice of number of decks of cards is particularly important: more decks means less frequent shuffling, but increasing the number of cards in the game also increases the advantage held by the dealer. Dealing with one or two decks is most beneficial to the players, and also allows you to spread a pitch game (i.e., no shoe is required). All cards in the deck should have the same back. Traditionally, paper cards are used for blackjack, due to the large number of cards involved, but there’s no reason you can’t use Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards.
Shuffle the cards (using the multiple-deck shuffling technique if needed). Square the deck up, then roll it forward, so that the back of the cards is facing the players and the cut card on the bottom of the deck is facing you. Offer the spare cut card to any player and have them insert it into the deck at any point. Complete the cut by sliding the bottom part of the deck behind the cut card away and putting it on the top (far side) of the deck. Remove the cut card that was on the bottom, and is now in the middle, of the deck, and place it into the deck near the bottom. This will signify when the cards need to be shuffled. On games of four or six decks, this is normally placed about one deck from the end of the shoe. If using a shoe, place the cards into the shoe. Before dealing any player hands from the newly-shuffled deck, discard one card.
All players place a wager of one or more chips in a designated betting area in front of them. Once all players have wagered, the dealer deals all players from left to right one card, face up, then one to themselves, face down. This procedure repeats, giving each player two cards, and the dealer turns the first card dealt to themselves face-up. Players are never allowed to touch the cards, and cannot touch their wagers (other than to perform a double or split) after the cards are dealt.
Players look at their hands, evaluating their scores. Aces are worth 11, unless this would cause the player’s score to be greater than 21, in which case they are worth 1. Face cards are worth 10. All other cards are worth their face value. Scores for each card are added to obtain the score for the hand.
The first player to the dealer’s left goes first. A player has four options:
- Hit. Receive another card. Signified by tapping the table. After hitting, if the player’s total has not exceeded 21, they may continue to hit, or choose to stand. If the player has exceeded 21, they have busted, and their wager is collected and added to the dealer’s rack, and their cards are placed into the discard.
- Stand. Take no further action. Signified by waving the hand, palm down, parallel to the table. Play moves to the next player to the left.
- Double. Allows the player to double their wager in exchange for receiving only one more card. Only available on the first action after being dealt a hand. Signified by placing a wager up to the original (it is possible to “double for less” and not actually double the wager) in the betting area and holding up one finger. The player is dealt a third card, and play moves to the next player to the left. Doubling is generally only done on totals of 11 or lower, since doubling a 12 or higher puts a player at risk of busting.
- Split. Allows the player to split their original hand into two hands, receiving a second card for each. Only available on the first action after being dealt a hand, and only if both cards are of the same rank (e.g. two eights). Signified by placing a wager equal to the original in the betting area and making a V with their fingers. The player may now play each hand individually as though they were dealt two hands to begin with, and can hit, stand, double, or split them again (if they form another pair). Some games do not allow any action other than re-splitting to be taken after aces are split.
After all players have revealed their hand, the dealer reveals their concealed card. The dealer has no choice in how to play their hand—they draw as long as they are showing 16 or lower, and stand if they are showing 17 or higher. If the dealer busts, all remaining players win, regardless of their score. If the dealer does not bust, then players with a total higher than the dealer win and players with a total lower than the dealer. Winning players are paid out at even money (i.e. the payout is equal to their wager). Losing players’ wagers are collected and added to the dealer’s rack. Players which tie the dealer are said to have pushed and their wagers are neither collected nor paid out. All cards are collected and placed in the discards, and players place their wagers for the next hand (which is dealt with the remaining cards in the deck).
Continue playing until the cut card is reached. If the cut card is reached mid-hand, use the remaining cards behind it to finish out the hand. Then, shuffle the cards as shown above and resume playing.
An initial score of 21, formed by an ace and a ten-valued card, is called a blackjack. On the player’s turn, they may not take any action; instead, the dealer pays them out at a rate of 3 to 2 (i.e., they are paid one-and-a-half times their wager) and their cards are collected.
An ace-ten combination formed by a pair of split aces or tens is not a blackjack, and simply plays as any other hand with a count of 21.
If the dealer shows a ten
If the dealer shows a ten as their face-up card, the dealer might have a blackjack. They check their face-down card to see if a blackjack is present, taking care to prevent the players from gaining knowledge of the card.
If the dealer does have a blackjack, it is immediately revealed. Any players who also have a blackjack push, and all other players lose. The hand is not played out further.
If the dealer does not have a blackjack, play continues as normal with the first player to the left of the dealer.
If the dealer shows an ace
If the dealer shows an ace as their face-up card, again, the dealer might have a blackjack. However, since it is more likely than if the dealer is showing a ten, the dealer offers insurance against a dealer blackjack. Insurance is a side wager of half the original wager or less. If a player has a blackjack, instead of making an insurance wager, they may request that their blackjack be paid out immediately at even money. The even-money payout is paid immediately and the cards cleared away.
The dealer then checks for blackjack. If the dealer does have a blackjack, any players who also have a blackjack and did not request an even-money payout push, and all other players lose. Any players who placed an insurance wager are paid at 2 to 1 (i.e. they are paid double their insurance wager).
If the dealer does not have a blackjack, all insurance wagers are collected by the dealer, and play continues as normal with the first player to the left of the dealer.
While two-deck card games are somewhat common, there are some games out there that require the use of more decks of cards than that. The most frequently-played of these are casino games: blackjack, which typically uses six decks, and baccarat, which uses eight. If you’ve ever thought about playing these games at home, you soon run into the conundrum of how one goes about shuffling 312 cards. Casinos, of course, have expensive shuffling machines to speed this process, but even those break down sometimes, so every dealer is still trained on how to shuffle multiple decks of cards by hand.
So how do you do it?
- First, grab a cut card and sit it in the center of the table. Break the deck into four more-or-less equal stacks, placing two to the left of the cut card and two to the right of it. We’ll refer to these as stacks 1 through 4 (from left to right).
- Grab about one deck’s worth of cards from stack 1 and an equal amount from stack 3. Shuffle these two stacks together and place them on the cut card.
- Repeat with stacks 2 and 4, placing the newly-shuffled cards on top of the previously-shuffled cards resting on the cut card.
- Continue alternating shuffling cards from stacks 1 and 3 and stacks 2 and 4 until the entire deck has been shuffled.
Now you have a completely shuffled deck with a cut card on the bottom, ready to be cut by another player.