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How to Play Blackjack & 21 - Beginner’s Guide

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Blackjack, or 21 as it is sometimes called, is one of the most popular casino table games in the world. Casino players from across the globe head online or to their local casino to try and beat the dealer and win a game of blackjack. One of the great attractions of the game is how easy it is to play. In this guide, we are going to break down everything you need to know. In no time, you can head online and play with confidence, equipped with all the knowledge you need to make it a success. So, let’s take a look at how to play blackjack.

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Basic Rules for Blackjack

Blackjack has always been one of those games surrounded by glitz and glamour. Whether it’s James Bond movies or celebrities snapped at casino tables, the game of blackjack always delivers a sense of class. Plus, the feeling that you can make a profit and that is what we want to look at here. So, let’s look at some of the rules you need to familiarize yourself with.

In many other card games, you will be playing against several other opponents. What sets blackjack apart is the fact that you are only playing against the dealer. There may be several other players sitting around the table with you. Though, they are essentially playing a completely separate game against the dealer. You are not wagering any bets against them, it is just you versus the dealer.

Understanding the Decks and Cards

It is worth pointing out that the game of blackjack is played with your typical 52-card deck. Most online games are using multiple decks, but each one will comprise of four suits:

  • Hearts
  • Clubs
  • Diamonds
  • Spades

In each suite, there are 13 cards. These consist of numbers 2 to 10, three royal cards: the jack, queen and king, and an Ace. For almost any game of Blackjack that you are going to play online, you will not need to worry about different suits. 

Typically, a brick-and-mortar casino will have between two and eight decks of cards that you play with. These decks are kept in a holder called “the shoe”. As their name may suggest, the dealer is charged with shuffling all the cards and dealing them to any players who are set to play against them. The cards in an automated digital game are shuffled using a random number generator and are generally shuffled after every hand.

The Main Objective of Blackjack

Now, on to the main goal when learning how to play blackjack. Players want to score a total of 21 points with as few cards as possible. If no player can score 21, any player who scores higher than the dealer's hand (without going bust) will win the bet. Now you might be wondering how points are scored. Or you might even have a rough idea but be thinking, “Well, how much is an ace worth?” or “How much is a royal card worth?”. See below for the blackjack scoring system:

  • Ace – Worth 1 or 11 points
  • Numbered Cards – Worth their value eg. 9 is worth 9 points. 3 is worth 3 points
  • Face Cards/Royal Cards – All worth 10 points

Playing Blackjack: The Basics

Now we know what each card is worth, how is a blackjack hand dealt? Well, the dealer will deal two cards to each player, and themselves. In most games of Blackjack, all player’s cards are dealt face-up, while the dealer's hand has one facing up and one facing down, called the hole card.

Real money blackjack action starts with each player placing a bet. The table will have a limit for both the maximum and minimum bet, but within this range, you can bet however much or little you want. The dealer will then deal two cards for each player, progressing clockwise and one card at a time. The dealer will, however, only deal one face-up card for him- or herself while the second card is dealt face-down. All the players' cards are dealt face-up on the table so everyone can see each other's cards.

The second card for the dealer will not be turned over until all of the players are done playing their hands. This card is called the hole card. In other versions of blackjack, like in European Blackjack, the dealer's hole card is not drawn at all until the end of the game round where the dealer plays his or her hand.

In the eventuality that the dealer and the player are both dealt a blackjack hand then this is known as a “push”. As a result, the player keeps their stake.

Next Up: Make Your Move!

If no one has called blackjack, the dealer then proceeds to go ask the players at the table what they wish to do. Each player will have to decide on whether they request another card or stick with what they have. These actions are known as ‘hitting’ and ‘standing’. If someone decides to stand then their game is effectively paused until the dealer's hand is unveiled.

Upon requesting another card, if a player's overall total exceeds 21 they are then what is known as ‘bust’. This means that they have lost the game, and along with it their bet with the dealer, too.

When all the players have stood or gone bust, the dealer will then reveal their second card in the hand. So, if the dealer shows a hand of 17, they will need to stand. Any players with hands of 18, 19, 20, or 21 will win their bet and this means that the dealer will have to pay out any winning bets. As before, if any player has a hand of 17 they then push and get to keep their stake.

Of course, there is a fairly high chance that a dealer will have less than 17 in his opening hand. Casino rules ensure that the dealer draws until they reach 17 or go bust. The only exception to this in standard blackjack is that some casinos require the house to still draw a new card if the dealer's hand is a soft 17 but stand on a hard 17, a soft 18, or higher. At online casinos, this will depend on the particular table your playing on, and which game provider it's from. If you have a preference, simply choose a table where your preferred rules are applied. You could check out the tables from Evolution Gaming, Ezugi and Pragmatic Play for a good mix of choices.

Top Tip: Always be sure to know which blackjack rules you are playing. Look out for things such as the dealer drawing or standing on a soft 17. These are important rules when it comes to improving your chances of winning.

How to Play Blackjack Correctly With Strategy Charts

One of the biggest benefits that any beginner blackjack player has when playing online is the basic blackjack charts. This blackjack online guide will lead you through each decision to ensure that you play as near a perfect game of blackjack as possible. Of course, this does not guarantee you a win, but it will give you the best chances by taking into account your hand and the dealer’s hand. 

These charts can be found online and essentially, they show you when to hit, stand, double down, split, surrender, and so on. Remember to use the right chart for the blackjack game that you are playing and it makes sense to practice these on free games first. You can find lots of free blackjack tables right here at GoodLuckMate which are perfect for following these charts.

Playing Blackjack: Moves Explained

We have touched on the basics of blackjack and that should see you through a game. However, there is a range of additional options that players can take up in their strategy. In this section, we are going to explore these a little further.

Hit – Get a New Card

If you choose to hit, this means you’re choosing to have another card dealt to you. Choosing to hit also keeps the option open to double down or split your cards later on, although you may also choose to stand after your new card is dealt. You can hit as many times as you’d like until you get 22 or more, which means that you’ve lost the current game round.

Split – Play With Multiple Hands

This is a key tactic you can use when you have enough money to place on multiple hands. As we have already mentioned, in blackjack you traditionally play one hand that consists of two cards. If in your initial hand you received two cards of equal value, you can inform the dealer that you want to split them. This creates two hands, and the dealer must deal you two more cards to complete both hands. 

Different casinos will have different rules on how many times you can split per game, so make sure you check before playing. It costs extra money in bets to cover them but this tactic can also remove cards that you may well have needed to reach 21 with another hand. So, always think about when and how you want to play a split.

Also, most versions of blackjack have a limit on the number of times you can split a hand during the same game round. It differs from version to version whether the extra bets you have to place for splitting a hand are counted towards the table limit or not. Some tables have a max bet per hand while other tables have a max bet per game round. This is something you should check before you start betting so you can still place a bet for an amount that’s within the table limit if you chose to split a couple of times.

Insurance – in Case the Dealer Has Blackjack

If the dealer’s face-up card is an ace, you’ll have the opportunity to buy insurance. This will allow you to place a bet as insurance in the event that the dealer has ‘Blackjack’. This bet is a side bet and won’t impact any of the other potential payouts for winning the game round. If you bought insurance and the dealer has “Blackjack,” what you’ll get is a payout of 2:1 on your insurance bet. As an example, you have staked €20 originally and so the insurance will be a further €10. If you take up the insurance, and the dealer’s second hand is a ten-point card, you lose the original bet. Still, the dealer pays you €20 and so you break even. However, if the dealer's hand is not a ten-point card, you will then lose your €10 insurance stake.

In American Blackjack, the dealer won’t check their hole card for “Blackjack” until all of the players have finished playing their hands. Because of this, adding more to your bet by splitting or doubling down is not recommended if the dealer's card is an ace, regardless of whether you choose to buy insurance or not. Insurance on blackjack has some of the worst possible odds and expert advise you to always avoid it.

Double Down – Double Your Bet and Get One More Card

If you have a hand you think you can win with just one additional card, you can choose to double down. This means you’ll place an extra bet that matches your initial bet in order to get one more card. What’s important to know is that no matter what card you get, you’ll have to stand with the hand you have after doubling down.

Whether or not you’re allowed to double down on a hand you’ve previously split varies based on the version of blackjack you’re playing and/or the house rules. There is a condition to doubling down though, as you must then only draw one more additional card and you have to stand on that card, whatever it may be.

Stand – Stop With the Hand You Have

When you choose to stand, you’re choosing to end your game round. You won’t be able to get any more cards or make any more moves, and all that’s left is to find out what the dealer’s hand is. In contrast to the dealer, as a player, you can choose to stand at any point, regardless of what the value of your hand is.

Push – It’s a Tie

If you and the dealer both get a hand with the same value, this is known as a push. Usually, this means you’ll get your bet back because the game round is a tie, but in some versions of blackjack, this might in fact mean that you lose. If a push occurs where you and the dealer both have “Blackjack” in your hands, you’ll get a push for the game round, but the payout for getting 21 with only two cards still applies since this is an extra type of payout not connected to winning or losing the game round.

Bust – You Just Lost

If you get more than 21, you go bust, and this always means a loss. Even if the dealer’s hand, once his or her hand is played, is also a bust, this won’t result in you getting a push. The reason is that you’ve dropped out of the game with a loss even before the dealer started playing the house hand.

Surrender – Give Up Your Hand

In most versions of blackjack, you can choose to surrender your hand. You can only do this if you haven’t chosen to use any other moves, such as a hit, a double down or a split. In other words, this has to be the first and only thing you do after your two cards are dealt. In some versions of blackjack, if the dealer has a face-up ace, they need to check for “Blackjack” before a player is allowed to surrender, which can only be done at this point if the dealer doesn’t have this card combination. This only applies to games where the hole card is drawn at the beginning of the game round. Surrendering will usually give the player half of their bet back, so it’s a 1:2 payout.

Blackjack Tips: When Should You Double Down?

There is no hard and fast rule for when you should double down and many experts will tell you different things when learning how to play blackjack. However, it is widely agreed that if you have ten or eleven points in your initial hand then you can play the double down. There is another widely accepted situation that may see you want to double down. That is when a dealer's face-up card is a 5 or 6 and your hand has an ace and a low-point scoring card, say a 6 or below.

Blackjack Tips: When Should You Split?

Annoyingly, choosing when to split can be a trickier decision than deciding when you double down. One reassuring thing to consider though is experts unanimously agree that you should never split if you are dealt with pairs of 4s, 5s, or 10s. The reasoning here is fairly straightforward. If you are dealt 4s or 5s, there is no possibility that your first ‘hit’ can make you go bust. 

Similarly, if you have a pair of 10s, you have scored a very respectable 20. There is no need to take the risk of splitting your cards on the off chance of getting an Ace when 20 is highly likely to payout. Beyond those three sets of pairs, it becomes slightly murky water and it will depend on what is in the dealer's hand.

As this is such a huge area of the blackjack game, here are some general rules that you should consider when deciding when to split:

  • If you have a pair of 2 or 3 cards, you can pretty much do as you please. Whether you choose to split or hit, the next card is not going to hinder your chances of winning.
  • If you are dealt a pair of 6s, there is a 70% chance that if you draw another card it will keep you below going bust, so it seems advantageous not to split. You may also be ahead of the dealer if their face-up card is a 4, 5, or 6. So, pay attention to what the dealer has available to them before deciding if it is a good idea to split a pair of 6s.
  • Splitting a pair of 7s is considered a risky move. Your best chance when splitting 7s is if a dealer's card is 8 or higher. As such, wait to see if the dealer turns over something higher than a 7 before deciding on when to split.
  • When being dealt a pair of 9s, if the dealer has an Ace, a seven, or a ten-point card on show, do not risk the split. It doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the dealer would beat you. However, it makes your chances of beating the dealer significantly harder.

Splitting 8s in Blackjack

Now for the most disputable pair – the 8s. Everyone has an opinion on it and so there are things worth considering before making a decision. If you choose to split, whatever card you pick up next, you cannot go bust. The best option you can pick up next is an Ace. This gives you 19 or if you wanted to take the risk on, it could revert to 1 point, giving you 9 and ensuring you cannot go bust on even your next hand. The second best would be a ten and the score of 18 is respectable.

However, anything else and this doesn’t pay off. If you draw another 8 you are stuck on 16 and it’s a fairly weak hand, as is a 9 and reaching 17. You could split again if the table allows but you are left with the same conundrum. A 7 or 6 also leaves you desperately short but at risk of going bust with your next card. It’s a perilous position to be in so should be considered greatly. If you can afford to lose your stake, it is probably worth splitting regardless of what the dealer has. The worst-case scenario is you lose both stakes, however, you are also left with the possibility of winning both.

Blackjack Terminology

  • Blackjack - a hand with two cards that show an ace with a 10-point card.
  • Bust - a hand with a total over 21.
  • Double Down - to double your original bet amount and take only one additional card.
  • Hard Hand - this is a hand with no ace and means there is only one possible total.
  • Hit - taking one more card.
  • Hole Card - the face-down card of the dealer.
  • Insurance - a side bet offered if the dealer has an ace and pays out at 2:1 if the dealer hits blackjack.
  • Pair - a hand with two cards of equal value.
  • Perfect Play - playing perfectly according to blackjack strategy charts.
  • Shoe - where the playing cards are located and eventually dealt from.
  • Soft Hand - a hand holding an ace that equals 11, suggesting that an additional card can be taken.
  • Split - betting your initial bet once more and splitting two equal cards into two separate hands.
  • Stand - to stick with your hand - otherwise known as 'sitting'.
  • Stand-Off - player and dealer hold the same hands.
  • Surrender - forfeiting half of your initial bet amount if you believe that there is no way of beating the dealer.

Most Popular Blackjack Variants

When you play blackjack online, you’ll usually find a vast selection of blackjack games. Classic blackjack is only one of the options you’ll have. The number of different types of blackjack the casino offers usually depends on which game providers they have, and if they’ve chosen to focus only on live blackjack games or if they’ve also included RNG blackjack games. An RNG blackjack game is a game that is controlled by a Random Number Generator, which means it works more or less like a slot with random outcomes. In general, the selection of different types of blackjack games is usually better in digitally controlled games but playing live casino blackjack with a live dealer is usually the preferred way to play for most players. However, if you want to try out a new version of blackjack, you should try to find it in an RNG version first because this will also enable you to practice playing blackjack for free. This way you can improve your skills without risking your own money before you head over to the live casino.

European Blackjack

Perhaps the biggest difference between European Blackjack and the standard version is something you’ll notice as soon as the cards are dealt. The dealer will only draw one card, face-up, to him- or herself, and the hole card is not drawn. This card will remain in the shoe until all of the players are done playing their hands. This might seem like a small and insignificant difference, but it’s not. In the event that the dealer’s face-up card is an ace, the dealer will not check for “Blackjack” since the second card is not yet on the table. This means it's highly risky for players to split or double down when the dealer has a face-up ace on the table, as you won't be able to know if they have a 'Blackjack' or not. Another major difference is that European Blackjack is only played with two decks of cards.

Only 2 decks give players quite a benefit, and as always, when you get a benefit, you also get a disadvantage. In European Blackjack the disadvantage is found in the split and double down moves. You can only split once per game round, and you can only split the same cards. This impacts splitting cards that are valued at 10 because you can’t split for example a queen and a king. You can only split a queen if you have another queen, a jack if you have another jack, and so on. Doubling down is only possible if your hand is valued at 9, 10 or 11, and you can’t double down on a hand that has already been split.

Double Exposure

The main difference when you’re playing Double Exposure Blackjack should be obvious – both of the dealer’s cards are exposed from the very beginning of the game. This means you’ll immediately know what hand the dealer has, which makes it easier for you to choose a strategy for your own cards. For instance, if the dealer's hand is 18, you know they’ll stand with this hand since they are not allowed to draw more cards. So, they won’t get a hand with a higher value and risk busting. On the other hand, if the dealer has 16, you know the chances of them busting are quite high. So, figuring out when to stand, hit, or do something else is easy for you to determine.

So, seeing the dealer's hand in this game is to your benefit, but you also get three disadvantages. First of all, you can’t surrender in this game. Second of all, you can’t get insurance (obviously). The third disadvantage is, however, the worst: you can’t get a push. If you and the dealer both end up with hands of the same value, you’ll lose. You’ll have to beat the dealer to win since a tie will mean that you lose your bet.

Single Deck

Single Deck Blackjack isn’t really a separate type of game since several different rules can apply. The main thing, though, is that there’ll only be one deck of cards used. This means it’s the best game for you to use the card-counting strategy. Only having one deck is a massive benefit, and because of this, the true version of Single Deck Blackjack is almost never found at casinos, either land-based or online. However, you may find games that are called Single Deck Blackjack, but they often have added different game rules designed to increase the house edge. You might find limits on your options for splitting, doubling down, getting insurance, or surrendering. It’s also normal that the payout for ‘Blackjack’ is only 6:5 instead of the normal 3:2.

Pontoon

There are two different games that are called Pontoon, but Pontoon Blackjack is the most common one. In this game, your best hand will always be 21. No matter how many cards you need to get this value, you’ll win. It doesn’t matter if you get a “Blackjack” hand valued at 21 with only two cards or if you draw more cards to get this value, the dealer won’t be able to win over you. There’s no push for 21, and you’ll always get the payout for winning the game round. If you do get 21 with only two cards, of course, you’ll also get the extra payout for this.

There are two disadvantages in Pontoon Blackjack compared to normal versions of the game. You can only choose to surrender if the dealer’s exposed card is either a card valued at 10 or an ace. However, before you’re allowed to surrender to get half your bet back, the dealer will check for “Blackjack.” If the dealer has an ace and a 10, you won’t be able to surrender. In addition to this, there are also special rules for doubling down. If you double down, you won’t be able to get a soft hand since the ace will always only count as 1.

Conclusion

Blackjack is an incredibly fun and exciting card game. It comes with the glitz and glamour you expect from a casino, but it can be as enjoyable to play at home online. The rules are simple and easy to grasp and it won’t take long to learn how to play blackjack. With a little practice, you can become an experienced player. This game experience can prove crucial in deciding when to split or when to double down. So, don’t be discouraged by any early disappointments. If you stick to the charts and basic strategy then you should find some winning hands.

Steven Ford
Steven FordUpdated: 01 Jul 2022
Steve started his iGaming career back in 2007 and he has not looked back since. Various job roles for both global and startup casino brands have given him a deep and thorough under...
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