Blackjack is widely played across online and brick-and-mortar casinos the world over. The game emerged several centuries ago but has undergone multiple changes to become what it is today – one of the select few casino games where the player can actually gain an edge over the house through skill, optimal decisions, and advantage play.
Blackjack is also an appealing option for recreational players since its rules are quite easy to learn and follow even if one lacks substantial experience at the tables. In the last decade or so, the game of Twenty-One has gained a huge popularity among online players as well, with numerous exciting variants being offered across a great number of interactive casinos.
Playing blackjack on desktop or mobile devices is a straightforward process and a highly recommended option for beginners until their become better acquainted with the intricacies of this enticing card game. The following guide aims at introducing players to some key points concerning blackjack’s rules, strategies, and online play.
Blackjack is a comparing card game in which players are competing against the house i.e. against a casino croupier. Each gambling venue has set up its own blackjack rules which for the most part agree with those of other establishments on the pivotal points but there may be huge differences in the rules’ details.
Depending on the variation, there can be anywhere between one and eight full 52-card decks in play. In games where one or two decks are used, the cards are usually dealt face down but multiple-deck games utilize a shoe, where all cards are placed to reduce the time between the shuffles.
Before the game starts, the dealer would shuffle the decks and a player would cut the pack. The dealer would then remove or “burn” the top card from the pack and place it either in the discard tray or at the bottom of the deck, depending on the number of decks in play. Players then position their chips in the betting boxes at the layout and the game can commence.
Blackjack Additional Basic RulesThe deal starts in a clockwise direction, with the player positioned immediately to the left of the dealer being the first to receive their cards. The dealer receives one face-up card and one hole card. The goal of each player is to form a hand with a total that is higher than the dealer’s and comes the closest to 21 as possible but without going over.
All face cards are assigned a value of 10, the Ace is counted either as 1 or 11, and the remaining cards are given their face value. A starting hand which consists of a ten-value card and an Ace is called a natural or a blackjack and offers the highest payout. If the player obtains a blackjack and the dealer does not, then the player would receive one and a half times their initial bet. If it is the opposite and the dealer has a blackjack but the player does not, they would lose their initial bet. Whenever both are dealt naturals, they push and no money changes hands.
Players who are not dealt a natural evaluate how strong their hand is and choose between several actions. If the hand’s total bears improvement, the player can choose to hit and receive additional cards but if they determine their starting hand is already strong enough, they can decline additional cards and stand.
Once everyone at the table has acted on their hands, the dealer would flip over their hole card and play their hand according to the predetermined rules, set by the house. In most instances, dealers are expected to draw to a total of 16 and stand on 17 but the rules vary between venues. Players win whenever they obtain a higher total than the dealer or the dealer busts their hand i.e. its total goes over 21. And vice versa, the players lose whenever they bust or have a lower hand total than the dealer.
Sometimes it happens so that the player receives a pair of two cards of the same numerical value on the initial deal. There is the option to split the pair into two separate hands but this rule applies to players only as the dealer is not allowed to split anything. These two hands are then played separately, one after the other, and an additional bet is made to cover the second hand. At some tables, players are prohibited from splitting pairs of Aces which works to their disadvantage and gives the house edge a 0.06% boost.
As was mentioned in brief, there may be huge discrepancies in terms of rules in different gambling establishments. An example would be a blackjack game where players are allowed to split pairs only of specific values. Discrepancies in the fixed rules the dealers follow may also be observed as sometimes dealers are required to hit on soft 17, which also gives the house a slightly bigger edge over players.
Various additional rules may apply in relation to the games’ payouts and the rules of doubling down, taking insurance, or surrendering one’s hand. We will touch upon these in more detail below.
In blackjack, all winning hands with the exception of naturals return even money, which is to say the player’s profits are equal in size to their initial bet. For example, if you prevail over the dealer with a higher hand total and has originally put $10 on stake, your winning hand will earn you $20 for a net profit of $10.
In addition to hitting or standing, blackjack players are allowed to double down but this option involves placing a side bet which may be equal to the amount the player has initially staked. This is called a full double down. Players can also choose to double down for less than their original bet.
Payouts Additional TipsNaturals are the most profitable hands to obtain as they return at the rate of 3 to 2, which means the player gets back one time and a half their stake. Thus, if you have bet that $10 and are dealt a blackjack, you will be paid $15 plus your initial stake for a net profit of $25.
The majority of online casinos pay out 3 to 2 on naturals but many landbased gambling establishments have introduced blackjack tables where the payout on this hand is adjusted to 6 to 5. Inexperienced players fail to notice this detail but it is of utmost importance since this reduction in the blackjack payouts boosts the house edge with around 1.4%. No experienced blackjack player would possibly agree to take a seat at a 6-to-5 table.
Double Down Additional TipsMany experts recommend to either double down for the full amount of your bet or not to double down at all. Once the side bet is made, the player receives only one more card to add to their two-card hand. At some blackjack tables, players are allowed to double down only on specific two-card totals, such as 9, 10, and 11. At others, doubling down is not allowed after splitting pairs but such restrictions would normally apply whenever blackjack pays 6 to 5, which should be avoided anyway.
Some players mistakenly assume the goal of a double down is to improve one’s hand total. It is not. Players double down so they can increase the amount of money they can potentially collect when the dealer is in a weak position.
Whenever the dealer’s face-up card is an Ace, players are allowed to make a proposition bet to insure their hand against a potential blackjack on behalf of the dealer. This side bet is called insurance and involves the player making a wager that amounts to half of their initial stake.
At some tables, players are granted one additional option called surrender. Whenever the strength of a starting two-card hand bears no improvement, the player is allowed to forfeit their cards in exchange for half of their bet. This resembles folding in poker but in blackjack, players at least get to retain half of their stakes when surrendering their hands.
Insurance Additional TipsOnce the chips are placed within the insurance box, the dealer checks for a natural and if they indeed have a ten-value card in the hole, the insurance would pay 2 to 1 to the player while their initial bet loses. The player would break even and would not lose any money on their original hand. However, if the dealer does not have a natural, the player would act on their hand as they normally would but would lose the insurance bet.
Many within the blackjack community differ in their opinions on accepting insurance. Some argue insurance is a losing bet for recreational players because the dealer’s chances of being dealt a blackjack are not as great. Yet, insurance should always be accepted by a player who sits on a natural. Another general rule states never to insure weak starting hands.
Surrender Additional TipsThere are two variations of this rule depending on the gambling venue one plays at. Some casinos allow for the so-called “early surrender” where the player is permitted to forfeit their hand before the dealer takes a peek at their hole card for a natural. It makes sense early surrender works to the benefit of the player.
Many blackjack tables incorporate the “late surrender” rule where the dealer first checks their hole card for a blackjack and then allows players to forfeit their hands. It makes sense that if the dealer indeed holds a natural, they would simply flip over their hole card and surrendering will not be an option since the player automatically loses their entire bet. Thus, late surrender gives the house a slightly higher edge than early surrender, which is why it usually prevails at tables where this option is allowed.
Soft and Hard Hands
An important distinction is to be made between soft and hard hands in blackjack. Hands which contain an Ace that can be assigned a value either of 1 or 11 are called soft hands. When a player is dealt a soft hand, he or she is in a better position than the dealer since the odds of going bust with such a hand by drawing a third card are nil. In such cases, the dealer would refer to a soft hand total as “3 or 13”, “5 or 15”, and so on, to remind the player that they are the ones to assign a value to the Ace.
Whenever both player and dealer have the same totals, they tie or “push”, in which case the player is returned their initial wager. Nobody wins or loses anything and no money changes hands. There may be deviations from this rule. In some blackjack variations, the dealer takes all ties with the exception of naturals. At first glance, this might not seem like such a big deal but will have a pronounced negative impact on one’s bankroll over time.
Soft and Hard Hands Additional TipsSoft 19 and Soft 20 are two exceptions where it is not recommended to double down or hit for additional cards. These are already in the safe zone so it would be best for the player to leave them alone altogether.
Hands where there is no Ace at all or the Ace’s value is inflexible, or 1, are called “hard” or “stiff” because the chances of exceeding 21 on the next hit are greater. Note that aceless hands that total 11 or below are not considered hard because they will not cause the player to go bust by requesting a third card from the dealer.
Starting hands with hard totals 12 through 16 are often called “breaking” hands by professional blackjack players. This is so because another hit is likely to lead to a bust. When the dealer holds an up card with a value of 2 through 6, he is also holding a breaking aka a weak hand because these cards are more likely to lead to a bust. When both the player and the dealer are dealt breaking hands, the general recommendation is to stay on your total and let the dealer take the next hit.
Push Additional TipsTables where dealers win on ties are rarely to be seen online or at Las Vegas and Atlantic City casinos. This rule variation on pushes usually applies on cruise ships where gambling is not the main source of profit or during charity events. Of course, if one partakes in a charity event, they may simply consider forfeiting their chips on ties as some sort of a donation. Other than that, tables where this rule applies are to be avoided as it boosts the house edge to the shocking 9.5%.
The game of blackjack has greatly evolved over the centuries and many new variants have sprung into existence, especially in more recent years, following the emergence of interactive casinos. Each variant comes with its oddities, rules, and side bets. Some of the most commonly played blackjack variants are covered in brief below.
This is one of the most commonly preferred blackjack variations, which derives its name from the surrender rule, allowing players to forfeit half of their initial stake when folding a hand.
Perfect Pair is a fun blackjack variant where players can diversify their session a little bit by placing different side bets on whether or not they (or the dealer) will receive a pair on the initial deal.
Blackjack Surrender Additional TipsOther than that, players can choose from the standard options of hitting, standing, splitting pairs, doubling down, and insuring their hands when the dealer shows aces. In some online variants, like Blackjack Surrender by Playtech, the dealer also checks for a blackjack whenever they show a ten-value card.
Perfect Pairs Additional TipsThe pairs that qualify for a payout include mixed pairs (5 to 10), colored but off-suit pairs (10 to 1), and suited pairs (30 to 1). Note that the payouts for the side bets may differ depending on the casino or the software developer providing the online game. Many experienced players abstain from making side bets on pairs because these carry roughly a 6% advantage in favor of the house.
Pontoon is a derivative of blackjack which is prevalent in the United Kingdom and Australia. In this version, a natural is referred to as “pontoon” which is where the game derives its name from.
Double Exposure is a popular form of blackjack where both cards the dealer receives on the initial deal are exposed. Since this works to the benefit of the players, several adjustments have been made to the rules to neutralize this advantage against the house.
Pontoon Additional TipsAnother essential peculiarity of this variant is a five-card trick whereby a player obtaining a five-card total of 21 or less is awarded the highest payout.
This sort of resembles the Charlie rules applying in some blackjack variations where drawing five, six or seven cards without busting results in an automatic win for the player, regardless of what the dealer has. In Pontoon, hand totals of 21 made with three or four cards beat all other hands with the exception of the pontoon and the five-card trick. Another difference is that in Pontoon, the dealer takes all ties.
The names of the actions following the deal also differ from those used in standard blackjack. Requesting additional cards is called a “twist” and when declining more cards, the player says “stick”. When the player’s total is less than 21, they may choose to increase their initial stake by an amount that is either equal to their original bet or is twice its size tops. Keep in mind that in Pontoon the dealer receives their two cards face down.
Double Exposure Additional TipsFor example, the dealer takes all ties in Double Exposure save for those on naturals. Players are not allowed to re-split pairs and are paid even money on blackjacks.
Blackjack Switch is one of the most engaging blackjack variants since it offers players an interesting twist. The main difference here is that one is actually dealt two hands. The player is then presented with the option to switch the top cards so as to improve both hands. Therefore, the player can win or lose with one or with both hands. Other than that, some online variants you can play for real money involve several side bets, with players being able to bet that they will be initially dealt a pair, a set, two pairs, or four of a kind.
Choosing a Blackjack Casino
Nowadays, blackjack fans will benefit from being able to enjoy their favorite game on their desktop and mobile devices as there are hundreds upon hundreds of online casinos where different variants are readily available at the tip of their fingertips. Those who are considering to switch from landbased to online play are recommended to take into account the following criteria when selecting an online casino to play blackjack at.
Bonuses for Blackjack
One of the easiest ways to increase your chances of turning a profit when playing blackjack online is by partaking in different promotional incentives and claiming various bonuses, starting with the welcome packages all newcomers are awarded upon signing up with real-money accounts and depositing for the first time.
Security is an important aspect one needs to consider when playing online as, after all, one is risking not only their money, but their personal and financial information as well. The first thing you need to check when an online casino catches your eye is its license and the authority that regulates it.
Bonuses for Blackjack Additional TipsAs a game with acceptable volatility and a very low house edge, blackjack is a great option for playing with bonus credits where allowed. Fans of the game can take advantage of a variety of promotional incentives, including cashbacks, sign-up and reload bonuses. Just be sure to check the terms and conditions of the blackjack bonuses you are interested in to ascertain the game is not excluded from participation in free play.
Security Additional TipsIf the casino is licensed and regulated by a renowned regulatory body, you can rest assured you will always have somebody to protect your best interest. If your casino of choice has published no licensing information on its website, do not bother registering there.
A licensed and regulated gambling operator is obliged by its regulators to process all payments on par with the established security standards in the industry. All information you share on its website will be hidden with secure SSL encryptions to protect it against frauds and misappropriation.
The average return of the available blackjack games also needs to be taken into account. Note that when playing online, the outcome of each round is determined by a special software called Random Number Generator (RNG).
Versatility in terms of titles may prove to be more important than many players appear to think. If you are a blackjack fan, the best course of action would be to choose an online casino where there is a greater diversity in terms of blackjack variations, preferably by several software developers.
Payouts Additional TipsTo ensure randomness of results and hinder advantage players, the cards are returned back to the shoe and the entire pack is freshly reshuffled after every single hand. The higher the theoretical percentage of an online blackjack variant, the better for the player.
For example, the average payout percentage of Microgaming’s Classic Blackjack at one online casino is listed as 99.50%, which means players would only lose $0.50 and collect $99.50 on average per every $100 they put on stake. These results may be accurate only over the long term but they still do matter, especially when you play frequently. It would be better to opt for the above-mentioned blackjack variant rather than choose a game where the average return is estimated only at 94.30%, don’t you think?
Game Variety Additional TipsThis will prevent you from growing bored soon after your registration. If you go for an online casino where only one or two variants of the game are on offer, you are guaranteed to start looking for another gaming operator within a week. Choosing an online casino with live dealer games, broadcast in real time is also highly recommended.
Winning at Blackjack
Being a game of dependent events, blackjack poses as one of the few casino table offerings where the players can actually gain a steady advantage over the house and win consistently. There are several ways to go about this, depending on your own personal goals when playing the game and the amount of efforts and time you are willing to invest into becoming a consistent winner.
Rules and Card Values
The first thing all rookie blackjack players need to do is learn and master the rules of the game, with a special stress on the word “master”. Knowing which rules are more favorable to you is of equal importance.
One of the simplest ways to reduce the house edge in blackjack is to adopt basic strategy. As the name itself suggests, this is a viable option for inexperienced and recreational players.
Professional blackjack players resort to more advanced methods than basic strategy to increase the edge they hold over casinos. One of these techniques involves counting cards, which is keeping track of the ratio of high (ten-value) cards and low cards.
Rules and Card Values Additional TipsThe tables where a natural would pay 6 to 5 are to be avoided like the plague as this rule gives the house a higher edge, which would inevitably ruin the player over the long run.
The best option would be to find a table where naturals return 2 to 1, but as these are rarer than hen’s teeth, a 3 to 2 table would also do. Then again, playing at a table where early surrender and re-splitting Aces are allowed will also increase players’ overall expected return. Another favorable rule enables players to double down on three or more cards.
Ten-value cards are more advantageous for the player so if you are dealt a pair of Queens, for instance, never split them. Also, players should not underestimate the strength of soft hands and should always strive to play these optimally. As was explained, the value of the Aces in those hands is flexible and can be either 1 or 11 preventing you from going bust.
Experts recommend to risk hitting or doubling down on soft hands rather than standing, even on totals of 8/18. A total of 18 is sometimes not as strong as it initially appears, especially if the dealer shows a ten-value card or a 9. Computations indicate that soft 18 loses on 59 out of 100 hands against a dealer showing a face card. Meanwhile, players would lose only 57 out 100 hands if they hit their soft totals of 18 against the dealer’s ten-value card. Therefore, the mathematically sound decision with such soft totals would be to draw rather than stand.
Basic Strategy Additional TipsBasic strategy is represented in the form of a chart which contains all optimal decisions the player can possibly make on the basis of their own hand total and the face-up card the dealer is showing.
The columns in the chart contain the values of the dealer’s up cards while the rows contain the total of the player’s hand. One simply needs to check the squares in the chart where the rows and columns corresponding to their situation intersect. This would help them make the best decision on how to play their hand against neutral decks.
When you are playing online against the RNG, you can conveniently keep the chart close at hand and use it to your benefit. Moreover, basic strategy is proven to work as it is based on a computer simulation involving over 9 billion combinations of player hands against all possible up cards the dealer may show.
Card Counting Additional TipsThe higher the ratio of ten-value cards remaining in the deck or shoe, the better the odds for the player. When the shoe is rich in high cards, card counters will increase the size of their bets.
Low cards work to the benefit of the dealers because they decrease their chances of exceeding 21. When the ratio of high cards drops down, so will the bet sizing of the card counter. Logically, this helps maximize one’s profits and reduce their losses. There are various card counting systems that can be used with great success at the blackjack table, but so far the Hi-Lo system has gained the most prominence.
Blackjack is among the oldest casino card games in the world and as such, boasts a rather rich history. Debates as to when and where it appeared for the first time continue to this day. A similar game was first mentioned in a short story by Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes, written at the beginning of the 17th century.
Some historians argue that blackjack is based on an old Spanish game where the goal of the players was to obtain a three-card hand with a total of 31. Others are of the opinion that blackjack derives its rules from two other card games, Chemin de Fer and French Ferme which were hugely popular in France several centuries ago.
Allegedly, French colonists brought the game to the United States where it was initially known as Twenty-One. In the 1930s, casinos across Las Vegas temporarily introduced a promotion which paid out 10 to 1 for a natural, consisting of an Ace of spades and a black Jack, which is how the game got its name.
Is blackjack a game of chance?
The short answer to this question is no, blackjack is not based merely on luck. Of course, a certain amount of luck is involved in any card game, blackjack included, as the outcome of a hand is always affected by the cards one is dealt. Even the most skilled players have to influence over what cards they receive from the dealer unless cheating is at hand.
In blackjack, the outcomes of previous hands can affect the hands that are to follow. The element of luck involved in the game can be further reduced if players are making the optimal decisions in all hands, which would also increase their overall expected return.
Is blackjack a beatable game?
Yes, blackjack is among the few casino offerings where players have a significant chance of beating the house at its own game. Dice and roulette wheels may not have a memory, but the same cannot be said about the cards in a blackjack shoe. The cards that are dealt on previous rounds can influence the odds for both players and dealers on subsequent rounds. In other words, the odds change with every hand, played at the table.
A shoe rich in high cards works to the advantage of the player, while low cards benefit the dealers. Skilled professionals know how to exploit the richness of a shoe to their advantage but recreational players can also reduce their long-term losses with perfect basic strategy.
Do the bad decisions of other players affect the odds for me?
This is a widespread myth among inexperienced and overall clueless players, who fail to recognize the impact of variance in blackjack. The truth of the matter is bad players are the very reason why blackjack is still offered in casinos – if everyone’s play was on par, the house would not be able to generate any profits from its blackjack tables.
Since it is impossible to know what the order of the undealt cards is in advance, one cannot say for certain whether the bad playing decisions of a fellow player will have a positive or a negative impact on any given round. A bad player’s hit is just as likely to help you as it is to hurt you.
What is better – single-deck or multiple-deck blackjack?
Multi-deck games are known to give the house a slightly bigger edge over blackjack players. This can be attributed to the effect of the card’s removal throughout the course of a game. In single-deck blackjack the removal of a single card from the deck has a much bigger impact on the game compared to the removal of one card from a shoe containing eight decks, for instance. It is more difficult for card counters to keep track of the cards in multiple-deck games. However, many professional players prefer to engage in shoe games because these would normally offer better rules and payouts as opposed to the majority of single-deck tables, where a natural returns 6 to 5 instead of 3 to 2.