For many decades, card games have been a popular game activity. Even in the present day, casino players are more than happy to join a game of poker, baccarat and, not to forget, blackjack as well. The advantage of blackjack is that the basic rules are much simpler than for, for instance, poker. This is why any card game enthusiast can join the (virtual) blackjack table and see what luck will bring him. Just like in the case of other casino games, you do have to know what the rules are and what to pay attention to. Thankfully we are here to help you with that. Let’s find out more in this blackjack guide.
Do you like blackjack? We hope so, because you’re kind of wasting your time if you’re reading this and you don’t.
If you do, you’re not alone, Blackjack is the most popular casino card game in the world. You may have your theories as to why that is. We reckon is because it’s really easy to play, but repays closer study, can be played for low or high stakes, it is possible to bring an element of skill into the game, and you just might win big.
Experience a nice game of Blackjack on your favorite tables in the online casino
Rules of Blackjack
The game of Blackjack is very simple.
The gamblers do not play against each other – however many of them there are at a table – they play against the dealer.
The aim of the game is to get closer to 21 than the dealer without going over and going bust.
Aces are worth either 1 or 11, depending on which is to the player’s example. Cards 2 to 9 are worth their face value. Court cards are worth 10.
A blackjack or “natural” of an Ace and a 10-point card is the most valuable hand and trumps a hand totalling 21 made up of more than two cards.
This is how a standard game of American blackjack should go:
First, an initial stake is laid before the cards are dealt.
Then two cards are dealt face down to each player and to the dealer. The dealer’s second card is dealt face up, on top of his “hole” card.
When that face-up card is an Ace, an “insurance” bet is offered to players. This is a side bet at a 2/1 pay-out that pays out if the hole card is a 10, completing a blackjack. This isn’t available in all games and is usually limited in size.
If a 10-point card or Ace is showing for the dealer then he can check his hold card – called a peek – and will reveal if he has a blackjack and the game is over. Insurance bets on an ace win.
Then players get to play.
The dealer offers cards to the players who may either “stand” and stick with what they have, or ask to be “hit” with another card.
A player may also “double” and increase his bet 100%, but must take another card and cannot take more than that.
Pairs can be “split” as can any hand totalling 10 (so 9 and Ace, or 6 and 4). The player must add a new stake for his new hand, which will be dealt a second card and handled the same as any other hand. The exception is with Aces, which can only be hit once after splitting. After splitting, no blackjack can be scored, and a natural is treated as a multi-card 21.
The limit on splitting is usually to a total of four hands.
Players can also surrender and throw in the towel to get half of their bet back.
Once all the players have ended their play the dealer reveals his hand.
He will then play out his hand according to a set of rules that mean he must add a card to totals of 16 or less.
In some blackjack games, a “soft 17” is hit. A soft 17 is one that totals 17 while including an Ace counted as 11.
The dealer finishes his hand and compares with each player, paying even money to any player who is closer to 21 than him without going bust. If the gambler goes bust, then everyone left in the game wins. Blackjacks often payout with odds.
Blackjack Payouts, Blackjack Odds & Blackjack Strategies
The blackjack payouts are simple: everything is paid at evens with the exception of blackjacks, which are normally paid at 3/2 or 6/5. However, there’s no reason why a blackjack site can’t offer better odds, or simply pay 1/1 on all pay-outs so make sure you check the site you’re playing at.
Blackjack Odds are extremely complicated. The game can be played with multiple packs of cards, meaning there can be hundreds of cards. The potential number of combinations is enormous. The whole point of card counting in blackjack is to work out which cards have gone to give you a slight edge on these probability sums. It is an extremely demanding art, and one should only attempt if you are very committed.
Some probabilities can be measured though. For example, the chances of going bust from 20 is 92%; 19 = 85%; 18 = 77%; 17 = 69%; 16 = 62%; 15 = 58%; 14 = 56%; 13 = 39%; 12 = 31%; and 11 and under is 0%.
Knowing these figures is useful, and if you have the time you should certainly read over the probabilities of various hands being dealt.
Each hand will remain random, and even counting cards can only improve your odds of picking the next card unless you’re good enough at it to know what the final card in a shoe is going to be.
Leaving card counting aside there is a lot to be said for some simple blackjack betting strategies.
Here’s a fairly standard list of good blackjack tips that might be useful for you when you step up to the table next:
- Always split 8s and Aces. This one that everyone always remembers. A 16 is the worse deal in the game so you want to get rid of it.
- Always take another card if you’re dealt 8 or less.
- Always stand if you have 17 (hard, so with an Ace worth 1) or more.
- Always hit soft (with an Ace worth 11) 15 or less.
- Always stand when you hit a soft 19.
- Double your bet on 10s or 11s, if your hand is worth more than the dealers.
- On 10s or 11s when the dealer’s hand is worth more than yours just hit.
- Surrender a 16 against a 10.
Outside of those situations, you can play these rules when the dealer has a card between a 2 and a 6 showing:
- Double when you have a 9.
- Stand when you have between a 12 and a 16.
- Double when you have between a soft 16 and a soft 18.
- Split 2s, 3s, 6s, 7s, and 9s.
As you can see that’s quite a lot to keep in your mind while playing a game, and if you seriously want to use a blackjack strategy in the heat of a game then you need to put in some time and study to get on top of it properly.
And this is just a very simple strategy. There are many many variants.
The game of blackjack could have been designed with online play in mind. It is very simple, both in the way it is played and in the way it is viewed.
All you need is the technology to show a couple of cards, generate some random numbers, and do some simple sums to collect the cash. Blackjack was a natural for online casinos and even now the technology of online gambling has moved on by leaps and bounds, players still click in their droves on the blackjack tables.
The game works particularly well on the portrait-format screens of most mobile devices. Even with live dealers, this is a game that can be played in a very compact frame.
You shouldn’t play online blackjack any less carefully than you would play the game in a casino. The key things to remember are to check the rules of the particular table you are playing at, and to remember that even in the virtual world losses can be very real, so gamble safely.
Online Blackjack for fun
The best way to play online blackjack safely and healthily is to play it for fun.
If you accept that this is an enjoyable pastime then you are likely to spend more sensibly and to cut any losses that you might incur. Blackjack is a fascinating and historic game and there’s never been a better time to play it.
The Many Names of Blackjack
Blackjack is a nice simple name for what is now a family of card games.
Almost all of them have very strong similarities and are based around the number 21.
In fact, the number predates the game blackjack. The game’s history is incredibly long: you’ll find some online guides linking it back to Ancient China (that said, you can find a site to say anything you want somewhere online).
The first reliable printed records are European though.
Twenty-one appears in the pages of a work by the author of one of history’s greatest works of literature – seriously, give it a read, it’s amazing – Don Quixote. Miguel de Cervantes used the Spanish, veintiuna to name the game. The characters, sadly, cheat!
There are still a number of variations of blackjack that use the Spanish deck, called a baraja deck, for the game. There are no 8s, 9s, or 10s.
French casino players were enjoying a quick game of vingt et un by the start of the 18th century. Cards are very portable, and card games travel, so it wasn’t long before French travellers were whiling away long, boring journeys across the newly discovered American prairies with a game that they taught their new countrymen.
The game meandered through history until in 1931 the good legislators of Nevada decided to legalise gambling. Vingt-et-Un had its fans, but paying customers in legal casinos wanted more out of a game, and so was born blackjack.
That’s right, blackjack is a customer service and branding trick! The Nevadans added an extra pay-out and invented the idea of the uniquely good blackjack hand, originally made up of an Ace and a Black Jack. Sadly, the 10/1 pay-out they made on this hand hasn’t survived into many modern online tables.
Just as players try to work out games in order to win, so do casinos run simulations and endless sums in order to stop you winning too often. It is from those sums and the potential danger of card counting that the modern game – played with multiple packs of cards – has evolved.
Blackjack Card Counting
Most casino games are entirely random, or as close to random as makes no difference for the player. Blackjack is one of the very few games where human players can actually – sometimes with computer assistance – outthink the game.
Card counting is very difficult and requires skill.
The legal status of card counting is somewhat up for discussion. Because a card counter is not interfering with the “equipment” of the game or cheating in any way – so long as no hidden devices are used – they are not breaking the law.
However, they are certainly breaking the hearts of casino bosses, who will ask that they leave if they are seen tallying up too obviously.
Card counting does not guarantee wins and the game remains random. It is simply a way of increasing your chances of winning by knowing what might come next and betting or splitting or doubling accordingly. The game remains one of the percentages, even with the best card counting, but percentages can make a big difference, particularly if you play with big money.
Blackjack already has the lowest house edge of any of the mainstream casino games. It’s said to be about 0.5% in standard games. Card counting can put the odds in the player’s favour, but you need a good card counting strategy.
High and Low Counting:
Basically, you count cards under 10, and cards worth 10 or more (including Aces). You add one when you see low numbers and take one off when you see high numbers, and when you have a positive number the odds are in your favour and you should risk more, going higher the higher the number is.
However, this only works in a straightforward way with single decks. Add more decks and you’ll need to factor in another set of sums.
The Ace/Five system asks players to add one to a total when they see a five and to take one off when they see an Ace. Bet more when the count is positive.
There is also a strategy called the KO strategy that is more complicated and said to be used in some of the famous big wins attributed to card counting. It is worth exploring if you have the time.
Card counting as a blackjack strategy is actually one of the only gambling systems that do have a realistic chance of offering a better chance of winning. However, it is a long-term strategy, not something that will guarantee you a win, and it needs a large stake to really pay dividends.
Those casino sums we’ve mentioned work against you too, and some rule changes, like paying 6/5 on blackjacks, eliminate the slight edge that card counters have.
You also have to do it right!
And, in online blackjack, you are up against random number generators. Yes, the game simulates the experience of a genuine card game, but the cards are shuffled more regularly and in a way that gives no visual clues.
Most of what we have covered so far has stuck to standard blackjack. This is the game you will see most often.
However, there are plenty of opportunities to switch things up if you fancy a change. Most of them keep most of the fundamentals in place.
Here are some of the most popular blackjack variants.
This is a trademarked game, so check what version you’re playing.
The official version is played with the 48-card Spanish deck (the standard deck with the 10s removed) in sets of six or eight decks. The game usually features a late surrender that allows players to hand in their cards against a non-blackjack hand. All player blackjacks win.
There are a number of other variations, and if you are playing Spanish 21 online we urge you to check out the rules and the return to player thoroughly before you start. As ever, if there’s free blackjack or free Spanish 21 available then fill your boots as you learn to play.
Double Exposure Blackjack
The clue’s in the name for this game, which simply features no hole card for the dealer.
In addition, dealers win ties with the exception of blackjacks, which only pay even money, and splitting is limited to a single time.
There are lots of other twists that may or may not apply. Read the rules before you play.
Double Attack Blackjack
There are a lot of optional changes in this game, which is played with eight Spanish decks. The dealer will hold soft 17s in this game, and peek to see if he has a blackjack. Splitting is allowed up to four hands, and players can double after a split – only aces cannot be resplit, and split aces can only be hit once. Blackjacks pay just evens, but players may surrender at any time and can double only once.
Insurance bets are allowed, paying at 5/2, and there is a side bet called “bustit”, that pays out if the dealer busts on three cards.
The double attack is a second betting round that takes place after the dealer’s first card has been dealt face up.
The main variation in this game is that the players are allowed to cheat. Well, not quite, they are allowed to play two hands, on which they make equal sized bets, and they may switch the second cards dealt between these hands to get the best combinations.
The game also has a number of other standard variations from the blackjack rulebook, and uniquely, allows dealers to draw hands on 22, and pays only evens on blackjack. Look for blackjack switch online, because it’s a fun game that has deeper gameplay in a solo game than standard blackjack.
European Blackjack & American Blackjack
The biggest divide in gambling tends to be the big old Atlantic Ocean.
Blackjack is no exception. Although the difference is quite slight in appearance, the effect on the game is quite profound.
The difference is in the hole!
American blackjack dealers deal themselves two cards. The first is hidden, and the second is face up. This opens up the possibility of ending losing hands for players early via the peek that we’ve mentioned earlier in this guide.
European Blackjack is played with both cards face up. But crucially, the second card is dealt after the other players have completed their hands.
This makes no difference in the odds of the hand, or on the way the dealer plays the cards, he is dealt. The only change in play is in that peek, which gives players a vital clue to what hides in the hole, even if the dealer doesn’t declare a blackjack.
European blackjack is generally played with fewer decks – two, against six to eight.
European blackjack is generally played with limited doubling only on 9, 10s or 11s.
Splitting tends to be more limited in European blackjack, with only 10-cards splittable and only one split allowed. American players can split any pair and can usually do so up to four times.
The best online blackjack casinos
So what should you look for in the best online blackjack casino?
The short answer is that you should look for what you look for in any other casino: good strong licensing, so you know you have a fair game; good safe gambling advice and customer care and help options; and a great looking site with a big choice of games.
This still gives you a lot of choices, and when it comes to online video blackjack you have hundreds of blackjack sites to choose from.
Among the extras, you can look for free online blackjack, so you can check out the rules before you risk your own money.
Live dealer blackjack is another extra that you might enjoy.
Blackjack tournaments are another way to play with relatively lower risks. Tournament play in casinos pits you against other players for a single prize. It may be based on actual wins and losses on a game, or it may be based on points, so check that you know the rules before you pitch in.