With its low house edge and relatively simple rules, blackjack is a favorite casino game for several generations of gamblers around the world. Since players rely on both luck and skill to win in this game, learning the basic rules and strategies is crucial for long-term success on the blackjack table. In this blackjack guide, beginner players will find simple rules and useful tactics for playing this casino classic the best way possible, depending on the variety of Twenty-One they have chosen.
Furthermore, online blackjack comes with its specific features that require a different approach. Playing blackjack in online casinos is, in many ways, much simpler than playing against the dealer in a brick-and-mortar establishment. Still, it is important to know the differences between the most popular variations and between the releases of the largest software providers.
In the following sections, we have listed the basic rules of online blackjack, several simple strategies, as well as short descriptions of the versions created by leading gaming studios. This blackjack guide is recommended for all beginners but even seasoned players may find useful information for improving their skills and strategies.
How to Play Blackjack
1A Brief Introduction
Blackjack aficionados will tell you that with the correct strategy, they can cut the house edge in blackjack to nearly 0%. And while this may be true, especially when playing online, it also requires good knowledge of the rules of the game. So, before diving into the endless ocean of blackjack strategies and myths about card counting, let us start with the basics.
Blackjack is a classic casino game that is played with anywhere from 2 to 8 standard decks of cards. While in land-based casinos, multiple players can play against the dealer, the virtual form of the game is available in only single-player mode. Still, you would be often allowed to play with up to 5 hands simultaneously against the dealer. The game starts when the player places a bet and chooses the Deal button. The dealer then gives two face-up cards to the player and draws another two for himself – in classic, Vegas-style blackjack, the dealer’s second card is face-down. He is allowed to peek (without showing to the players) only if his first card is an Ace.
The aim of the game is quite simple – to beat the dealer by having a hand that is as close to 21 as possible without busting. Cards from Two to Nine count as their face value, while cards from Tens to Kings count as 10. A hand of an Ace, which counts as 1 or 11, and a 10-value card is called blackjack, the strongest hand in the game, which pays 3:2. A regular win over the dealer pays 1:1. If the player’s cards total more than 21, he or she busts and loses the round. If the dealer busts, the player wins, while if their hands are the same, it is a push and the player receives his bet back.
Once players are dealt two cards at the beginning of each round, they need to decide what action to take next in order to beat the dealer. If their initial hand is blackjack, they automatically win. In all other instances, they are given several options – to take more cards, to end their turn, etc.
Players who request more cards need to opt for Hit and they will be dealt one additional card. Of course, Hitting is recommended if the total of the first two cards is a low value – 10, for instance (6,4).
When players receive an initial hand of 16 or 17 (or more), this is a high-value hand and they are advised to Stand, i.e. to refuse any additional cards. With this move, they effectively end their turn.
Doubling down is a preferred option for players who believe they are likely to beat the dealer in the current round – when their hand is 19 or 20, for instance. Doubling your bet is usually allowed only on the first two cards or after a Split – your bet is doubled and you receive an additional, final card to your hand.
This option is available only when the player’s initial hand is a pair – when it consists of two cards of the same value. When players decide to Split, they end up with two hands of one card and another card will be dealt to each of them. In addition, another bet equal to the original bet is placed.
Insurance is a side bet equal to half of the original stake and when players purchase it, they insure against the dealer having blackjack. This option is available only if the dealer’s face-up card is an Ace. Insurance wins only when the dealer has blackjack and it pays 2:1.
In some games, players are allowed to Surrender half their bet to the casino after the dealer checks for blackjack. When you surrender, you lose only half of your initial stake.
In addition, there is one important rule beginner players need to understand and it involves the decisions made by the dealer. The dealer never Splits, Doubles or Surrenders. In some games, he is required Hit on Soft 17, i.e. a hand consisting of an Ace and totaling 17. In other games, the dealer must Stand on all 17s.
Popular Blackjack Games
As blackjack remains the most popular casino game online, most leading developers of casino game software have released their own versions of this casino classic. In addition to the wide range of virtual games, some software providers also have different variations of live dealer blackjack. Below, you can see what the biggest names in this industry have to offer.
Playtech is one of the largest software development companies in the online gambling industry and it has a nice range of blackjack variations. Most of its games follow the standard Las Vegas rules and use 6 decks of 52 cards. There are also several unconventional titles such as Blackjack Switch, Lucky Blackjack, and 21 Duel.
Microgaming is probably the gaming studio with the largest collection of blackjack variations in its portfolio – some are played with 2 decks of cards but others use 8 decks, while there are also single-deck versions. Along with the multiple classic blackjack games, Microgaming has a wide range of interesting, untraditional versions of Twenty-One.
The Swedish casino software provider creates some of the most stunning virtual and live blackjack games. Most versions are released in the Classic and the Professional Series and are usually played with 4 standard decks. NetEnt also has a special range of mobile blackjack games.
RealTime Gaming, better known as RTG, has also developed various blackjack games in both instant-play and downloadable format. Online casinos are allowed to customize the games but they usually opt for 6 decks of cards and standard, American-style rules and gameplay. RTG also has several European versions of blackjack where the dealer draws a single card at the start of the round.
Over the years, multiple variations of blackjack have been created as nearly every casino and gambling establishment has tried to introduce some changes to the standard rules. Some of these variations have remained, while others have been further altered to either attract more players or increase the house edge. Today, there are more than a hundred different versions of online blackjack and new games are being released on a regular basis.
European blackjack is usually played with 8 decks, but some versions also use 4 or 6 decks of cards. The game has no hole card – the dealer draws only one initial card so peeking for blackjack is not an option. The dealer typically stands on Soft 17, while doubling is allowed only on hard 9, 10, and 11.
In this interesting variation, all Tens are removed and 6 to 8 decks are used. Typically, all ties are won by the player and there are bonus payouts for 21 hands of 5 cards or more, as well as for getting three Sevens for a total of 21. In addition, Late Surrender rule may apply.
Atlantic City Blackjack
This variation is played with 8 standard decks of cards and the dealer stands on all 17s, a rule that is advantageous to the player. In fact, most of the rules here benefit the player, including the Late Surrender and the fact that you can Split up to 3 times.
Blackjack Switch uses 6 standard decks of cards and the player is dealt two hands instead of one. The main difference from the standard rules is that players are allowed to switch the top cards of these two hands if they want to. Blackjack pays 1:1 and dealer’s hands of 22 are tied with all player’s hands, except for blackjack.
In this variation, the dealer’s two cards are dealt face-up, hence the name of the game. Players are not allowed to buy Insurance or to Surrender and blackjack typically pays evenly (1:1). Players lose all ties.
This game allows a side bet called Perfect Pairs to be made – players win it if they get a colored, mixed or perfect pair. The payouts for the side bet vary but usually, they reach 30:1 for having a hand that is a perfect pair. The game uses 2, 4 or 5 decks of cards and the dealer always stands on Soft 17.
Whether you play blackjack at a land-based casino or online, you should employ a certain strategy if you wish to increase your chances of winning. As blackjack is based on odds and mathematics, experts have developed a wide range of mathematically proven strategies for winning this game. Still, the only way to turn the odds in your favor and guarantee your success is to learn how to count cards – a complex practice for highly skilled individuals whose purpose is to calculate the probability of getting a good or bad card in the next deal.
This is the simplest and most basic card counting method, developed by mathematician Harvey Dubner in the 1960s. Giving a value of -1, +1 or 0 to all cards, this system is quite a simple way of keeping track of the high cards left in the deck – low cards (2-6) are +1, middle cards (7-9) are 0, and high cards are -1. The total value of the deck is 0.
This is the first known system of card counting and it was introduced by MIT mathematics professor Edward Thorpe. This method was fundamental in the development of many other systems, as well, although it is considered to be quite complex and difficult to implement by casual players.
The Knockout Card Counting system is similar to the Hi-Lo method but it considers the Seven a low card, thus giving it a value of +1. Players who use this system will end up with a total count of plus 4 for the deck.
Uston SS Count
This system is a bit more complex than the Hi-Lo and, at the same time, it is more accurate. Instead of using 3 values for the different cards, it uses 6 – 2, 4, and 6 count as 2; 5 counts as 3; while 7 is 1 and 8 counts as 0. The high cards have the following values – 9 counts as -1 and cards from 10 to Ace count as -2.
Shuffle Tracking System
This is an advantage play technique, which allows players to keep track of a series of high cards in the shuffle. This method is highly unreliable on its own, which is why it is often combined with different card counting systems. It is also useless in online blackjack.
The Basic Blackjack Strategy is a method of playing, which is based on making the right decisions for every single hand or side bet. It does not involve counting of the cards, tracking the shuffle, or any other advantage play method. With Basic Strategy, recreational players can cut the house edge to its absolute minimum.
Is Online Blackjack Different from Games in Land-Based Casinos?
Online blackjack differs than the traditional game in land-based casinos but not in terms of rules or payouts but in terms of gameplay. For most players, the automated, virtual blackjack is much easier to master than if playing against an actual dealer in a casino. The online version of the game is also much more affordable as some games accept bets from $0.10 per round.
Is It Possible to Reduce the House Edge in Blackjack?
Yes, blackjack is a game with a very low house edge (less than 1%) but it is possible to reduce it even further by incorporating Basic Strategy. Players can also learn how to effectively eliminate the house edge but this requires combining Advanced Strategy and different card counting techniques.
Can I Play Online Blackjack for Free?
Yes, most online casinos offer demo versions of blackjack games that are practically identical to the real-money play. The only difference is that there is no actual risk when playing blackjack for fun – it is the best way to practice your Basic Strategy and even your card counting skills.