Blackjack or "21" is the casino's most popular table game. The rules are simple to learn, and, if sound basic strategy is followed, the player can greatly reduce the casino's edge, and possibly swing it in his favor.

The game is played with one or more decks of 52 cards. Cards are valued at face value, except for the aces, which can be valued at either one or 11 points. Face cards - jacks, queens and kings - are valued at 10 points.

The object of the game is to beat the dealer. A player does this by having a higher valued hand than the dealer, while not "busting" by exceeding 21 points. If either the player or dealer busts, the other wins automatically. A major advantage for the dealer is that the player must play his hand first. Even if a player busts and the dealer subsequently busts as well, the player loses. Ties are a standoff or "push," and neither wins.

If either the player or dealer is dealt an ace and 10-valued card, he has a blackjack. A blackjack is an immediate winner and pays the player at 3-2 odds. Other winning hands are paid at 1-1 or even money. If both the dealer and player are dealt a blackjack it is a standoff.

The play begins with the dealer distributing two cards to each player and two to himself, dealt one at a time with the first card going to the player. One of the dealer's cards is exposed to help the player decide whether to hit (take another card) or stand (play the ones he has). In addition to standing pat, the player may double down his hand or split pairs.

By doubling down, the player doubles his initial bet and accepts one additional card to complete his hand.

By splitting pairs, the player also doubles his bet, but separates his two identical cards into two separate hands, to which he draws additional cards. Each hand is played separately, taking hits as needed. The only exception is that a player who splits aces is only allowed to take one additional card for each ace. If that additional card is another ace, however, the player can split again.

Doubling down and splitting are powerful techniques to increase your chances of winning.