How to Play Blackjack: Rules and Tips
Blackjack is one of the most widely played card games in the world, with its origins dating back several hundred years ago. Its simplicity in terms of rules, coupled with a relatively high chance of winning each hand played, has made it an incredibly popular game worldwide.
The odds of winning in blackjack are close to 50% (generally, 46-48% is quoted). The reason that it isn’t an exact 50/50 is that the player always goes first, which means there is a chance for them to lose by exceeding the maximum score without the dealer doing anything.
The Basic Rules of Blackjack
The main objective of blackjack is to get as close to a score of 21 as possible. The closer you get, the more likely you are to beat the dealer, who is also trying to get as close to 21 as possible. But if you go over 21, you’re bust, and you lose. There is also the possibility of a draw – when you get the same score as a dealer. This is called a push.
To play blackjack, you need several decks of cards – the most common number of decks is six, but the number can be anywhere between one and eight. Each player is dealt 2 cards initially, with the objective of adding the combined scores of those cards together, then deciding whether to request additional cards with the goal of getting as close to 21 as possible. Players can continue to request further cards until they decide to stick with their score, they reach 21, or their score exceeds 21, and they are bust.
In a casino, you sit at a table with up to 6 other players, with the dealer in front of you. You’re all playing against the dealer – not each other. You play left to right. Then the dealer gets their chance at the end. If you beat the dealer, you win money – usually at a ratio of 1:1. So $50 returns $50, and $50 rewards your $50 stake).
The only exception to this is if the player has “blackjack”, which is 21 with 2 cards (an Ace and a 10 or picture card), when the most used pay-out ratio is 3:2. You will find that this ratio is clearly advertised before you start playing.
You will typically find that a minimum bet is $5, and the maximum is $500. Again, this will vary based on where you’re playing, but this is the most common.
So, how do you start building your score to 21? Well, numbered cards are worth the amount they represent (a 3 is worth 3, a 6 is worth 6) and Jack, Queen and King – called face cards - are worth 10. That’s the easy bit, which just leaves the ace. An ace is worth either 1 or 11, depending on the player’s choice or what is mathematically possible, so the total score does not exceed 21.
Let’s look at an example of that. If you have an Ace and a 7, the score can be 8 or 18 – you choose. If you then decide to continue and get a 4, the ace will automatically become 1, and the total score will be 7+1+4 = 12. Obviously, having an ace at the start gives you a strong position from which to take another card, as you have the insurance of reverting the ace to a score of 1 if you get a high card. But we’ll get to tactics in a few paragraphs’ time.
Basic Blackjack Terminology
There are several words that you need to remember when you’re playing blackjack. Here’s a handy list of the terminology you might hear:
- Hit – Asking the dealer for another card
- Stick / Stand – Choosing not to take another card
- Bust – When you take a card, and it pushes your score over 21
- Push – This means you got the same score as the dealer, so your original stake is returned
- Split – When your initial cards are the same (2 6s, 2 Jacks), you can choose to split them and start with two hands. You get a card for each new hand and effectively get double the chance to win
- Double Down – Doubling your original bet and accepting another card
- Surrender – Deciding to concede before playing in exchange for 50% of your original bet back
- Soft hand – When your total includes using an ace as 11
- Blackjack – Getting 21 with only two cards; an ace and a face card or a 10. The reward for blackjack is usually a payout of 3:2.
For additional terms go to our Blackjack Glossary and Terminology article.
Basic Blackjack Actions
- Hit: When you "hit," you are requesting an additional card from the dealer to add to your current hand. You can continue to hit as many times as you like, as long as the total value of your hand does not exceed 21.
- Stand: When you "stand," you are choosing to keep your current hand and not receive any more cards. This action is typically taken when you feel that your hand is strong enough to beat the dealer, or when you are trying to avoid going over 21.
- Double Down: When you "double down," you are doubling your initial bet and receiving one additional card. This action is typically taken when you feel that your hand has a high chance of winning, and you want to increase your potential winnings.
- Split: When you "split," you are dividing a pair of cards into two separate hands, each requiring an additional bet. This action is typically taken when you have two cards of the same rank, or two cards that have a high potential of creating a winning hand. Some variants of blackjack put limitations on which hands can be split and how many times each hand can be split.
- Surrender: when you "surrender", you are giving up your hand and receiving half of your initial bet back. Not all variants of blackjack have this option. This action is typically taken when you feel that your hand has a low chance of winning, and you want to minimize your potential losses.
How Blackjack Works in Play
To start, the dealer gives each player two cards, faces down. The dealer also deals themselves in, with one card facing up. Remember, players win if they get a score higher than the dealer’s, but not exceeding 21. Players look at their cards and can decide to request another card, stick with what they have, or surrender. Play moves from left to right as you sit, so each player takes their turn before the dealer plays. Remember, you’re only playing against the dealer!
You can surrender, effectively conceding the game, only before extra cards have been received, and this results in a return of half the stake.
Players can request extra cards until they reach the value of 21, exceed this (thereby automatically losing) or decide to stick. Once players have taken their turns, the dealer then reveals their second card and plays with the same rules. The only exception to this is the “17” rule, whereby the dealer cannot take another card after their score hits 17. In contrast, they have to take another card if their score is 16 or under. This gives them less flexibility.
Once the dealer has finished, scores are compared, and pay-outs occur if a player has won. If a player has the same total as the dealer, this is a draw – called a push - and the original stake is returned.
Insurance bets in blackjack are a side bet that players can make when the dealer's upcard is an Ace. The insurance bet pays 2-1 if the dealer has a blackjack, which is a hand of an Ace and a 10-point card. The insurance bet is optional and is typically equal to half of the player's original bet.
For example, if a player's original bet is $10, the insurance bet would be $5. If the dealer has a blackjack, the player would lose their original $10 bet but win $10 on the insurance bet, resulting in a net loss of $5. If the dealer does not have a blackjack, the player loses the insurance bet but still has the option to play out their hand.
The purpose of the insurance bet is to give players a way to protect their original bet against the dealer having a blackjack. However, it is generally not a good idea to take insurance because the odds of the dealer having a blackjack are not in the player's favor. It's a negative expectation bet which means that in the long term the player will lose more money than win if taking insurance.
Splitting Blackjack Hands
Splitting blackjack hands is an option that players can use when they have hands that meet certain criteria. This option requires players to increase their bet as each newly created hand requires its own wager. The rules for splitting can vary depending on the type of blackjack being played, so it is important to check the rules before playing.
- Splitting tens: Jacks, queens, kings, and 10s are all valued as ten points. Most online casinos will allow players to split them, however, in some games, the cards need to be of the same rank, such as a pair of kings or a pair of 10s, but not a king and a 10.
- Resplitting: This allows players to split a pair, usually no more than three times per hand. Some variants may only allow one split or six splits, or even unlimited splits. For example, a player can resplit a pair of 8s, then split them again if they get another 8 as the second card for one of the split hands.
- Resplitting Aces: This is a rare rule that tends to only be used in Late Surrender games.
- Additional Draw after Splitting Aces: In most cases, after splitting aces, players are only allowed to draw one card for each ace. In some variants, this limitation is lifted, and players can keep drawing.
- No Aces Split: A rare rule that does not allow splitting aces in any case. If a player encounters this rule, it is best to avoid playing that variant of blackjack.
- Split Anytime: This rule allows players to split after hitting. For example, if a player is dealt 10, 2 and hits another 2, they can then split the deuces.
- Split any 16: This rule allows players to split any combination of 16, regardless of the cards' values, such as 10 and 6, Ace and 5, or 9 and 7.
- No Splits on 4, 5 or Ten: This is a rule used in UK casinos.
- Discard Split Hand: A rare but useful rule that allows players to discard one of the split hands.
Doubling down in blackjack is a move that allows players to double their initial bet in exchange for one more card. This move can only be made after the initial two cards have been dealt, and before any additional cards are drawn. The idea behind doubling down is to increase the potential payout on a strong hand or to improve a hand that has the potential to beat the dealer's hand.
The advantage of doubling down is that it allows players to potentially win more money on a hand that they believe is strong. It also gives players a chance to improve a hand that they believe has a good chance of winning.
The disadvantage of doubling down is that it also increases the risk of busting (going over 21) and losing the entire bet. It can also be a disadvantage if the player's hand is not as strong as they initially thought.
It's important to consider the dealer's upcard when deciding whether or not to double down. Generally, it's a good idea to double down with a hand value of 10 or 11 when the dealer's upcard is a card with a low value (2-6)
Obviously, blackjack is a game of considerable chance. You can’t influence the cards you or the dealer receives, and if you’re playing online, you can’t try and count the cards. But there are a few tips you can follow that will tip the odds slightly more in your favor. Here are 10 of the best.
Practice for free: Take advantage of the practice mode offered by online casinos to hone your skills before risking your own money.
Use a strategy chart: Keep a basic blackjack strategy chart nearby while playing online to ensure you make the best decisions.
Set a budget: Decide in advance how much you want to spend on your blackjack session and stick to it.
Choose the right table: Select tables with minimum bets no higher than 5% of your budget.
Follow basic strategy: Hit hands lower than 17 when the dealer shows 8, 9, 10, or face cards, and stand on hands above 11 when the dealer shows 4, 5, or 6.
Avoid insurance bets: Insurance bets against the dealer hitting a blackjack are considered a "sucker's bet" and should be avoided.
Take advantage of doubling down: Double down with a hand valued at 10 against a dealer's 9 or lower, and with any hand valued at 11.
Know when to split: When dealt two cards of equal value, split them into new hands by matching your original bet. Avoid splitting 10's or 5's, but always split 7's or 8's when the dealer has a lower value hand.
Use progressive betting: Increase your bets when on a winning streak and decrease them when on a losing streak.
Opt for live dealer games: Live dealer casino games allow you to monitor the game more closely and even count cards, which is not possible with casino software games.
How to Get Started Playing Blackjack
If you’re just getting started out, look for low stakes and a high welcome bonus. For beginners, there are also plenty of free blackjack games out there, so you can practice a bit before you start putting down actual stakes. If you’re really thinking about getting into blackjack, then this would be a strong option for you.
And remember: while splitting, doubling down, surrendering and the use of the ace are additional rules to get used to, the basic formula for blackjack is easy to learn and remember, and this makes the game a great starting point for those people who are new to online gambling. So get yourself online and give it a go!