How to Play Classic Blackjack
Blackjack is one of the most popular table games that you can find in virtually any online or land-based casino. The reason for its popularity stems from the fact that the rules are incredibly easy to learn and that it is actually a game in which you can beat the casino.
The goal in blackjack (also known as 21) is to beat the dealer, who is the only person you are playing against. You can do this by having a hand that is lower or equal to 21 but higher than the dealer’s hand.
If you have never learned how to play blackjack or want to become better at it, we advise you to keep reading. In the remainder of the article, we will teach you everything you need to know about the rules and important concepts of the game.
How to Play: The Ultimate Guide
Blackjack is a nuanced game. Even though the basic rules are few and simple, the bigger picture is more complex. Here’s everything you need to know to increase your edge over the dealer.
After reading this section, you will know how blackjack is played and you’ll understand crucial terms such as insurance, busting, splitting, card values, and so on.
A round of blackjack always starts with players placing a bet on the table. All blackjack tables have betting limits, which is usually $5 per hand in the United States. But both the minimum and the maximum can vary depending on the casino in question.
After that, the dealer will deal the cards. They will first deal one card face up to the player, and then one card face down to themselves. After that, they will deal another card face up to the player and another card face up to themselves. Therefore, the player can see the value of only one dealer’s card, whereas the dealer can see the value of both player’s cards.
After that, the player decides how to play. The important rule to remember is that the player always plays first. There are several different moves the player can make, depending on the cards they have been dealt and their playing strategy. We’ll talk more about them below.
When playing blackjack, all cards numbered 2 to 10 have their face value. Picture cards, such as Jacks, Queens, and Kings are valued 10 each. The suits play no role in this game and do not affect the value of the card.
Aces are a bit different when it comes to the value, as they can be counted either as 1 or 11, depending on which value is more beneficial for the player. The total value of the hand is calculated by adding the values of the individual cards that make the hand.
For example, a hand made of an Ace and a 9 has a value of 20 since the Ace will be counted as 11. However, a hand consisting of an Ace, a 9, and an 8 will have the value of 18, because the Ace will be counted as 1.
Now that we know the basic gameplay and the value of each card that can be dealt to us, we can learn which playing options we have. The main playing options include Hitting, Standing, Splitting, and Doubling Down.
- Hitting means that you want the dealer to give you another card or cards to try and get closer to 21. If you’re playing in a land-based casino, all you need to do to signal this move to the dealer is tap the table with your fingers. You can also scrape the table towards you, after what the dealer will add another card face up to your hand. Verbal calls to hits are usually not accepted, so you need to make a hand signal.
- Standing means that you are happy with your hand and that you do not want to draw any more hands. This option is usually played when the hand of your value is 21 or very close to 21. You can signal this move by waving your palm over your cards a couple of times, which will tell the dealer that you wish to stand.
- Splitting is the playing option you will use when you are dealt two cards of the same value. For example, if you are dealt two 8’s, you can split them into two separate hands. If you choose to split, you must make another bet equal to the first one you have made. If you split, you will be playing each card as a separate game, so you can hit how many times you want for each hand. In case you are dealt another 8 the first time you hit, you can split that as well and play with three separate hands. However, if you split aces, most casinos will only allow for one hit per hand. To signal that you want to split your hand, you can simply place another bet next to the original one.
- Doubling down is performed when you are confident in your hand and you wish to increase your initial bet. However, when doubling down, you have the right to only hit once. In most casinos, you can only double down once both of your cards have been dealt and before you hit the first time.
Surrendering is an additional playing option that you can make in case you do not like your initial hand. Some casinos allow players to surrender their hand and in that way receive half of their original bet back.
You can make this move only as the first and the last move of the round. To signal to the dealer that you wish to surrender, you need to draw a line on the table behind your cards and utter the word “surrender” loud and clear.
Insurance is another interesting playing option which basically allows you to bet on the dealer to win. A player can buy insurance against the dealer’s blackjack in cases when the dealer has an ace facing up. Your insurance bet needs to be half the amount of your original bet. If the dealer gets a blackjack, this bet pays 2 to 1.
To make the insurance side bet, all that you need to do in a land-based casino is place your bet on the “insurance line” located just above your betting spot. If you’re playing online, this option will usually appear on the screen whenever the dealer’s upcard is an ace.
Even money is a side bet that is very similar to the insurance side bet. You can place an even money bet when you already have a blackjack and the dealer’s upcard is an ace. If you make an even money bet in this situation, the dealer will give you a 1:1 payoff on your bet before they check their hole card.
The reason why you might want to do this is that if the dealer also has a blackjack, you will get a payoff equal to your bet instead of the 3:2 payoff that’s normally awarded.
The dealer, contrary to the player, cannot make any decisions in the game of blackjack. All of the dealer’s moves are already decided by the rules of the game.
When the dealer has given two cards to each player, they will then show their hole (face-down) card. If the sum total of their two cards is 17 or more (but less than 21), they must stand. However, if the value of their hand is 16 or less, they must hit. The dealer must continue to hit until the value of their hand is higher than 17.
In case the dealer has an ace, they must count it as 11 if that will bring the total value of their hand to 17 or more, and they have to stand. Therefore, all of the dealer’s decisions are automatic, unlike yours.
Some blackjack guides state that the objective of the game is to have a hand value of 21 or less. That only partially true, though. The objective of this game is to beat the dealer by having a better hand than them. There are several ways in which you can do this:
- The first way to win against the dealer is to have a hand value that is less than 21 but higher than the value of the dealer’s hand. Pays 1:1.
- The second way to win in blackjack is when the dealer draws a hand value that is higher than 21. The dealer “busts.” Pays 1:1.
- The third way to win in this game is to draw a blackjack (hand value of 21) when the dealer draws a lower value. Pays 3:1.
Sadly, but naturally, you can also lose a hand in blackjack. There are two main ways in which this can happen:
- The first way to lose is to draw a hand value that exceeds 21, in which case you will lose your bet. The player “busts.”
- The second situation when you lose in blackjack is when the dealer’s hand has a higher value than yours at the end of the round.
One of the ways in which the dealer and house have an advantage against the players is due to the fact that the player always plays first. Therefore, it does not matter if both the player and the dealer bust. The player will always lose when this happens because it’s always their cards that are considered first.
Blackjack is a card game that is played with a standard deck of cards, containing 52 cards. In the early times of blackjack, the game was played with a single deck of cards. However, when the “card counting” techniques were invented in the 1960s, casinos started introducing multi-deck games.
Today, you can still play single-deck blackjack in some casinos, but you can also engage in double deck, 4-deck, 6-deck, or 8-deck variations. The most popular one is the 6-deck variation which can be found in most casinos. In online casinos, blackjack can be played with many more decks, which would be impractical in the real world.
Single-deck games are also known as “hand-held games” because the dealer will serve cards by holding the deck in their hands. Multi-deck games are known as “shoe games” because the dealer draws cards from a machined called “the shoe.”
In hand-held games, the player can hold and touch the cards that were dealt to him. However, in shoe-games, the player must not touch the cards. They must remain on the table and only the dealer can move them.
Hard hands in blackjack are those that do not have an ace or those that have an ace which is counted as 1. For example, a Jack-9 is a hard 19, whereas Jack-7-Ace is a hard 18.
A card that has an ace which is counted as 11 is known as a soft hand. Basically, the combination of an ace and any card lower than 10 is known as a soft hand. Some examples include Ace-4, Ace-7, Ace-9, etc.
This is called a soft hand because, if the player draws Ace-5 and decides to hit, they can count the ace as 1 if the additional card they draw busts their hand. For example, if the third card, in this case, was a 7, the value of the A-5-7 hand would not be 23 but 13.
It’s important to know how to differentiate a soft hand from a hard hand in order to adjust your playing strategy correctly. A hard 19 (10-9) is not played the same as a soft 19 (Ace-9), for example.
Blackjack is a gentlemanly game. That means that there are certain rules of behaviours that both the dealer and all of the players at the table must follow. These are called blackjack etiquette. If you don’t want to embarrass yourself or get yourself kicked out of the casino, make sure that you learn each and every one. In the most benign case, you will show the dealer and other players at a table that you are a beginner, which is never a good thing.
Here are some of the things that you should never do when playing a game of blackjack.
- Don’t Hand Your Money to the Dealer
When playing in a land-based casino, there is going to be a camera above the table that will record all of the moves in the game. Therefore, if you wish to change your cash into blackjack chips, you need to place them on the table and not give them directly to the dealer.
- Hold Your Cards with One Hand
If you’re playing a hand-held game (single or double-deck), never hold your cards with both hands. This rule is to prevent players from tampering with or switching their cards.
- Cards Above the Table
Never ever move your cards out of sight. Your cards must always remain above the table so that the dealer and other players can see them.
- Don’t Touch the Chips After the Draw
Players must never touch the chips after the cards have been dealt to them. Your bet is set in stone once you place it.
- Don’t Touch the Cards in a “Shoe Game”
The cards in shoe games are dealt face up. When your cards are face up on the table, you are not allowed to touch them, no matter what. If you wish to split your hand, for example, you will signal it to the dealer and they will do it for you.
- Always Signal Your Decision
In blackjack, when making a playing decision, it is not enough to only say it out loud. You must signal it to the dealer as well. This is done to make sure that the cameras above can record every move in case something goes wrong.
- Stack Your Chips the Correct Way
If you receive chips of different values, the higher-value ones must always be on the bottom of the stack, with the lower-value ones on top. If you don’t do this yourself, the dealer will stack them for you before they serve the cards.
The house edge is the percentage of the bet you make in a game which the casino is always expected to win over a long period of time. For example, if you are playing a game with a 3.5% house edge, that means that every time you place a bet, 3.5% of that bet will end up in the casino’s hands. Therefore, for every $100 you bet, the casino will keep 3.5%.But it’s important to remember that these numbers are true on average and not on a small scale of games. In many casino games, there is no way to decrease the house edge and make the game more profitable. However, that’s not the case in blackjack.
Blackjack is a unique casino game due to the fact that you can lower the house edge by the correct playing strategy. The base house edge in this game is 8%, but if you play your hands right, you can bring it down to less than 1%, which is the lowest in the gambling world.
The reason why the casino has an edge over the player in blackjack is that the player always draws first. Statistically, both the player and the dealer have the same likelihood of busting, which is estimated at 28.3%.
However, the advantage of the house is in the fact that the player always loses if both the dealer and the player draw values higher than 21. However, the player has some advantages as well that bring the house edge down:
- When the dealer wins a blackjack, they receive a 1:1 payout. However, when the player wins a blackjack, the return for them is 3:2. Over multiple rounds of play, this brings the house edge down.
- The player can double their wager if they like their hand, whereas the dealer cannot do this. If you play these bets smart, you can lower the house edge.
- Players can split pairs and increase their chances of winning a bet, but dealers do not have this playing option.
- The dealer must always hit when his hand value is 16 or less. However, players can choose to stand.
Apart from the blackjack rules that are favourable for the players, which we have mentioned in the section above, there are additional ways in which you can further reduce the blackjack house edge. These are some of the tried and true ones.
- Learn the basic blackjack strategy. The strategy in question is a set of rules presented in a chart which tells you how to play each and every one of your hands. The purpose of this chart is to compare your hand to the dealer’s upcard and determine the best way to proceed. The best way to utilize it is to learn it by heart. This way, you will always be prepared to act fast.
- Learn the composition-dependent strategy. Compared to the basic strategy above, the composition-dependant strategy can lower the house edge in your blackjack game even more. Instead of just considering the value of your hand, it takes into account the cards that make that hand as well.
For example, the basic blackjack strategy will tell you to hit when you have a value of 16 and the dealer has a 10. However, the composition-dependent strategy will tell you to hit if your hand is a 10-6, but stand if your hand is a 5-7-4. This is because your hand is made of low-value cards which are necessary to not bust and beat the dealer. Thus, the chance to draw a high-value card is smaller.
- Stay away from 6:5 games. The standard payout in blackjack is 3:2 for blackjack hands. However, some casinos do not offer 3:2 games, but 6:5 variations instead. This little trick increases the house edge significantly because you will not be getting the same amount of money when you win with 21.
- Make smart side bets. If you use them correctly, side bets can be your friends. Depending on how you play them, they can either increase or decrease the house edge. For example, the insurance bet, if won, will save a percentage of your bet. However, if lost, it will reduce the payout of your initial bet. For that reason, side bets are handy tools for skilled blackjack players.
- Play games with fewer decks. As we have mentioned, multi-deck games were introduced to make counting cards harder. However, additional decks also increase the house edge. Therefore, if you can choose between a 4-deck and a 6-deck game, always choose the smaller one.
- Play games with more favourable rules. Single-deck and double-deck games usually have some rule variations that differ from one casino to another. Before entering a game, you should carefully study the rules of these games. This way, you can find the place or the game with the best rules and the most advantageous house edge for you.
Hopefully, at the end of this lengthy guide, you have a much better understanding of the game and you’re ready to start winning bets against the dealer.
As you must have realized by now, blackjack is the best game that you can play in a casino for numerous reasons. One of the most important ones is that it relies significantly on skill. Of course, luck plays a big role as well, but if you use the correct skills and the correct strategy, you can substantially increase your chances of winning.
For example, when you’re playing slots, all you can do is place a bet and spin the reels as you have no room to develop a strategy. However, when you’re playing blackjack, you have numerous different playing options which can influence the outcome.
Blackjack is also one of the easiest games to learn how to play. The rules are quite simple and can be memorized in a matter of minutes. Even if you are a complete beginner, you can increase your skill level fast by learning the basic strategy charts by heart.
Let’s not forget that blackjack has the lowest house edge of all casino games. If you play this game right, you can bring the house edge down to 0.5% and sometimes even lower.
Last but not least, this game is incredibly fun to play. This is one of the main reasons why this simple game has stuck around for so long and is becoming even more popular. The gameplay is high paced, so there is no lack of excitement at a blackjack table.
Therefore, if you have read our guide on how to play classic blackjack above, you’re ready to place some bets and have some fun.