Dealing the Cards
Next comes the deal. As previously mentioned, the dealer will start with the player to his immediate left and work clockwise around the table. Depending on the casino you're playing in, you will either get both cards face down or get both cards face up. Since you are only playing against the dealer, the way in which the cards face doesn't matter. If your cards are dealt face down, you may pick them up and look at them. If they are face up, however, you are not permitted to touch the cards.
The dealer deals himself one card face up. This is called the up card. His other card is dealt face down. This is called the hole card. Blackjack rules regarding hole cards can vary somewhat depending on where you play. At some casinos in Europe, for example, dealers don't draw their second card — the hole card — until all players finish playing their hands. You'll also see this rule on some cruise ships. Play begins after everyone gets his or her cards.
If the dealer is showing an ace or a 10 as the up card, he will act first, because if he holds a blackjack, the hand is over and all the players lose their wagers. If an ace is showing, the dealer will offer players the option to take insurance. Insurance is simply an additional wager on whether you think the dealer has a 10-value card in the hole. If you believe he does, you can take the insurance bet, which allows you to put down another bet of up to half of your original wager.
After everyone weighs in on insurance bets (if an ace is showing) or immediately (if a 10 is showing), the dealer will check his hole card. He does this by moving the corner of the card over the peek window. The cards are designed so that the markings for aces and 10-value cards appear in the corners in a different spot than other cards. He has only to check the mirror under the peek window to look for a marking. (In some casinos, the dealer may actually discreetly turn over the card to see its value.) If the card gives him blackjack (a 10 if he's showing an ace, or an ace if he's showing a 10), the dealer will flip over the hand to show the blackjack. If an ace was showing and any player took insurance, the dealer pays the insurance bets. At that point, the hand is over. If the dealer doesn't have a blackjack, the hand plays out as normal.
These days, most games are multideck, and cards are dealt face up from a shoe. If you should happen across a one- or two-deck game, which are dealt by hand, you'll get your cards face down. These games are becoming increasingly rare, however.
The only exception to this is when a player has a blackjack on the same hand that the dealer shows an ace. In this case, the dealer will offer the player “even money.” This means the dealer pays the player 1:1 (instead of 3:2) — for example, a $10 bet pays $10, for a net win of $20 — before the dealer checks his hole card. This gives the player the option of being certain of winning some money rather than winning none if the dealer does have blackjack.
If the player gambles and doesn't take even money, two things can happen:
The dealer has blackjack. If so, the player's hand is a push, or a tie, and no money is exchanged. The player simply gets his original bet back.
The dealer doesn't have blackjack. The player is then paid off at 3-to-2 odds — for example, a $10 bet wins an additional $15, for a total of $25.