Ultimate Texas Hold’em

Ultimate Texas Hold'em logo
Ultimate Texas Hold’em, often abbreviated as UTH, is an adaptation of Texas Hold’em to the player-versus-the-house format of casino table games. Two to eight people (including the dealer) can play.  Introduced during the height of the 2000s poker craze, Ultimate Texas Hold’em is a more approachable game for players that may be intimidated by the more confrontational style of betting found in traditional poker games.

Like Three Card Poker, Ultimate Texas Hold’em is a proprietary game owned and licensed by Scientific Games. UTH was originally developed by Roger Snow of ShuffleMaster, a manufacturer of card shuffling equipment. As with Three Card Poker, ShuffleMaster created specialized shuffling and dealing machines customized for UTH. ShuffleMaster was later acquired by Bally Technologies, which was later purchased by Scientific Games.

As with Three Card Poker, you won’t usually find the UTH tables in the poker room. Instead, look for them in the pit, alongside the Three Card Poker and Blackjack tables.

Object of Ultimate Texas Hold’em

The object of Ultimate Texas Hold’em is to recognize when you hold a hand that is likely to form a better poker hand than the dealer’s. This allows you to take advantage of opportunities to bet higher (and thus hopefully be paid higher). Alternately, the object is determine when the hand isn’t worth playing and exit the game to avoid a greater loss.

Setup

Ultimate Texas Hold’em is played with a standard 52-card deck of playing cards. If you’re playing at home, why not take advantage of the opportunity to get out your Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards? You’ll also need chips for each player to bet with. The dealer should be provided with a generous amount of chips for paying out winning wagers.

Casino UTH tables are covered in a felt surface with betting circles pre-printed on them, to organize the four bets that are available to the players. (An example of such a betting layout is shown at below right.) Unlike public-domain games like Blackjack, you’re unlikely to find UTH layouts available from anyone but Scientific Games. If you’re planning on dealing a home game instead of just playing in a casino, you’ll need to put one together yourself.

Players make their initial bets, as described below in “Making the initial bets”. After each player has bet, shuffle and deal five cards, face down; these will be the board cards. Deal two cards, also face down, to each player, including the dealer. These are the players’ hole cards.

Game play

Cards rank in their usual order in UTH, with aces high (although they can be used in an A–5 straight). Hands rank in the typical order; see rank of poker hands if you need a refresher.

Making the initial bets

Ultimate Texas Hold'em betting layoutThe basic bets in UTH are the Ante and Blind bets, which most players will usually make. A player must make both bets, or neither of them; the amount placed in each betting circle must be equal.

A player may also choose to make an optional Trips bet. The Trips bet pays based on the best hand a player can make between their two cards and the five community cards. Whether or not the player’s hand is better than the dealer’s is immaterial to the outcome of the Trips bet. A player may choose to bet only the Trips bet, and not the Ante and Blind bets.

The Play betting circle remains empty until later on in the hand.

Play of the hand

After receiving their hand and being allowed to do so by the dealer, the player looks at their two cards. The dealer proceeds around the table, from left to right, giving each player their turn. On their turn, they may, if they wish, make their Play bet, which must be either three or four times the amount of the Ante bet. Otherwise, they check by tapping the table.

After all players have had a chance to bet or check, the dealer reveals the flop (the first three board cards). Each player who has not already made a Play bet gets a turn now. If they wish, they may now place a Play bet equal to twice the Ante bet. They may also check again, if they still do not wish to bet.

The dealer then reveals the last two board cards. Players have one last chance to make a Play bet, which is now limited to be exactly equal to the Ante bet. If a player still doesn’t want to bet, then they fold, surrendering all of the bets they’ve made to the dealer.

When all players have made a Play bet or folded, the dealer turns their hole cards face up. They declare the best five-card poker hand they can make using their two hole cards and the five board cards. If the dealer has at least a pair or higher, they are said to qualify. If the dealer does not qualify, the Ante bet will push, but the other two bets will still be paid out normally.

Payouts

The dealer now proceeds around the table to each active player in turn, starting with the player to their right and working around to the left. The dealer reveals the player’s hole cards and announces the best poker hand the player can make. This hand is then compared to the dealer’s. If the dealer has a better hand, the dealer collects the Blind and Play bets, the Ante bet if the dealer qualified, and the player’s cards. Should the player have a better hand, they are paid out at even money on the Play bet and the Blind bet, as well as the Ante bet if the dealer qualified. If the player wins and has a straight or higher, they are paid at a higher rate on the Blind bet, as shown in the table below.

If the player made the Trips bet, it is settled regardless of if the player won or not. The Trips bet pays only if the player has three of a kind or better. If they do not, the bet loses and is collected by the dealer. If they do, it is paid according to the table below.

The payouts for the Trips and winning Blind bets are as follows:

Hand Trips Blind
Royal flush 50 to 1 500 to 1
Straight flush 40 to 1 50 to 1
Four of a kind 30 to 1 10 to 1
Full house 8 to 1 3 to 1
Flush 6 to 1 3 to 2
Straight 5 to 1 even money
Three of a kind 3 to 1 even money
Two Pair
Pair
even money

After every player’s bets have been resolved, the cards are shuffled. Players then make their bets for the next hand.

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Three Card Poker

Three Card Poker is a betting game played in casinos throughout the world. Unlike most forms of poker, the player wins when they can manage to beat the house, as in Blackjack and Mini Baccarat. Accordingly, Three Card Poker tables are usually located in the blackjack pit, not in the poker room.

Unlike most games played with traditional cards, Three Card Poker is a proprietary game. It was originally marketed by ShuffleMaster, a company which made and supplied automatic card shufflers to casinos. Due to a chain of acquisitions, the game is now owned by Scientific Games. Scientific Games still licenses the rights to the Three Card Poker name, as well as selling layouts and specialized shufflers that can also be programmed to deal three-card hands for each player.

Object of Three Card Poker

The object of Three Card Poker is to hold a hand higher than that of the dealer, or walk away when they feel they are unlikely to do so.

Setup

Unlike many casino table games, Three Card Poker is played with only one standard, 52-card deck of playing cards. Happily, that means if you’re wanting to play a home game, you can use your favorite deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. You’ll also need chips to bet with.

Casinos spread the game on a felt table with a printed layout that facilitates the placing and payout of bets. Each player position has three betting boxes, typically laid out as shown at right. Because Three Card Poker is a proprietary game, pre-printed felt layouts are not as readily available as those found in games such as Blackjack. If you’re playing at home, you will most likely have to get creative, making a betting layout for yourself.

All players place a bet (which must be between the posted table minimums and maximums) in the Ante box on the layout. If they wish, they may also place an additional bet in the Pair Plus circle. Shuffle and deal three cards face down to each player, including the dealer.

Game play

Rank of Three Card Poker hands

Because there are only three cards involved, the hands available in Three Card Poker and their ranking differ from traditional poker. The hands are, from highest to lowest:

  1. Straight flush: Three cards of the same suit, in sequence.
  2. Three of a kind: Three cards of the same rank.
  3. Straight: Three cards in sequence.
  4. Flush: Three cards of the same suit.
  5. Pair: Two cards of the same rank, plus one unmatched card.
  6. High card: Three unmatched cards.

Competing pairs are evaluated by the rank of the pair, with the kicker (unmatched card) breaking ties. All other hands are evaluated by comparing the top-ranked card, then the second-highest, then the lowest. Cards rank in their usual order, with aces high (although A-2-3 is a valid straight).

Play of the hand

Each player picks up their cards (touching the cards is allowed in Three Card Poker) and examines their hand. They now make the only decision in the game—whether to raise (play) or fold. If the player folds, they surrender their cards to the dealer, who collects their money from the Ante and Pair Plus circles. If they raise, they place another bet, exactly the same amount as their Ante wager, on top of their cards (which are placed in the box overlapping the Play box, such that a bet placed on top of the cards ends up being in the Play box).

When all players have acted, the dealer reveals their hand. If the dealer’s hand is queen high or better, they are said to qualify. Should the dealer fail to qualify, the hand ends immediately, with each player being paid even money on their Ante bet and the Play bet pushing. (It should be noted that, so long as the player hasn’t folded, the Ante bet always pays when the dealer fails to qualify, even if the player’s hand is lower than the dealer’s.)

If the dealer qualifies, each player’s hand is compared with the dealer’s. Starting with the player to their right, and proceeding counter-clockwise around the table, the dealer reveals each player’s hand. If the player’s hand is higher than the dealer’s, they are paid even money on both the Ante and Play bets. When the dealer’s hand is higher, both bets are lost. If the dealer and player tie exactly, both bets push.

Pair Plus and Ante bonus payouts

If the player holds a high enough hand, they may get paid no matter what the dealer holds. Usually, this will happen because they made the Pair Plus bet, which operates entirely independently of the other two bets. If the player has a pair or higher, they are paid according to the hand they hold; otherwise, the bet is lost. A player holding a straight or better also receives a bonus on their Ante bet (regardless of if they played the Pair Plus bet).

Pair Plus bet and Ante bonuses are paid according to the following paytable. Note that these are typical values; some casinos may pay different rates.

Hand Pair Plus Ante bonus
Straight flush 40 to 1 5 to 1
Three of a kind 30 to 1 4 to 1
Straight 6 to 1 even money
Flush: 3 to 1
Pair even money

Three Card Poker strategy

According to Michael Shackelford of the popular Wizard of Odds gambling probabilities site, the mathematically ideal strategy for Three Card Poker is to play hands of Q-6-4 and higher and to fold hands of Q-6-3 and lower.

It should be noted that the house edge on the Pairs Plus bet is 7.28%. This is not much better than betting on a slot machine. However, to many players, the chance to catch a straight flush and win $200 on a $5 bet is too great a temptation to resist…

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Faro

Faro layoutFaro is a gambling game that was hugely popular in the United States in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, especially in the Old West. Faro’s popularity was due to the fact that not only is it easy to learn, it has a very low house edge compared to other games like Blackjack. Unfortunately, that low rate of return for the house led many unscrupulous dealers to cheat. Crooked dealing boxes and stacked decks were common in the days of Faro.

Faro is closely related to Basset, a game that was played in France up to 1691, when it was banned. Faro arose as a legal alternative until it too was banned, although it spread to England and from there to the United States, where it continued to remain legal. Faro remained popular in the United States until around World War I, and it continued to be dealt in some Nevada casinos until 1985.

Object of Faro

The object of Faro is to win money by successfully predicting which cards will be dealt as “winning” cards.

Setup

Faro requires one standard 52-card deck of playing cards. While plastic playing cards weren’t invented until long after Faro lapsed into obscurity, there’s no reason that you can’t use Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards in a modern Faro game.

You will also need a dealing box, or shoe, as well as a Faro layout. A Faro layout consists of thirteen cards, one of each rank. Traditionally, the cards displayed are the thirteen spades, but there’s no reason any other suit couldn’t be used. In Faro’s heyday, the layout was often simply thirteen cards from another deck glued to a board, but fancier establishments did use layouts printed on felt. A abacus-like device called a casekeeper was used to keep track of which cards had already been dealt, but a pencil and paper can easily substitute for it.

Finally, you need something for players to bet with, i.e. chips. Rather than using a standard denominational color scheme, Faro is usually dealt with differently-colored chips for each player, as in Roulette, to ensure that different players’ bets are not confused. You’ll also need coppers, which are small lammers used to “copper a bet” (see below). Faro coppers were, in more formal games, small black hexagonal chips; in less formal ones, pennies were common. The dealer is permitted to declare the maximum and minimum betting limits, which they may change at any time depending on how much money they are willing to risk.

Shuffle the deck and allow one player to cut it. Place the deck in the shoe and discard one card, turning it face up. This card, called the soda card, has no bearing on game play.

Game play

Faro layout, with betsPlayers place their bets on the layout. Players may place any number of bets, wherever they wish, but in order to keep the layout less cluttered, bets may be placed in such a way that they cover multiple cards. Possible bets are shown in the image to the right (click to expand):

  • Red chip: A bet in this position bets only the card covered, in this case the 9.
  • White chip: A bet in this position covers the two cards the chip is between, in this case the jack and 3 for one chip and the 3 and 4 for the other.
  • Green chip: A bet in this position (i.e. the outside corner of a card) covers the card it is touching and the card second card in the direction of the chip; that is, it skips one card. In this case, the green chip is covering the queen and 10.
  • Black chip: A bet in this position (i.e. the inside corner of a card) covers the card it is touching, the one above it, and the one next to it. In this case, the 10, 4, and 9 are covered.
  • Purple chip: A bet in this position covers the four cards surrounding it, in this case the 5, 6, 8, and 9.
  • Yellow chip: A bet in this position is betting that the card that wins on the next turn will be even.
  • Orange chip: A bet in this position is betting that card that wins on the next turn will be odd.
  • Blue chip: A bet in this position is betting that the card that wins on the next turn will be higher than the card that loses.
  • Yellow-green chip: A bet in this position covers the card it is closest to and the card diagonal to it, in this case the 3 and the 10.

By default, all bets are bets that the card or cards wagered on will win. If the player instead wishes to bet that the card or cards will lose, they place a copper on the bet.

Once players have had an adequate amount of time to bet, the dealer draws two cards from the shoe (this pair of cards is called a turn). The first card drawn is the banker’s card, which is placed to the right of the shoe, and the second is the player’s card, which is placed to the left of the shoe. The banker’s card is considered a loss, and any money wagered on the card of the same rank on the layout is removed from the layout and placed in the bank. Likewise, the player’s card is considered to have won, and any money wagered on that rank of card is paid out from the bank at even money. (If any of the relevant bets have been coppered, they are, of course, paid out if the card lost and collected by the bank if the card won.) Multiple-card bets win or lose if any of the covered cards win or lose. Any bets on cards other than the two dealt on the turn remain on the layout, neither winning nor losing. The two cards are then marked as having been played (and whether they won or lost) on the casekeeper.

If the two cards dealt are of the same rank, this is called a split. When a split is dealt, the banker collects half of the money wagered on that rank.

After each turn, players may change their bets. Play continues in this manner until all there are only three cards remaining (one last banker/player pair and an unmatched card, called the hoc card). Players then bet on the exact order that the cards will be dealt, which is called calling the turn. If the order is successfully predicted, the wager is paid out at 4 to 1. If the last three cards include a pair and an unmatched card, it is called a cat-hop and winning bets are paid out at 2 to 1. If the last three cards are three of a kind, no bet on the last three cards takes place.

Bets calling the turn are placed on the edge of the losing card facing the winning card. The bet is heeled in such a way that it tilts toward the winning card. If there would be ambiguity because the third card (the one the player is calling as the hoc card) is between the desired winning and losing cards, the bet is heeled toward the outside edge of the layout to signify that the bet goes “around” the hoc card.

After the last turn and hoc card are dealt, the deck is shuffled and returned to the shoe, the next soda card is dealt, and the game resumes.

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Mini Baccarat

Baccarat, also known as Punto Banco, and its predecessor Baccara, are very old games that have been played in European casinos for hundreds of years. Baccarat games have become the stuff of legend, appearing in works of fiction like the James Bond films. Baccarat is usually played by high rollers in a special, secluded area away from the prying eyes of run-of-the-mill casino patrons, with millions of dollars changing hands throughout the course of an evening.

In modern American casinos, Baccarat usually takes on the form of Mini Baccarat (abbreviated as Minibac, especially amongst casino staff). This game takes place on a table that is just a little bit larger than a standard Blackjack table, and is dealt by a single casino dealer, unlike full Baccarat, which is spread on a massive table worked by several dealers, none of whom actually deal any cards—that is left up to one of the patrons! Mini Baccarat is dealt much more quickly than standard Baccarat, leaving out much of the pomp and circumstance that characterizes the latter game. Mini Baccarat is especially popular among the casino’s Asian clientele—so much so that signage and literature distributed at the table is often in both English and Chinese.

Despite all that, Baccarat is a trivially simple game to play—it is essentially betting on a coin flip. The real challenge to Baccarat is dealing it, due to the complicated rules that govern when cards are drawn. A word of caution about Baccarat: 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 anyway.

Object of Mini Baccarat

The object of Mini Baccarat is to successfully predict whether the player (punto) or banker (banco) hand will have a score closer to 9.

Setup

Mini Baccarat requires a lot of props and equipment to do properly, many of which you will have on hand already if you have dealt Blackjack. In addition to cards, doing Mini Baccarat well requires two cut cards, and chips for wagering. You also need a box to hold the cards called a shoe (or sabot), 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.

You also need a way of keeping the three wagers available to each player separate. The ideal method of doing this is to utilize a Mini Baccarat layout. Real Minibac tables have a felt surface with graphics silkscreened on them, designating nine player positions where punto, banco, and tie bets are to be placed (in order of closest to furthest from the player), 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 Mini Baccarat 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 Minibac table. If such a thing is not available, you can make do with something like disposable plates or bowls for each betting spot, or even by delineating betting areas on the table with tape.

You may wish to make pencil and paper available to the players. Baccarat players traditionally keep track of the various wins, losses, and ties of the two hands, in an attempt to follow the trends to pick the winning hand. Rules of probability dictate that this is ineffective for determining which hand to bet on—the banker’s hand is always more likely to win in the long term, and the large number of cards (many of which are dead) means that the score cards won’t yield much useful information anyway.

A mini baccarat game requires eight standard decks, or 416 cards. All cards in the deck should have the same back. Traditionally, paper cards are used for Minibac, 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. This is normally placed about one deck from the end of the shoe. Place the cards into the shoe.

Before dealing any player hands from the newly-shuffled deck, discard one card, face-up. Discard that many additional cards, face down (e.g. if it is a seven, discard seven cards).

Game play

Players place their wagers in the appropriate betting area in front of them, depending on the wager they wish to make: punto, meaning they expect the player hand to win, banco, meaning they expect the banker hand to win, or tie, meaning they expect the two hands to tie.

Once all players are satisfied with their bets—which can take a while, since some players will annoyingly shift their bets back and forth for several minutes before settling on a bet—the dealer deals two cards, face up, to each hand. The dealer then computes the score of each hand: aces are one, number cards two through nine are their face value, and tens and face cards are zero. If the score exceeds 9, the offending first digit is simply dropped, resulting in a score of less than 9.

If either hand has a score of 8 or 9, this is a natural, and that hand automatically wins, with no further play. (A natural 9, of course, beats a natural 8, and two natural hands of the same value tie.) A winning hand is signified by the dealer pushing the cards forward, about an inch or two, toward the players. Bets are then settled, as described below.

If either hand does not have a natural, each hand may have one card drawn to it, with the player hand going first. If the player has a total of 6 or 7, the player hand stands (does not take a card). Otherwise, the player hand hits (takes a card).

The banker hand acts after the player. Its actions are quite a bit more complicated, and are tied to the action of the player hand:

  • If the player hand stood, the banker hits on 5 or less and stands on 6 or more.
  • If the player hand drew any card and the banker has a total of 2 or less, the banker draws a card.
  • If the banker has a total of 3, the banker draws if the player drew anything other than an 8. If the player drew an 8, the banker stands.
  • If the banker has a total of 4, the banker draws if the player drew a 2 through 7, inclusive. Otherwise, the banker stands.
  • If the banker has a total of 5, the banker draws if the player drew a 4 through 7, inclusive. Otherwise, the banker stands.
  • If the banker has a total of 6, the banker draws if the player drew a 6 or 7. Otherwise, the banker stands.
  • If the banker has a total of 7, the banker always stands.

There is only one round of drawing. After this is complete, the dealer evaluates the hands, and the hand with the higher total wins, and bets are settled. If the hands are tied, the dealer signifies this by tapping the table between the two hands in a sort of upside-down karate-chop gesture.

Winning player bets are paid at even money. Winning banker bets are paid at even money, less a 5% “commission” (the easiest way to figure this is to take 10%, halve that figure, and subtract it from the amount of the bet). Winning tie bets are paid at 8 to 1. Losing bets are cleared away and added to the dealer’s rack. Cards are moved to the discard holder, and the next hand begins.

Strategy of Mini Baccarat

As a player, the best strategy is to simply bet on banco every single time. Even with the 5% commission, the banco bet has the lowest house edge. Betting on ties is never a good idea, because the house edge is just too high for such a bet to make sense (think about it—do you usually see ties one eighth of the time?)

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Blackjack, part 2: Blackjack dealing procedures

blackjack1In 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.

Equipment

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 cardsblackjack2

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.

Making change

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.

PayoutsSizing into a chip stack

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.

Non-blackjack payouts

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.

Blackjack payoutsblackjack3

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.

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Blackjack, part 1: Rules of Blackjack

A blackjack consists of two cards which add up to 21.

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.

Setup

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.

Game play

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.

Blackjacks

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.

See also

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