Blackjack is no doubt one of the most popular casino games of all time, together with Roulette maybe. The basic and simplified idea of this card game, is get as close as possible to 21, without going over 21. Every round of the game, the player gets dealt two cards face up and the dealer get dealt two cards out of which one is face up. The player is playing against the dealer and both are trying to get as close to 21 as the possibly can without busting (when a player or the dealer gets over 21 points when adding up all cards).
We obviously want to bring this game up in our guides and tell you a little bit about the rules, some basic strategy and also about some different rule variations of this legendary card game. We will also tell you a bit about specifically playing Blackjack online and what casinos might have the best games and so on. We hope you will enjoy this guide and take something along with you on your journey to becoming a master Blackjack player.
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The rules of Blackjack
Blackjack is one of those games, where it is absolutely crucial to know the rules, if you want to play. The rules are not very complicated per se, but what we mean is, the game has a specific set of rules, and without knowing these rules, you will not enjoy the game and experience everything it has got to offer.
Many of us, including me, did the mistake of jumping in to a Blackjack card game without knowing the rules or even basic strategy, and needless to say, my bankroll was gone quite soon after starting. The more basic strategy and the closer to optimal play you can get, the longer you can stay at the tables.
The start of a hand
At the start of a Blackjack hand, the dealer deals two cards face up, and two cards to him or herself (one of them face up). The player then proceeds to take more cards, one at a time, and trying to hit 21 or as close as possible. The player can stand (stop taking more cards) at any time.
After the player has either busted or stopped taking more cards, the dealer reveals his hand and proceeds to draw more cards. Depending on table rules or variation of the Blackjack game, the dealer has to stop taking card when he hits or goes over either 16 or 17. This means, the dealer never really has a personal choice, but he or she plays according to a pre-set algorithm set by the casino for each table.
What is important to remember when it comes to Blackjack, is that the values of the cards are slightly different than what you´d expect. Cards with face value 2-10, have the same value in Blackjack. Jacks, queens and Kings are valued at 10. Aces can be either 1 or 11.
For the player, a hand can end in 3 possible ways:
- A win
- A push (basically a tie)
- A loss
A normal win occurs when the players hand is bigger than the dealers hand, but not over 21. A push (tie) occurs when both the player and the dealer end up on the same sum. A loss for the player occurs when he or she either busts (ends up with more than 21 in his or her hand), or if the dealers hand beats the players hand.
There are also different ways to win a hand. The player can hit a Blackjack (21), which pays out more than a standard win. All hands with a sum of 21, are Blackjack hands, but depending on the amount of cards it took to achieve the value of 21, the pay-out usually differs.
A 21, consisting of only two cards, is usually considered a natural Blackjack, and is the highest ranked hand in Blackjack. This brings us to one exception in the game. If the dealer hits 21 using 3 cards, and you hit 21 with your 2 cards, you win the hand.
The rules are different at almost every online casino and at every table, so it always makes sense to study the rules before you jump in to the action and make your first deposit. Especially the pay-out tables for different kind of won hands, might be very different from casino to casino, and even a slight change in ratios and odds, will change the house edge dramatically.
Very Basic Blackjack Strategy
When you play Blackjack online, you might want to learn some basic strategy so you will know when it makes sense to hit, stand or even split or double. The strategy you should be implementing, or the algorithm for optimal play, will differ very much, depending on many factors. The pay-out for different winning hands, will greatly impact your choices and moves in a lot of situations. For example, if the dealer can hit on a soft 17, the house will get an extra 0.2% edge. And as a matter of fact, all these seemingly small differences in the house edge, will add up and cause the player to see his bank roll depleting sooner than he anticipated.
When to hit in Blackjack
A simple rule of thumb is, you always hit when your hand is 7 or less. We will also present you with a general table later on, for optimal Blackjack strategy for when certain conditions are met. You can have the table in front of you the next time you decide to play Blackjack, and slowly incorporate optimal Blackjack play in to your game.
When to stand in Blackjack
When you are playing Blackjack at an online casino or one of the brick and mortar casinos, there are a few situations where you always stand. In Blackjack, when you “stand”, it means you will not draw more cards from the deck and that you will stay on whatever value you have right now. As a simple rule of thumb for standing, you would usually always stand if you have 17 or more. The dealer will always stand on 17 (depending on if the soft 17 rule is in play), so generally you will want to stand here. If the dealers face up card is between 2 and 6, you will stand on 13 or higher. And again, to make things a bit easier, all of this is presented in the table for optimal play later on.
When to double in Blackjack
So when you play at a Blackjack table, and the table rules allow doubling, we first need to understand what that means. If you decide to double, you will double the bet, but only draw one more card from the deck. This means, you can get a better edge against the house in some situations. As you will see in the strategy table, you should use your double option when your starting hand is 10 or 11. There are some exceptions and we will get to that later on.
When to split in Blackjack
In Blackjack the player can split the initial two card hand, if the player is dealt a pair. This means the player will play two hands and will hence double the bet. The original hand gets split in to two hands, and the player gets dealt one more card for each hand. Once again, there are always differences depending on casino and table rules. Some casinos will not allow you to split lower pairs for example.
All these things aside, there are some general “do this!”-rules of thumb for splitting as well. You will always want to split a pair of aces or a pair of eights. Let´s take a pair of aces to illustrate the thought process behind this. If you decide to not split your two aces, you and up with a hand that is very difficult to improve. If you split your aces, you will have four ways left in the deck to hit a natural Blackjack. As a Blackjack usually pays out more than any other hand, splitting aces is an optimal solution. Take a look at our table to get a better overview of when it makes sense to split, and when it makes sense to choose a different strategy for your hand.
Optimal Blackjack Strategy
This part is most likely the most important subject for any player who wants to take the game to the next level and play Blackjack optimally. After you have studied the rules, and know what you can, and what you cannot do, you will want to study optimal play in order to keep the house edge at a minimum. Depending on table rules, you can achieve a RTP (Return to player) of 97.75-99%, when making optimal choices in most situations. Take a look at our table and jump straight in to the card game action with a new outlook on gambling.
How does the optimal Blackjack strategy table work?
Using this table, you can make good choices in most situations that you will be faced with while playing a game of Blackjack. On the left side of the table, you see your hand and it´s value. On the top of the table you see the face up card of the dealer. Where these two meet, you will see the optimal play for that specific situation. We have colour coded the cells to make it easier and faster for you to find the optimal play for your situation.
Green cell: Hit.
Blue cell: Stand.
Red cell: Double if it is possible, otherwise hit.
Violet cell: Double if it is possible, otherwise stand.
Yellow cell: Split, and start over for each hand.
Examples of using the optimal play table
Let´s say the dealer has dealt all the cards for the round, and the dealer shows a 6 face up. The value of your hand is 10. At this point you take a look at the table where these two meet. You will see the cell is red, and it tells you to double if it is possible. If it is not possible, you will hit and receive one more card. As you see, this table is not difficult to use and implement in your game.
Some rules of thumb:
- Never hit when you have 17 or more.
- Always hit (or double) if you have 11 or less.
- Never split a pair of 10s.
- Always split aces.
Card counting in Blackjack
Card counting is a strategy, where the player will get an edge over the house when playing Blackjack. There have been several teams throughout history and we guess at any given time, there are still many Blackjack counting teams out there making a lot of money. There have been numerous documentaries and movies made on this subject and the most well-known team was probably the MIT Blackjack team. For now, we will only say, it is possible to beat the house edge by different card counting systems at brick and mortar casinos, but you will need a big team, a big bank roll and a massive amount of patience. Read more about card counting in Blackjack in our article on the subject.