How to Play Blackjack

The are many reasons why Blackjack became one, if not the most popular casino games worldwide. It’s simple and yet sophisticated; game of skill and yet with a big element of luck; fast-paced, fun, exiting and of course, with the lowest house edge any casino game has to offer.

The Goal

Ironically, the goal of the game is one of the most misunderstood aspects of blackjack. It’s not about getting 21 and not even about getting closer to 21. The goal of blackjack is to beat the dealer without busting. That’s it. It’s nice to get a 21, but trying to achieve that will cost you a lot of money and blow up your chances of winning.

Short History of Blackjack Infographics

History of Blackjack Infographics

Gameplay

Blackjack is played with one to eight decks of 52 (or 48 in Spanish 21) cards. The cards 2-10 are worth their face value; Jacks, Queens and Kings are counted as 10 and Ace can be either 11 (referred as Soft Hand) or 1.

The game starts by players placing their bets. Then the dealer will distribute the cards, clockwise:  two cards to each player and 1 or 2 cards to himself. Typically players’ cards will be face up, while the dealer’s cards will be 1 face up (in any case) and if the second one face down.

At this point in American hole card game, if dealer’s up card is of 10 value he will check for blackjack. If he does, the game ends. Otherwise, the player on dealer’s left will be the first to act and the others to follow in clockwise order.

Players Options

We will explain more on these in separate articles, so just to explain them briefly:

Hit: To request another card. Can be done multiple times until you reach the desired result or bust.

Double: To double your bet in exchange for another card. Usually can be done only once per hand. In many cases this option is available only on 9-11 or 10-11 value hands.

Split: In case you received two similar cards, 7-7, or same value cards, 10-Q, you can choose to split them to two separate hands by placing additional bet. In some cases you even resplit them and play four hands in total.

Stand: End your turn.

Insurance/ Even Money: Insurance and Even Money are “security” bets which are offered when the dealer shows an Ace. In case you have a blackjack – you will be offered even money, meaning you will get be paid 1:1 instead of the usual 3:2 payout. If you don’t have a blackjack, you will be offered to place addition Insurance bet which will pay 2:1 if the dealer gets blackjack. Both options should be avoided. We will explain why in a separate article.

Surrender: Similar to the previous one, Surrender is considered a sucker bet, but here it’s actually due to luck of knowledge. Surrender option was invented by Atlantic City casinos. There are two surrender variations: Early (pretty much disappeared) and Late. Late surrender means that after the dealer checks that he doesn’t have a natural, you can choose to through away your hand and save half of your bet. If used correctly, surrender will increase your winnings. Check our Atlantic City blackjack page for correct strategy.

Dealer Play

The dealer doesn’t have a choice on how to play his hand. He acts according to predetermined set of rules, which are known, or should be known, to all players. In most cases the dealer draw on 16 and stand on 17; or stand on hard 17 and hit on soft 17. Games where the dealer stands on all 17 are more beneficial to players (about 0.2% difference).

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Payouts

Blackjack: A and 10 value card will usually pay 3:2 ($15 on $10 bet). It’s important to notice that many land based casinos started lowering their payouts to 6:5. This rule alone will increase the house edge by approximately 1.5%, therefore we highly recommend to stick to 3:2 tables. There are some special blackjack variations that offer 1:1 payouts on blackjack, such as Super Fun 21, but that comes to compensate for other player friendly rules and payouts.

Regular Wins: All other wins except blackjack (or special payouts which some variations offer) pay 1:1.

Push: In case of a tie (push) your bet is returned to you. (The only exception are games with special rule were dealer or player win all ties).

Side Bets

Besides the regular blackjack payouts, there is a growing number blackjack games which offer various additional payouts – you can see the most common ones below. Side bets are extremely popular on players which love to spice up the rather strict game of blackjack with additional features. However, it’s important to know that side bets, despite the life changing amounts they can offer (such as Progressive Blackjack), usually carry higher house edge than the standard game.

Common Side Bets:

Perfect Pairs: you win if your first two cards are a pair (7,7 for example).

21+3 Blackjack: you win if your first two cards and dealers up card create a winning three card poker hand.

Hi Lo 13: you can bet if your first cards will be above, equal or below 13.

Royal Match: if your cards are suited, suited and connected (9d – 10d) or suited K-Q.

Lucky Lucky: Your hand and dealer’s up card value is 19, 20 or 21.

Buster Blackjack (Bust It): you can bet on whether the dealer will bust.

High Streak: offers progressive payouts on consecutive wins: 1:1, 2:1, 5:1, 10:1 and so forth.

Progressive Blackjack: combination of standard game with a progressive jackpot which is won by getting a certain card combination, such as 4 suited Aces. Can be worth millions.

Online Blackjack

In general, online blackjack is played in a similar way but there are few difference between offline and online blackjack that is worth noticing.

There are two main types of online games: video blackjack and live dealer.

Video Machine Blackjack

Video Machine Blackjack

The most common way of playing online, although it can be found in brick and mortar casinos as well. It is not played vs. a live dealer, but a computer based game, similar to slot machines.

Despite various myths, neither, live dealer or machine games offer higher winning odds, those are determined strictly by the rules of the specific machine or table you choose to play. The main difference in terms of odds is that usually, the cards are shuffled after each hand and therefore card counting is irrelevant. On the positive note, continuous shuffling actually increases your odds by approximately 0.05% (depends on the number of decks in use).

Additional pros/cons here are very low betting limits, 10c and below, the extremely fast gameplay and the ability to play these games for free.

Live Dealer Blackack

Live Dealer

First introduced in 2006 in attempt to bring real casino experience into the world of online gambling. The game is played using a live streaming software vs. a live dealer with actual cards. The advantages of live tables are clear. It’s more fun. You can see the cards being dealt. You can hear the noise of the cards being dealt and even chat with the dealer.

The drawbacks are that the gameplay is slower compared to live casinos (and of course to machine blackjack). Online players usually take more time to act and you cannot really slap the guy next to you to get him going. Here you can find our live dealer casino and games review.