Blackjack is the single most popular casino card game to have ever come into existence. The game is entertaining, simple to learn, and is widely available at gambling venues the world over. The immense interest it attracts can also be explained with the fact it is among the few casino games to offer players good odds at beating the house.
Thanks to the technological progress we have witnessed in the last decades, many online casinos have introduced new, enticing blackjack variations, thus further fueling the interest toward this centuries-old game.
Players are now granted the unique opportunity to play blackjack in live dealer casinos from the comfort of their surroundings, without having to drive around for hours to find a landbased casino where the game is available.
And don’t worry if you don’t have a knack for statistics or math. We, at SuperCasinoSites, have taken the time to lay down all the information you need to master the game of blackjack in a comprehensible and concise manner. If you are an absolute beginner, we suggest you start with the basics.
Blackjack Fixed Rules and Card Values
Each player makes a bet and is dealt two cards, with the dealer being the last to receive their two cards, only one of which is facing up. In single and double-deck games, all cards are dealt face-down.
The goal of the players is to form a hand that comes the closest in total to 21 but without going over. Meanwhile, the dealer is forced to obey by fixed rules and draw to a predetermined hand total, which varies between tables. The values of the cards are as follows:
- Cards 2 through 9 are worth their pip value
- 10s and face cards (Queen, Jack, and King) have a numerical value of 10
- Aces are worth either 1 or 11 depending on the player’s preference
A hand that totals 21 in value, formed with an ace and a ten-value card is called a “blackjack”, or a “natural”, and offers the highest payout, usually of 3 to 2. Other winning hands normally return even money.
Whoever exceeds the total of 21 loses the hand or “busts”. When both the dealer and the player obtain the same total, they push and the player neither wins nor loses. Players have a choice from the following playing decisions:
- Hitting is when the player requests additional cards for the purpose of improving their hand total after the initial deal. In landbased casinos, you indicate you want to hit your hand in shoe games with a tap on the table.
- Standing is when the player is satisfied with their current hand total and declines taking additional cards. The signal for this playing decision in shoe games is a wave of the hand over your cards.
- Doubling down is where most of your thrills and blackjack profits result from. You can double down on two-card totals immediately after the initial deal before you have taken any hits.
You double by posting an additional bet that should not exceed the amount you have initially staked on your hand. In exchange, you get only one additional card. You can double for less but this generally is considered a bad play.
- Splitting is an option when you are dealt two cards of equal value like 8-8 and A-A. You again post an extra wager equal to your original bet.
The dealer splits your pair into two individual hands and draws a card on each one. You play the hands one at a time.
- Resplitting is also allowed in many blackjack variants. Most casinos do not allow you to draw on split Aces.
Surrender and Insurance
Surrendering is allowed immediately after the initial deal, i.e. players cannot surrender after hitting, splitting or doubling. Surrendering is when you forfeit your two-card hand in exchange for half of your original bet. There are two types of surrender:
- Late surrender is to forfeit your hand after the dealer has checked their hole card for a blackjack. This rule decreases the casino’s advantage by 0.08%.
- Early surrender can be exercised before the dealer peeks under their hole card to check for blackjacks. This favorable rule is a rarity at both online and landbased casinos. It reduces the house advantage by 0.63%.
- Insurance is offered when the dealer’s revealed card is an Ace. This is a propositional bet which has no effect on the odds of winning your initial hand. You post an additional wager equal to half of your initial bet.
If the dealer has a blackjack, your insurance bet pays at odds of 2 to 1. If not, you lose the insurance bet and play out your hand as usual. This is a bet, players are recommended to avoid because of its high house edge of 7.40%.
Soft and Hard Hands
One of the first things novice players need to learn is to make a distinction between the soft and hard hands in blackjack. This distinction is largely possible thanks to the flexible value of the Aces. It is important to distinguish between the two because each type requires a different strategy.
- Soft hands are more desirable for players as they consist of an ace, which can be assigned a value either of 1 or of 11. The player decides which of the two values to use.
An example of a soft hand is A-4-3, where the total is either 8 or 18. It is impossible to bust on the next hit with a soft total. If you catch a deuce on this hand, your Ace will be counted as 11 so you end up with a total of soft 20. If you pull a higher card, like a 9, the Ace will be counted as 1 for a total of 17.
- Hard hands are either Aceless or their Aces have a fixed value of 1 to prevent the player from busting. The rigidity of these hands makes them more susceptible to busting on the next hit. Few examples of hard hands are 8-9 for a hard 17, Q-6 for a hard 16, and K-K for a hard 20.
Blackjack Rule Variations
Blackjack can be played with one to eight decks of cards. The house edge of the game increases proportionately to the number of decks. The more decks are in play, the higher the house edge gets, which results from the diluted effect of the cards’ removal in multiple-deck games.
The Dealer’s Fixed Standing Rules
The dealer’s fixed standing rules vary between tables. Blackjack dealers do not make any decisions when playing out their hands. Instead, they are required to draw to a fixed hand total as stipulated by the casino that employs them. On the basis of these fixed rules, we can make a distinction between two types of blackjack games:
- Dealer stands on soft 17 (S17) is the more favorable rule for players because 17 is generally below the average winning total in the game (18.5). This rule leads to a house edge reduction as it decreases the likelihood of the dealer outdrawing the player.
- Dealer hits soft 17 (H17) is considered disadvantageous for the player because it is impossible for the dealer to bust by taking one more hit on this soft hand. Meanwhile, the dealer may outdraw you by pulling out small cards like 2, 3 or 4. The H17 rule increases the casino’s advantage by 0.22%.
Doubling Down and Splitting Restrictions
At some tables, players are permitted to exercise the double down decision only on specific two-card totals. Some games allow you to double down only on starting totals of 9, 10, and 11 while in others, you are even more restricted as this play is allowed only on totals of 11 and 10.
Doubling only on 9 through 11 increases the house edge by 0.09%. Doubling on 10 and 11 only boosts the casino’s advantage by 0.18%.
Restrictions are also imposed on splitting. Some games allow you to split only once to form two individual hands. Doubling down after a split (known as DAS) may not be allowed at some tables, which again leads to a house edge increase. Resplitting may be prohibited as well. In the most common scenario, the player cannot resplit or hit split Aces.
This is one of the most important rule variations in blackjack. Some casinos offer you a payout of 3 to 2 for blackjacks. Others pay out at a ratio of 6 to 5 for your naturals. The difference is best explained with examples. Suppose you have a choice from Casino 1 with a 6-to-5 payout and Casino 2 with a 3-to-2 payout. You intend to flat bet with a base unit of $10.
A blackjack in Casino 1 earns you 1.2 times (6/5) your stake, which is to say you get $12 for your $10 bet.
A blackjack in Casino 2 gives your 1.5 times (3/2) your initial wager. Therefore, a blackjack with a $10 bet earns you $15.
It is easy to see which of the two options is the better one. A smart blackjack player would never take a seat at a 6-to-5 table because this payout reduction causes the casino advantage to jump by 1.71%.
House Edge in Blackjack
The house always holds a certain advantage over its patrons which is normally built into the payout percentages for winning bets. In games of chance like roulette, this advantage remains constant because the odds of winning never change – each spin of the wheel should be viewed as an independent event and as such, it has no effect on the results to follow. Therefore, all players are fighting against the same house edge.
This is not the case with blackjack, which is a game of dependent events. What this means is each card dealt out of the deck or shoe affects the odds of winning (or losing) on subsequent hands.
The ratio of high and low cards changes every hand and so does the house edge. The house edge is not a constant in blackjack. It is also affected by the fixed house rules set by the casino which vary from table to another.
Many skilled players know how to exploit this game through advantage play but one is not required to be a count counter to reduce the edge they are fighting. You can reduce it to 0.50% or less if you play with optimal basic strategy. Without basic strategy, the house edge increases to 2% but it may be even higher at tables with unfavorable playing conditions.
Basic Strategy in Blackjack
There are two types of basic strategy.
- With total-dependent basic strategy, players’ decisions are based solely on the up card the dealer has and the overall total of their starting hand.
Each column in the basic strategy chart represents the card the dealer is showing while the rows correspond to the totals the players are dealt. The sections where the rows and the columns intersect designate the optimal playing decisions for all possible hand combinations in blackjack.
- Many players attack the blackjack tables with composition-dependent basic strategy, which certainly is the more accurate approach. Here the optimal playing decisions are based on the dealer’s upcard and the exact composition of the player’s hand, i.e. the number of cards it consists of and their rank.
Players who follow perfect basic strategy are said to win 49 out of every 100 hands in the long term. The strategy helps you achieve several things:
- Maximize your profits during favorable situations
- Minimize your losses in disadvantageous situations
- Improve hands that are otherwise sure losers
Please do have in mind there are variations in basic strategy, depending on the peculiarities of the blackjack variant you play. These include the number of decks in use, the dealer’s standing rules, the presence of surrender, and so on. The chart below corresponds to a multiple-deck, S17 game with DAS, doubling on any two cards, and late surrender.
|Players’ Hand||Dealer’s Up Card|
Taking Your Blackjack Game to the Next Level
One such technique to gain an advantage is card counting. It relies on the idea that players can eventually beat the house by keeping track of the ratio of high and low cards remaining in the deck or shoe.
Each dealt card is assigned a count value which helps the counter establish a running count. In multiple-deck games, this needs to be converted into a true count in order for your playing and betting decisions to be accurate.
High cards and Aces are beneficial for the player while low cards give the dealer a slight advantage. Card counters gain an edge by deviating from basic strategy and varying their bet size in accordance with their advantage.
They increase their wagers when more high cards remain to be dealt and vice versa, decrease their bets or leave the table when the shoe is rich in low cards.
When choosing a card counting system, you need to take into account several factors, namely:
- Betting correlation, or how effective the system is where identifying advantageous betting situations is concerned.
- Playing efficiency shows you the system’s efficiency in terms of identifying the moments when the player must deviate from basic strategy.
- Insurance correlation is an indicator of the system’s efficiency in terms of identifying the cases when buying insurance becomes a good bet.
The Hi-Lo Count
The Hi-Lo was invented by mathematician Harvey Dubner and is the most widely used counting strategy in blackjack. This is a balanced, level-one counting system where ten-value cards and Aces are assigned a count value of -1, small cards 2 through 6 have a count value of +1, and cards 7 through 9 are neutral with a value of 0.
Most professional players and blackjack authors recommend the Hi-Lo because of its high efficiency and simplicity. Being a balanced system, the Hi-Lo requires you to convert the running count into a true count. Players who use it are less prone to making mistakes which, in turn, yields better results.
The Red Sevens Count
The Red Sevens is an unbalanced counting system, invented by blackjack legend Arnold Snyder. It assigns different count tags to the cards. Ten-value cards and Aces are counted as -1, small cards 2 through 6 are counted as +1, the 8s, the 9s, and the black 7s are neutral with a value of 0, and the red 7s have a value of +1.
This is system relies on a pivot number which indicates when the odds have shifted in the player’s favor. This spares you the conversion from running count into a true count.
Landbased versus Online Blackjack
Blackjack is presently available in a huge number of online casinos where you get to pick from a variety of games with different table limits and table conditions. These games operate on random number generators which reshuffle the cards after each round of play.
Licensed online casinos have their software audited by accredited testing agencies for the purpose of preserving the integrity of their games. This also ensures you are playing a fair game of blackjack where the results are 100% random.
Major online casinos also give their customers the opportunity to play against live dealers. The blackjack action is streamed directly to their computer or smartphone screens in real time. The tables are serviced by professional dealers you can interact with just like you would in landbased casinos.
The only difference here is you have to use the chat feature instead of addressing the dealer verbally. When the live-dealer tables are full, you can bet behind other players until a vacant seat opens.
Some of the best online and live-dealer blackjack games come from the studios of established software suppliers like Microgaming, Evolution Gaming, NetEnt, Felt, Playtech, Betsoft, and Pragmatic Play.
The biggest advantages of playing online blackjack are:
- You can play at your own pace on your desktop computer, iOS/Android smartphone or tablet
- Table limits are more flexible, with some online blackjack variations supporting bets of as little as $0.10
- You can switch between blackjack variations quickly
- Online players can take the necessary time to consult with their strategy charts without other patrons rushing them
- The online blackjack tables are open around the clock so you can play whenever you feel like it
- There is no table etiquette to comply with
- Players benefit from realistic graphics presentation, authentic sound effects, and intuitive gaming interface
- You can practice with demo credits before you risk real money
There are only few disadvantages to playing online blackjack, such as:
- The game may become monotonous after a while due to the absence of interaction with fellow players
- The online blackjack games, particularly those running on random number generators, are not susceptible to advantage-play techniques like card counting
- You do not get to enjoy the exciting atmosphere of the landbased casino floor.
The Best Blackjack Variations to Try Online
Online blackjack players face an unprecedented diversity of variations of their favorite game. There are tons of options you can choose from online. Some games offer better rules and a lower house edge than others. Others give you the opportunity to win a progressive jackpot.
Please note that you need to adjust some of your basic strategy moves in accordance with the rules of the blackjack variation you are playing. Here are the most popular variants you can play online.
Atlantic City Blackjack
Most of the standard rules are in force in this blackjack variant, with a few differences. In Atlantic City Blackjack, there are eight full decks in play although some online casinos offer double-deck variants of the game as well. The objective remains the same – beat the dealer with a higher hand total. Atlantic City Blackjack abides by the following rules:
- The dealer stands on soft 17
- Blackjacks pay 3 to 2
- The player can double down on any two-card total
- The player can resplit three times to up to four hands
- Aces cannot be resplit
- You can double after you split
- Split Aces cannot be hit
- The dealer checks for blackjacks when revealing an Ace or a ten-value card
- Late surrender is allowed
Vegas Strip Blackjack
This variation borrows its name from the blackjack games offered across the Las Vegas Strip. You can commonly find it at Microgaming-powered online casinos. The rules of Microgaming’s online variation of Vegas Strip Blackjack are quite decent (and even better than those in some Strip casinos to be honest), which reduces the house edge to around 0.35%.
- The game plays with four decks
- Blackjack pays at a rate of 3 to 2 (keep in mind some Strip casinos have adjusted the payout to 6 to 5 – avoid those games)
- The dealer must stand on soft 17
- Surrendering is not allowed
- Doubling on any two cards is possible
- Doubling after a split is allowed
- You cannot resplit or hit Aces
- You can split up to three times
This enticing blackjack variation made its debut in October 1979 in the Vegas World casino. The person who came up with it was math expert Richard Epstein. You may encounter it under different names, including Face Up Blackjack, Zweikartenspiel, and Dealer Disclosure Blackjack.
Players will find variations of Double Exposure in online casinos that use software by NetEnt, Microgaming, RealTime Gaming, and Play’n GO. The game abides by the following rules:
- The dealer receives their two cards face-up
- Eight decks are in play
- Blackjacks have a payout of 1 to 1
- The dealer takes all pushes
- The dealer hits soft 17
- Players can double on 9, 10 and 11 only
- Resplitting is usually not permitted
- You cannot double after you split
- You cannot split ten-value cards if they are not identical
- Surrendering is not an option
Invented by Geoff Hall, this is easily one of the coolest blackjack variations ever because you get to play two hands instead of one and have the option to switch their top cards improving their totals. The game also supports a group of side bets called Dealer Match, which award higher payouts.
The online variation of Blackjack Switch we recommend is the one developed by top software supplier Playtech. Here are the key rules you need to remember:
- The game uses six or eight decks
- You play two hands per round and can switch the top cards
- The dealer peeks for blackjacks
- Blackjacks pay 1 to 1
- The dealer pushes with a total of 22
- Doubling on any two cards is possible
- You can split any pair and resplit to four hands
- Players cannot surrender
Pontoon is often treated like a blackjack variation but it is so different that some experts consider it a wholly separate game. There are two different variants of pontoon which further adds to the confusion of inexperienced players. The one offered across Australia, Malaysia, and Singapore uses short decks and is more similar to Spanish 21.
The other variant resembles the standard game of blackjack and is more popular in the United Kingdom. Most online pontoon variants follow the rules of the UK version. You can find online variations of pontoon developed by RealTime Gaming, Microgaming, Betsoft, and Playtech. Pontoon is played in accordance with the rules below:
- The number of decks varies depending on the casino
- Both cards of the dealer are dealt face-down
- The dealer hits soft 17
- Players must hit until they reach a total of 15
- The dealer takes all ties
- You can double after a hit
- Pontoons and winning five-card hands pay 2 to 1
Spanish 21 is one of the most interesting variations of blackjack as there are many modifications and differences in terms of rules. This game is perfect for fans of 21 who have grown tired of standard blackjack and are looking for greater excitement and more thrills.
Online variations of Spanish 21 are offered at casino’s running on software provided by Betsoft and Microgaming. These are the most common rules for this blackjack variation:
- Six or eight short decks with 48 cards each (the 10s are removed)
- The dealer hits soft 17
- Blackjacks pay 3 to 2
- Late surrender is permitted
- Doubling on any two cards is permitted
- You can surrender after doubling
- You can hit split Aces and double on them
- You receive additional payouts for special totals of 21
Some online blackjack variants support the option to play multiple hands simultaneously. The online multi-hand games are equipped with elegant design and extremely realistic animations, providing players with the ultimate casino experience without having to leave their homes.
Players can choose from a number of chip denominations but table limits normally vary between online casinos. The multi-hand variants we recommend are courtesy of suppliers Microgaming, Play’n GO, Pragmatic Play, NetEnt, and Playtech.
Blackjack fans who transfer their betting action to the internet can hit impressive jackpots in one of the progressive variants of the game. Progressive blackjack varieties are linked to a jackpot network and require players to post an optional side bet (usually of no more than $1) to qualify for winning the pot.
The jackpots are awarded for specific combinations of Aces or 7s, depending on the software supplier. Some of the biggest pots drop in the progressive blackjack games provided by Microgaming, WGS Technology, and Playtech.