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Blackjack Terminology in a Casino

As is the case with pretty much every subject field, whether science, sports or music, you can expect to find a certain level of specialised jargon, catchphrases or sayings. Blackjack is subject to the same treatment. This is not at all surprising if you think of how long this game of chance and skill has been on the scene, online and offline.

This page will introduce you to some of the most-used terms in blackjack, so you’ll be able to blend in with the pros right away. No time is wasted in our blackjack glossary: we’ve got the basics and the more advanced jargon covered, in addition to some no-go phrases which are best to be avoided at any play table worldwide.

Blackjack Glossary: The Essentials

Moving right onto the basics, there’s plenty of blackjack jargon that is so ubiquitous among players, it has even surpassed the boundaries of blackjack or casino gambling and is used quite often in everyday conversations. You’ll surely recognise many of these words, but there’s no better way to solidify your knowledge than with a little bit of revision. So, let’s start off with a solid foundation: blackjack terminology for the casino that no player, even a rookie, should miss.

The Essentials
Bankroll Very important in setting appropriate limits, bankroll is the amount of money a player dedicates to playing at any given time.
Basic Strategy A set of basic guidelines for classic blackjack that recommend when to hit, stand double or surrender (if possible), based on your point total and on the value of the dealer’s upcard. Memorisation of charts is the most typical way to master a strategy, though some player might employ a different technique. Depending on the variant of blackjack, a modified strategy might be needed.;
Blackjack This game has for sure gone through a couple of evolutionary phrases – and this includes the way we actually refer to blackjack in the present game. Formerly called 21, or variations of this name, the game itself currently dons the name of the desired winning combination – the blackjack. This hand is made up of an Ace and a 10-point card, adding up to – you guessed it – 21 points. It is also referred to as a “natural 21”.
Bust This is exactly what you want to avoid – going bust. This happens when you ask for a card to be dealt, which results in your total hand value going over 21. This is bad news for any player as it’s an automatic loss. Similarly, the “bust card” is the culprit that causes a bust.
Discard Tray This plastic tray holds the cards which have been discarded or played already. Often, a translucent red plastic is the material of choice, which also serves to expose those who have potentially marked the cards with a special kind of ink, visible only through red lenses.
Double/Double Down One of the basic moves in blackjack; a player can choose to double down after seeing a hand. This means the player will double his/her bet and will be dealt one more card. This is a good choice if the dealer’s hand is weak. In most casinos, doubling down is possible on any two cards, while some tables will allow you to double down after splitting. To signal doubling, place your second bet next to the original bet – but never on top!
Even Money When the player has a blackjack and the dealer’s upcard is an Ace, the player can opt for even-money side bet (half the size of the original bet). It’s a move similar to insurance (coming up further down page): if you opt for this you’ll receive a 1:1 payout immediately and the hand is over, regardless of the dealer’s overall hand.
George/Stiff A generous tipper versus a player who’s more conservative with their money. This term can also be heard among roulette players.
Hold At a classic blackjack table, players have to ‘drop’ an amount as a buy-in, and a percentage of the overall drop is the hold, a.k.a. the amount that goes to the casino. Typically the hold amounts to about 12% of the drop.
Hard Hand Surely you’ve already heard references to hard or soft hands – well, the latter of the two refers to a hand where there either is no Ace, or the Ace is being counted as one. A hard hand has a higher chance of busting with another hit.
Hit Moving right along, ‘hit’ is the command for the dealer to hand you another card from the deck. That being said, however, it is recommended to stick to hand signals when requesting a hit – you can tap the table or use a slight ‘come here’ motion with your hand. Nevertheless, “hit” commands are clear to see in any online casino blackjack game console.
Hole Card From the cards dealt to the dealer, one is visible and the other one is the hole card. This card is not revealed until all players have made their moves.
Insurance An optional bet in blackjack that amounts to half of the initial bet. You can decide to take insurance when you see that the dealer has got an Ace in his hand. It works like any other insurance principle: if the dealer ends up having a blackjack, you get your insurance wager and the original bet back. If the dealer doesn’t have blackjack, you lose the insurance. As ‘safe’ as it sounds, our advice is never to take insurance – unless you’re counting cards and are absolutely sure that the dealer has got a 10 in the hole.
Natural See Blackjack; also refers to a situation where a player gets a sum of 21 already on the first and second card.
Push This refers to a tie, meaning the dealer and the player have the same hand value. This means there’s no winner, and the player receives his/her bet back.
Shoe A plastic case used to hold the shuffled decks of cards, usually located to the dealer’s left.
Soft Hand This is a hand that includes an Ace valued at 11.
Split and Re-Split A move possible in some blackjack games; if the player receives two cards of the same rank, he/she can choose to split them and play two hands at the same time, each with an individual bet. Some game variants allow the player to re-split a pair, if possible, resulting in four parallel hands. The best pairs to split are Aces and 8s, while the least recommended to split are 4s, 5s and 10s.
Stand The player stands if he/she stops asking for new cards. To say you stand, simply wave your hand palm down over the table, as if to motion ‘finished’.
Up Card This refers to the dealer’s card which is visible to the player(s).

Blackjack Dictionary for Regulars: The Slang and Jargon

Now that we’ve got the fundamentals covered, it’s time to move on to more advanced jargon. You might take advantage of this glossary once you get a bit deeper into the game and players’ circles. At the same time, if you’re new to this, knowing these terms will give you somewhat of an edge and confidence if you find yourself playing with more seasoned table mates who use this slang each time.

Slang and Jargon
86’d Being 86’d means you have been caught counting cards by the establishment you’re playing at. This typically results barring – getting booted from a casino, or possibly blacklisted. Luckily, the original punishment is no longer applied – back in the day card-counters would be driven 80 miles out to the desert and dropped down 6 feet.
Barber Pole A wager consisting of different-coloured chips is called a barber pole – tall, and colourful.
Colour for Colour Getting paid out by the dealer with the same denomination of chips as the ones used in the initial bet; in other words, getting the same colour back.
Colour Up To change smaller denomination chips for a bigger denomination directly at the table.
Cut Card In hand-shuffled games, a cut card is used after a shuffle to signify the point where the deck or decks should be ‘cut’ in half and swapped. Typically, the dealer will give one of the players the chance to cut the deck. In multiple-deck games, a second cut card may be inserted into the last third of the cards as a way to signal to the dealer that it’s time for the next shuffle.
First Base First base refers to the spot immediately to the dealer’s left, which is also the starting point for dealing cards.
Five Card Charlie Reaching the value of 21 with a combination of five cards without busting is referred to as the Five Card Charlie, and some casinos or blackjack variants may even offer a bonus for reaching this hand.
Money Play This is a game where a player requests to use cash for his/her wager instead of chips. In this case, the dealer and the pit staff must be notified in advance.
Nickel Contrary to the mainstream use, this is the term used at American blackjack tables to refer to a $5 chip.
Pat Hand A hand with a value of 17 to 21, where no hit is required.
Penetration/Deck Penetration This refers to how many cards have been dealt out of a deck or decks before the next shuffling, in contrast to how many cards are in the play in total. Deck penetration is usually presented as a percentage or fraction, and may be referred to as “pen” by players.
Pitch Game/Pitch Blackjack Also referred to as single or double deck blackjack, a pitch game is played with just a deck or two of cards while no shoe is being used. Instead, the dealer deals straight from his/her hand. Apart from how the cards are dealt and the number of decks used, cards are also dealt face down, meaning you can handle the cards. Pitch Blackjack tends to have higher table minimums, and the cards are cut in the top half of the deck.
Ploppy A term used by experienced players to refer to a complete newbie who’s got absolutely no clue about the basic blackjack strategy.
Quarters $25 chips (not to be confused with the quarters whose value is 25 cents!)
Shuffle Up Some dealers may decide to shuffle up – meaning they shuffle before it’s time. This can put a damper on card counters’ efforts.
Spooking Not allowed in any casino whatsoever, spooking refers to a more elaborate way of cheating where the player works with a person not seated at the table, who is able to peek into the dealer’s hand and signal the value within.
Stiff A stiff is a hand that is one card away from possibly going bust, usually, hands with a value of 12 to 16. Tread carefully when you’ve got a stiff hand, and be careful not to confuse it with the aforementioned Stiff/George terms for bad or good tippers at the table.
Surrender Some blackjack tables orthe dedicated Surrender game variant allow you to surrender your hand and receive half of your bet back. You can decide to forfeit after the dealer checks his or her cards. If given the option to surrender, it may be a good call, for instance, to do so if you’ve got a hand total of 15 or 16 against a dealer’s hand of 10 or Ace.
Third Base At a classic blackjack table, the third base is the spot immediately to the dealer’s right, which is also the last spot to be dealt a card. Also called the “anchor.”
Washing the Cards This is a shuffling style by which the dealer spreads all cards facedown and mixes them up on top of the table.

When Blackjack Doesn’t Mean Blackjack

For all of its fame and reputation as one of the most popular casino games, it surely comes as no surprise that blackjack has become something bigger than only the game or the card combination. People are, generally speaking, rather lazy when given the option, which is clearly demonstrated by the fact that we’ve started borrowing the name ‘blackjack’ for a variety of things unrelated to the game itself. Let’s see what’s in store in the ‘Unexpected Definitions’ department.

Unexpected Definitions
Cities A bunch of cities in the United States bear the name of this iconic game. You’ll find a Black Jack or Blackjack in Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, and two (!) in Texas!
Fish Black Jack is also the name of a large ocean fish similar to a trevally. It inhabits the tropical waters of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans, mainly in deep reefs. The black or dark grey fins lend these ocean dwellers their name.
Marijuana Strain Staying right on that topic, “blackjack” may also refer to a hybrid strain of cannabis – more precisely, a cross of strains called Jack Herer and Black Domina. The more you know!
Mineral In the world of geology, blackjack is the name for a variety of the mineral sphalerite, special for its high content of iron. As is to be expected from the name and the richness in iron, it is black in colour.
Tree Blackjack may also refer to the blackjack oak, a tree native to the southeastern United States.
Unit of Measurement May be used as another word for 21 grams or ¾ of an ounce. Used by marijuana aficionados.
Weapon A type of a leather-covered club or baton with a hand strap that can be used as a weapon.

Blackjack Phrases to Avoid at the Tables

We’ve been very prudent in giving you a full-on blackjack dictionary with all the terms worth knowing and using, but what kind of guide would this be if we gave you do the dos without the don’ts? As in many things in life, there are sentences which are better left unsaid, so, in that vein, here is our rundown of blackjack phrases that have nothing to do at a blackjack casino. Luckily for you, there aren’t many – this is a game of hand signals, not words. So, in principle, the less you say at a table, the better!

Unspeakables
“Hit” When Sitting on 18 Actually, uttering the words “hit” or “hit me” at a land-based casino is bad enough, but requesting a hit when you have a hand worth 18 points will make any blackjack player cringe beyond recognition. Why? It’s almost a surefire way to go bust, and also a great way to show everyone around you and their mother that you’ve got absolutely no idea about what the hell you’re doing.
“Can I Get a Comp for….?” While land-based casinos are typically quite generous with comps for dedicated players, it’s quite rude to ask anyone working the table or the floor for comps, especially if you haven’t really played that much worth to qualify for anything. An alternative would be to play a bit more and ask more politely later on.
Ask the Dealer for Advice The dealer has no responsibility for your wins or losses, so it’d be rude to involve him or her. Simply let dealers do their jobs.
Make Fun of a Newbie As much as you might want to rebuke or criticise someone for making all the wrong decisions or playing their hand in a way you wouldn’t expect, it’s best to hold your tongue.
Whine about a Stiff Hand It happens to the best of us – get over it. Asking for sympathy is unbecoming, especially at a blackjack table, and there’s grace in taking a loss well.