Blackjack is by far the most popular table game played in casinos, with a tradition that spans over several centuries. What makes this game so enjoyable is its sheer simplicity and the fact that skill is also required, with veteran players having a better chance to emerge victorious.
In a nutshell, the goal is to make a hand of 21 or as close as possible, without going over the top, because a card total exceeding 21 will cause you to go bust and lose the stakes.
Each player competes against the dealer, with cards from 2 to 10 having the value inscribed on them, while jacks, Queens and Kings count for 10 points. Aces are the most versatile ones, because they can be used as both 1 and 11, with those hands that have an ace in their composition being called "soft hands".
There are various versions of blackjack, but virtually all of them compel the dealer to stand at certain values, whenever they are dealt soft hands.
The advantage of the dealer is that while both he and the player receives two cards from the very beginning, he would only reveal one. It is the player who has to expose his cards from the start and decide whether to hit or stand, based on his strategy. The dealer doesn't enjoy the same freedom, as he must stand on all hands whose total is 17, regardless of what the player holds.
This is why basic strategy recommends players to aim for hands of 18 or higher and stand, because there is no point in taking additional chances. In some casinos, the dealers are allowed to hit on soft 17 but these are the exception rather than the rule. Whenever the dealer or the player are dealt an ace and a card whose value is 10, he will automatically make 21 which is called a natural hand.
This terminology is also found in the game of baccarat and the similarities between the two table games don't stop here.
Players can require insurance against the dealer having a natural hand, but most specialists agree that this is not an action worth taking.
Players have the prerogative of splitting pairs and this also applies to tens and aces, in an attempt of maximizing their profits. By doing so, they relinquish the chance of making an actual hand and can only ask for one more card.
The same goes for doubling down, which is the situation in which a player who is confident in his chances to win decides to double the stakes after the first cards are dealt.