How to Play Blackjack

Blackjack (sometimes called twenty-one or 21) is an exciting casino card game of skill and chance.

For those serious about winning more in blackjack, this article is for you. It includes helpful information to maximize your winning odds when playing blackjack, especially an online blackjack match.

Blackjack Game Details

In blackjack, every participant plays against the dealer (the house). The object of the game is for all players to draw cards with a value as close as possible to 21 without going above it. Going over 21 is called a bust or break.

Beginners playing blackjack should know that the minimum bet depends on the casino and the table. Here are some blackjack game details to get you started.

The Blackjack Tables Layout

Blackjack is a casino game typically played on a semicircular table that can accommodate multiple players. Common tables accommodate seven players (seven “spots”). Some tables allow only five players, while others allow twelve spots.

The dealer stands behind the chip rack and the table while the players sit on the opposite side.

Dealers use the standard 52-card pack. However, in most casinos, dealers shuffle together several decks of cards.

The six-deck game (a total of 312 cards) is the most popular. Here’s how a game of blackjack is played with six decks:

1. The Player Buys Chips

Most casinos don’t allow “cash plays” anymore, so you need to buy chips for this table game.

The dealer will count chip denominations equivalent to the amount you purchased and push those chips toward you.

2. The Player Places a Bet

Most blackjack tables in the U.S. require a minimum bet of at least $5 per hand. However, the amount still depends on the casino where you’re playing.

3. The Dealer Deals Cards to Players

After you place your stake, the dealer starts dealing, following a clockwise rotation. One card faces up to every player at the table, and another card faces down (hole card) for the dealer.

In another round, the dealer will then deal one more card face up to every player. A second card, also face up, is for the dealer.

Eventually, each player has two playing cards, face up, while the dealer only has one face-up card and one face-down card.

4. The Player Decides How to Play Hand

The dealer usually starts at the person on their left (also called first base). To play your hand, you should first add the card values together and get a hand total from four to 21.

If you were dealt an ace and a ten-value card as your first two cards, congratulations! You got blackjack!

5. The Dealer Plays Hand

Pay attention to the dealer’s face-up card (the one that’s visible to you), so you’ll know what strategy to use.

6. Payouts

When a player’s hand and a dealer’s hand are done, one of the two scenarios can happen.

The dealer busts and pays even money (one times the bet) to each hand that’s still in play on the table, or they make a hand (17 to 21).

If your hand is in play, it’s a battle of who has the better hand. If you obtain the higher hand, the dealer pays you one times your original bet. Otherwise, your dealer sweeps all your stakes.

If you get a blackjack, you get paid 3 to 2, meaning 1.5 times your bet right away. As long as the dealer also doesn't have blackjack, you don’t have to play through the round.

If the dealer also has a blackjack, you don’t win anything. However, you also don’t lose your original bet. This is called a push.

How to Play Blackjack

Blackjack is a card game that pits a player against the dealer. It aims to see which of them will make the best hand without going over a total of 21 before the dealer hits 17.

There are two ways for you to win this game. First, you must have the highest hand total at the end of the game. Second, you must not go over 21 when the dealer does.

Remember that the basic rules of this card game are slightly different for the dealer and the player. Unlike the dealer, you have more flexibility with your blackjack strategy. It means you can stand or hit on any total.

Meanwhile, the dealer must play by a fixed set of rules. Also, they need to stand on all totals of 17 or higher while drawing on all 16 or less.

The catch in this game is that even though you’re given more flexibility, you must make your play decisions before the dealer draws additional cards.

Blackjack Gameplay Options

Here are some unique gameplay options you can choose while playing your hand:

1. Hit

To hit means to request the dealer to give you an extra card. A hit is usually indicated verbally or by tapping the table.

You can draw one or more additional cards. Drawing cards can improve your hand total. However, it sometimes results in a loss when your hand total exceeds 21.

2. Stand

To stand means to stay on your current total and end your turn. Most blackjack players will remain on totals of 17 or even higher.

You can also choose to stand on a hand total of lower than 17 if you think the dealer will have to draw to what seems to be a total that can bust easily.

3. Bust

A bust is when you draw more cards to your hand, and the combined total value exceeds 21. When you “bust,” you lose your stake, which means you’re over for that round.

4. Split

In this gameplay option, you make an additional stake the exact size of your initial bet. You can also split your starting pair (cards of equal value) into two separate hands.

You’ll have the option to hit, double down, stand, or re-split additional pairs to create a total of up to four unique hands, except for aces.

When you split aces, each hand will receive one card. Also, you can’t re-split additional aces.

To make a blackjack hand signal, place a second bet equal to your first, then give a “peace sign” that you like to split. The dealer (house) will make two hands out of your first hand, and you’ll be dealt a second card on each.

5. Double Down

You may try double down after receiving your first two cards. If you think you have two cards whose total value can improve by just one good hit, you say “double down” to the dealer.

The dealer will ask you to place an additional bet equal to the amount of your original stake. After that, they’ll deal you with one additional card.

6. Push

When there’s a push, you and the dealer have the same total value of all cards. For instance, you have a total of 18, and they have the same. In this case, neither you nor the dealer wins or loses.

7. Insurance Bet

You may take insurance if the dealer’s up card is an ace. The insurance stake is a side bet that the dealer has a blackjack. Here, you have the option to bet half of your original stake.

If the dealer has a blackjack, your initial stake loses, and the insurance is paid 2:1. Meanwhile, if they don’t have blackjack, they take the insurance stake, and the card game continues.

8. Surrender

In blackjack, you can surrender half of your original stake after receiving your first two cards. The dealer takes half of your bet if you surrender your cards. This option isn’t available on the double-deck game.

How the Order of Play in a Hand Works

To start the hand, you need to make a bet. You and the dealer are dealt two cards each. One of their cards is visible to you, while their other card remains face down.

The number cards count as their face value. Aces are worth one or 11 based on the total of the hand. It’s sometimes called a soft hand because it can’t be busted even if a player draws another card.

Meanwhile, face cards, such as kings, queens, and jacks all count as ten. A ten-value card and an ace on the initial deal make a blackjack.

If neither you nor the dealer obtains a blackjack, you get to improve your hand. You can either stand, hit, split or double down.

After completing your action, it’s now the dealer’s turn to draw until they make 17 or higher. If they go over 21 or you have a higher hand total, you win.

However, if you and the dealer end with the same total, the hand is pushed. Neither of you wins or loses.

The Two Versions of Blackjack: How Are They Different?

Most casinos in Las Vegas offer these two versions of blackjack:

  • Double-deck 21
  • Multiple decks 21

The cards are dealt from the hand in a double-deck 21. You are dealt two cards face down, and the dealer obtains one card face up and one more card face down.

Meanwhile, in multiple decks 21, the cards are dealt from a box (also called a shoe).

The shoe allows the dealer to remove cards, face down one at a time, without having to hold one or more packs.

You receive both cards face up, and the dealer gets one card face up and another card face down in the shoe-dealt version.

How to Deal When Playing Blackjack Online

All you have to do is hit the “deal” button, and your cards will be dealt.

Counting Cards in Blackjack

Counting cards is legal under federal and state laws in the United States when done without external card-counting devices or assistance from other people.

Still, casinos can have you banned if they think you’re counting cards to win.

Counting cards can be done in four steps:

  1. Give value to the cards in the deck. Place the cards in the deck and group them into three.

Assign these values:

+ 1

2 - 6


7 - 9


10 - ace

  1. Maintain a running count. A running count helps you know the moves you should make based on your dealt cards.
  2. Calculate the true count. Use this formula to compute for the true count:

True count = Running count ÷ Number of decks remaining

  1. Change your stakes as the true count increases. As the true count fluctuates, make sure to alter your bets accordingly. Raise it when it goes up, and drop it when it goes down.

Blackjack Rule Variations

Blackjack rules may vary. In other words, blackjack games aren’t equal in terms of the odds and players’ favorability.

Below is an overview of the blackjack rules that can affect the odds of the game:

1. Doubling After Splitting (DAS)

DAS means you can double down on a hand that you split. However, note that most casinos don’t allow this rule because it’s advantageous to the player.

2. Re-splitting Aces (RSA)

Some casinos may allow you to re-split your aces after you’ve already split a pair of aces. If you’re done splitting a pair of aces, you’ll receive another ace. You can then break the third hand up to a total of four hands.

The ace is your most powerful card. So, RSA is a good rule if the casino allows it.

3. Early Surrender

Early surrender is an extinct rule. It hasn’t been in casinos in the U.S. since the 1970s. It’s almost the same as the usual “surrender,” only you can surrender before the dealer offers insurance or the dealer checks for a blackjack.

When early surrender was still around, it was highly favorable among players, to the point that a player with a perfect basic strategy could have an edge without card counting.

Early surrender is also the reason some call the common surrender “late surrender” to differentiate it from its counterpart.

4. Six to Five Blackjacks

Some casinos that offer blackjack may reduce the 3:2 payout down to only 6:5. Doing so increases the house edge and takes more money out of your pocket. This rule also makes card counting useless.

5. Continuous Shuffling Machines (CSM)

Some casinos use CSM on their blackjack tables. It’s a machine that constantly shuffles the cards as they’re being played.

Instead of placing the cards in the discard pile until the end of the shoe, the dealer will feed the machine continually.

Not only does CSM make card counting impossible but it also worsens the odds for a basic strategy player.

6. Deck or Shoe Penetration (PEN)

PEN refers to the percentage of the cards that are dealt out throughout a shoe. Generally, there’s a cut card placed in the shoe toward the back of the cards to be distributed.

Whenever the cut card is dealt out in blackjack, it signals to the dealer that the shoe is running out of cards. In this case, the dealer shuffles the cards and begins a new shoe.

While a quarter of the deck of cards is enough to finish a round of blackjack, most casinos cut off several decks to limit the game’s profitability for a card counter.

Remember that the depth of penetration for a card counter can either make or break a blackjack game.

7. Single Deck vs. Multi-Deck

The house edge on blackjack becomes higher for every deck you add to the game. Generally, a six-deck match has a higher house edge than a two-deck game if all other conditions are equal.

Usually, a single deck game will not permit doubling after splitting or re-splitting aces. It’ll also have six to five blackjacks, while an eight-deck match in the same casino may allow RSA and DAS. It may also have 3:2 blackjacks and end up with a lower house edge.

As you can see, there are various trade-offs in terms of the rules and number of decks.

Winning and Losing a Blackjack Game

Blackjack is a game of skills and chance. So there’s no guaranteed strategy for winning the game.

While you’ll never be sure of having a successful card match, there are plenty of basic blackjack techniques you can use to increase your chances of winning.

Blackjack Basic Strategy

Winning strategies in blackjack require you to play each hand in an optimum way. So, you have to remember what the dealer’s up card is.

Below are some tips and hints to increase your chances of winning when playing blackjack:

Tips to Win Blackjack Games

Note that the dealer’s worst up cards are 3-6. When they have a middle card, there’s a good chance that they’ll draw, and their hand total may exceed 21.

In this situation, you should search for opportunities to increase your stake. You should also stay on weaker hand totals and give the deal the chance to bust.

When you play blackjack, splitting and doubling down are the two most reliable weapons you can use in your arsenal.

It’s relatively easy to spot double down opportunities. For example, if a ten-value card will improve your hand to 20 to 21, and the dealer has a weak up card, then repeatedly go for a double down.

There are two pairs that you should always split: eights and aces. Splitting aces gives you two chances to make 21. Splitting eights gives you a better chance to win.

When you play blackjack online, you sometimes have to choose between two gameplay options you don’t like.

No one likes to bust and then discover that the dealer has a six in the hole under their ten. However, in blackjack, you shouldn’t be afraid of making a correct play even if it doesn’t win all the time.

Ensure that your bet size lets you have enough wiggle room to double down and split as the opportunities present themselves.

You wouldn't want to run out of money, hitting 11 instead of doubling, only to be dealt a 21 that can't lose.

Blackjack House Advantage and Expected Loss

Blackjack is a card game involving strategic decisions. It offers a house edge of about 0.5% which means for every dollar you gamble, you’ll only lose only half a penny on average.

House Edge

Expected Loss for Every $100 Bet

Natural pays 3:2

0.5% - 1.5%

$0.50 - $1.50

Natural pays 6:5

2.0% - 3.0%

2.00 - $3.00

Games Masquerading As Blackjack

Blackjack is a popular card game in the U.S. because many gamblers beat the dealer by counting cards. For this reason, many casinos create different blackjack variants with lots of rules and terminology to try.

Casinos know they’re creating an entirely new game with this strategy. Still, they want players to feel it’s the same familiar card game.

Below are examples of blackjack “replicas.”

Super Fun 21

This card game tries to mimic a single-deck blackjack match where you can surrender on any card numbers, double on any card, and get an automatic payout if you have a six-card 20, a five-card 21, and a blackjack.

Unfortunately, a blackjack game only pays “even money” except for a diamond-suited one. So, for the player, this super fun game isn’t fun after all.

Spanish 21

In Spanish 21, the house removes all the tens from the shoe. When counting cards, the aces and ten-value cards are the most valuable ones for you.

Hitting, standing, and splitting follow similar rules to blackjack. In most venues, players can draw as many cards as they wish after splitting aces. They can also split up to four hands, even on aces.

Free Bet Blackjack

The casino will let you play for free but still pay you as if you had wagered an amount. In exchange for the freeroll, all bets push once the dealer goes over 21 with a hand total of 22.

Free bet blackjack is approved by the Nevada Gaming Control Board. However, the game is currently offered only at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas.

Blackjack Switch

In this game, you begin with two hands of blackjack. You can switch the top cards of each hand if you think you’ll make a better set of two hands.

However, just like free bet blackjack, the dealer pushes all stakes if they get a 22, and you only pay even money.

Blackjack is a thrilling card game. It’s even more exciting when you’re winning. However, just like every other casino game, blackjack can be addicting.