Blackjack

Blackjack is one of the most popular casino table games. Online blackjack has given the rise to live dealers and even more exciting side bets.

Blackjack Rules

The goal of the game of Blackjack is beating the dealer’s hand without exceeding 21. Whilst the timeline surrounding the origins of modern Blackjack are hotly debated, historians seem to reach a consensus on the game’s birth originating from French casinos around 1700.

Blackjack has a relatively simple gameplay with the following basic rules:

  • The value of the face cards (Jacks, Queens, Kings) is 10.
  • Aces are worth 1 or 11, depending on which makes for a better hand.
  • Each player starts the round with two face-up cards while one of the dealer’s cards is hidden till the end of the game.
  • ‘Hit’ means asking for another card and ‘stand’ implies holding your total and ending the turn.
  • If a player exceeds 21, he busts and the dealer wins, irrespective of the hand of the dealer.
  • The player gets a blackjack when he is dealt 21 (ace and 10) from the start.
  • Winning blackjack means winning about 1.5 the amount of the bet though it depends on the casino.
  • The dealer keeps hitting until the total of its hand is 17 or higher.
  • Doubling means doubling the bet and also, getting one more card.
  • A split is when the player has two of the same cards and the pair is split into two hands. Splitting automatically doubles the bet.
  • A player can only double/split at the start of the round.
  • A player cannot play on two aces after they are split.
  • Players can double on a hand resulting from a split however such a situation allows a tripling or quadrupling of the player’s bet.
Illustrated video explaining how to win at blackjack!

Overall, blackjack remains one of the simplest casino games. Rules are few and so are the edge cases. However, the right choice of strategy matters a lot in blackjack.

How to Bet in Blackjack

Betting in blackjack is done before the deal begins. The player places the bet in chips right on the table. The minimum and maximum limits on the bet can vary from $2 to $500 depending on the casino’s rules.

In Blackjack, as the round progresses, the player is allowed to act in one of the following ways:

Hit

Hit is when the player asks for another card from the dealer. A player hits his high cards, for instance, if the dealer shows a good hand with high cards that are likely to make 21. Similarly, if the player has a total of 8, he can hit against any card that the dealer holds. Hit is used to increase the player’s probability to win the game by beating the dealer’s total. When hitting, you obviously want to stay below 21 order you would immediately go bust.

Stand

Stand means holding your total and dismissing the opportunity to request another card until the showdown. Unlike ‘hit’, in ‘stand’, the player does not ask for another card from the dealer and continues the game. According to the basic blackjack strategy, it is ideal for a player to stand on totals of 17, 19, or 20 as the likelihood of going over 21 would be incredibly high.

When holding figures, taking another card does not help and instead, can compel the player to bust – that is, exceed 21!

Split

In blackjack, a split is an option given to a player when their initial two cards form a pair (identical values, e.g., AA or 33). When this happens, the player can split the cards into two separate hands and then, receive an additional card for each hand, from the dealer. The total amount of the original bet goes on one of the cards and an equal amount of bet must be placed on the other card when the player decides to split. Splitting in blackjack therefore costs twice as much.

Surrender

Surrender in blackjack implies giving up the hand after the initial deal. The player can surrender if he finds that he has very little chance of winning the hand. He will keep half of his original bet instead of potentially losing the entire bet.

Double Down

In blackjack, doubling down is an option for the player to double the original bet when their two dealt cards tally up to a total of 9, 10, or 11. A condition is that the player has to stand after taking one more card from the dealer.

Double down is considered one of the best blackjack moves because it lends the player the potential to increase the value of the initial bet by up to 100%.

Insurance

Insurance, in blackjack, is a side bet offered to the player when the dealer’s up-card is an ace. This side bet is insurance against the dealer’s hand being a blackjack. Blackjack insurance odds typically payout at 2/1 while the maximum bet that is allowed is half of the player’s main bet.

Blackjack Concepts

The entire gambling industry accepts blackjack as a beloved staple card game. But there are some important concepts to understand before sitting down at a blackjack table for the very first time.

Dealer

A dealer in blackjack is the one who manages the operations at the blackjack table in a casino. The dealer shuffles the decks of cards, counts chips, handles the money, and directs the game.

In all blackjack plays, the dealer’s decisions are automatic. Blackjack dealers do not improvise their own strategies, instead, they follow imposed rules. This is the opposite of blackjack players, who have the option of taking one or more cards.

After the dealer serves every player, their face-down card is turned up. If the total value is 16 or under, they have to take a card and if the total is 17 or above, they have to stand. If, on the other hand, the dealer holds an ace, counting which as 11 would bring the total to 17 or more but not exceeding 21, they have to count the ace as 11 and stand.

Blackjack Table Layout

The blackjack table is a green one with the basic information and game rules on it. It has a semi-circular form. The dealer stands at the opposite straight side of the table, facing the players who are sitting around the table.

The blackjack table can be divided into two parts:

  • one for the players, and
  • another for the dealer.

There is a space for the chips, a special area for bets and also, drinks in the player’s part while the rest of the table is the dealer’s part of it.

House Edge

The house edge is a statistical way of estimating or measuring the casino’s advantage over the player. When blackjack is played using the basic strategy, the house edge is just 0.5%, which is the lowest of all casino games. However, when players fail to make intelligent decisions or use the basic strategy at its best, this house edge goes up to 2%.

Side bets

In blackjack, a side bet is an additional wager that is placed at the beginning of a round. The side bet is placed at the same time as the main bet. It can be of a few different types, all determined by the player’s hand and in some instances, the dealer’s hand too.

The most common types of side bets are Insurance followed by 21+3 and Perfect Pairs.

Tournaments

A blackjack tournament is a large event that is held in casinos. In tournaments, blackjack is played between multiple players and they compete with each other. Unlike in regular casino blackjack, in a tournament, players do not compete against the house. Blackjack tournaments are held in both land-based as well as online casinos.

Steps in a Round of Blackjack

A round of blackjack unfolds by going through the following steps.

1. Buy in chips to sit at the table

At the very beginning, the players take their seats around the blackjack table and buy-in chips. Casinos do not allow cash plays and hence, players need to buy chips in exchange for cash. Ideally, the player places the cash at the edge of the table and the dealer pushes the chips across the table towards the player and vice versa.

2. Players place their opening bets

The actual game begins with all players placing their bets in the betting circle of the blackjack table. The table displays the maximum and minimum bets allowed by the particular casino. These vary hugely from table to table and casino to casino.

3. The dealer deals the cards

The dealer, then, starts dealing the cards. He places one card face up for each player and one card face down for himself. Following this, he will deal one more card face up to each player and a face-up card for himself, too.

At this stage, each player has two cards both face-up while the dealer has one face-up card and one down.

4. Players decide how to play their hand

The dealer will begin the game with the person sitting on his left, also known as the first base. This is also the moment at which players can enter into side bets.

Each player will play his hand by adding the card values and getting a total of anywhere between 4 and 21. Players might get a blackjack right away with a ten-value card and an ace. If they don’t, the game continues and each player takes a decision of whether to stand, that is, move on or hit, that is, ask for another card from the dealer, and so on.

5. The dealer plays their own hand

After each player has had their turns, it is time for the dealer to play their own hand. Once the dealer shows up the cards in hand, players need to decide upon their own strategy. It will be largely determined by the total values of the dealer’s hand and their own tally.

6. Payouts

Once, both the players and the dealer have played their respective games, payouts are carried out. This is also called the showdown, like in the game of poker.

There are few situations that arise after a round of blackjack:

  1. In case the dealer has busted, he will pay 1 time the wager to each hand that is still in play. However, if the dealer has already made a hand (17 through 21), the competition is between each player and the dealer as to who has the higher hand.
  2. If the dealer has the higher hand, he sweeps the bet.
  3. If the player has the higher hand, he gets paid one time the wager.
  4. If dealer and player tie, it is a push situation.

In blackjack, a “push situation” implies the player keeping his money but not getting paid on the wager because their hand and the dealer’s sum up to the same total.

How to Find a Blackjack Hand’s Total Value

A blackjack hand’s total value is the sum of all the cards’ numeric denomination.

The numeric denomination of cards 2 through 10 is their pip value. Face cards, which are the Jacks, Queens, and Kings, are all worth 10. Aces are worth 1 or 11, depending on whether the hand is going over 21.

A hand with an ace value of 11 is a “soft hand” and the rest all are referred to as “hard hands“. Blackjack is the hand that has a 10-valued card and an ace (e.g., AJ or A10).

Counting Cards in Blackjack

Card counting is a math-based blackjack strategy that enables the players to know when the advantage shifts in their favor. They can eventually increase the bets and get a competitive advantage over the casino and other players.

Card counting was originally started by a mathematician named Edward Thorp. Over the years, it has evolved and become a much-used technique in blackjack.

Blackjack card counting is done in a specific manner. Once the dealer shuffles the cards, there are an equal number of low and high cards in the deck. The ratio of high to low cards in the remaining undealt cards are likely to be determined by the cards dealt in the early rounds. The entire strategy of the player throughout the game will then depend on this equation.

Earlier on, card counting was highly successful, leading to players winning millions. However, today, with multiple decks of cards being used, the strategy of counting cards is less likely to help gain a competitive advantage though it is a frequently-practiced strategy. Additionally, casinos who believe that you are counting cards and gaining an unfair advantage will ban you.

Blackjack Variants

When we hear blackjack, we do think of it as a monolithic casino card game. Yet, the game of blackjack has quite a few variants, discussed in the following section.

European Blackjack

European blackjack is one of the most popular blackjack variations. It is played both in brick and mortar casinos and online casinos across Europe. European blackjack generally uses 6 decks – and the game is also against the dealer! In it, the dealer takes his hole card after he has dealt the players’ cards. The aim of the player is to beat the dealer in his own game by getting a blackjack, a 21, or a score that is closest to 21.

Las Vegas Strip Blackjack

In the Las Vegas Strip Blackjack, the dealer uses four decks of cards and reaches for blackjack with two cards that tally up to 21. The basic rules of the Las Vegas Strip Blackjack include:

  • doubling down on any initial hand and after splitting
  • split up to four hands per game
  • aces can be split only once
  • splitting of the 10-value cards even if they are different is allowed
  • getting a 21 after split aces do not count as a blackjack.

Also referred to as the Vegas Strip Blackjack, or the 21st-century blackjack, the Las Vegas Strip Blackjack is a very popular variation of blackjack, played in many casinos across Las Vegas.

Pontoon

Pontoon is an earlier variation of blackjack. However, some of the basic rules and terminology of Pontoon vary greatly from our modern blackjack.

For instance, “hit” in blackjack, implies that the player is asking for another card from the dealer. The same action, in Pontoon, is referred to as “twist”.

Similarly, the action prompted by a “stand” in blackjack becomes the result of a “stick” in Pontoon. Pontoon further separates itself as an independent blackjack variant by allowing the players to double down before taking subsequent twists.

Spanish 21

Spanish 21 is a popular variant of blackjack that, as rules are concerned, is quite different from mainstream blackjack. Spanish 21 blackjack is played with a shoe of six decks and a player’s 21 always beats a dealer’s 21. A “late surrender” is allowed right after the first two cards are dealt.

In Spanish 21, the players have the option of splitting their paired cards three times and continue betting with all their hands. A re-split is therefore possible if the player is dealt another pair after the first split.

Whilst in regular blackjack the house edge is about 0.50%, in Spanish 21 it is around 0.40% when the basic strategy is consistently applied.

Double Exposure Blackjack

Double Exposure Blackjack, also known as the “two-card game” is a blackjack variant played in casinos across the world. The dealer receives two cards, both face up right at the initial deal. Since the players already know the dealer’s hand, they get significant information and can decide accordingly.

To maintain house edge in double exposure blackjack, when a player receives a natural blackjack, the payout is reduced to 3:2. On the other hand, a player loses his bets in case his hand is tied with the dealer. Also, because the dealer’s cards are exposed right from the start of the game, there is no option for the player to surrender or buy insurance either.

Double Attack Blackjack

Double Attack Blackjack is a blackjack variant in which the tens are removed from the deck. Double Attack Blackjack is played with six to eight decks and the total number of cards is 48. It shares some similarities with Spanish 21 Blackjack.

There are some unusual rules of the game, most of which are conducive to the players. For instance, each player has the ability to double the bet while seeing the dealer’s door card. Again, insurance has a higher payout than in blackjack and the game also offers a side bet, called “Bust It!”.

Double Attack Blackjack is widely played in the Las Vegas Strip and Atlantic City but it is not so common in online casinos as of yet.

Blackjack Switch

Blackjack Switch is another blackjack variant and it was invented by Geoff Hall in 2009. The game is largely based on blackjack but has some unique rules attached to it. For instance, each player is dealt two hands instead of one. Also, players are allowed to switch or exchange the top two cards between hands. Natural blackjacks, in this game, are paid 1:1 in place of the standard 3:2.

Super Fun 21

A popular variation of blackjack, Super Fun 21 is played using a 52-card deck. Aces are either 1 or 11 depending on what is advantageous to the player’s hand. The face cards count as 10 while the rest of the cards are counted at face value.

The game begins with the player placing a bet and dealt two cards face up. The dealer gets one card face up and another, face down. Players have the option to hit or stand. They must beat the dealer by getting close to 21 without busting. A winning hand with 21 is a natural blackjack.

The basic difference between Super Fun 21 and blackjack is that in the former, the player automatically wins if his hand has at least 6 cards or more with a total of 20.

Live Dealer Blackjack

Live Dealer Blackjack is an online variant of blackjack in which there is a human dealer, dealing real cards on a real table. Live dealer blackjack is a more immersive experience.

Players are able to connect to the dealer and view every hand being dealt in real-time through live HD video streaming. There are multiple camera angles allowing zooming in on the table. Players can even speak with the dealer through a microphone. Live Dealer Blackjack enables players to get the feel of being in a casino without having to go anywhere.

Video Blackjack

Video blackjack is a one-deck game, played on a video blackjack machine in a casino. The deck is shuffled after each hand in video blackjack, instead of finishing an entire game to then reshuffle, like in a virtual cut card. The main advantage of video blackjack is the low bankroll needed to play.

Mobile Blackjack

Mobile blackjack is a result of the rise of mobile gaming. It can be played from anywhere and even on the go on a mobile device. There are quite a few blackjack game apps available that just need to be downloaded and installed on your smartphone. Mobile blackjack offers players several blackjack variants and table layouts. Live blackjack, too, can be played on mobile. Players can use mobile blackjack to play with real or play money.

Online Blackjack

Online blackjack is a form of online gambling and an umbrella term to describe any blackjack variant playable online. It is played through virtual casinos, which are the online versions of the traditional land-based casinos.

Online blackjack is played in the very same way as in a land-based casino and players can wager on the games too. Mobile blackjack, live dealer blackjack are all forms of online blackjack.

Blackjack FAQ

Here are some of the common questions about the game of Blackjack answered briefly.

Is online blackjack fair?

Yes, online blackjack is as fair as any other blackjack played in the traditional casinos.

Any online casino that is license goes through a lot of scrutiny and checks. Also, government authorities and 3rd parties carry out audits to ensure that online casino games are conducted in a fair manner.

Is blackjack the same as 21?

No, blackjack is not the same as 21 though there are some similarities in how the games are played.

The game of 21 is a precursor of the modern blackjack. The main difference between blackjack and twenty-one is that in blackjack, the player is playing against the dealer.

The player wins if the wager does not exceed 21 or is higher than the dealer’s total or if the dealer goes over 21. In Twenty One, on the contrary, a player is playing against both the dealer and the other players at the table.

Is blackjack identical to pontoon?

Blackjack and Pontoon are largely identical in the sense that in both games, the goal is to get as close as possible to 21 without busting. The card values are also the same and the standard games are played with a 52-card deck. In Pontoon, the terms are different. For instance, ‘hit’ in blackjack is ‘twist’ and the ‘stand’ in blackjack is ‘stick’ in pontoon

What are live dealer blackjack games?

Live dealer blackjack games are online variants of blackjack in which players are able to connect with a human dealer and view every hand dealt in the game in real-time. Communication is also made possible by the dealer’s microphone.

Is online live dealer blackjack rigged?

No, online live dealer blackjack is not rigged. To ensure that you are playing a fair game, you should always choose a trusted online casino that is officially licensed.

What are the odds of winning in blackjack?

The probability of winning a hand of blackjack is about 42.22%. Blackjack has one of the best odds of winning with a house edge ranging from 0.50% to 1% depending on how well the player follows the optimum blackjack strategy.

When to surrender in blackjack?

In Blackjack, a player should surrender depending on whether the dealer hits or stands on soft 17. Ideally, a player should surrender 16 against 9, 10, or ace at a time when the dealer stands on all 17’s. If the player has a pair of 8’s, then those should be split against the dealer’s door card and not surrendered.

Martingale, Oscar’s Grind, and 1-3-2-6 blackjack betting strategies are the most popular blackjack systems.

Martingale, among these, is a negative progression betting system. It is extremely famous and is applied to several other gambling games, too.

How to win at blackjack without counting cards?

Using the basic blackjack strategy is the most efficient way of winning at blackjack without counting cards.

There are two other methods with which one can win at blackjack without counting cards. First, by hole carding, that is, identifying what the dealer’s hole card is and devising the strategy accordingly. Second, by front-loading, that is, identifying what the next card might be and adjusting the strategy.

So, these sum up the blackjack basics along with the standard rules of common blackjack variants. The deeper one delves, the more is the magic of blackjack that unfolds.