How to play Blackjack

Blackjack is card game played with a standard 52-card deck, similar in broad outlines to Uno. (It’s not to be confused with the card game of the same name, also known as Vingt-Un, Pontoon and other names.)

There are many games of this basic type. This version is sometimes called Taylor Blackjack, because it gets played a lot a big, raucous house-parties at our home in summer.

In my experience, the particular rule-set of Blackjack is tuned to make the game funny to play, rather than especially challenging or skillful. For this reason, it is by far my favourite card game.

Basics

Each player is initially dealt a hand of seven cards, and the remainder of the deck is placed face down on the table, except for one card which is turned face up. The goal of the game is to be the first to rid yourself of all your cards. A player loses a card by placing it face up on top of the current face-up card; it must follow either suit or rank except in special circumstances mentioned below.

Play starts with the player to the left of the dealer, and initially passes to the left. Any player unable to take his turn must instead draw the top card from the face-down deck. When this deck is exhausted, it is replenished from the stock of face-up cards, without shuffling them.

This is “natural”‘ Blackjack. As it stands it is a rather dull game. It is enhanced by the addition of special cards. That is, cards of certain rank have special effects. These are as follows.

Special cards

Ace. The player playing an ace nominates a new suit, which the next play must follow. (Note that unlike Uno, this Change Suit card can only be played when it naturally follows.)

Two. A black two causes the next player to pick up two cards, unless he can follow with a red two (which neutralises the black two) or another black two, in which case the next player must draw four cards, unless able to lay a red two (reducing the penalty for the next player to two cards).

Seven. The direction of play is reversed.

Eight. The player who laid the eight must immediately follow it with any other card in his hand; the second card need not follow suit or rank as in the usual case. If the player is unable to follow an eight (ie. it was his last card) he must draw from the deck.

Ten. The player may lay any or all cards from his hand which are of the same suit as the Ten just laid, and just declare “finished” when there are no more to follow. Optionally, some cards of that suit may be retained for tactical purposes. Only the last of the cards laid in a sequence following the ten takes effect: for example, if the ten of clubs is followed by the seven and two of clubs, then the seven does not take effect (the direction of play is not reversed) but the two does (the next player must pick up two).

Jack. A black jack causes the next player to pick up seven cards, unless he can follow with a red jack (which neutralises the black jack) or another black jack, in which case the next player must draw fourteen cards, unless able to lay a red jack (reducing the penalty for the next player to seven cards).

Queen. The next player is skipped. (In a two-player game, that means the same player plays twice consecutively.)

King. The next two players are skipped. (In a three-player game, that means the same player plays twice consecutively.)

Notes

When a player is under a penalty to pick up cards, as a result of one or more black twos or black jacks, the only options are to play the appropriate card or to pick up. It is not possible to get out of a penalty by doing something different, e.g. ignoring a black two or lay a black jack.

Picking up one or more cards is a turn. A player may not draw cards and then immediately play one of them.

There is no “chipping” as in Uno, where a card can be played out of turn if it is a perfect match. All play must proceed strictly in turn (for reasons that will become clear below).

Similarly, you cannot play multiple cards of the same value in a single turn (except as part of sequence involving eights and/or tens as detailed above.)

A player whose hand has been reduced to a single card left must say “Last card'” as soon as he has laid his last-but-one, before the next card is played; otherwise he must pick up seven.

More players

These rules work well for up to about five players. If there are more people who want to play, just shuffle two decks together. I have seen this work well for about a dozen people.

When there are two decks in play, it’s possible for up to four black twos to accumulate (so that a player unable to respond with a red two would have to pick up eight cards); and up to four black jacks (with a penalty of 28 cards).

Speed

What makes Blackjack hilarious, especially in a big group, is that it played quickly. If a player does not take his turn after a reasonable amount of time — two seconds, say — he had to pick up instead. If a player plays when it not his turn (for example, because he has not noticed that a seven has been laid, changing the order of play), he has to pick up. Often both these things will happen simultaneously: one player plays when another should have, and both have to pick up.

A player who says out loud whose turn it is has to pick up. (Players are expected to keep track of this for themselves.)

A player who says the word “sorry” (“the S word”) has to pick up. A player who says “sorry” for having said “sorry” has to pick up again. This happens more often than you might expect.

Any player who notices someone else’s infringement (e.g. a muttered “sorry”, or play they they feel is too slow) can hand the offender a card from the top of the pile, often without saying anything. If the accusation is incorrect (for example because the accuser thought the direction had changed when it had not) then the accuser has to pick up a card for a false accusation. If someone claims that this is the situation but in fact the original accusation was correct, the person who accused the accuser of a false accusation has to pick up for his own false accusation.

Playing incorrectly while under penalty of black twos or jacks does not remove those penalties: the player has to pick up the incorrect-play penalty cards as well as those arising from the twos and jacks.

The most important rule

All penalties must be accepted with good grace. They are funny for everyone else when they happen to you. And within a moment of two, someone else will get a penalty that is funny for you. Just enjoy it.

 

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