How to Play Blackjack


Blackjack is one of the few casino games where players can make decisions that give the house less of an advantage. All casino games give some advantage to the house but, in Blackjack, the advantage to the house can be reduced to less than one percent.

Blackjack is often called 21. The game originated in France around 1700. The French name for it was vingt et un which means twenty-one. The name Blackjack came about because the dealers would call out "Blackjack" if a player was dealt an ace and a black jack, that is, a jack of spades or a jack of clubs. The early casinos paid 10-1 for a "Blackjack". Dealers still call out "Blackjack" but the casinos no longer pay 10-1. Casinos now generally pay 3-2 for any two dealt cards that add up to 21. Click for information on history, strategy charts, terminology/glossary, table layout and blackjack card counting.

Blackjack: The Basics

For the player, the object of Blackjack is to reach 21, or as close to it as possible, without going over. Players are dealt two cards face-up. The dealer receives one up card and one down, or hole card. A player's hand is considered "soft" if there is an ace with the second card not a picture or a ten. A player who is not dealt an ace at all is said to have a "hard" hand.

After receiving their two cards, players have several choices of how to proceed.

Hit: When a player says "hit" it means "give me another card". Remember, the objective is always to reach 21 or come close.

Stand: When a player says "stand" it means "I don't want any more cards". Even if the player has not reached 21, they may want to let the dealer play his cards without the player risking going over 21. If the player goes over 21 before the dealer has to play his cards, the player loses automatically and may have lost a chance to win the hand.

Split: When a player is dealt a pair of the same number, he may split the two cards, thereby creating a second hand to play. The player makes a bet on the new hand equal to the bet he made on the first hand. The player then plays each hand separately. The player can "hit" one of the hands and "stand" on the other. There are some variations on "splitting" depending on the casino's rules. Some casinos allow players to create up to four separate hands by splitting. Players may be allowed to double any of the separate hands. We will explain "doubling" in the next paragraph. Finally, most casinos allow the player to split aces only once even if they allow more splits for the other cards.

Double Down: As the name implies, this means to double your bet. After a player "doubles" they receive one, and only one, more card. Some casinos allow doubling only when the two cards dealt add up to 9, 10, or 11. Some casinos allow doubling on any two cards dealt.

Insurance: After the first two cards have been dealt, the player may buy insurance when the dealer has an ace showing. Under this option, the player increases their bet by 50% before the dealer checks his hole card to see if he has blackjack. The dealer checks to see if he has blackjack before other cards are dealt. If the player has taken insurance, and the dealer does in fact have blackjack, the player wins the insurance bet, which pays 2-1, and loses the original bet. In this way, the player breaks even on the hand. If the dealer doesn't have blackjack the player loses the insurance bet and the hand proceeds like any normal hand. Insurance is considered a poor choice because there is less than a 33% chance that the dealer will have a ten card in the hole.

Surrender: This means that the player may give up half their bet and retain the other half. A player will choose this option when they feel their chances of winning the hand outright are very small. Early surrender means the player may surrender before the dealer checks for blackjack. Late surrender means the player may surrender after the dealer has checked for blackjack.

The player has chosen his course of play. The player will either stand with 21 or less or will go over 21. When the player goes over 21 it is called a "bust" and the player loses immediately. The player loses in this case even if the dealer later busts as well.

When it is the dealer's turn to play, he will turn over his hole card. The dealer takes cards until he has 17 or more. If he has 17-21 he stands. If he goes over 21 he busts and the remaining hands win. In some casinos the dealer may hit on soft 17, that is, an ace and a six. In other casinos the dealer must stand on any 17. If the dealer's and the player's point totals are the same the hand is a "push". This means a tie. Neither the player nor the house wins and the player gets his bet back.

There are variations in the rules that increase or decrease the house's advantage. Here are some rules variations that help players.

  • The number of decks: The player has an advantage when the casino uses few decks. Most casinos use anywhere from two to eight decks. Experienced players who can count cards can gain a positive advantage over the house if the house uses only one or two decks.
  • Soft 17: It is a clear benefit to players if the casino rules say the dealer must stand on a soft 17.
  • Splitting: It is an advantage to the player if the casino allows them to split aces. It is also beneficial if the casino allows players to split up to four times.
  • Doubling Down: Some casinos allow doubling only on a two-card total of 9, 10, or 11. Some allow doubling only on 10 and 11. It benefits the player if the house allows doubling on any two-card combination.

Here are some variations that clearly benefit the house. Experienced players will avoid games with these rules.

  • Payout for Blackjack: Most casinos still pay 3-2 for blackjack but some now pay 6-5. It is rare, but some casinos pay only 1-1 for blackjack. Stay away!
  • Dealer's Blackjack: This is sometimes called "European Blackjack". The dealer doesn't check his hole card for blackjack immediately. This causes players to use the doubling and splitting options only to find out that they lost automatically to a hidden blackjack.
  • Ties: This variation is rare online. The house wins ties. This is a killer variation. Stay away from such games!

Blackjack Basic Multi-Deck Strategy Chart - Dealer Stands on Soft 17

Blackjack Table Layout

Basic Blackjack Strategy

The casino shows the house's advantage for its specific rules. The house bases its advantage on players playing "basic strategy". Many players play hunches or faulty strategies. These enhance the casino's advantage. So it's a good idea to invest some time in learning "basic strategy".

  • Always stand on a hard 17 or higher.
  • Never split 10's.
  • Always split 8's or Aces.
  • Always hit on a hard 8 or lower. There is one exception to this strategy: If the house is playing with only one deck the player may, at times, double with these cards.

Here are three poor strategies that some players use. They increase the casino's advantage.

  • Some players are afraid to bust, that is, to go over 21. These players never hit on 12 or above.
  • Some players do what the dealer does. This means they always hit on 16 or less and they never double or split.
  • It is not sound to always assume that the dealer has a ten in the hole.

Players who use these poor strategies increase the casino's advantage by as much as 10 percent.

Blackjack Table Layout

Blackjack Table

Summary - Enjoy Blackjack!

Some players love the camaraderie around the table; you don't compete with the other players, only with the house. Some play it because the rules and strategies are simple and easy to learn. With good strategy, the house's advantage is less than 1 percent so players can make their money last a long time.

Blackjack is one of the more popular casino games and will likely remain so for a long time to come. While some casino players love the spin of the wheel or the roll of the dice, others love the play of the cards and the sound of the dealer calling "Blackjack".

Our strategies and rules are solely for entertainment purposes only. Our website encourages players to play responsibly and to realize that over time, the house always wins.

Posted by CCJ Team

Blackjack Resources

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