Blackjack, also know as twenty-one, is a simple counting game. The goal is to have better cards than the dealer without going over 21.
In this game, the player has just under a 50/50 chance against the house, unless you can count cards, which is not easy considering the casinos use two, four, six or eight decks of cards.
It is the most popular table game in United States and is a standard offering at major online gambling sites.
Best online blackjack sites
How to play blackjack
The object of the game is to have your cards add up to 21 or as close to it as you can without going over, also know as “busting.”
Here are what the cards are worth in points: Aces are 1 or 11 points (whichever benefits you more), face cards (King, Queen, Jack) are 10 points, and all the rest of the cards (2-10) are worth their face value. The suit of the cards does not matter in blackjack.
A “Blackjack” is an Ace and a 10 card – you automatically win with this hand unless the dealer also gets 21 in which case you don’t get any winnings but you get to keep what you bet. This is called a “push.”
Blackjack is played at a special table that has a semi-circle with squares or circle where each player places their bet. Once all the players at the table place their bets, the dealer begins dealing the cards. Each player is dealt two cards face up (if the dealer is dealing from their hand, the play is a bit different with cards dealt face down) and the dealer gets one card face up and another card face down. This face down card is called the “hole” card.
The dealer will then ask each player, starting from the dealer’s left, to start their turn. A turn can consist of hitting, doubling down, splitting or insurance. The turn will end with the player either getting 21, standing, or busting.
To signal to the dealer which decision you have made you use hand signals, all without touching your cards.
Rules of blackjack
Blackjack games involve several players at the tables, and are played between players and dealers.
The game uses one to eight decks and each deck comes with 52 cards that the dealer deals from a shoe (a special dealer’s box). Each card comes with a specific value and the player must get 21 points before the dealer to win, but without busting (going over 21).
This makes learning how to play blackjack before going into practice essential.
The basic rules that govern the blackjack play include:
- The value of Aces is 1 or 11, while that of Kings, Queens, Jacks, and 10s is 10. For the small cards, the value is counted according to rank such that 3 is counted like 3 and 8 is counted like 8.
- Players place their bets at the start of the game. The dealer deals each player two cards, each card face up, before dealing two cards for himself with one face up and the other face down.
- Following the dealing of the cards, players have to choose to stand, hit, double down, or split. The hit option allows players to take an extra card, and they can hit as often as they like till they stand or bust. When they stand, they do not need any more cards. With split, players can split the first two cards dealt when they have the same value and play using two different hands. Splitting pairs is also allowed. Double allows players to take an additional card and multiply the initial bet by two, although after this they have to stand automatically.
- When all players are done taking cards, the dealer has to open the second card and begin playing. If his points are 17 or more, he has to stand. The rules of dealers are very different and strict compared to those of players. They are allowed to hit only on 16 or less.
- When the dealer stands, his hand is compared to the player’s hand and the one with the higher value wins. For instance, if the dealer has 17 points and the player has 16 points, the dealer wins.
- Busting (exceeding 21 points) is allowed in blackjack, although this automatically becomes a loss. If a player busts, he loses his bets even before the dealer opens his second card.
- When a player wins, he gets even money and if the win goes to the dealer, all bets are lost to the player.
- An interesting feature of blackjack is that a player can get blackjack. This means that when the first two cards dealt at the start of the game get 21 points, the pay is 3:2.
This is signaled by sweeping your fingers towards yourself on the table or pointing to your cards. A player hits because they are trying to get closer to 21. A player can hit as many times as they want until their cards add up to 21 or over, in which case they bust.
A player can double down his bet and the player must get hit with one more card – no more, no less. Some casinos only let a player double down when he has 10 or 11 after being dealt the initial two cards.
Splitting is allowed when a player is dealt two cards of the same point value. The player places the same amount of chips down as his original bet and is dealt another two cards, so now the player is playing two hands in the same game.
A player is offered insurance by the dealer when the dealer’s card that faces up is an Ace. If a player buys the insurance, half of his initial bet is placed in a side-bet that the dealer’s other card is a 10.
If the dealer does have the 10, the player will be paid out two to one and the other half of the initial bet will go to the house, leaving the player with the same amount of chips that he started with. If the dealer does not have the blackjack, the side bet goes to the house.
Surrender or late surrender
This is not offered in most casinos, but it allows the player to surrender half of the initial bet to the house after he receives his two cards and the dealer has checked for a blackjack.
This marks the end of the turn and is signaled to the dealer by the player moving his hand over his cards. The player feels at this point that he has gotten as close to 21 as he is going to and wants to wait to see the dealer’s hand.
This is also the end of a player’s turn, in which he has hit and received points totaling over 21.
Types of blackjack
There are so many exciting casino table games available to online casino players, but no game beats the popularity of blackjack. Even with an origin that is rather disputable, which could be from the French casino game “vingt-et-un,” the Spanish casino game “One and Thirty,” or the Italian casino game “Seven and a Half,” blackjack still remains a highly intellectual and favored card game across the world.
To play blackjack, a player must understand the different game variations as well as the rules of the game.
Popular blackjack variations
Blackjack has numerous variants, with each game having slightly different strategies and rules.
Some alternatives of the game have very subtle differences, which often go unnoticed by players. Others are so different that they may not have much of a semblance left to the original blackjack game. The differences come with new and exciting challenges for the lovers of blackjack, and are a powerful magnet for new and adventurous players.
Offline casinos offer a number of blackjack rules variations, but to experience a more exciting twist to the classic game, online casinos are the best option. They offer such a wide range of variations – with newer and more exciting ones being invented all the time – that blackjack has ended up becoming one of the most-played online casino games across the world.
The variations certainly keep it fresh, adding to its growing popularity.
The key objective of players in all the variations is to beat the dealer’s hand while not busting. The same basic rules are shared, but major differences in these variations include how many decks are used, the rules that pertain to splitting and doubling down, whether the dealer peeks for blackjack or not, and hitting a 17-point hand (a soft 17 is inclusive of an 11-point Ace, and usually increases the player’s chances of beating the dealer).
Familiarizing yourself with the specific rules of each variant is important before you attempt a new blackjack game, as this is the only way you will beat the dealer and avoid losing your bet.
Vegas Strip Blackjack
Vegas Strip Blackjack derives its name from its origin on the Las Vegas Strip, where it is the most-played blackjack game in numerous casinos. Its popularity nearly rivals that of the traditional game, and it is a popular variation at online casinos as well.
The rules in Vegas Strip are as follows:
- Four standard decks of cards are used.
- The dealer stands on a soft 17.
- Doubling is allowed on the first two cards and for the full amount, which has to equal the opening bet.
- Players can double down for the full amount.
- Players can double down after splitting Aces.
- Aces cannot be re-split.
- Splitting Aces and having the next card a 10 totals to 21, but does not count as Blackjack.
- Following splitting of Aces, a player takes one card per hand.
- Players can split 10-value cards.
- Players can re-split their hands to as many as 3 times, creating up to 4 hands.
- The usual pay for Blackjack is 3:2, although sometimes it is 6:5.
European Blackjack is just as popular as Las Vegas Strip, and you are almost certain to find at least a few tables in every online casino. It is a variation featuring several rule changes from the original blackjack, but the differences with Las Vegas Strip are slight.
- Two standard decks of cards are used, shuffled frequently.
- The dealer has no hole card and never peeks for blackjack.
- The dealer stands on a soft 17.
- Players cannot re-split a hand.
- Players are only allowed to split like-valued 10 cards.
- Doubling down is only allowed for hand with a value of between 9 and 11.
The Spanish 21 Blackjack variation offers a few twists, one of them being that a 4-deck shoe of cards is used. The common reference for these decks is “Spanish Decks,” which means that there are no 10s in the decks.
There are also varied payouts; the payouts for all blackjack hands are on 3:2 odds, regardless of the dealer’s hand. Players are allowed to double down anytime, instead of only on the usual initial two cards, although only one hit is allowed thereafter.
Spanish 21 also has the “double down rescue” rule, unique only to this variation. It means that players are allowed to invoke the rule of early surrender on hands that they already doubled down on. In case of loss, they do not lose all their bets, but only half.
Progressive Blackjack only has a subtle variation from standard blackjack and is fast spreading to brick-and-mortar and online casinos across the world.
The subtle variation is that a spot is left at the table for an additional $1 bet, which gives the player a chance to win a special jackpot (similar to the progressive jackpot offered by some slot machines). The bet placing precedes the dealer’s distribution of cards for the hand. Players are allowed to play up to five hands at once each, with split hands being counted as a single hand.
The dealing of the cards is similar to standard blackjack, with the key objective still being to acquire 21 points before the dealer without busting. However, when Aces are split, the player is only allowed to take two cards, an extra one for each hand. Standing then becomes automatic. When the second card dealt is a 10-value, the total is 21 but not a Blackjack. Also, re-splitting is not allowed.
There is also a difference in the doubling rules. Players are only allowed to double when the value of their hand falls between 9 and 11. Doubling is never allowed if they split.
An English derivation, Pontoon differs from traditional blackjack primarily in its betting mechanics. Players are not allowed to stand on cards with a total value that is below 14, but betting or doubling down after buying is allowed.
Again, the key goal is to gain the higher total without exceeding 21. Another variation lies with the five-card trick, whereby a player who remains under 21 even after being dealt five cards beats the dealer’s hands.
The rules of Pontoon vary with different gambling houses and the odds of beating the dealer are lower compared to blackjack, but players get typically higher payouts. Eight 52-card decks are used. The dealer deals both cards face down in Pontoon, unlike in standard blackjack whereby the first card is dealt face down and the second face up.
The standard players’ options of standing, hitting, and doubling are not used in Pontoon. Instead, players stick, twist, and buy.
Sticking is similar to standing, which implies not asking for any more cards, while twisting is similar to hitting, which means taking a card. With buying and doubling down, there is a slight difference. A player is allowed to buy on any hand between two and four cards, with twisting being an alternative after buying.
Pontoon also allows players to split their cards as long as they have a 10-value, including a King and Jack. For instance, a 10-value Ace combination is a Pontoon, not a Blackjack, and pays 2:1 automatically.
Double Exposure Blackjack
The name Double Exposure Blackjack is derived from the fact the all players can see the dealer’s two cards. This classic variation of blackjack is popular but rare in casinos.
Players usually get an advantage from the exposure of the dealer’s cards, as they are spared from having to guess what the hole card is. Also, they are allowed to stand on a total value that does not exceed 21.
Hitting is allowed for totals under 21 and doubling down happens for totals between 9 and 11. Splitting pairs is only done once in Double Exposure Blackjack.
Other rules are enforced by the casinos, though, in order to level out the playing field. For instance, the option of insurance is unavailable as the dealer’s cards are both revealed. There is also no offer for surrender. The usual 3:2 odds do not apply here, as blackjacks pay 1:1 in this variation. What’s more, all ties (pushes) are won by the dealer.
No Dealer Hole Card
This is a rather rare variation of blackjack in which the dealer deals their hole card only at the end of the hand. This means that if the dealer hits blackjack in the middle of the game, players only find out at the very end of the hand.
In this way, the player’s game plan could be greatly altered, as the aggressiveness or conservativeness in the way a majority of players play is dependent on the dealer’s up card.
Where does a new blackjack player go from here?
As seen, blackjack has rules that are standard across the board, as well as rules that are specific to different variants. These differences are meant to add options and increase the excitement for players. You will find that different online casinos offer different variants, so if you are looking for a specific type of blackjack, check the “Games” section of an online casino to locate your favorite variety of one of the world’s most beloved casino games.