How to Play Blackjack

Blackjack seems a simple, straightforward game and yet, many players lose thousands of dollars on the blackjack table because, often, they do not fully understand it. There are so many variations of the standard rules that it may be really overwhelming for the casual player to track them all.

However, to play blackjack properly and avoid losing a lot of money, players need to learn the rules and fundamental principles of this classic casino game. In its standard form, it is easy to play and mastering it requires just a little practice. This article explains the first steps into the game of blackjack – its objective, possible moves, payouts, and side bets. It also lists the most common rule variations found in land-based and online casinos.

Basic Rules of Blackjack

Blackjack is a card game where 6 or 8 standard decks are used after being shuffled. There are also versions with 1, 4, or 5 decks and in the majority of games, each deck consists of 52 cards. No Jokers or wild cards are included and the four suits play no role in the game. Up to seven players can sit at the table and each one of them is dealt individuals cards, which are then compared to the dealer’s hand.

 

The game starts once everyone places their chips on the dedicated betting boxes on the blackjack table. The dealer deals one card to each player in the standard order – from left to right, and then, he draws a card for himself and proceeds with dealing a second card for everyone on the table. All cards are put face-up, with one exception – the dealer’s second hand is dealt face-down in standard blackjack.

 

Each card has a point value and the totals of the players’ hands are compared against the dealer’s hand. Before that happens, of course, players can request additional cards so they get a hand that is as stronger as possible. Players with winning hands are immediately paid, while those, who lose to the dealer, lose their bets, as well.

Objective of the Game
Evaluating Hands
Soft and Hard Hands

Player Decisions

Unless players win immediately with blackjack when they receive the 2 cards at the beginning of each round, they must decide what to do with their hand. They have several options for playing out their hands.

Hit
Stand
Double
Split
Surrender

Dealer Moves

After players resolve their hands, it is the dealer’s turn to decide how to proceed with the two cards he or she has received. In standard blackjack, which is often called American blackjack and follows the Las Vegas rules, the dealer draws one face-up and one face-down card. This face-down card is referred to as a “hole card” and the dealer flips it over once all players act.

The dealer is allowed to either Hit or Stand – Doubling Down, Splitting, or Surrendering are not given as options here. However, the dealer does not actually decide what to do – every dealer’s move is predetermined by the specific rules of the game. The house rules depend on the type of blackjack variation but usually, the dealer must Hit until he gets a total of 17 or more. If his two initial cards have a higher value, he is required to Stand.

Soft 17 Rule
Peek for Blackjack

Is Insurance a Sucker Bet?

1Should you take it?

Insurance is usually considered a reasonable option when it comes to a car or a house but is one of the most controversial topics in blackjack. Insurance is a side bet, which allows players to insure against a dealer blackjack. It is allowed in many variations of the game offered by American casinos. Whether to take it or not is up to the player.

Insurance is only offered when the dealer’s face-up card is an Ace and the chances for dealer blackjack are relatively high (higher than usual). In this case, the player is allowed to buy Insurance, which costs half of the original bet. If the dealer gets a natural, the Insurance bet wins. If the dealer does not have a natural blackjack, however, this side bet loses. It is important to know that Insurance is resolved independently from the original wager.

2Payout

It pays 2:1, which means that players who win the Insurance side bet break even on the hand. In comparison, blackjack pays less – 3:2, or $1.5 for every $1.00 wager. Meanwhile, most professional players advise never to take Insurance because it is a sucker bet. And in most cases, they are correct. This side bet assumes that the dealer’s hole card is a 10-value card. In reality, this card is more likely to be any other card (from 2 to Ace) than a 10-point card.

3What are the odds

If we take single-deck blackjack, for example, we will have 3 known cards – the player cards and one dealer card. So, we will have 49 unknown cards. Assuming the player does not have a 10 in his hand, there will be 16 cards with a value of 10 and another 33 cards of some other value. The odds are then 33 to 16, or 2.0625 to 1, that the hole card will be a non-10 card. In comparison, the payout is 2 to 1, which is lower than the odds of losing. If the game uses 6 decks (312 cards in total), there will be 96 ten-point cards and another 213 non-tens – or odds of 2.21875 to 1 that the Insurance bet will lose.

As you can see, this side bet is more likely to lose than to win and the odds of the hole card being a non-10 card are even higher if the player holds one or more 10-point cards. For this reason, blackjack players are advised to avoid buying Insurance unless, of course, they are skilled card counters.

Rule Variations

Blackjack players can be successful in the long term only if they choose a 21 variation with good odds and if they manage to apply the proper strategy. All this depends on the house rules, however, which may vary significantly from one casino to the next. Although the game of blackjack is more or less the same, these rule variations are essential when deciding how to play out a hand.

Number of Decks
Hit or Stand on Soft 17
No Hole Card
Resplitting
Split Aces
Double on Hard 9, 10 and 11
Early or Late Surrender
Blackjack Pays 6:5 or 1:1
5/7/10 Card Charlie

Common Side Bets

Many blackjack variations offer side wagers, which are independent of the main bets and the chips for them are placed in designated areas on the betting layout. The side bets win on certain outcomes in each round – for instance, when the cards dealt on the table form a poker hand. Players should take into account the high house edge percentages offered on most side wagers.

Perfect Pairs
21+3 Bet
Over/Under 13

How to Play Blackjack like a Pro

Most casino patrons who decide to try their skills at the blackjack table soon find out that mastering this classic game requires practice and the use of a good strategy. But it is also important to distinguish between playing blackjack in a land-based casino or online since online blackjack comes with one significant disadvantage – that you cannot count cards online. Live blackjack, on the other hand, could be intimidating for beginner players mostly because of its fast gameplay and the pressure of playing against an actual dealer.

Whether players decide to visit their local casino or play online, however, there are several main principles they should follow to maximize their chances of winning. Using a reliable blackjack strategy is just one of many things that would contribute to a successful play and consistent winnings over time.

Choosing a Blackjack Variation
Using Optimal Strategy
Bankroll Management
Things to Avoid