Blackjack is easy to learn. One of the main pleasures of Blackjack is that your success is not only determined by chance. By playing well you can dramatically increase your chances of winning. After learning the basic rules you can learn about basic strategy or even more advanced strategies, such as card counting, to gain the upper hand.
The goal of the game is to get a hand that is closer to a value of 21 than that of the dealer, without going over 21 (busting). Although normally up to 6 players can sit at a blackjack table, you are only playing against the dealer, not against the other players at the table.
The way the dealer plays is strictly determined by rules, leaving the dealer with no choice as to the way he plays his hand. He must keep drawing cards (hitting) when the value of his hand is below 17 and must play his hand (stand) on 17-21, regardless of the card values of the players still in the game.
The card values in Blackjack are as follows:
- All cards with numbers have a value corresponding to their number (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 (where the 10 may be represented as T)).
- Face cards all have a value of 10 (Jacks, Queens, Kings).
- Ace is a special card in Blackjack. You can choose whether its value is 1 or 11.
The suit of the cards is irrelevant to their value. The value of a hand is calculated by adding up the values of the individual cards in that hand. For example, a hand consisting of (Kd,2c,6h) has the value of 10 + 2 + 6 = 18. The value of an ace in any hand is automatically determined to give the best score to the hand. You can read a more detailed explanation of these rules and the significance of the card values in blackjack on our card values page.
After all players have placed their bets, the Dealer informs everyone that no more bets can be placed and the game begins.
Cards are dealt from 1 up to 8 combined decks of cards (with fewer decks being more advantageous to the player). All players are dealt two cards face-up while the Dealer is dealt one card face-down (called ‘The Hole Card’) and one card face-up (called ‘The Up Card’). If you get 21 with the initial two cards dealt (an Ace plus any card that has value 10), you have “Blackjack” or “A Natural”.
The payout for “Blackjack” is usually 3 to 2, and is paid out immediately. The card dealt face-up to the Dealer is visible to all players and they should use this information to make correct decisions whether to hit (ask for another card) or stand (keep the cards you have). Most of the time, the dealer will check for “Blackjack” if he has an Ace or a ten-value card showing. If the dealer has “Blackjack”, all players lose their bet.
After the cards have been dealt, play shifts to the first player on the dealer’s left, and continues until all players have had their turn. Finally, the dealer plays his hand and then collects the bets of the losing players and pays out the winning players.
When it’s the player’s turn, he can take a number of different actions. These actions are conveyed to the dealer using a set of simple hand gestures to accompany your verbal instructions. The blackjack player’s possible actions are as follows:
Hitting or Standing
These are the most common decisions a player has to make, to either draw another card (hit) or stop and try to beat the dealer with his current hand. If you decide to hit and you go over 21, you bust and the dealer will collect your bet.
Another option the player has is to double down. This is only allowed after the two initial cards have been dealt. When the player doubles down, he doubles his bet and receives one card only. This can be of great advantage to the player if he has a strong hand and the dealer has a weak up card showing. You can read when it is best to double down in our Blackjack Strategy section.
When a player is dealt two cards of the same value (2 eights or 2 Kings, for example), he has the option to split the cards into two separate hands. He must pay an additional bet to do this. After the split, the dealer adds a card to both split cards to make them a 2-card hand again. When this is done, the hands are played out like normal ones. There are a lot of rules regarding splitting that differ from casino to casino, however.
Some casinos allow you to resplit hands if you get another paired hand after the first split, whereas other casinos limit the number of times you are allowed to split. Some casinos allow you to split any hand that contains two 10-valued cards, others don’t (and in any case you should probably not split those hands, because a score of 20 is pretty good already). The last rule that may differ from one casino to the next is the way splitting aces is handled. Most casinos only allow you to draw one card after you split aces and do not allow resplitting if you are dealt another ace. Also, if you then get a 10-valued card, it is often not counted as a Blackjack but as a normal 21, denying you the 3:2 payout a Blackjack would normally merit.
If the dealer has an Ace showing, players are offered the option of insurance. The player can then “insure” his original bet by betting half of the original bet. The dealer will check to see if he does have blackjack, and if so he will double the insurance bet. You will lose your original bet because of the dealer’s Blackjack, but this loss is offset by the doubled insurance bet you will win, making this play a break even situation. If the dealer does not have Blackjack you will lose the insurance bet and play the hand as you would normally do.
When the player already has Blackjack, but the dealer has an ace showing, the dealer will offer “even money” instead of “insurance”, immediately paying you 2:1 instead of 3:2 without the risk of losing to the dealer’s possible Blackjack. In general, “insurance” and “even money” are a bad deal to the player, considering the odds. Only very experienced card counters can pick out the moments where these deals would be profitable, so the best advice is never to take “insurance” or “even money”.
A little known option that the player may make use of is the decision to surrender. With this play, you return your cards prior to taking any action, at the cost of half your bet. Not all casinos offer this option, but if they do, it comes in two flavours: early and late surrender. The difference is that with early surrender you may surrender before the dealer has checked for blackjack, whereas with late surrender you can only surrender after the dealer has checked for blackjack. The early surrender can be of great advantage to the player, but unfortunately it is an option rarely offered by casinos. The late surrender option is less advantageous, but can still be profitable when used correctly. Check out our Blackjack Strategy section to read up on the best way to apply the surrender options.