How to Play Blackjack

Learn how to play Blackjack in minutes. We present you with a complete guide that will take you from beginner to master. Learn rules, odds, bets, and the best blackjack variants with the lowest house edge.

Beyond the basics, we guide you to the best Blackjack strategies that will always maximize your odds of winning.

Basics of Blackjack

To learn how to play blackjack, we must start with the basics. These are the essential elements of every blackjack table.

  • Table layout

    The table layout is where the game is played out. Usually, there’s room for 5-6 players, a card slot, and an insurance slot for each. The dealer stands opposite the players.

  • Chips

    The chips are a mandatory part of blackjack, even online. You wager on blackjack by placing your chips on your wagering spot on the table.

  • Deck of cards

    Blackjack is played with 1 to 8 decks of cards, depending on the table. The deck is regularly shuffled to minimize risk of blackjack card counting.

  • Dealing

    In Blackjack, the dealer deals you cards, and its against the rules to hold them in your hands in an ongoing round.

  • Limits

    Each table has betting limits per round. The limits vary, as there’s “regular” and high-roller tables around.

How to Play Blackjack

If you want to get started right away from practice or even real money, follow our step-by-step guide.

1
open game
Open Blackjack game

Select a blackjack game of your choice

2
place bet
Place your bet

Place your bet and wait for cards to be dealt across the table

3
make play
Make your play

Hit, stand or double down. Optional: Consult Basic Strategy for the best move.

4
wait
Wait

Wait for hand resolution (see who’s closer to 21)

5
collect winnings
Another round!

Collect winnings (play another round)

Blackjack has a reputation for being a skill-based game in part. It has a reputation for being  may be difficult to master, but it’s also easy to get into. As an added benefit, the game rounds are played out rather quickly.

Complete Guide to Blackjack

Now that you know what the table looks like and how to play a blackjack round, we can look at the game’s rules, card values, useful terms, and similar important aspects.

Objective

The objective of blackjack is beating the dealer. At the end of each round, whichever player had a better hand than the dealer will get paid out. It doesn’t matter how many players are on the table.

Since Blackjack is famously known as “21”, there’s a misconception that reaching 21 is the game’s objective, but that is only one of the win conditions.

Here are all win/lose conditions in Blackjack:

Blackjack win conditions
  • Having a hand value that's higher than the dealer’s hand value, at the end of the round.
  • The dealer drawing a hand value that goes over 21.
  • Drawing a hand value of 21 on your first two cards, when the dealer does not.
Blackjack lose conditions
  • Your hand value exceeds 21.
  • The dealer's hand has a greater value than yours, at the end of the round.

Card Values

The card values are the first things you should know in the rules of blackjack. Without this knowledge, it’s impossible to play seriously. Fortunately, there’s not much to learn since the card values are split in 3 categories.

numbered cards

Numbered cards

Clubs, diamonds, hearts and spades numbered from 2-10 are worth their face value.

picture hands

Picture cards

Picture cards are worth 10 points each, so the King, Queen and Jack are each valued at 10 points.

aces

Aces

The ace is worth either 1 point, or 11 points; it’s the player’s choice and depends on the hand.

Hand names

There aren’t many hand names to remember like you would in poker, but these basics are essential to knowing how to play blackjack. Meaning, how to evaluate your hand, and the dealer’s hand, during gameplay.

blackjack-21

Blackjack

Blackjack means getting 21 immediately from your first two cards. 

Examples:

King + A = 21 (Blackjack)

Queen + A = 21 (Blackjack)

soft hand

Soft hand

Any hand that has an Ace can be a soft hand, since Ace (A) is counted both 1 or 11 – whatever suits the player in the moment of gameplay. Meaning, a hand of a 7 and an Ace is both 8 and 18 at the same time, which is why it’s called a “soft” 18.

hard hand

Hard hand

A hard hand is a hand with a fixed value, meaning it has no Ace in the combination.

Examples:

King + 7 = Hard 17

Ace + 7 = Soft 18

Queen + 5 = Hard 15

Ace + 5 = Soft 16

push

Push

A push means a draw. It happens when the dealer and player have the same hand value.

Blackjack Rules

Now that we’ve established the basics of calculating your hand value, the next step in learning how to play blackjack is mastering the game’s rule set.

In Blackjack, there are different rules for players and dealers, adding a layer complexity and dynamic to this game.

Player Rules

  • Hit

    Request another card, a common term shared between several card games.

  • Stand

    Stating you don’t want anymore cards. A stand can’t be “reversed”, it lasts until next game round

  • Split

    Split your hand into two hands, which you proceed to control independently, as if you were controlling two players. This option is only available if certain conditions are met, and in certain tables only.

  • Double

    Double or “double-up” is your only choice of increasing your bet once a round is underway. Doubling up is only available on certain tables, and in specific conditions.

Additional Player Rules

These rules are a bit more advanced, but far from complicated. It just means you should master the basic rules of blackjack first, before tackling these presented below.

Player rules in Blackjack

  1. Surrender – The surrender rule lets you fold at the cost of 50% of your bet. The other 50% goes to the dealer.
  2. Insurance – Insurance is a side-bet in blackjack. It uses half of your regular stake, in addition to you regular stake. The payout is 2:1. It’s generally not worth it to take insurance in blackjack. The bet is only available when the dealer’s up card is an Ace, and paid out only if the dealer hits a natural.
  3. Soft 17 – A soft 17 is an Ace and a 6. Since the Ace is counted as 1 or 11, A soft 17 can be counted as a 7 (6 + Ace valued at 1 point). That’s why it’s called “soft”.
  4. Even Money – A player who has Blackjack has the option to be paid even money on the Blackjack Wager instead of making an Insurance Wager.  If the player selects the even money option instead of insurance, the player will be paid 1 to 1 immediately.

Dealer Rules

As for the dealer, their options are more limited in blackjack compared to players. Here’s what dealers can and can’t do.

Can
  • Hit
  • Stand
Can't
  • Take insurance
  • Split hands
  • Double down
  • Surrender

Table Rules

The table rules determine the house edge. As such, they are one of the most important basics you should know. They will help you pick a table with the best odds for maximizing your chances of winning.

Here are the typical table rules and their values common in blackjack tables in US online casinos.

Table rules
Payout

3:2 or 6:5 (rarely 2:1)

Decks used

4 to 8 decks

Dealer stands

Dealer stands on soft 17

Dealer hits on soft 17

Dealer hits

Dealer always hits on 16 or less

Dealer always stands on hard 17

Min bet per hand

$0,20 *

Max bet per hand

$5,000 *

*limits vary by casino and table.

Table Rule Variations

Table rules are different to player rules. In blackjack, the variation of these rules greatly influences the house edge.

Player-friendly rules
  • 3:2 blackjack
  • Dealer stands on soft 17
  • Early/late surrender
  • Resplitting aces
  • Single or double deck
  • Doubling down on soft hands
  • Doubling down after resplitting
Unfriendly rules
  • 6:5 blackjack
  • Dealer hits on soft 17
  • No surrender
  • No resplitting aces
  • Respliting one time
  • Doubling down (on 9, 10 or 11)
  • No doubling down after splitting
  • 6-8 decks

The perfect blackjack table doesn’t exist. When looking for a table to play, look for a good portion of player-friendly rules, and only a couple unfriendly ones. The best blackjack tables offer a fine balance of rules.

The most important rule you should never ignore is Blackjack Pays 3:2. Try to always find a table that pays 3:2. The outdated tables that pay 1:1 or 2:1 are extinct, and good to avoid if somehow found. More recently, 6:5 tables have started to appear, but they should also be avoided in favor of 3:2 Blackjack tables, because of the higher house edge.

Blackjack Odds, House Edge and Payout

We won’t go in-depth at how each rule affects the payout dynamic, but instead present easy to memorize, basic probabilities of common scenarios in each game round of blackjack.

Odds and Probabilities

Looking at odds and probabilities, we explain the probability of going bust if you request an extra card. This dilemma happens in every round, so knowing when it’s safe to Hit or Stand is essential.

Probability To Go Bust on Extra Card

Using the logic in the table below, we should always Hit up to 13, but always stand on 14 or higher.

Hand valueProbability
11 or lower0%
1231%
1339%
1456%
1558%
1662%
1769%
1877%
1985%
2092%
21100%

By following these odds and placing the right bets while they’re in your favor, you are essentially following Blackjack Basic Strategy. This strategy, officially called “Basic Strategy” advises following a determined set of rules and always making the move with the highest chance of winning. We’re only presenting a small portion of the strategy, to ease you into learning how to play blackjack.

Dealer’s Probability To Go Bust

On the other hand of the table, here are the dealer’s probabilities of going bust.

Dealer’s up cardProbability (when standing on soft 17)Probability (when hitting on soft 17)
Ace17%20%
235%36%
337%38%
440%40%
542%42%
642%44%
726%26%
824%24%
923%23%
1023%23%

Sometimes, it’s useful to compare the dealer’s probabilities of going bust, versus your own, and deciding on the best possible move. However, even just focusing on your own hand, and ignoring the dealer, will give you better odds over playing paying attention to the odds.

House Edge

You are free to compare your hand vs the dealer’s hand and doing the math yourself, but Blackjack Basic Strategy simplifies and automates the decision-making process. It tells you exactly what to do for the highest odds, in every imaginable scenario that includes your hand vs the dealer’s hand.

Following Basic Strategy is the best way to increase your odds and win at blackjack.

  1. Number of decks   The number of decks has a considerable effect on the house edge. The fewer decks used, the lower the house edge. That’s why we tend to recommend Single Deck Blackjack variants. However, the deck is only one factor shaping the house edge. It could be that a Single Deck game has worse odds than a multi-deck game because of other unfavorable rules. Typically, online blackjack is played with 4 to 8 decks. The exception are virtual “Single Deck” Blackjack variants by some gaming suppliers like Microgaming, which are not yet available in the US market.
  2. Blackjack pays   Blackjack pays is one of the first rules you should take to heart. Every blackjack expert agrees that playing on 2:1 or 1:1 tables should be avoided at all costs. The most favorable rule is Blackjack Pays 3:2, but more and more casinos are forcing new tables that pay 6:5. Compared to paying on a ratio of 3:2, 6:5 tables show a difference of roughly 1% in house edge against the player’s favor. At times, it may be hard to avoid a 6:5 table as you’re out of options, but for maximum profit play on 3:2 whenever possible.
  3. Dealer hits or stands on soft 17   It’s more favorable for the player if the dealer stands on a soft 17. This is a contested topic among casino enthusiasts considering the chances of a dealer busting are lower if he stands on a soft 17. In a way, it’s contradictory. However, all mathematical computer simulations show that if the dealer stands on all 17s, it favors the player in the long run. Considering the tight gap in odds between these two rules, we don’t advise placing a huge importance on them.
  4. Rules for doubling down   Double down is a beneficial rule that lets you double your bet, but it’s only allowed in certain games and circumstances. Some casinos and games don’t let you double down at all, some allow it only on hands totaling 10 or 11, and some let you double down on any two cards. Doubling down, used at the right time according to basic strategy, essentially doubles your profit potential when your odds of winning are the highest, and the dealer is put in a vulnerable position (2-6 hand value).
  5. Rules for splitting   Splitting and re-splitting are common rules applied to various card values in blackjack. In general, it’s always favorable to split the right cards. In translation, splitting when basic strategy tells you you’re supposed to split. Therefore, any game or casino that restricts splitting effectively increases the house edge. The more restrictions, the greater the house edge. For example, if a Blackjack table doesn’t allow re-splitting of aces (A), then the house gains an extra 0.08% edge.
  6. Surrender rule   A table that lets you surrender is beneficial. Surrendering tips the house edge in your favor, but the house edge difference between surrender and no-surrender tables is only 0.08%, which is insignificant relative to other rules with more complexity.

To effectively reduce the house edge when playing blackjack, look for high-impact player-favored rules (blackjack pays 3:2, more freedom to split and double down, option of surrender) and avoid tables that have a bad balance of favorable vs unfavorable rules. In some games, the house edge is publicly displayed, so you don’t have to do much work, but that is not always the case.

Payout

Have a look at the payout ratio of all possible outcomes from the resolution of a blackjack round.

ResultPayout
6 to 5 Blackjack6:5
3 to 2 Blackjack3:2
Insurance2:1
Win1:1
Even Money1:1
PushBet is returned

The 6 to 5 and 3 to 2 payout ratios of Blackjack refer to payouts of a “natural” hand, which is an A (ace) + a 10, J, Q or K from the first two dealt cards. This is an instant win. 6:5 tables pay an extra 20% for hitting 21 (a natural), whereas 3:2 pays an extra 50%. That difference in house edge is 1.4%. That is massive within this context of these blackjack rules, and the reason why 6:5 blackjack tables should be ignored when possible. 

How to Win Blackjack with the Best Odds?

Follow our basic tips and unofficial rules that will greatly increase your odds while playing. Every blackjack player has this knowledge ingrained in their head, as they are more a casual list of dos and don’ts rather than rules. These tips don’t require following a strategy, and let you play in a more laid-back manner.

  1. Check the dealer’s face-up card   The dealer’s face-up card determines everything about your next move. If you have a favorable hand, and the dealer’s face up card is a 5 or a 6, this is a nice opportunity to take advantage of rules like double down, split or even re-split. It would increase your odds of winning in an already favorable situation.
  2. Don’t take insurance   Never take insurance. In the long run, you will always lose out. This side-bet can serve as a mental comfort, but the math behind blackjack says you should always avoid it.
  3. Avoid side bets   Insurance is only one side-bet. However, gaming studios are coming up with different side bets you will find in new blackjack variants, or some live dealer tables. As a general rule of thumb, these bets offer extra entertainment and options, but higher house edge.
  4. Understand soft vs hard hands   Understanding if you or the dealer is holding a soft 16 vs a hard 16 is crucial to understanding how to play blackjack. Knowing your hand values puts you in a position of making the right decisions and extra options like double-up, split or surrender.
  5. Learn basic strategy   Basic strategy doesn’t need to be learned nowadays. In land casinos, most will hand you small slips with a basic strategy graph to use while playing. Whereas online, the options are limitedIt’s not a secret strategy by any means, nor will it negate the house edge, but it will give you the highest probability of winning, at all times.
  6. Skip 6 to 5 tables   A 6 to 5 payout ratio refers to the payout for “natural” hands, which are formed when your initial two cards form a 21. Natural hands in blackjack: A+10 A+J A+Q A+K The 6:5 payout rewards you with an extra 20% for a natural. Compared to 3:2, where the payout is an extra 50%, the house edge difference is 1.4%. Always skip 6 to 5 tables.

Types of Blackjack

These are the main types of Blackjack you’ll find across US online casinos. Availability will vary by casino.

Blackjack gameHouse edge
Single Deck Blackjack (Atlantic City Pro)0.58%
Multi-hand Blackjack0,40%
Blackjack Surrender0.39%
Atlantic City Blackjack0.36%
Vegas Strip Blackjack0.35%
Vegas Downtown Blackjack0,30%
Live BlackjackVaries

The house edge data clearly indicates that every Blackjack variant offers great odds. Your choice of game should come down to preference.

Blackjack Variants You Should Avoid

Most blackjack variants have its pros and cons, but there are some games which shouldn’t be considered at all. We will also outline the reasons why these games should be avoided.

How To Play Blackjack and Win?

There is no way to decrease the house edge more than the table rules allow. But, playing incorrectly indirectly decreases your odds of winning. Follow our tips to maximize your chances of winning.

How to win at Blackjack

  1. Play at the best online blackjack sites Make sure to choose top-rated blackjack sites that offer the best of all worlds. You want quick access to customer support, fast payouts, a responsive app, and good Blackjack variety.
  2. Play games with player-friendly rules The rules define the house edge. Get acquainted with all player-friendly rules in Blackjack. Make sure to find a table with a fine balance between positive and negative rules.
  3. Practice on free blackjack games Practice makes perfect and demo mode Blackjack is available at any online casino. You can play all the variants for free, without limits. The only exception is live Blackjack, but you can still join live tables to spectate.
  4. Follow a reliable strategy Every beginner should follow Basic Blackjack Strategy. This strategy chart gives you the best possible move in every scenario that could unfold on the table. There are other strategies you can explore, but Basic Strategy is the only reliable strategy. It’s purely based on the math behind bets and their odds.
  5. Manage your money Money management is a strategy by itself. Budget your game sessions and bets, and stick to them. Going beyond your budget is a path to impulse gambling.

Strategies

Take your blackjack expertise to the next level by exploring the best Blackjack strategies.

There is no Blackjack strategy that can negate the house edge. Card counting is an exemption in some cases, but casinos have done well to protect themselves against this technique. In online casinos, card counting is not possible.

Useful Terms

Have a look at common blackjack terms you’ll find in offline and online tables, as well as various blackjack guides.

  • Dealer peeks

    Sometimes, the dealer peeks before the players draw any cards.

  • Hole card

    A card that has been dealt face down, not visible to other players and dealer.

  • Side bet

    A side bet is an extra bet in addition to your main bet.

  • Natural

    (If a player’s first two cards are an ace and a “ten-card” (a picture card (J, Q, K or 10), giving a count of 21 in two cards, this is a natural or “blackjack.

  • Shoe

    Shoe is the box that holds the decks/cards used by the dealer on the table.

Summary

Learning to play Blackjack is easy, especially if you follow Basic Strategy. The game’s rules have created many variants, such as Atlantic City Blackjack, Multi Hand and Single Deck Blackjack. In truth, their differences are very slim. The house edge is the ultimate deciding factor.

We encourage you to play Blackjack for free in demo mode, before digging in with real money. Choose a top-rated Blackjack casino to get started. Don’t forget, you can always boost your real money deposit with a welcome bonus!

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