A Blackjack Glossary
Definitions of Commonly Used Blackjack Terms and Phrases
I sometimes forget that people aren't as familiar with some of the terms and phrases used in casinos, especially as they relate to blackjack. I've launched this page so that readers who are confused about certain terms used on the site can figure out what we're discussing on the other pages here. Like most glossaries, this one is arranged alphabetically, and we might expand it from time to time.
Balanced Count - A card counting system that assigns as many positive values as negative values. Counting through a deck of cards using a balanced count will always result in a total count of 0 at the end.
Basic Strategy - The way to play each hand that provides the best mathematical outcome for the player. Basic strategy is usually communicated and/or memorized via a chart or table, but not always. See our full length feature about basic strategy here.
Betting Spread - The difference between the lowest bets and the highest bets a card counter places. For example, a player might have a betting spread of $10-$100, depending on the count.
Blackjack - A two card hand that totals 21. It's an automatic winner, and it usually pays out at 3 to 2. It's also often called a "natural".
Bust - A hand with a total of 22 or higher. A bust is an automatic loser. The word is also used as a verb to describe taking a card which gives you such a total.
Counting Cards - Tracking the ratio of high cards to low cards in order to gain an advantage over the house. Card counters bet more when the odds are in their favor, and less when they're not. See our full length feature about counting cards here.
Composition Dependent Strategy - A deviation from basic strategy based on the ratio of high to low cards in the deck. Most card counters get their edge by changing the size of their bets, but adjusting their strategy based on the count also affects a player's chances of winning.
Double Down - To accept one (and only one) more card while simultaneously increasing the size of your bet by one unit. Doubling down gets more of your money in action when you have a better chance of winning a hand.
First Base - The first person to receive cards and to make decisions at a blackjack table. This is the player to the dealer's furthest left.
Hard Hands - Blackjack hands without an ace, or where an ace must count as "1" to avoid busting, are called hard hands. The distinction is important when making decisions based on basic strategy.
Hit - To take an additional card from the dealer. Hitting is the opposite of standing. A player "hits" in an effort to bring his total closer to 21 without going over.
Hole Card - The dealer's facedown card. When the dealer deals her hand, she has one card face up and one card face down.
House Edge - The percentage amount that the house expects to win, mathematically, out of every wager. This is a long term number. In the short term, anything can happen, but according to probability theory, the longer you play, the closer you should get to the expectation. The house edge in blackjack ranges from 0.5% to 4% depending on how well the player plays. Table conditions also affect this number, and the house edge can even be negative if a player is counting cards.
Insurance - A side bet on whether or not the dealer has a blackjack. Insurance is a sucker bet, unless you're counting cards.
Penetration - The percentage of the deck that the dealer deals out before reshuffling. Higher penetration is better for card counters and vice versa.
Push - A tie with the dealer. In a "push" situation, the player's bet is returned.
Running Count - The actual count when a player is counting cards, regardless of how many decks are in play.
Shoe - The device that holds multiple decks of cards at a blackjack table.
Side Bet - Any bet outside the standard bet on the dealer versus the player. Insurance is the classic example of a side bet, but some progressive jackpot blackjack games also offer side bets with huge jackpots.
Soft Hands - Any blackjack hand where an ace can be counted as a 1 or an 11.
Split - When a player has two cards of the same rank, he has the option of using each card to start a new hand. This requires placing an additional bet.
Stand - To keep the total and hand you've been dealt. Standing is the opposite of hitting.
Stiff - A hand that's likely to bust when an additional card is taken.
Surrender - To give up half your bet before seeing how the hand turns out. This makes sense some of the time, especially when you have a really bad hand, and the dealer probably has a really good hand.
Third Base - The last player to act at a blackjack table. This is the player furthest to the right of the dealer.
Tournament - A competitive blackjack event. Rules vary, but many blackjack tournaments are similar to poker sitngo tournaments.
True Count - The running count converted into a more realistic number by taking into account how many decks are being used.
Unbalanced Count - A card counting system where the number of positive values and the number of negative values are not the same. Unbalanced counts are used to minimize the need to convert a running count to a true count.
Up Card - The dealer's face up card. The opposite of the "hole card".
Video Blackjack - The game played on a computer screen rather than at a table with real cards and a real dealer.