How To Play Blackjack

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Blackjack is one of the easiest and most rewarding casino games. Once you understand how to play blackjack at its most basic level, you can enjoy the game at both online casinos and real-money casinos around the world. The game features simple rules and a low house edge, meaning it has some of the best odds of any casino game.

Read on to learn how to play blackjack.

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Blackjack Rules

At its core, blackjack is all about beating the dealer by forming the hand closest to 21 without going over. The game begins with the player receiving two face-up cards and the dealer receiving two cards, one face-up and one face-down. From there, the player can decide to hit, stand, split, double down, surrender, or take insurance, detailed in the different blackjack moves below.

Blackjack Card Values

Every card has a different numerical value, as pictured below. As a player, you decide how to build your hand.

Blackjack Card Values Bonus.com

Let’s take a closer look at the different moves or choices that a player can make during a typical blackjack game.

Blackjack Moves

Hit

Receive another card from the dealer.

Stand/Stay

Lock your hand at its current value.

Double Down

Double your bet mid-game in exchange for one additional card.

Split

Split your current hand into two separate hands to be played concurrently. Note that this move is only available if you have two matching cards in your hand.

Insurance

Some blackjack variations offer a side bet known as insurance if the dealer’s up-card is an ace. Insurance is generally capped at half of the player’s main bet and pays out 2-to-1 if the dealer does turn out to have blackjack.

Surrender

While not always available, this allows you to fold your hand before the round is over in exchange for half of your stake back.

Blackjack

Blackjack is the best possible hand. It consists of an ace and a 10-point card (meaning a ten, jack, queen, or king). It is not possible to lose with this hand, only to win or, if unlucky, to tie if the dealer also happens to have blackjack.

Push

If you tie with the dealer, it’s a “push,” or a tie. For example, if you have two face cards and so does the dealer, it’s a push. In this case, you get your wager back.

How To Beat the Dealer

In blackjack, there are three scenarios where the dealer wins and four scenarios where the player wins. Here, we’ll explain all seven possible scenarios:

Dealer Wins If:

  • Player Busts: If the player’s hand goes over 21, the dealer automatically wins.
  • Dealer Draws Closer to 21: If the dealer’s hand is closer to 21, the dealer wins.
  • Lost Insurance Bet: If the player takes insurance and loses, the dealer wins.

Player Wins If:

  • Dealer Busts: If the dealer’s hand goes over 21, the player automatically wins.
  • Player Draws Closer to 21: If the player’s hand is closer to 21 than the dealer’s hand, the player wins.
  • Player Gets a Blackjack: If the player receives a blackjack (Ace and a 10 or Face Card), they win automatically and receive the blackjack payout. If the dealer also has a blackjack, the player usually still wins. In some variations of blackjack, that could be a tie (“push”), but that’s rare.
  • Player Wins Insurance: If the player bets on insurance and wins (the dealer hides a blackjack), they receive the insurance payout.

Neither the Dealer Nor Player Wins If:

  • Player Surrenders: The player still loses some of their bet. But a well-chosen surrender can save a player from losing their full wager.
  • Player & Dealer Tie: If the player and dealer have the same hand value (other than a blackjack), it’s a “push,” meaning the player receives their wager back.

Interestingly, in baccarat, which is relatively similar to blackjack, you can bet on the player’s hand or the dealer’s hand. Here’s how blackjack compares to baccarat.

Play Blackjack to Win

You should always attempt to follow perfect blackjack strategy, which tells you exactly what move you should make based on your cards and the dealer’s. Just ensure that whichever table you choose to follow matches the rules of the blackjack variation you’ve chosen to play (4- to 8-deck blackjack and single-deck blackjack have two different charts).

Let’s walk through a game of blackjack below to better detail how to play. We’ve chosen a basic blackjack variation with no side bets to avoid confusion.

    1

    Place Your Bet on the Table

    Most online blackjack games have lower minimum bets than their land-based counterparts, creating a nice opportunity to practice with less money.

    Blackjack Step One

    2

    Cards Are Dealt

    Once bets are placed, your first two cards are dealt, as well as the dealer’s first two cards, with one up-card visible to you. If you’re alone at the table, the dealing order will be player, dealer, player, dealer. If there are others at your table or you’re playing multiple hands, cards will be dealt clockwise, beginning to the left of the dealer.

    Blackjack Step Two

    3

    Hit, Stand, Split, or Double Down

    Now you would choose to hit, stand, split, or double down. In this example, blackjack strategy would dictate that because the player’s hand is 8 and the dealer’s up-card is a 5, the player should hit (be dealt another card). The additional card is a four, which brings the player’s hand value to 12.

    Blackjack Step Three

    4

    Dealer Draws to End the Game

    Now that the player’s hand value is 12 and the dealer’s up-card is a 5, strategy dictates that the player should stay, i.e., lock in the hand value at 12. At this point, we wait for the rest of the game to play out. As you can see above, the dealer’s hidden card ended up being a 5, and the dealer hit again to receive a jack (worth 10), giving the dealer a hand value of 20 and victory.

    In this example, the dealer won by creating a hand total closer to 21 than the player’s hand. Looking back on the hand, the player could have chosen to deviate from the perfect blackjack strategy (not recommended) and hit on 12. Although this may have resulted in a hand closer to 21 than the dealer, the risk of going over 21 is simply too high to recommend this option, which is why it goes against strategy. Play the probabilities, not the hindsight.

    Blackjack Rule Variations

    Depending on the variation of blackjack you choose to play, there may be different rules and features, some more favorable than others. Let’s take a look at popular rule variations and how they affect the game.

    Rules may dictate whether the dealer must hit or stand on a Soft 17. The best rule here is one that forces the dealer to stand on Soft 17, meaning that the dealer cannot hit if their hand is a Soft 17. This causes a player advantage, as the dealer is restricted, and you can continue to play how you’d like.

    Ideally, you want to play a variation of blackjack that has the best payout if you get blackjack. Look for variations where blackjack pays 2-to-1, as that ends up being a larger payout than the occasionally more common blackjack pays 3-to-2 rule.

    Single deck blackjack is exactly what it sounds like. There is only one deck in the shoe as opposed to many other variations that use six to eight decks. Generally, the fewer decks, the more player-friendly the variation is.

    Rules may dictate when doubling down is and isn’t allowed. The most player-friendly rules allow you to double down at any time, as more options are always better. Other blackjack variations may allow you to double down only on your first two cards.

    Keep an eye out for side bets. Generally, these side bets hurt rather than help, as their odds may not be as good as traditional blackjack odds. The most popular side bets are insurance (place a 2-to-1 side bet when the dealer’s up-card is an ace in case the dealer has blackjack), 21+3 (pays out if the dealer’s up-card and the player’s first two cards combine to form a flush, straight, three-of-a-kind, or straight flush), and perfect pairs (pays out if your first two cards are a pair and scales based on mixed pair, colored pair, or perfect pair which is the same number in the same suit).

    More Blackjack Guides

    Blackjack Terminology Glossary

    A hand that consists of an ace and a ten, jack, queen, or king, totaling a perfect 21. This hand pays 3:2 or 2:1 in most blackjack variations and always results in a win unless the dealer also has blackjack.

    When a hand totals over 21. This hand is an automatic loss.

    The button denotes the dealer. The button position is dealt a card last and acts last.

    Double your original bet in exchange for one additional card.

    Any card that is face down on the table.

    A face card is a jack, queen, or king, and counts as ten.

    To be dealt an additional card.

    Hole cards are the first two cards received.

    The house edge is the advantage that the house (or dealer) holds over the player.

    A side bet that pays 2-to-1, allowed when the dealer is showing an ace to allow for the possibility of a payout if the dealer has blackjack.

    A situation in which a two-card hand adds up to 21. This hand is an automatic win unless the dealer also has 21.

    When the hole cards are the same number or face.

    Tie. Neither the dealer nor the player wins, and the player’s bet is returned at no penalty.

    To split your hole cards into two separate hands, allowable when the cards are an equal amount.

    A hand that contains one or more aces, which can equal 1 or 11. Aces will only equal 11 if it does not cause the hand to bust; otherwise, they will be worth 1.

    Pay a penalty to immediately throw away your hand and have half of your bet returned. This can be done only as your first action.

    A card that is displayed face-up on the table. For example, one of the dealer’s hole cards.

    A bet amount placed on a game of blackjack.

    About the Author

    Craig Corbeels

    Craig Corbeels

    Craig Corbeels is a lead writer and gambling expert for Bonus.com. He has been involved in the online gambling industry since 2013. Previously, he worked for Gamesys and Bally's Interactive as a copywriter and social media strategist for multiple North American online casinos.
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