How To Play Blackjack: A Beginners Guide on Basic Rules and Strategy
Are you ready to hit the casino floor (or online table) and learn how to play blackjack?
Blackjack is one of the most popular casino games out there, and it’s easy to see why. The goal is simple – get as close to 21 points as possible without going over, and at the end of the day, make sure you beat the dealer!
This guide will teach you how to play blackjack, explain blackjack rules and provide you with some strategies to help you improve your game.
Let’s start with how to play at a blackjack table…
How To Play
If you’re ready to learn how to play blackjack, follow these steps:
- Place your bet in the betting area on the table.
- Wait for your cards to be dealt. All players are dealt two cards each, while the dealer is dealt one face-up card.
- If your first two cards total 21 (an Ace and a card with a value of 10), you have Blackjack!
- If you have any other card combination, you must decide whether to take another card (draw) or stand. You can continue to draw until you’re happy with your hand.
- Once all players have taken a turn, the dealer draws their second card. They need to keep drawing until their total hits 17 or higher.
- The player who is closest to 21 wins.
How do you beat the dealer?
There are a couple of ways you can beat the dealer when you play blackjack, whether you’re playing at a bricks and mortar casino or at online casinos:
- The total value of your hand is higher than the dealer’s hand value (but doesn’t exceed 21).
- The dealer’s hand value is higher than 21, meaning they go bust.
- You draw Blackjack (a total of 21) on your first two cards, and the dealer doesn’t.
How do you lose to the dealer?
You lose to the dealer if your hand value goes over 21, if the dealer has a blackjack, or if the dealer has a total hand value closer to 21 at the end of the round.
Unlike other card games, like poker, you’re not playing against the other players. You only have to compete against the dealer’s hand.
Blackjack Rules: An Overview
If you’re serious about playing (and winning) blackjack, you need to learn about the game’s rules. In addition to the card values, learning about your betting options and how the game works can improve your chances of winning – before hitting the blackjack tables.
Once the cards are drawn, you win if your total hand value is closer to 21 than the dealer’s. If you both have the same value, it’s a tie. All winnings bets in blackjack are paid 1:1. If you’re lucky enough to get blackjack, your payout is 3:2.
Aim of The Game
The objective of blackjack is to have a hand worth more points than the dealer’s without exceeding 21 points. If a player’s hand exceeds 21 points, it’s called a “bust”, and they automatically lose the round.
The game is played with a deck of standard playing cards (however, multi-deck games are common), with all decks containing the standard 52 cards.
…have a hand that’s worth more points than the dealer’s hand, without exceeding 21 points!
Calculating a Hands Total Value
Working out the value of your hand is simple once you understand each card’s value in blackjack:
- Cards numbered 2 to 10 count at face value, i.e. a 2 is worth two, and a 9 is worth nine.
- Face cards, made up of Jacks, Queens and Kings, all have a value of 10.
- An Ace can count as either a 1 or an 11. You can choose how to play your Ace depending on which value helps the hand the most.
Then just add together the value of your individual cards to work out your total hand value. For example, if you’re dealt a King (worth 10) and a 7, your total value is 17.
It’s important to note that the suits of the cards are irrelevant in blackjack. Unlike in other card games like poker, the suits have no impact on the game’s outcome.
At the beginning of a round of blackjack, the dealer shuffles the deck(s) of cards and places them in a shoe, which is a device used to hold and dispense the cards.
The dealer then deals two cards face-up to each player at the table and deals two cards to themselves, with one card face-up and the other face-down.
This face-down card is what is known as the “hole card.” The dealer’s hole card will be the card the dealer plays second.
Once each player has their two cards, they have several options to choose from:
- Hit: ask for another card to try to improve their hand.
- Stand: keep their current hand and decline any additional cards.
- Double down: double their bet and receive one more card.
- Split: if the two cards are of the same value, they can be split into two separate hands (aces and eights are the most common)
- Surrender: forfeit their hand and half of their original bet.
The dealer’s actions are governed by a set of rules that dictate when they must hit and when they must stand. If the dealer’s hand is worth 16 points or less, they must hit until they reach at least 17 points. If their hand is worth 17 points or more, they must stand.
It’s important to note that the dealer’s actions are fixed and do not depend on the players’ hands. This means that the players can win even if their hands are worth less than the dealer’s, as long as the dealer busts or their hand is worth less than the player’s hand.
Knowing the dealer’s actions is crucial for players who want to follow basic strategy, as it allows them to make informed decisions about their own hands based on the dealer’s upcard.
For example, if the dealer’s upcard is a 6, the basic strategy dictates that the player should stand on any hand worth 12 or higher, as the likelihood of the dealer busting is high.
When you play blackjack, you have the option to take out insurance bets, which is a type of side bet.
You can do this when the dealer’s face-up card is an ace to help protect yourself against them getting blackjack. All players have the option to make an insurance bet up to half their initial bet. You’re betting that the dealer’s face-down card is a 10, which would give the dealer blackjack.
After all bets are placed, the dealer looks at their hole card. If it’s a 10, all players who took out insurance receive a payout of 2:1. It potentially gives you the chance to break even. So you don’t lose all of your initial bets if the dealer does have blackjack.
Once a bet is paid and collected, it can’t be returned, which is why a dealer always goes last when playing blackjack. If a player goes bust, they lose their wager (and the casino pockets the bet), even if the dealer also ends up going bust.
If a dealer busts, they need to pay out every player with a hand total 21 or under. If the dealer has a hand value of 21 or less, the dealer will pay out any player with a higher total (as long as it doesn’t exceed 21). For any player with a lower value than the dealer, the dealer will collect their bets.
If the dealer and a player have the same total hand value, it’s a tie – and no bets are paid out or collected.
After all the bets have been settled, the dealer collects all the cards and places them face-up against a clear plastic shield. The dealer will continue to deal from the shoe until they hit the plastic insert card, indicating it’s time to reshuffle. The dealer shuffles the cards, preparing them for the cut and puts them back in the shoe to continue the game.
Depending on the casino, the dealer may also use an automatic continuous shuffling machine that randomly selects the cards as the game is played.
Walkthrough of a Blackjack Game
To give you a better understanding of how the flow of playing blackjack works, let’s walk through a sample game.
Let’s say that you’re playing at a casino with a minimum bet of $10. Here are the steps that would typically take place:
1️⃣ You place your bet by putting $10 in the betting circle in front of you.
2️⃣ The dealer shuffles the deck(s) of cards and deals two cards face-up to you and two cards to themselves. The dealer shows one card face up and one card face down.
3️⃣ You look at your hand and decide whether to hit, stand, double down, split aces or eights, or surrender.
4️⃣ If you choose to hit, the dealer gives you another card. You can continue to hit until you’re happy with your hand, or until your hand is worth more than 21 points, at which point you bust and lose the round.
5️⃣ Once all players have made their decisions, the dealer’s hole card is revealed and must hit or stand.
6️⃣ If the dealer’s hand is worth less than 17 points, they must hit until they reach at least 17 points. If their hand is worth 17 points or more, they must stand.
7️⃣ If your hand is worth more points than the dealer’s hand without going over 21, you win and receive a payout of 1:1. If your hand is worth less than the dealer’s hand or you bust, you lose your bet.
Basic Strategy to Blackjack
If you want to increase your chances of victory, we highly recommend learning basic strategy. This is a set of rules that tells you exactly what move to make in any given situation based on your hand and the dealer’s upcard.
It’s like having a cheat sheet for blackjack, and it’s been proven to lower the house edge to less than 1%. That means you’ll be more likely to win in the long run if you follow the basic strategy.
So, don’t be afraid to hit the books (or the internet) and brush up on your blackjack knowledge. The more you know, the more fun you’ll have at the tables – and the more money you’ll potentially win!
Placing Bets at The Blackjack Table
Placing a bet in blackjack is easy, but there are a few things to keep in mind. First, check the minimum and maximum bet limits at the table before you start playing. Each table may have different limits, so it’s important to know what you’re working with.
To make your initial bet, simply place your chips in the betting circle in front of you (or when prompted if you’re playing online). You can bet as much or as little as you want within the limits set by the table. If you’re not sure how much to bet, start with a smaller amount and gradually increase it as you gain more experience.
Remember, betting in blackjack is all about finding a balance between risk and reward. While it can be tempting to bet big and potentially win big, it’s important to know what your limits are and not break them.
By finding the right balance, you can enjoy the game while also giving yourself the best chance of success.
There’s a lot more to blackjack than trying to minimise the house edge, master the even money bet and know when cards of equal value are on the way.
People who have played blackjack for a while have developed some seriously advanced strategies to ensure they maximise their chances of coming out on top. Let’s start with the one you’ve most likely heard of, card counting.
Card counting is one of the most famous features of the blackjack game, and you’ve probably seen it used in movies like Rainman and the Hangover, in quite hilarious scenarios.
While technically not illegal, most casinos will not look too fondly upon a player counting cards, and there are many dealer checks and prevention strategies (such as multi-deck games at Blackjack tables).
Much like card counting, most advanced blackjack tactics will take quite a lot of practice to master.
Let’s take a look at shuffle tracking, for example. As the name states, to successfully carry out a shuffle tracking plan at a casino, one needs to observe the shuffling patterns the dealer is showing before the dealer deals. This technique, which is much trickier than straight card counting, requires great eyesight and visual estimation.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
When you play blackjack, it’s not only useful to know the house rules and strategies you can use at most casinos.
It’s also handy to know what mistakes not to make. Here are the biggest mistakes that beginners often make in their first blackjack games.
❌ Not knowing when to hit or stand
This is probably the biggest mistake that people make when playing blackjack. You need to know when to ask for another card (hit) and when to keep what you have (stand). The basic strategy is to hit until you have at least 17 or higher.
But if you have a soft hand (a hand that contains an ace that can be counted as either 1 or 11), you should hit until you have at least 18.
❌ Taking insurance
When the dealer’s face-up card is an ace, some players will make an insurance bet. This is a side bet that pays out 2:1 if the dealer has a blackjack. However, the odds are against you and taking insurance is not a smart bet.
Stick to the basics, carry on with your original bet and focus on beating the dealer with your hand.
❌ Splitting pairs incorrectly
When you have a pair, you can split them into two separate hands. This can be a good strategy, but you need to know when to do it. Never split a pair of 10s or face cards. Always split a pair of aces or 8s, and split a pair of 2s, 3s, 6s, 7s, and 9s against a dealer’s up card of 7 or less.
❌ Playing too aggressively
Yes, blackjack is a game of strategy, but it’s also a game of luck. Don’t try to force a win by doubling down or splitting too often. Stick to the basic strategy and let the cards fall where they may.
❌ Not managing your bankroll
This is probably the most important mistake to avoid. Set a budget for yourself before you start playing and stick to it. Don’t keep playing if you’ve lost all your money, and don’t go running after your losses by throwing in more cash than you can afford to lose, or that is out of your budget.
Naturally, a game as internationally enjoyed in everyday casino play as Blackjack will have developed a few variations with varying rules over its eventful lifetime.
Here are some of the most famous blackjack variants:
European vs. American Rules
The two most common variations are European and American rules. In European rules, the dealer only receives one card face-up, and players are not allowed to surrender. In American rules, the dealer receives two cards, one face up and one face down, and players can surrender.
Aside from European and American rules, there are other variations of blackjack that you may come across. One popular variation is Pontoon, which is played with a deck of 48 cards instead of the standard 52.
In Pontoon, the dealer’s cards are both face down, and players must have a hand totalling 21 or less to win.
Another variation is Spanish 21, which is played with a deck of 48 cards and includes additional bonus payouts for certain hands.
In Spanish 21, players can also double down on any number of cards and can surrender at any time.
Rule Variations in Online Blackjack
The game of online blackjack is so interesting because it has simple rules. However, there are different game variations, meaning the rules can vary from one casino to the next. For instance, one casino may use eight decks, while another may use four. A particular casino may require the dealer to stand on soft 17, while the dealer may have to hit at another.
As we stated before, online blackjack has many variants, some of which go by the names of where they are played. The most famous blackjack games include Vegas Strip Blackjack, European Blackjack, and Atlantic City Blackjack. Other blackjack variants are Blackjack Double Exposure, Blackjack Switch, Progressive Blackjack, Perfect Pairs, and many more.
Below are some of the most common blackjack rule variations that you’ll come across.
A surrender is when a player forfeits their hand after a deal. The price for doing this is half of their stake. Players can only surrender in a few situations, but doing so can be advantageous.
A resplit is when a player splits a card that has been split before, and you can usually split a minimum of three times. However, it is not allowed in some blackjack variants. If a resplit is not allowed, the house edge is increased by around 0.1%.
Doubling after split
This is when a blackjack player is dealt a pair of cards and splits to get a good hand. Doubling after a split is accepted in some games but not permitted in others. Players who double after splitting see it as an advantage, but if it isn’t successful, the house edge is increased by around 0.15%.
An early surrender occurs when a player gives up their hand the instant that cards are dealt but before the dealer checks for a natural blackjack. The player will forfeit half of their original wager in an early surrender.
6 to 5 blackjacks
These are odds casinos use to pay players. If you have a winning blackjack hand, you will receive $6 as payment for every $5 you bet, which is 1.2:1 odds.
Single-deck vs multi deck
You can have up to 8 decks in multi-deck blackjack. You can double down on 8 in a single deck if the dealer shows a 5 or 6. The dealer will have a harder time making a winning total with such a low card.
Blackjack Side Bets
Like other casino games, there are also side bets you can take advantage of when playing blackjack.
You can make a wager on pairs in blackjack. Place your bet on the Perfect Pairs box on the table. You’ll win the bet if your first two cards are a pair.
Pairs have different payouts depending on the type of pair. They can either be a mixed pair (e.g. one red and one black), which pays out 5:1, a coloured pair (red or black but different suits) which pays 10:1 or a perfect pair (both the same suit), which pays out 30:1.
Another side bet is the Trilux. When you place a wager on the TriLux box, you’re betting that your first two cards and the Dealer’s first card will make a specific hand with different payout values. These include:
- Mini Royal (Ace, King, Queen, Suited): pays out 100:1
- Straight Flush: pays out 35:1
- Three of a Kind: pays out 33:1
- Straight: pays out 10:1
- Flush: pays out 5:1
Trilux Super 3
When playing TriLux, you can also put a wager on the TriLux Super 3 box, which changes your payout odds.
For example, if your first two cards and the dealer’s first card make three of a kind with the same card rank, then the payout will increase to 90:1. For a straight flush, you win 180:1. For three of a kind that is all the same suit, the payout increases to a whopping 270:1!
More Blackjack Guides
If you want to learn more about Blackjack, we’ve put together a range of comprehensive guides to help, from how to deal in blackjack, to insurance, card counting and more:
Blackjack Hall of Fame
Did you know there is a blackjack hall of fame?
At the end of 2002, it was decided to create a hall of fame for the popular card game to honour blackjack’s best players. Professional players, blackjack experts, and authors all voted for who they thought should be inducted into this prestigious class. There were 7 original inductees in 2002, ranging from mathematicians to authors. Today, there are 25 Hall of Famers, with Anthony Curtis being the latest addition.
Where to Play Blackjack?
If you would like to try out Blackjack at an online casino, we recommend that you have a look at our list of casinos offering Blackjack and find a casino that suits you.
- Glassdoor. “Casino Dealer Salaries New Zealand”, https://www.glassdoor.co.nz/Salaries/casino-dealer-salary
- Wikihow. “How to Play Spanish 21 Blackjack”, https://www.wikihow.com/Play-Spanish-21
- Wikipedia. “Blackjack Hall of Fame”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackjack_Hall_of_Fame
- Wikipedia. “Standard 52-card deck”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_52-card_deck
- YouTube. “Pechanga Resort Casino: How to Play Table Games – Blackjack”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EhKiW9yXTA
How to Play Blackjack - FAQ
Is 21 the same as Blackjack?
Yes, Blackjack and 21 are the same game, to get as close to 21 as possible without going bust. In some parts of the world, like the UK, the game is also called pontoon.
Does the Ace card act as 1 or 11?
You can choose whether the Ace in your hand acts as either a 1 or an 11, depending on the other cards you're holding. For example, if you're dealt an Ace and a picture card, you would choose the value of the Ace to be 11 and give you blackjack.
What is a 'Natural' in Blackjack
A natural is when the first two cards you are dealt when playing blackjack equal 21. For example, a 10 and an Ace.
Is card counting illegal in Blackjack?
No, card counting isn't technically illegal, though it is frowned upon by most casinos. If you're caught counting cards in some physical casinos, you'll most likely be asked to leave the casino. You can't effectively count cards in online blackjack.
What is 'hole carding'?
Hole carding means trying to read the dealer's hole card, which is the card that faces down on the table. Knowing what the hole card is can significantly improve your odds when playing blackjack. While it's not illegal, it's also frowned upon by many casinos.
How much does a Blackjack dealer in New Zealand?
The average dealer in a New Zealand casino makes around $20-$25 per hour, though it can vary depending on experience and different casinos.
Noah is the senior content editor at CasinoCrawlers and a writer with many iGaming articles under his portfolio. Therefore, he is skilled at writing bonus guidelines, gambling strategies, and casino reviews. During his spare time, he enjoys playing Call of Duty and is a huge rugby fan.Read more about the author