How to Play Blackjack

How to Play Blackjack Online

Simple, fun and fast-paced - blackjack remains a game of choice on land and online. If you want to learn how to play blackjack online but don't know where to start, read our expert guide.

Introduction: How to Play Blackjack

Let's start with the basics. If you want to learn how to play blackjack online or at a land-based casino, you will need to get familiar with the main game mechanics. We break it all down for blackjack beginners below.

The Objective of Blackjack

One of the best known and most popular casino games in the world, Blackjack sees the player compete against the casino, not the other players at the table, with the objective of getting a higher hand total than the dealer without exceeding 21.

Blackjack Rules

The game is played with one or more decks of 52 cards (no Joker cards are included). Each card has the point value (sometimes referred to as ‘rank’) displayed on the card other than the face cards (Jack, Queen and King) which are valued at 10 and the Ace which can be valued at either 1 or 11 depending on which is more beneficial to the player.

When playing offline, it’s very unusual to see a game use more than 8 decks of cards due to the inconvenience of shuffling so many cards. But online games have taken to using far larger numbers of decks with a simulated shuffle after every round of play.

Blackjack Game Flow

A blackjack table can generally seat up to seven players at any one time and the player to the dealer’s left will always be the first to act, with play progressing in a clockwise direction from there. Initially each player will receive 2 cards and the dealer with receive one face up card a second face down card (though depending on the version, this card may not be drawn until after the players have completed their actions, this is typical of European games).

Hand Resolution and Payouts

Where the first two cards dealt to either the player or the dealer is an Ace and any of the ten valued cards, this is referred to as Blackjack. Where the dealer holds a Blackjack they automatically beat all player hands other than a player Blackjack which results in a push (returning of the initial wager).

Where the player has Blackjack and the dealer does not, the player automatically wins the hand and will receive a payout of 3 to 2. Some land-based and online casinos have started to reduce this payout from 3 to 2 to 6 to 5. Players should be aware of this decreased payout as it increases the casino’s advantage over the player substantially.

Where the dealer is dealt an Ace or a ten value card as their face up card when playing a game where the second card is dealt face down before the players play, the dealer will normally check the down card prior to play of the round to see if they have the Ace or ten valued card that would make their hand a Blackjack. Where the dealer has Blackjack they will turn over their down card and the round will be concluded immediately, otherwise the round will play out as normal.

If the player exceeds a total of 21 on a hand at any time, this is referred to as ‘Busting’ and the hand is over with the result that the player loses their wager.

Player Actions

When you're learning how to play blackjack online, knowing terminology is key. During play, you will encounter the chance to perform any one of the actions listed below, depending on the cards you're are dealt.

  • Hit: Where the player’s hand total is less than 21 they can choose to Hit, meaning that the player will receive and extra card. The player can continue to Hit until they are happy with their hand or the reach a total exceeding 21.

  • Stand: When the player is happy with their hand they can choose to stand, taking no more cards and waiting for the dealer to play to decide the outcome of the hand.

  • Double: The player can choose to Double (also referred to as ‘Doubling Down’). When the player takes this action they place an additional bet equal to their initial bet and will receive only one further card. Doubling can only occur when the player has only received their initial two cards, once any Hit cards have been taken the option to double no longer exists. Some variations on the rules will restrict the player to only being able to Double on certain hand totals.

  • Split: If the player is dealt two cards of matching rank the player can choose to split the hand. To do this play places an additional bet equal to their initial bet and the two matching cards are separated into the first card of two separate hands with one of the player’s bets on each hand. The dealer will then deal out a second card to each hand and the player plays the hands independently.

  • Where Aces are split, normally the player will only be allowed to receive one card to each Ace (they cannot proceed to Hit, Double or Split) and if a ten value card is dealt to split Aces the hand is considered a value of 21 but not Blackjack.

  • Surrender: After the player has received their initial two cards some Blackjack games will allow the player to Surrender their hand. This rule is not offered on all Blackjack games and is only available at the very beginning of the hand before any other actions have been taken. This means that the player gives up the hand and will receive half of their wager returned to them. There are two variations of the Surrender rule; Early and Late. Where the dealer has an Ace or a ten value card face up, Early Surrender is offered before the dealer checks for Blackjack. Late Surrender is offered after the dealer checks for Blackjack, only if the dealer does not have Blackjack. Early Surrender is a very favourable rule for the player.

  • Insurance: Where the dealer shows an Ace as their face up card the players will be offered the option to take the Insurance bet before the dealer checks for Blackjack. Where the player chooses to take Insurance, they place an additional wager of half their initial bet.

    When the dealer checks for Blackjack, if the dealer does not have Blackjack, the Insurance bet loses and the hand is played out as normal. If the dealer does have Blackjack the initial bet loses and all hands are terminated, but the Insurance bet is paid out at 2 to 1.

    Where the player has Blackjack some casinos will offer to pay the hand at ‘Even Money’ rather than the normal 3 to 2 instead of offering the Insurance bet. Mathematically taking Even Money is exactly the same as taking Insurance. Without additional information (for example information derived from Card Counting), Insurance is always a bad bet for the player, carrying a substantially higher house edge than the main game. The player’s hand makes no difference what-so-ever to the outcome of the Insurance bet, so regardless of whether the player has a total of 16 or 20, Insurance is an equally bad option.

  • Bust/Stand/Hit: Once all players have completed their hands by either Busting or choosing to Stand, the dealer will play their hands. Unlike the player, the dealer does not have a choice regarding how to play their hand. They will reveal the second face down card then proceed to Hit until they have a total of 17 or more. Which brings us to Soft 17.

  • Soft 17: Certain variations of the game will require the dealer to Hit Soft 17. A ‘Soft’ hand is a hand with an Ace in it that’s counted as 11, so Soft 17 would be a hand with an Ace and any other combination of cards that add to 6.

  • Non-Busted Hands/Push: Once the dealer completes their hand, any non-Busted player hands that have a total that is higher than the dealer’s hand win. Any player hand that equals the dealer’s hand is considered a Push, returning the wagered amount to the player. If the dealer’s hand Busts, all non-busted player hands win.

Blackjack Origins and Developments

Now you know how to play blackjack. But do you know where it came from? Richard Epstein in his book ‘Theory of Gambling and Statistical Logic’ asserts that the game of Twenty One came to be known as 'Blackjack' during the First World War. This is when when additional bonus payments were made to any player whose first two cards are an Ace of Spade with either of the black Jack cards making Blackjack a variant of Twenty One.

Despite the fact that these Blackjack bonus payments would be very unusual today, the name Blackjack replaced Twenty One for most Twenty One style games. Three other developments that have been significant to the game of Blackjack and blackjack strategy are: the development of Basic Strategy, the discovery of Card Counting and the introduction of reduced payouts for Blackjack.