Blackjack Glossary

Newcomers to blackjack are often puzzled by some of the colorful expressions veterans use when talking about the game. Even intermediate players might not know all of the terms and their definitions. I've put together this blackjack glossary to explore some of the language used in casinos at the blackjack table.

Please Note

You can contact us if you have additional terms you'd like to see defined here. I've tried to make this blackjack glossary as comprehensive as possible, but nothing's ever perfect, and everything can always be improved. So please send additional terms and definitions at your discretion..

# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
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21 + 3:
A blackjack game with an optional side bet on your 3 card poker hand.
86:
To bar a player from a casino.
Example:

"I got caught counting at the Vegas Hilton, and I was 86'ed."

A
A-J Bonus:
A variant rule where a casino pays out 2 to 1 for a suited ace jack combination.
Ace:
The #1 in a deck of cards. It's signified with an "A" rather than a 1, but an ace only has one pip on it. In a game of blackjack, an ace counts as either 1 or 11 for purposes of determining your score.
Ace adjustment:
A card counting system which involves keeping a separate side count of the number of aces that have been dealt.
Ace five count:
A simple card counting system that counts aces as +1 and 5s as -1. To get an edge using this count requires a wide betting range and a high tolerance for variance.
Ace neutral count:
A card counting system that counts aces as 0. An ace neutral count is only effective if you're keeping a side count of aces.
Ace poor:
A deck which has fewer aces than you'd like. An ace poor deck reduces your chances of getting a blackjack, which increases the house edge.
Ace rich:
A deck which has more aces than normal relative to the other cards. An ace rich deck increases your chances of getting a blackjack, which reduces or eliminates the house edge.
Action:
The amount of money you're wagering.
Example 1:

"He brought enough action to the casino to get a comped breakfast, but that was all."

Example 2:

"She was betting $100 per hand, and the table was averaging 50 hands per hour. Her action each hour was $5000."

Advantage:
How much the odds are in favor of a particular party. Usually, the casino has an advantage on every game, but if you're counting cards in blackjack, you might have the advantage.
Advantage player:
Anyone (other than a casino) who uses some type of strategy to get a mathematical edge when gambling. Card counters are advantage players, as are skilled poker players and expert sports bettors.
Anchor:
The anchor is the last person to act at the blackjack table. See third base.
Australian blackjack:
A variant of blackjack that's popular in Australia. It's also called "pontoon" and bears many similarities to Spanish 21.
B
Back counting:
Counting cards when you're not playing at the table. You're standing in the back of the players. Someone who is back counting hopes to step up to the table and place a bet when the count becomes favorable. See "Wonging".
Balanced count:
A card counting system which has an equal number of + points and an equal number of – points. If you count through a deck of cards with a balanced card counting system, your end result will be 0.
Banker:
In banking games like blackjack, the player who acts as the bank. In casinos, this is the dealer, but in home games, the banker role usually rotates from player to player.
Bankroll:
The amount of money you have specifically set aside for gambling.
Bankroll management:
How you manage your bankroll, especially in terms of what percentage of your bankroll you risk per bet, per session, and/or per trip.
Bar:
To prohibit a player from playing at a casino. Card counters are sometimes barred from casinos if they're really good at counting.
Basic strategy:
The mathematically correct play for every hand in a game of blackjack.
Bet spread:
The lowest and highest amount you'll bet during a blackjack session.
Example:

"His bet spread was $10 to $50." This means he was betting $10 per hand, but he might bet as much as $50 per hand if he felt like he was in a favorable enough situation.

Betting efficiency:
A number that measures how well a count's handling of raising and lowering bets corresponds to the change in odds.
Big player:
In team play, a big player is someone who gets a signal from a card counter when the deck has a huge advantage for the player. The big player then gets into the action and places a large bet.
Black chip:
A chip worth $100.
Blackjack:
The commonly used name for the game of 21 as it's played in a casino. Also, refers to a hand consisting of an ace and a ten. This hand normally pays off at 3 to 2.
Break:
To get a point total of more than 21, which results in an automatic loss.
Burn card:
Some casinos discard the top card from a freshly shuffled deck. This is called the burn card.
Bust:
To lose a hand of blackjack by getting a total of 22 points or more.
Bust card:
A card which will cause your hand to exceed 21.
C
Cage:
Where you buy and/or cash in your chips in a casino. You can also buy chips at the table, but to cash them in, you have to visit the cashier at the cage.
Camouflage:
To make an incorrect decision in an attempt to fool the casino into thinking you're not counting cards.
Card counting:
An advantage play technique which gains a player an edge over the casino by tracking the ratio of high cards to low cards in the deck. When the deck has more 10s and aces in it, the player is more likely to get a blackjack, which results in a higher payout (usually 3 to 2). Card counters raise their bets in these situations. This ratio can also affect certain strategy decisions, giving the player even more of an advantage over the casino.
Card sharp:
An expert at card games, especially someone who cheats.
Cold deck:
A deck which is not favorable to the player. It might have few aces and tens in it, or it might be freshly shuffled. Card counters bet their minimum when the deck is cold.
Color up:
To trade lower value chips for higher value chips.
Example:

He'd been playing for a while, but he was ready to quit. So he asked the dealer to color him up so he wouldn't have to carry so many chips to the cage.

Comp:
Something given free by the casino in exchange for the amount of action a player brings to the tables. Common comps include beverages, food, lodging, entertainment, and travel.
Continuous shuffling machine:
A device that shuffles a deck continuously. After every hand, the cards that were dealt are fed back into the machine. This eliminates the deck's memory and makes getting an advantage via card counting impossible.
Cut:
To remove a stack of cards from a shuffled deck. This stack is then placed on the bottom of the remaining cards.
Cut card:
The card used to cut a deck of cards.
D
Deal:
To distribute the cards during a card game.
Dealing seconds:
A method of cheating at cards where you deal the card below the top card to a player. Some paranoid players suspect casinos of having dealers deal seconds in blackjack, but it's unlikely to be the case, as getting caught would cause a casino to lose its license.
Deuce:
Another name for a card worth 2.
Discard tray:
The container in which the dealer places the discarded cards during the game.
Discards:
The cards which are taken out of play during a card game. In blackjack, this might include the burn card, but it also includes the hands that have already been played. The discards are eventually re-added to the deck during the shuffle.
Double deck:
A blackjack game using two decks instead of just one or some other number of decks.
Double Down:
To double your bet and take one (and only one) additional card.
Double exposure:
A blackjack variant in which both of the dealer's cards are exposed for the duration of the game.
Downtown Vegas:
The old center of Vegas gambling. Many of the casinos in Downtown Vegas offer more favorable rules for the player than the casinos on the Strip. At one time, the El Cortez in Downtown Vegas offered a single deck blackjack game with a 0.19% house edge, which is one of the lowest you'll find anywhere in the world. Downtown Vegas casinos usually have lower betting limits, too.
Draw:
To take an additional card. See hit.
E
Early surrender:
An unusual rule in which the player can forfeit her hand and half her bet before the dealer checks for blackjack.
Edge:
The percentage advantage one party has over another when gambling. In almost all casino games, the house has the edge, but card counters can get an edge over the casino.
Even money:
A bet that pays out the same amount in winnings that you risked when placing the bet. Most blackjack hands pay even money to winners, but a natural usually pays 3 to 2 or 6 to 5.
Expectation:
The mathematical value of a bet over the long run. If you have a 1% edge over the casino, your $100 bet has an expected value of $101. If the casino has a 1% edge over you, then your $100 bet has an expected value of $99.
Eye in the sky:
The camera above the casino floor that records all of the action.
F
Face cards:
The jack, queen, and king in a deck of cards. In a blackjack game, the face cards are always worth 10 points.
Face down game:
A blackjack game where the cards are dealt face down. Most single deck games are played face down. Games using multiple decks are usually played face up. Players are allowed to touch the cards in a face down game.
Face up game:
A blackjack game where the cards are dealt face up. Players are not allowed to touch the cards in a face up game.
First base:
The first player to act in a blackjack game.
Five card charlie:
A five card blackjack hand with a point value of 21 or less. Some casinos offer an automatic win for five card Charlies, and sometimes the hand gets a bonus payoff, too.
Flat betting:
Betting the same amount on every hand.
Example:

"She was flat betting $10 per hand until the count became +5. Then she raised her bet to $50."

Fluctuation:
The difference between short term and long term results. In the short term, anything can happen. The more bets you make, the closer your results will eventually become to the expectation. Fluctuation refers to the ups and downs in your bankroll on the way from the short run to the long run.
G
Green chip:
A chip worth $25.
Griffin book:
A book of known card counters provided by Griffin Investigations.
Griffin Investigations:
A consulting firm that specialized in identifying and thwarting card counters.
H
Hard hand:
A hand without an ace, or a hand with an ace that must be counted as 1 in order to avoid busting.
Hard total:
The point value of a hard hand.
Heads up:
Playing with the dealer and no other players at the table.
Heat:
The attention and discouragement that a casino gives to someone who's counting cards.
Hi-lo count:
One of the most basic card counting systems. Any card ranked 2-6 counts as +1. Any card ranked 10 or ace counts as -1.
Hi-opt I:
A card counting system popularized in The World's Greatest Blackjack Book by Lance Humble. Cards ranked 3-6 count as +1, and cards with a value of 10 count as -1. You can improve the power of this system by keeping a separate count of the aces.
High roller:
A gambler who wagers large amounts of moneys. A real high roller can make or break a casino's profit numbers for an entire quarter.
Hit:
To elect to take an additional card to your hand.
Hole card:
The dealer's face-down card.
Hot deck:
A deck that's favorable to the player. Usually this means a deck with a lot of 10s and aces in it relative t low cards. Card counters raise the size of their bets when the deck gets hot.
House edge:
The percentage advantage that the casino has over the player on each hand. In most blackjack games, the house edge is between 0.5% and 1%, depending on the rules in place. The casino expects, in the long run, to keep that percentage of each bet a player makes.
Example:

A casino has a blackjack game with a house edge of 1%. A player is playing for $100 per hand. In the short term, the player will win some hands for $100 or $150, and she will also lose some hands for $100. But over a long period of time, the casino expects her to lose about $1 for every hand she plays at that $100 bet.

I
Index number:
Numbers in card counting systems that signify when you should deviate from basic strategy.
Insurance:
An optional side bet that the dealer has a blackjack. Players are only allowed to take the insurance bet when the dealer has an ace as her face up card. The insurance bet wins if the dealer has a 10 in the hole. Insurance is a negative expectation bet unless you're counting cards.
J
Junket:
A gambling trip arranged by a junket promoter in coordination with a casino.
K
Kelly betting:
The Kelly Criterion suggests that you should size your bets according to your estimated edge over the house. For example, if you estimate that you have a 1% edge over the house, you should bet 1% of your bankroll on each hand. Kelly betting reduces your risk of ruin.
Knockout count:
A card counting system popularized by the book KO Blackjack by Olaf Vancura. It's an unbalanced count that eliminates the need for a running count to true count conversion.
L
Las Vegas strip rules:
The rules used by most casinos on the Strip in Las Vegas. They're less favorable to the player than most of the games on Boulder Highway or in Downtown.
Late surrender:
An option the player has to surrender her hand and half her bet after the dealer checks for blackjack.
M
Mechanic:
Someone who cheats at card games by manipulating the cards via sleight of hand.
Money management:
A gambling strategy that involves raising and lowering the size of your wagers depending on how well you're doing. The classic example is the Martingale system, in which you double your bets every time you lose. Other money management techniques include stop loss limits and win goals.
Money plays:
A blackjack table where you can place a bet using cash instead of chips.
Multiple deck:
A blackjack game dealt from more than one deck. Casinos often use two decks, six decks, or eight decks.
N
Natural:
Another word for a hand consisting of an ace and a ten. The total is 21, and it's an automatic winner unless the dealer also has a natural.
P
Paint:
A face card.
Past post:
To add to a bet after the time for making new bets. It's a means of cheating.
Pat hand:
A hand you should stand with.
Penetration:
How long the dealer waits before shuffling the deck. Penetration matters in multi deck games because the further into the deck the dealer goes, the better chance a card counter has of being able to take advantage of a profitable situation.
Perfect pairs:
A blackjack variation with bonus payouts for certain pairs.
Pit:
Where the blackjack dealers and their managers work.
Pit boss:
The manager in charge of a particular pit.
Pitch game:
A blackjack game dealt by hand rather than from a shoe.
Playing conditions:
The rules and situations at a particular table or in a particular casino.
Preferential shuffling:
When a dealer shuffles up if the count favors the player but not when it favors the casino.
Push:
A tie between the dealer and the player. In the event of a push, the player keeps her bet but gets no winnings.
R
Rat holing:
Setting aside chips, in your pocket, for example, in an attempt to look like you've won less or lost more money than you actually have.
Rated:
A player whose action is monitored by the casino for purposes of awarding comps.
Example:

"I was playing at the Harrahs in Kansas City, and they rated me as a $10 per hand player—even though I was ranging my bets from $10 to $100 per hand."

Red chip:
A chip worth $5.
Resplit:
To split again after an initial split.
Risk of ruin:
The percentage chance you'll go broke, regardless of whether or not you have an edge. If you have a small bankroll, having an edge over the casino because you're counting isn't enough. You need a large enough bankroll to weather the occasional streaks of inevitable bad luck that you'll run into.
Running count:
The number you keep track of when counting a deck of cards, not taking into account the number of decks in the shoe.
S
Session:
A period of time in which you play blackjack.
Shill:
Someone who works for the casino incognito.
Shiner:
A mirror on your shoe which can be used to see cards you wouldn't ordinarily be able to see.
Shoe:
The device which holds the cards in a multiple deck blackjack game.
Show game:
A game using a shoe as opposed to being dealt by hand. The opposite of a pitch game.
Shuffle:
To randomize a deck or pack of cards.
Shufflemaster:
A company that manufactures automatic shuffling machines for casinos.
Shuffle tracking:
An advantage play technique which follows clumps of cards that are favorable to the player through the shuffle of a deck.
Side count:
A second count, usually of aces, that's kept in addition to the running count.
Soft hand:
A hand with an ace in it where the ace can count as either 1 or 11 without going bust.
Soft double:
To double down on a soft hand.
Split:
When dealt a pair, a player has the option to place a 2nd bet and use each card of that pair to start a new hand.
Spooking:
A cheating method that teams use. A player or players watch the dealer from behind and give signals to the players in the game.
Stand:
To play your card as it is, without taking additional cards.
Standard deviation:
A way to measure variance.
Standing hand:
A hand in which the correct decision is to take no additional cards.
Steaming:
Similar to tilting in poker. To become so emotionally frustrated during a losing streak at the blackjack table that you start placing large bets in order to win back some of the money you've lost. Steaming players also often make incorrect strategy decisions.
Stiff hand:
A hand that's likely to go bust if you take an additional card.
Stop loss limit:
A money management technique where you decide before your playing session that you'll quit once you've lost a certain percentage of your bankroll.
Surrender:
To give up half your bet in exchange for having no chance of winning the hand.
T
Team play:
An advantage player strategy that involves using multiple players with a combined bankroll and who share in winnings.
Tell:
Physical behavior from a dealer that provides hints to her hole card.
Third base:
The last person to act at a blackjack table.
Tie:
To have the same point total as the dealer in a blackjack game. See push.
Toke:
To tip the dealer. Also refers to the amount you tipped the dealer.
True count:
The running count adjusted to compensate for the additional decks of cards in the shoe.
U
Up card:
The dealer in a standard blackjack game plays with one hand face up and the other face down. The card that's face up Is called the "up card".
Unit:
A betting amount. When counting cards, you increase the number of units you bet based on the count.
Example:

In a game where you're betting $10 per hand, you're betting $50 when you bet 5 units.

Unbalanced count:
A card counting system where the number of cards with a + value is different from the number of cards with a – value, or a system where the values are such that the total when counting through the entire deck is something other than 0.
Unbalanced counts are used in systems where you don't want to convert the running count into a true count
V
Variance:
The tendency for random results to appear in the short run. For example, you might be dealt a natural three times in a row. That's unlikely to happen consistently in the long run, but variance means anything can happen in the short term.
W
Wonging:
Waiting to place a bet only when the count favors the player.
Win rate:
How much you expect to win per hour counting cards. Also refers to your actual win rate over time.
Example:

I played for 40 hours over the last two weeks in Vegas, and I'm up $4000. My win rate is $100/hour.

Whale count:
Another term used to describe a high roller.
Z
Zen count:
A balanced card counting system with two levels. 2s, 3s, and 7s are counted as +1 each, while 4s, 5s, and 6s are counted as +2 each. 10s are counted as -2 and aces are counted as -1.

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