The Aim of the Game
We'll begin our discussion of how to play blackjack by telling you that the game is played using one or more standard decks of 52 playing cards. Each deck has 13 cards in 4 different suits - clubs, spades, diamonds, and hearts. However, in Blackjack, the suits are largely irrelevant. This game is all about the numerical value of the cards. The number cards from 2 to 10 have their face values. Picture cards (Jack, Queen, and King) have a 10 value and Aces can be counted as 1 or 11.
When you sit down to play Blackjack, you will be aiming to beat the dealer rather than other players. The aim is to make a hand that totals as close to 21 as possible but without exceeding that total. The best hand possible is a 'blackjack' which comprises just two cards - a 10-value card and an Ace. If you get closer to 21 than the dealer, you win. If you are beaten by the dealer, you lose. And if you tie with the dealer, a 'push' is declared and your main bet is refunded. A win with a blackjack pays odds of 3:2 and a win with any other hand pays odds of 1:1.
How to Play Blackjack - Format
The number of decks used in blackjack can be as few as one or as many as eight. Play at a land-based casino and you'll notice that the cards are housed in a device called a 'shoe'. The cards are also dealt directly from that shoe. The decks are shuffled before being put into the shoe, but not during the game itself. Instead, a certain percentage of the available cards are used. When that point of 'shoe penetration' is reached, a new shoe of shuffled cards is brought into play.
When playing at an online casino, all cards are shuffled between hands. This is why the strategy of 'card counting', which is effective at land-based casinos, is irrelevant in an online game.
What does remain relevant is the relationship between the number of decks used and the house edge. In short, the more decks there are in play, the worse it is for the player. The best game to play online is Single Deck Blackjack that uses just one deck.
Apart from the shuffling between hands, the format of the game online is almost identical to that in a land-based casino. You will be seated at a virtual table, and cards and chips will look much as they do in the real world. The big difference is that the cards will be dealt by the game software rather than a human dealer.
How to Play Blackjack - Gameplay
The blackjack table will have a circle printed on its surface in front of each seat. This is where you place your bets. Simply select the casino chip size that you want to bet and then click within the circle. You can add as many chips as you want to reach your desired bet amount, subject to a maximum table limit which will be stated on the table or in the game rules that can be accessed via a settings menu.
When you have placed your bet, you will receive two cards. The dealer will also receive two cards. One of the dealer's cards will be dealt face-up so that you can see it.
Once the cards have been dealt, the dealer will check to see if he has a blackjack. If he does then the hand is over and your bet will be lost, unless you also have a blackjack. In that case, a push will be declared and your bet will be returned.
Similarly, if you have a blackjack with your first two cards and the dealer does not, your hand will automatically win and you will be paid at odds of 3:2.
Assuming that neither you nor the dealer has a blackjack, the game continues. You go first by choosing whether to Hit, Stand, Double Down, Split or Surrender. Let's define each one of those actions in turn:
- Stand means to stick with what you have and take no further cards.
- Hit means to request a single additional card. You can Hit as many times as you like, as long as the total of your hand doesn't exceed 21. If you go over that total, your hand will 'bust' and you lose.
- Double Down means to double the size of your bet in return for exactly one more card. You will not be able to Hit after choosing to Double Down.
- Split means to place a separate bet equal to your original bet and split a pair of matching cards. The pair will then be split to give you the first card of two separate hands. A second card will be dealt to each of them, and you can then play each of those two hands as normal.
- Surrender means to drop out of the hand and forfeit half your bet. Note that you can't Surrender if you have previously taken any other action on the hand. Not all online blackjack games will allow you to Surrender, so this option will only be given in those that do.
Deciding What to Do
The real skill in the game of blackjack is being able to make the right decisions at the right time. This is something that you will learn to do from experience, but in the early days, common sense will help you a lot.
For example, if your first two cards total 19, a decision to Stand would make a lot more sense than a decision to Hit, as the latter move would be far more likely to bust your hand than improve it. Similarly, if your first two cards total 12 and the dealer's up-card is a 10, it would probably make more sense for you to Hit than to Stand.
When you have reached the point where you have chosen to Stand on your hand, the dealer will flop over his face-down card. In most games, the dealer must Hit on a total of 16 or lower and Stand on a total of 17 or higher. The dealer must play according to the strict rules of the game as set out in the rules, so there won't be any variation on his part, even if you play with a human dealer in a land-based casino.
If the dealer busts at any point then your hand will automatically win. When the dealer gets to the point where he must stand, his hand and yours will be compared and the better hand will win. Should you have more than one hand in play (because you were able to Split previously, for example) all of your hands will be compared to the dealer's hand and settled accordingly.
The Insurance Bet
Now that we have explained the basics of how to play blackjack, we need to take a moment to talk about Insurance. This is basically an optional side bet that the dealer has a blackjack, and it will only be offered to you when the dealer's initial up-card is an Ace.
If you take up the offer of Insurance it will cost you a sum equal to the cost of your initial bet. Should the dealer have a blackjack, the Insurance bet will be settled at odds of 2:1. If the dealer doesn't have a blackjack, the Insurance bet will be lost and the hand will play out as normal.
Although it might sound tempting to take Insurance against the dealer having a blackjack, we would advise you against it. The Insurance bet gives the house a significant edge over you, and you will lose more over the long term by taking Insurance than you will save.
Dealer's Soft 17
When a hand contains an Ace it can be described as soft or hard. A soft hand is one in which the Ace is being counted as 11, while a hard hand is one where the Ace is counted as 1. A hand comprising A-5 would therefore be described as a soft 16, while A-6 would be a soft 17.
We mention this because different casinos have different rules about whether or not the dealer should Stand on a soft 17. Games in which the dealer must Hit a soft 17 are better for you as a player, as they increase the chances of him busting his hand. Games that allow the player to Stand on a soft 17 have a bigger house edge.
That doesn't mean you have to avoid games where the dealer will Stand on soft 17, but you should be aware of the situation and play accordingly. Whether or not the dealer must Stand on soft 17 will be clearly displayed on the table.
How to Play Blackjack - A Quick Summary
- Blackjack begins when players make their table bets.
- The dealer deals two cards to the player and two to himself. One of the dealer's cards will be dealt face-up.
- According to standard Blackjack card values (see below), the hand value will be the sum total of your cards.
- Players can then choose to Stand, Hit, Surrender, Double Down or Split.
- The dealer must Hit on 16 or less and Stand on 17 through 21.
- To win, a player's hand total must exceed that of the dealer's hand. If the dealer busts then the player wins automatically.
Blackjack Card Values
|Jack, King, Queen||10|
Anyone who is serious about playing blackjack would do well to study the strategic side of the game in some depth. There are plenty of books that will tell you exactly what to do in any given situation, so be sure to pick up one or two of those if you want to truly master the game. In the meantime, we will now provide you with some important rules of thumb that can help you make better decisions at the table. Use them regularly and they will soon become second nature.
- Always Stand when you have a hard 17 or higher.
- Hit when you have a low hard total, such as 8 or less.
- Always Split Aces and 8s.
- Stand on a soft 19 unless the dealer's up-card is a 6.
- If the dealer's up-card is a 6, Double Down or Stand.
- Hit on a hard 12 unless the dealer's up-card is a 5 or 6.
- Hit on a hard 13, 14, 15, or 16, unless the dealer's up-card is 7 or higher.
- Always Double Down on a hard 11.
- Double Down on a hard 10 unless the dealer's up-card is a 10 or Ace, in which case Hit.
- Consider standing on a soft 18 if the dealer's up-card is a 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6. If the dealer has a 7 or 9, Hit.
- Double down on a hard 9 if the dealer's up-card is a 3, 4, 5, or 6.
- When you have a soft 19 and the dealer's up-card is a 6, Double Down.
- Double down on 11 against a dealer's Ace.
- Double down on soft 18 against the dealer's 2.