blackjack terms in a nutshell

Blackjack is a game full of terms you won’t find anywhere else, so it pays to learn all of the most common blackjack terminology before you play for real.  

How well do you know your blackjack terms and rules? If you don’t know your true count from your running count, or you confuse your DAS with your RSA, you’re in the right place! This list of blackjack terms is the ultimate reference tool for budding blackjack pros.

And even if you know blackjack like the back of your hand, you might still learn a thing or two about the casino world’s most popular game.   

You’ll see some of these common blackjack terms at the table, while others are hidden deep in the rules sections. Some blackjack terminology turns up as you work your way through OJO’s blackjack guide too. Whatever the term, its meaning and how it is used, you can be certain that we’ve explained it here.  

Common blackjack terms

Basic strategy 

No glossary of blackjack terms would be complete without basic strategy, a set of recommended actions for any possible combination of player starting hands and dealer up card. Created in the 1960’s using computer simulations, basic blackjack strategy is the optimal decision in any situation. Unless you follow basic strategy, the game will not play to the lowest house edge or pay out the advertised Return To Player.   

Blackjack 

As well as the name of the game itself, blackjack is also the term for any starting hand worth 21 which involves an Ace and one other card worth 10 points. Blackjack is the best possible hand, beating any dealer hand including those that add up to 21. The only exception is if you and the dealer both have Blackjack, in which case the hand is a push.   

Box 

A rectangular white border  in front of each player where the hand is dealt. Box is also used interchangeably with seats or positions at the table. For example, Jim decided to play 3 boxes as the table was quiet.  

Burn card 

In some blackjack games, the dealer will discard the first card from the deck after shuffling, or midway through a shoe when dealers are changed. The burn card is used to prevent players from determining the identity of the first card through marks, imperfections or other visible features.  

Bust 

When the player or dealer’s hand adds up to more than 21, they are bust. When the player busts, they automatically lose their hand, and the dealer’s hand does not matter. When the dealer busts, all remaining player hands automatically win.  

Chips 

Used to represent cash in casinos, chips are made from plastic, ceramic or a clay composite. Casino chips are used primarily in table games like roulette and blackjack.

Chips usually come in denominations of £1, £2, £5, £10, £25, £100 and so on. Each denomination has its own colour scheme, and each chip will usually have the value and casino name printed on both sides. 

Continuous Shuffle Machine or CSM 

A machine used in blackjack games with multiple decks to speed up play, which means there is no need to stop the game when the shoe is almost empty. A CSM combines an automatic shuffler with a shoe.

The machine shuffles discarded cards and randomly insert them back into the shoe during the game. CSMs give players more hands per hour without interruptions, and increase revenue for casinos by up to 20%. Casinos sometimes claim that CSMs are used to neutralise the advantages of card counting.

dealer holds with one hand and places red cut-card near the end of the deck with her other hand

Cut card 

In live blackjack, a blank plastic card, usually coloured red, is used to cut the deck between the shuffle and the deal. The cut card tells the dealer when it’s time to shuffle again. The dealer might place the cut card in the deck themselves or ask a player to do it for them, in the name of fairness and transparency.

Cut cards are usually placed near the end of the shoe. In single deck games dealt by hand, cut cards are sometimes placed at the bottom of the deck to show that dealers cannot deal from the bottom, and to prevent players from catching a glimpse of the bottom card.

The cut card is also used by casinos to avoid having to deal to the end of the deck, a situation that card counters could exploit.  

DAS / NDAS 

In blackjack DAS stands for ‘Double After Split’ , and NDAS means ‘No Double After Split’. Once you have split a pair, you may want to double down on either or both of your new hands, depending on their value.  The rule which lets you double after a split gives you a small advantage, and is not available at every blackjack table. 

Double or Double Down 

One of the 4 main options you face when playing your first 2 cards. At virtually all tables, you will have the option to double your bet and receive only 1 more card. Some tables allow you to double on any starting hand, while other tables limit you to doubling only on starting hands worth 10-11 or 9-11. 

Only players can double – not dealers – which means doubling is one of the most advantageous rules for the player, and a critical factor in learning how to win at blackjack

In basic blackjack strategy, doubling down is usually recommended when you have 11, or when you have 9 or 10 and the dealer up card is lower. In new blackjack variants such as Power Blackjack, you can double, triple or quadruple down in certain situations.  

Even Money 

A special blackjack rule usually found at tables where insurance is available. Normally you can take insurance when the dealer has Ace. However if you make Blackjack, you will be offered Even Money instead.

The Even Money rule gives you the opportunity to take a guaranteed ‘even money’ or 1 to 1 payout now and muck your cards. If you don’t accept Even Money, you play the hand out as normal and get paid 3 to 2 if the dealer does not make Blackjack too. The mathematics and outcomes for Even Money are identical to those of insurance.  

Face card 

Kings, Queens and Jacks are all face cards, as they feature a picture with a face. The term ‘face card’ is also used when referring to all cards worth 10.  

Blackjack table with labels for First Base (nearest the shoe, furthest to the right) and Third Base (furthest to the left) seats

First base 

A blackjack term that originated in baseball, first base is the seat to the immediate left of the dealer, which is always first to be dealt their cards, and first to act.  

Flat bet 

A betting strategy which involves betting the same amount on every hand, whether you win or lose. Flat betting is the most common approach to blackjack stake size found in casinos.   

H17 

Stands for ‘Dealer Hits on Soft 17′, an important rule which governs how the dealer plays their hand. You can tell if a game is H17 or S17 (‘Dealer Stands on Soft 17’) as it is usually printed on the table. In a H17 game, the dealer must draw all hands to 17, as well as hit all Soft 17 hands (such as A-6 and A-2-4) until they make Hard 17, or any type of 18+, Hard or Soft. The term H17 is often used when talking about basic strategy charts which relate to a specific set of rules.  

Hard hand 

Any hand without an Ace, or where the Ace counts as 1, not 11. Usually when we refer to Hard hands, it is hands with a value of 12 or more which could bust by taking another card. For example, 9-8 is Hard 17, but A-6 which could be valued as 7 or 17 – is Soft 17 

Hit

The act of taking another card, whose value will be added to your existing cards to determine the total value of your hand. In live blackjack, players tap the table to indicate that they want to hit.  

close-up of dealer hand (8 face up, second card face down, with labels for each card: UP CARD, HOLE CARD

Hole card 

In American blackjack, the dealer receives both cards from their starting hand, one face up and one face down. The second card whose value is hidden is known as the hole card. Some table rules allow the dealer to peek at the value of their hole card if their up card is an Ace, to determine if they have Blackjack.

In European blackjack, no hole card is dealt and once all players have acted, the dealer’s second card is dealt face up. 

House edge 

The mathematical advantage a set of blackjack game rules gives the casino over the player. The house edge is expressed as a percentage, for example 0.59%. If a player bets $100 in a game where the house has an edge of 1%, the player will get $99 back on average (i.e. over a very large sample size of hands).

When you play blackjack online, the house edge is inverted and called Return To Player or RTP. A game with a house edge of 0.59% has a return to player of 99.41%.  The advertised blackjack house edge is only valid if you play perfect blackjack. Any strategic errors can cause the house edge to be higher. 

Insurance 

One of the most confusing blackjack words, insurance is a side bet that is offered when the dealer’s up card is an Ace. To take insurance, you must place an additional bet worth half of your original bet.

If the dealer’s second card is worth 10 and they therefore make Blackjack, your half-bet will be paid out at odds of 2 to 1. The outcome of the insurance side bet does not affect the outcome of your main hand, which is played independently. The insurance side bet has a house edge of approximately 7%.  

Natural 

Another name for Blackjack, natural is one of several American blackjack terms which are rarely found in European games.  

Paint 

Another name for face cards, which came about because colour pictures were used for Jacks, Queens and Kings.  

Pair 

A starting hand which uses 2 cards of the same value. While 2-2 is obviously a pair, a hand such as K-10 is also a pair as both cards are worth 10. When you are dealt a pair, the split rule will come into play.   

Pat hand 

A hand which is worth 17 or more, where you are likely to stand.

dealer with an Ace up, peeking at their second card by using a peek tool

Peek 

In games such as American blackjack, the dealer checks their hole card if their up card is an Ace. This is called peeking, as they attempt to see whether their card is worth 10 while keeping it hidden from other players at the table in case the card is not an Ace. 

Some live blackjack tables include a camera which checks the card on behalf of the dealer, and alerts them if the card is a 10.  

Penetration 

One of the most important card counting terms of blackjack, which describes how far into the shoe the dealer will deal before shuffling. In an 8-deck shoe, if the dealer shuffles after 6.5 decks, there is 6.5/8 or 81% penetration.

Penetration is especially important to card counters because there is less uncertainty and luck involved as you reach the end of the shoe, and there are fewer cards left to be dealt.  

Perfect Pair 

A popular blackjack side bet which offers fixed odds payouts of up to 30/1 if you are dealt a starting hand that includes a mixed, same-colour or perfect (identical) pair.  

Push 

A draw or tie when your hand is worth the same as the dealer’s. In some new variations of blackjack, the player will push if the dealer makes a hand worth 22 points.  

RSA / NRSA 

Resplitting Aces Allowed’ and ‘No Resplitting Aces Allowed’. If you are dealt a pair of Aces and split them, and are then dealt another Ace, you may be able to split them again.

Although you will still only receive 1 more card and therefore you can’t double, resplitting Aces is a good rule for players as it reduces the house edge by a small amount.   

S17 

Part of the dealer’s small set of rules for how they must play their hand, S17 stand for ‘Dealer Stands on Soft 17’.  In this version of blackjack, the dealer must draw on all starting hands worth 16 or less, and stand on all hands worth 17 or more. S17 is better for players than H17, worth around 0.2% lower house edge.

Shoe 

The plastic or metal container used to house the decks of cards at a live blackjack table. The shoe always sits to the left of the dealer and is designed to make dealing easier, faster and more transparent.

After decks are shuffled, they are placed in the shoe and the dealer removes one card at a time from the front. Shoes are usually designed to accommodate up to 8 decks.  

Shuffle 

Shuffling is the randomising of the order of the cards in the deck. In land-based casinos, shuffling is done by the dealer (by hand), by an automatic shuffling machine or by a continuous shuffling machine.

In online video blackjack, the cards are shuffled by a random number generator or RNG. This is an algorithm within the computer software which generates the random numbers used to select the cards.

close up of A-6 with the label SOFT 17

Soft hand 

A hand that includes an Ace that can be counted as either 1 or 11. The starting hand A-7 or the hand A-2-2-3 are examples of Soft 18 hands. Soft hands in blackjack have an important impact on dealer’s rules, and on basic strategy. 

Split 

When you’re dealt a pair, you may be allowed to split the 2 cards. Each card becomes the first card of 2 new starting hands, and the dealer adds a 2nd card to complete each hand. As you’re doubling the number of hands you’re playing, splitting will cost you another bet of the same size as your original bet.

In some games you can split up to 3 times, while in others you can split only once. Splitting in blackjack is a good rule for players as it allows you to increase your overall stake in situations where the dealer has a weak up cardIt also converts a bad starting hand such as 8-8 into 2 starting hands with 8 as their first card, which both have a good chance of making 17 or more.  

Stand 

The simplest of blackjack terms, stand is also used most often. When you are satisfied with the value of your hand and do not want any more cards, you stand. This locks the final value of your hand and brings your turn to an end.

In live blackjack, you can signal that you want to stand by waving one hand horizontally with the palm facing down, which effectively says ‘no more cards’. 

Stiff 

Stiff hands are those worth 12 to 16 which are the most likely to bust if you take another card.  

Surrender 

A rule available at some blackjack tables which allows you to forfeit your starting hand and get 50% of your stake back. There are 2 types of surrender, early and late. With early surrender, you can surrender even if the dealer is dealt Blackjack (in games where the dealer peeks at their hole card if their up card is an Ace). With the late version, you cannot surrender if the dealer gets Blackjack.  

Third base 

Also called seat 1 or the anchorman, this is the last player to act at the blackjack table who sits to the far right of the dealer.  

Up card 

The dealer’s first card, which is always dealt face up.  

Card counting terms

Card counting 

A method used by blackjack players to identify and exploit situations when the deck is in their favour. Card counting involves tracking the cards that have been dealt, so you know the approximate composition of cards left in the deck.

When more low value cards have been dealt, the remaining deck has more high value cards and this gives the player an edge over the house (as it’s easier to make Blackjack). The knowledge of a positive or negative count allows the player to increase or decrease their stake.

There are hundreds of different methods which teach you how to count cards, each of which differs in the points value given to each card rank. Card counting is legal, however casinos have developed measures to reduce its effectiveness, including using multiple decks and shuffling when the decks favour the players.  

Hi-Lo 

One of the simplest and most popular card counting systems invented in the US in 1963. In Hi-Lo, low cards (2 to 6) are worth +1, high cards (10, J, Q, K, A) are worth -1 and the rest are neutral. As cards are dealt, the player keeps a running score or ‘count’. If the count is positive, the player bets bigger. If the count is negative, the player will bet smaller, or place no bet at all.  

Illustrious 18 

A set of rules created by Don Schlesinger which tells card counters how to vary their basic strategy in certain situations. The 18 rules are listed in order of impact on the house or player’s edge. The first and most important variation of basic strategy involves taking insurance when the count is very positive. As the deck is rich in cards worth 10, a dealer who has an Ace is more likely to make Blackjack.

Running count 

The sum of the values given to each card in a card counting system, which is continually updated by the player as cards are dealt. In a single-deck game, the running count is the true count. In multiple deck games, the running count is divided by the number of decks left in the shoe to determine the true count.  

Daniel Grant

Dan Grant has been writing about gambling for 15 years, and been fascinated by beating the odds for even longer. Now he’s on a mission to help others bet smarter and avoid the mistakes he made. When he’s not obsessing over bankroll strategy or counting cards badly, he’s hosting The OJO Show podcast.

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