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How to Play Blackjack

by Staff

Blackjack is one of the most popular casino games and it is played all around the world. In some countries, the game is called 21 because the objective of the game is to get your card value as close to this number as possible. It is not difficult to learn the rules of blackjack and by using basic strategy players have great odds of winning when compared to other casino games. This game comes with a very low house edge and there are quite a few variants to choose from. We will now give you a quick overview of the game that should get you started.

Playing in a Land-based Casino vs Playing Online

When you play blackjack, you play against the dealer and not against other players. Blackjack is a game of skill and luck, however, there is no bluffing involved – like in poker. If you play in a land-based casino you may be playing alongside other people but it doesn’t concern you what hands they have and whether they win or lose. You can play online blackjack against a virtual dealer and you can also opt for live-dealer blackjack where you play against a real dealer alongside other real players.

Online blackjack

  • You play against a computer
  • Random number generator technology determines what cards you get
  • The game is quick, adapting to your pace
  • Minimum limits can be very low
  • Can be played for free, in demo mode

Brick and mortar casino blackjack

  • Players have to find a table with an empty seat to play
  • Players play against the dealer – and not each other
  • The dealer deals the cards
  • There are minimum and maximum table limits
  • Some casinos don’t allow players to join mid-game

Live-dealer blackjack online

  • Live-action through a video feed
  • Casinos typically have many tables you can join
  • If you can’t find a table, you may be able to bet behind in some games
  • Table minimums are higher than in online blackjack
  • This version cannot be played for free
  • Players can interact with the dealer and each other via chat

How to Play Blackjack

In a land-based casino or in a live-dealer game there are 5 to 12 seats per table and there is one dealer at each table. The objective of blackjack is to get your card value closer to 21 than the dealer. You place a bet on your hand and you either win or lose. The first and second steps of learning the rules are learning the card values and the blackjack terminology.

Card values

The game is played with conventional playing cards. The suits of the cards are irrelevant in blackjack. The objective is to have a higher card value than the dealer without going over 21.

  • Cards 2 through 10 count as face value. E.g., 2 is worth 2, and 9 is worth 9 points
  • Face cards Jack, Queen and King are worth 10
  • Ace can be counted as either 1 or 11, whichever is more favourable for the player and the dealer

Key terms in blackjack

  • Hitting: This means taking another card. In a land-based casino, players can also tap their fingers or hand to signal that they want to hit.
  • Standing: This means that you are happy with your hand and don’t want to get any more cards. You can say “no” or shake your hand in a land-based casino.
  • Soft 17: Holding an Ace and a 6 is called soft 17. Ace can count both as 1 and as 11 so you can draw another card without the risk of busting.
  • Insurance: If the dealer’s visible card is an Ace there is a higher possibility that he will have a blackjack (in case he holds a ten-value card). Players can decide to buy insurance by wagering half of their bet against a blackjack. This may sound like a good deal but the truth is that the probability of the dealer getting a blackjack is less than 33% so it is not a good strategy to buy insurance. Experienced players indeed consider it a sucker bet.
  • Splitting: When players are dealt two same cards they are allowed to split them into two hands for double the chance to win. As a rule of thumb, never split on two tens or two fives, however, always split two Aces.
  • Surrendering: If you are not happy with your cards you can give them up and get half of your bet back.
  • Doubling down: Players can double their initial bet and draw one more card only. Experienced players usually double down on 9, 10 or 11 as the chances of getting another high card are high.
  • Side Bets: Land-based and online casinos may offer various side bets that players can place together with the original bet.

Step-by-step Game Guide

  • Place your bet by placing chips (or virtual chips in the online version) on the table
  • Both the dealer and the player get two cards, the player’s cards are face-up, the dealer has one face up and one face down
  • The player can decide to stand or hit
  • There is an option to buy insurance if the dealer’s face-up card is an Ace
  • There is an option to split if you get two same value cards
  • There is an option to double the bet
  • There is an option to surrender
  • If the player wins, the payout is made

Players win the game if:

  • They draw a higher hand value than the dealer
  • The dealer draws a hand value that is higher than 21
  • They draw 21 on your first two cards and the dealer does not draw the same

Players lose the game if:

  • Their hand value goes over 21
  • The dealer has a greater hand value than the player at the end of the round

Odds and House Edge

Blackjack has a very low house edge when compared to roulette, slots and many other casino games. However, the house edge changes with the player’s decision. Those players who play the perfect strategy can reduce the house edge to 0.5%, however, those who don’t understand the game and make bad decisions, will not enjoy a low house edge. There are plenty of online strategy charts available for free and you may even be allowed to use these charts in some land-based casinos. These charts will tell you exactly what to do in every possible situation so all you have to do is follow the advice. Blackjack is a mathematical game so if you place your bets on the basis of probability it is possible to make regular winnings.

The player’s probability to bust on an extra card

The higher the value of the two initial cards the player is holding, the higher the probability of a bust when drawing an extra card. If the card value is 11 or lower the chances of busting are 0% since an Ace would be counted as a 1 and a Jack, a Queen or a King count as 10.
On the opposite end, if the player already has a value of 21 and he draws an extra card it is 100% certain that he will bust. With the in-between values – 12 to 21 – the chances to bust increase steadily.

The dealer’s probability to bust

It is more difficult to estimate the dealer’s probability to bust as different casinos and different blackjack versions have slightly different rules on what the dealer has to do at what hand value. In some games, the dealer has to hit, while in others he has to stand on soft 17 and therefore the chances of the dealer’s bust can vary a few per cent. Probability-wise, the dealer’s weakest hand value is 6. When this is the case, he would have a 42-44% chance of busting.

Blackjack Main Versions

Bigger casinos may have several types of blackjack on offer. If you play in an online casino, an even wider range of blackjack games can be found, many of them offering special features, interesting side bets, bet behind options and more. These are the main versions of blackjack:

European Blackjack

  • This is the original version of the game
  • The rules are similar to American Blackjack
  • The dealer can only check his face down card after the players’ hands are complete

American Blackjack

  • The dealer can peek at the face-down card (also called the hole card) if his face-up card is an Ace
  • If after checking the face-down card, the dealer has a Blackjack, the game ends right away and the players’ bets are all lost

Progressive Blackjack

  • These games are available at online casinos and are linked to a progressive jackpot network
  • Optional side bets can be placed and these bets contribute to the jackpot
  • Once the jackpot is won, it will be reset and the sum will start growing again
  • Progressive Blackjack games usually display the jackpot sum so it is easy to see which games have a jackpot

Basic Blackjack Tips

Choose the best table

In different casinos and tables, payouts can differ. You should look for a table that announces “Blackjack pays 3 to 2” as opposed to one that says “Blackjack pays 6 to 5”. If you bet €2 you win €3 at a Blackjack pays 3 to 2 table while wagering €5 will only win you €6 at a Blackjack pays 6 to 5 table. In other words, you get a 150% profit in the first case and only 120% in the second case.

Another consideration when choosing a table is the number of decks they are using. The fewer the better. If possible, choose a table where the dealer must stand on soft 17 as this gives you the advantage. Try to avoid tables that only allow doubling down on 9/10/11.

Don’t Split a Pair of Fives or Tens

Getting a pair is great as you can double your chances of winning. Splitting a pair usually lowers the house edge, however, if you have two 5s or 10s, you are better off keeping them as they are.

Double Down on 8 Against Dealer’s 5 or 6 Up-card

When playing with a single deck it is always worth doubling up if the dealer’s upcard is a 5 or a 6 as these are quite low hands. If you are holding a value of 8 you’ll have good chances of winning.

Double Down on a Hard 11

In certain scenarios, it is worth doubling down while in others it is not. Holding a card value of 11 is the best you can have if you want to double down.

Stand on Hard 16 if the Dealer’s Upcard is 10

If the dealer’s upcard is a 10 and you got a hard 16, you should either stand or consider surrendering.

Split a Pair of 8s and Aces

Splitting is always advised if you have two 8s or Aces. These will give you the best chances of winning.

Hit Ace-7 (Soft 18) When the Dealer’s Upcard Is 9, 10, or Ace

When you hold an Ace and a seven, you should hit if the dealer’s upcard is a 9, 10 or Ace.

Hit a Hard 12 if the Dealer’s Up-card is 2 or 3

As a rule of thumb, you would always stand if your hand value is between 12 and 21 and the dealer’s upcard is 2 to 6, however, a hard 12 against the dealer’s 2 or 3 are exceptions.

Card Counting in Blackjack

In land-based casinos, you may try card counting. The fewer the decks, the easier the job is. In blackjack high cards benefit the player and low cards benefit the dealer so all that matters is how many low and how many high cards are left in the deck. As cards are dealt, the card counter gives a positive, a negative or a zero value to each card that was revealed. The running count will then have a higher concentration of high or low cards in the deck and give a higher or lower probability of winning in the next round. Note, that while card counting is not illegal, it is generally not liked by casinos. Card counting in virtual games is impossible as no physical card decks are used.