How to Play Blackjack: Rules, Strategy & Where to Play Online
Blackjack is a game that almost everyone knows and almost everyone can play. It is a game that comes from a family of card games called “banking games” which are simple card games that require less skill than others where a group of players each plays individually against a dealer. Even with its simplicity, the game is still engaging and fun which is why it is the most popular casino banking game in the world.
The game “blackjack” is based on a card game of unknown origin called Twenty-one. The first known reference to the game of Twenty-one was is Spanish literature written at the turn of the 17th century, making the game at least 400 plus years old.
The game was widely played in early American gambling establishments and, to entice players to the game, these gambling halls would offer promotions such as 10 to 1 payouts on certain hands. One of these promotions offered these odds on hands that included the ace of spades and a black (spades or clubs) jack. This hand was unsurprisingly referred to as blackjack and the name stuck.
The game grew in popularity in the U.S. and around the world and in the 1950s, mathematicians began to take an interest in the game and its mathematical permutations. In 1956, a group of mathematicians published a paper called The Optimum Strategy in Blackjack. This launched an obsession with blackjack strategy and statistics and inspired generations of players to try to take down the House. It has inspired numerous pieces of American pop culture as well such as books like Beat the Dealer and Bringing Down the House and has been central to movies like Rain Man, 21, The Hangover, and more.
Blackjack for Beginners: The Basics
The appeal of blackjack is how simple it is to learn and how hard it is to master. Here are the basic rules and card values for the game.
- 2 – 10 = their true value
- Face Cards = 10
- A = 1 or 11
The rules of blackjack are to get your hand to add up to, or as close to, 21 as possible without going over or “busting”. If you get 21, you win. If you get closer to 21 than the dealer or the dealer goes over 21 and you don’t, you win.
You start the game with two cards face up while the dealer has one card face up and one card face down. On your turn, you can “hit” (be dealt an additional card) as many times as you would like. When you are satisfied with your hand, you can “stand” (end your hand). The dealers turn is last and they have the same options. In casino versions of the game, dealers must hit on any hand under 16 or 17, depending on the casino rules.
How to Play Blackjack
The game is played with 1 or more 52-card decks of playing cards. At casinos, the game is dealt from a piece of equipment called a shoe that holds either 2, 4, 6, or 8 decks of cards.
A blackjack table consists of seats for 5 to 7 players, all facing a dealer in the center of the opposite side. At the beginning of the game, the cards are shuffled and, if playing from a shoe, the dealer places then in. A player places a solid card somewhere near the back of the shoe to indicate when the next shuffle will occur.
Betting and Dealing
Players place their bets before the deal. The dealer then begins by dealing a card, face up to the player to their right at the table and deals one to each player including themselves. But, that first card to themselves is dealt face down. The dealer then deals everyone a second card to everyone, including themselves, face up.
Before play begins, depending on the house rules, players may have the option to surrender – get back half their bet in exchange for not playing the hand – or take insurance if the dealer’s upcard is an ace, signaling that they may have blackjack.
Blackjack and Payouts
If a player has blackjack on the deal (21 exactly – via an ace plus a 10 or a face card), they are paid out before play begins. Traditionally, blackjack pays 3:2 but house rules may vary.
How Players Play
After this, play starts with the first player dealt a card. They have 4 choices. Players can:
- Hit – receive another card from the deck
- Stand – end their turn and keep their hand as is
- Spilt – double their bet and split their two cards into two separate hands
- Double Down – double the bet in return for exactly one more card
How the Dealer Plays
Once all the players either go over 21 and bust or stand, the dealer flips over their hole card. The dealer only has two options, hit or stand. In a home game, the dealer may stand at whatever number they like. At a casino, the dealer will be required to hit on any number below 16 or 17.
Winning and Losing
If the dealer busts, everyone who is still in the game wins. If the dealer stands, the hands that are less than the dealer’s hand loses and the hands that are higher than the dealer’s wins. If the number is equal it is a push and the player gets their initial bet back.
The Rules of Blackjack
- Goal is to get 21 or closer to 21 than the dealer without going over
- You may hit, stand, split, or double down on your turn
- If you get blackjack on the deal, you get paid out 3:2
- Deal goes to dealers right around the table
- Players get two cards face up, one at a time. Dealer gets first card face up and last card face down.
- Goal is to get 21 or closer to 21 than the dealer without going over
- Dealer may hit or stand on their turn
- Depending on house rules, dealer may be required to hit below 15 or 16.
There are a lot of terms specific to the game of blackjack that you need to know to play the game. If you know and understand these terms, you can play blackjack.
Have a section on blackjack terms/ rules that cover the following: face cards, hole cards, insurance, doubling down, splitting, hard/soft, surrender, bust card.
Face cards is another term used for picture cards: Queens, Kings, and Jacks of a deck of playing cards. These are extremely valuable and are worth 10 points each. There are 12 face cards in each pack.
Referring to the first card the dealer places in his hand, this term refers to the card that remains face down until all players have had their turn.
If the dealer’s face-up, the player is able to place an insurance bet to safeguard themselves in case the dealer has drawn a blackjack. If the said player takes this bet and they are right, the player will automatically win double the insurance bet.
In blackjack, the term push is used when both the player and the dealer have the same number of points. If this occurs, the initial bet is returned to the player, and the game is treated as a draw.
If you draw a 17, you are considered to have a standing hand. This is because a dealer cannot stand until his total hand value reaches 17.
A hard hand is usually used when the total value of a hand doesn’t contain an ace. It can also be used when an ace is involved where it is used as a 1 and not an 11.
If someone has a picture card, a 7, and an ace, for example, they would have a hard 18 hand. This is because the ace cannot be used as an 11 without exceeding a total value of 21.
A soft hand is the opposite of a hard hand and refers to any hand that has an ace card used as an 11. If you have an ace and a six, for example, you would have a soft hand because you have the flexibility to choose the value of your hand.
When you are dealt your two cards at the start of the blackjack game, you have the option to ‘split’ the hand if they are a pair, giving you two chances to win.
In online blackjack games, you will often be offered the option to surrender. If you do this, you may get a portion of the initial bet back, though this is dependent upon the house rules of each individual casino.
Busting, or ‘to bust’ as it is sometimes referred, simply means that you have exceeded the maximum hand value total of 21. On some casino websites, this may also be called a break, but it means the same thing.
While blackjack may seem like a game with less strategy than a card game like poker, there is actually quite a bit of strategy employed in this game as well. The way people bet and consider the probability and statistics of the game can create a big strategic edge for a player. Here are the most common blackjack strategies.
The simplest way to implement a blackjack strategy is to know when to hit or stay is to assume that the dealer’s hole card is always worth 10. Using this strategy will help you conceptualize what you are playing against and hit or stand accordingly.
To take this strategy a step further, there are plenty of small cards that are available for purchase – at the casino gift shop or online – that are totally legal to use at the table and will tell you exactly when to hit, stand, double down, or split based on the percentages. Just be careful because the strategies do vary slightly based on house rules such as the number of decks you are playing with and whether the dealer must hit on 16 or 17.
When to Split
Most house rules, whether online, in a casino or at home allow you to split pairs. The rule of thumb is that there are some pairs you always split, some hands you never split, and some you have the option.
Aces and 8s are the two hands you should always split. Following these cards up with 10s will give you 21 with the aces and 18, which is a good hand to beat the dealer, on the 8s.
9s and Face cards/ 10s: 18 and 20 are great hands in blackjack, don’t bother splitting.
4s and 5s: 8 and 10 are good starting hands because a 10 can put you in a nice spot. If you split and get a 10, 14 and 15 are tough numbers to be at.
The other numbers, 2, 3, 6, and 7, can be split in the right situation – usually when the dealer is showing a very low number – but it is up to your discretion and should be done sparingly.
When to Double Down
There are three scenarios when you can double down. Once again, the success rate of doubling in these situations depends on what the dealer has so the higher the up card for the dealer, the less likely you want to try this maneuver. The 3 scenarios are:
- When you have 11 – A 10 gives you 21!
- When you have a soft 16, 17, or 18 – A 10 can improve your odds of winning more here.
- When you have a hard 9 or 10 – Best case this will only get you to 19 or 20 so only do this against a low dealer up card.
Card counting is the most effective blackjack strategy to increase your odds against the house. This strategy involves keeping track of the cards that have already been dealt and betting heavily when the cards that are still left to come out are in your favor.
As long as you do this solely in your head and don’t use any type of machine to do it, it is not technically illegal by law. It is not allowed by casinos though and if they suspect you are doing it you will no longer be able to play blackjack there and may be banned from the casino permanently.
The system works by assigning points to each card in the deck. Cards 2 – 5 are worth 1 point, 7 – 9 are worth 0, and 10 – A are worth -1. Towards the end of the deck or shoe, the higher the number, the more 10s there are in the deck. This favors the player over the dealer so you can bet with more confidence and win more money.
In addition to basic hit. Stand strategies and card counting, there are also patterns of betting that can make you more money in blackjack. While there are many of these systems and many are directly opposed to one another, one of the most popular is the Paroli system.
In this system, players start by betting 1 unit. After a win, you double your bet to 2 units. If you win again, you bet 3 units. After 3 consecutive wins, you drop back down to 1 unit and start over. While this is an easy system to learn and can work for short-term gain, there is no evidence it works better than other betting patterns in the long run.
The opposite of Paroli betting, this style of betting has been around since coin flips were invented. The idea here is you double your bet after each losing hand. Hypothetically, you will make slow and steady positive progress when you are winning and quickly get back to even when you are losing. While it makes sense in theory, even a short losing streak can wipe out your entire bankroll quickly.
Playing Blackjack Online
There are many online casinos where you can play blackjack. Pretty much any online casino that has table or card games will have blackjack. Even though you can play the game almost anywhere, you still want to look for the best online casinos for the game. Here are 5 of the best online casinos for blackjack and what makes them so great.
Bovada is one of the biggest online casinos around. It has been operating since way back in 1994 when it was known as Bogdog. In addition to blackjack on its casino site, your Bovada account also gives you access to a poker room, sportsbook, and racebook. It is a phenomenal all-around site.
What makes it one of the best places online to play blackjack though is its reputation. For over 25 years the site has been known to be trustworthy, fair, and has processed payouts fast. If you want a blackjack site that you know is reputable, Bovada is for you.
Fortune Jack is a cool online casino that has been around since 2014. The thing that makes this one of the most interesting online casinos in the world is that they only accept and payout in cryptocurrency. If you are into digital currencies such as Bitcoin, Litecoin, Dogecoin, Dash, or Ethereum, this is a great site.
What makes it a great blackjack site though has nothing to do with the currency and everything to do with live casino gaming. Instead of playing blackjack online versus the computer, you can connect with a real dealer who is dealing to live people all over the world. It is the closest thing you can get to actually being in Vegas in your living room.
Silver Oak Casino
Silver Oak Casino is a great online casino that has been around for more than a decade, starting in 2008. They are known to provide players with “an enjoyable, fair, and safe gaming experience which makes it a great place to play.
What makes it a top blackjack site is the number of blackjack varieties they provide. In addition to standard 21-style blackjack, the site has several other games such as Super 21, Pontoon, Perfect Pairs, and European Blackjack. If you lave blackjack, you should definitely try some other styles.
Las Vegas USA Casino
Another long-time player in the online casino world, Las Vegas USA Casino has been around since 1999. Like the other sites on this list, Las Vegas USA has a variety of good blackjack games although they do not offer live blackjack play.
What separates this casino from the others is the great bonuses they offer when you sign up, deposit and play blackjack on the site. They offer a 400% welcome bonus up to $10,000, a deposit matching bonus, a cashback bonus, a high roller bonus, and more. They really reward players for playing on the site.
Golden Lion Casino
One more online to consider for your blackjack needs is the Golden Lion Casino. The most recent entrant on this list, breaking on to the scene in 2016, the Golden Lion has a lot to offer in the way of games, bonuses, and more.
What makes this casino stand out for blackjack players is how mobile-friendly it is. The site offers instant play options for a host of different browsers. It is easy with Golden Lion to get fast, fun, seamless blackjack games where ever you are right to your mobile device.