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 Terms and definitions in blackjack

Much of this text was borrowed from the rec.gambling.blackjack newsgroup FAQ, as authored by

Basic strategy - a playing strategy that is designed to minimize the house edge as much as possible without using techniques such as card counting, shuffle tracking, or dealer tells. Basic strategy is used as a foundation for card counting, but is also used by many non-counters.

Burn cards - cards that are discarded without being dealt to the players. After the cards are shuffled by the dealer and cut by one of the players, one or more cards are "burned" before any cards are dealt to the players.

Bust - after a "hit", the player is said to "bust" if the new card causes the player's total to exceed 21.

Card counting - a system for improving the player's edge by assigning "weights" to each card face and summing the card weights as each new card is turned face up. The "count" indicates when the game is favorable for the player, so that the player can place larger bets and/or make changes in playing strategy.

Cut card - a card that is used to cut the cards after they have been shuffled by the dealer.

Double down - to double the initial bet and receive exactly one more card. The option to double is often allowed on the players first two cards only, although some casinos allow doubling after splitting a pair. It is very rare to find games that allow doubling of hands that have more than two cards.

Double for less - to double down with less than two times the original bet. Generally, when doubling is allowed, the player does not have to actually double his bet, but may increase it by any amount up to (but not more than) the original bet.

Early surrender - surrender which is allowed even when the dealer has a "natural". Very valuable to the player, but rarely offered by the casinos.

Even money - taking insurance when holding a blackjack results in a net gain of one bet. Some casinos will allow the player to be paid without actually placing the insurance bet. This is called "taking even money".

First base - the first player at a table to act on his/her hand is said to be sitting at "first base".

Flat bet - to bet the same amount on each successive hand.

Hard hand - any hand that is not a soft hand.

Heads up - playing at a table that has no other players.

Hit - drawing a new card to add to the player's or dealer's hand.

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Hole card - the dealer's card that is placed face down.

Insurance - a side bet, up to one half of the original bet, that is offered when the dealer's upcard is an ace. This bet pays two to one if the dealer has a natural 21.

Late surrender - surrender which is only allowed when the dealer does not have a natural. If the dealer has a natural 21, the player's bet still loses in its entirety. If the dealer does not have a blackjack, the player loses half the bet and doesn't play the rest of the hand.

Natural - a hand that totals 21 on the first two cards.

Over/under - a rare bet that the first two player's cards will total over 13, or under 13, when aces are counted as one.

Preferential shuffling - shuffling when the deck is favorable to the players, while avoiding a shuffle when the deck is unfavorable to the players.

Push - a tie hand, the original bet is returned to the player.

Shoe - a "box" for holding the undealt cards, usually used in multi-deck games.

Soft hand - any hand that includes an ace that can be counted as 11, without having the value of the hand exceed 21. It is always possible to draw one card to a soft hand without busting.

Split hand - hands that start with two cards of the same rank can be split to form two independent hands. This option is exercised by adding a new bet to the second hand, and these hands are played independently.

Spread - to place more than one bet before the cards are dealt.

Stand - to stop drawing cards.

Stiff (hand) - any hand that has a small chance of winning regardless of how the hand is played (usually 12 - 16).

Surrender - the option to give back the player's first two cards in exchange for a refund of one half the original bet (rarely allowed). Some hands, such as 16 vs. dealer's ten, are so bad that surrender is less costly than playing the hand.

Third base - the last player at a table to act on his/her hand is said to be sitting at "third base".

Up card - the dealer's first card, dealt face up. The correct playing decision often involves some consideration of the dealer's up card.

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