Blackjack Guide: How to Play Blackjack at Online Casinos
On the surface, blackjack can appear to be a pretty simple game. All you have to know, at first, is that the player who scores closest to 21 wins.
Once you know the card values, playing blackjack for fun can be great. But learning strategy and how to optimize your game to suit each blackjack variant is even better.
In this detailed gameplay and strategy blackjack guide, we will take you through all the subtleties of how to play blackjack. You’ll find card-counting tips and strategies regarding blackjack odds.
We’ll also touch on the different blackjack variants you can come across. By the end of this guide, you’ll definitely be well-equipped enough to ace your next game of blackjack!
Classic Blackjack: Gameplay Rules
The great thing about today’s technological advances is that you can play blackjack at home, by yourself, with absolutely no hassle.
However, this also means that you have to teach yourself how to play. Rest assured though – there are a lot of beginners online, and especially on mobile blackjack games.
Here’s what you need to know.
As mentioned above, the goal of blackjack is to get your total card score closest to 21.
So the first thing to look at is the card values. In blackjack:
- Ace: card value can be either 1pt or 11pt
- 2-9: card number is the card value (2 = 2pt, 3 = 3pt, etc)
- 10, Jack, Queen, King: card value is 10pt
It can be useful to keep this list close by for your first blackjack games. That way, you get used to calculating your score in your head.
The dealer will, of course, calculate your score for you, but you have more control over your strategy if you can count your own card score.
Your hand counts as a “blackjack” if you have the following: Ace + 10-value card.
Basic Gameplay: How to Play Blackjack
A game of blackjack can go very fast. This is because there aren’t any of the features you’ll find in other card games like poker. There is no pot; there is only one real betting round, and you are playing against the dealer only.
Here’s how a game of classic blackjack goes:
- Players place their bets on the mat.
- Dealer deals the players 2 cards each, face-up.
- Dealer deals himself two cards: one face-up, the other face-down.
- If the dealer has an ace as his upcard, he checks to see if he has a blackjack.
- If yes, players lose. If no, game continues.
- Player may split any pairs, take hits, or double down.
- Dealer reveals his hole card (face-down card) and takes hits.
- The person with the card score closest to 21 wins.
- Bets are paid/lost, and a new round begins.
You may have noticed a few unfamiliar terms in the above gameplay rules. Let’s break down what the player actions are.
- Taking hits & standing
To “take hits” in blackjack is to ask the dealer to deal you more cards. There is no limit to how many cards the dealer can give you, though of course, the point is to reach 21.
Say if your initial hand is a 2+3: you will want to “take hits” (be dealt more cards) until you reach 21.
Once you have reached a score that is as close as you can safely get (say, 2 + 3 + 10 + 5), then you may signal to the dealer that you want to “stand” on your score.
This means the dealer will move on to the next player. A bit like “checking” in other card games.
If you already have a high score in your initial hand, like a 19 or 20, then you can stand straight away without taking any hits.
This refers to an action you can take if your initial hand is a pair. You will signal to the dealer to split it, and the dealer will separate your cards so that you have two hands.
Afterwards, you can take hits on both hands, or double down according to makes sense as per the card values.
- Doubling down
When you have a good hand and you would ideally just need one more card to get a great score, you can “double down”.
In this scenario, you will double your bet, and take only one hit. The card will be placed sideways on your hand, so the dealer knows that you can’t take any more hits on that hand.
Blackjack: Basic Strategy
You’ll find a lot of ultra-complex strategy guides and tips out there for blackjack. We thought we’d compile the most important strategies and gameplay features you ought to assimilate if you want to win.
- Counting your Cards: When to Hit or Stand
The first issue you will come across in blackjack is knowing the odds of success if you hit or stand at a certain card score.
Here’s what you have to keep in mind.
The average winning hand is around 18.2. So you’ll have high chances to win if you stand at 17 and higher.
Your odds of getting a better score than 17 without going over 21 are very minimal, while your odds of victory with a 17 are acceptably high.
The counting strategy and odds will change from one blackjack variation to the other, of course. You’ll also have to factor in how lucky you’re feeling that day!
- What is the House Edge?
When players talk about the “house edge”, they mean the advantage that the casino has over the players in the games they offer.
What it basically means is how much profit the casino makes from the player’s bet, on average.
For every bet, the casino will keep a certain percentage of your bet as profit.
The house edge changes according to the rules or variant of the game you’re playing. When it comes to blackjack for instance, the house edge can change according to these variables:
- Number of decks used
- Whether the dealer stands or hits on a soft 17
- What & how often the player can double, split and resplit
- The surrender rule in play (no surrender/early/late)
Thankfully, you will be able to find automatic house edge calculators on blackjack strategy websites.
- 2-deck and 6-deck: What’s the Difference?
Certain games of blackjack are played with multiple decks. The main thing to take into account here is the different amount of overall cards.
With more decks, you’ll be more or less likely to get certain cards to improve your hand when taking hits. So your odds must be calculated accordingly.
Deck amounts also influence:
- Your odds to win with double-down,
- Dealer rules regarding upcard/hole card
- Minimum/Maximum bets
The best method to figure out which version you prefer is to play both. You will find 2-deck blackjack referred to as “pitch blackjack”, and 6-deck blackjack as “shoe blackjack”.
Like other age-old table games, you’ll be able to find a plethora of blackjack variations at your online or live casino.
As we mentioned, it can be a good idea to have a “when to hit/stand” chart with you when trying out a new version of blackjack. With the odds changing as soon as the new variable is introduced, there’s no shame in giving yourself a helping hand.
Let’s check out the most frequent blackjack variations you’ll come across.
There are only two main differences between what’s known as “European” blackjack and classic/American blackjack.
- Dealer Does Not Reveal Potential Blackjack
As we mentioned earlier, in American blackjack the dealer will deal himself two cards: a face-up card (the “upcard”) and a face-down card (the “hole” card).
If his upcard is an Ace, he is obligated to check his hole card and announce a blackjack.
In European blackjack, however, the dealer does not have to reveal whether he has a blackjack at the beginning of the round.
In fact, he only deals himself the hole card after the players have taken all possible actions (splitting, doubling) that turn.
This will, of course, influence your strategy if you see that the dealer has an Ace as his upcard.
- No Insurance
In American blackjack, you may “insure” your bet if the dealer has an Ace. This means that you can place a bet on the insurance line, which will be paid if the dealer does have a blackjack.
It’s a way to still gain something instead of losing everything if the dealer has blackjack.
In European blackjack, you obviously will not have the insurance option as the dealer doesn’t reveal his hand.
Free Bet Blackjack
Certain casinos will offer to pay for your doubling and splitting bets.
It’s a great way for beginners to play for a fun and not risk too much money. The specifics can vary from casino to casino. But generally speaking, for all the extra bets you’d have to place per action, the casinos offers to place a “free betting chip” there.
- Extra bet when splitting
- Extra bet when doubling down
- Extra bet when resplitting
Basically, the way it works is that if you lose, you lose only your initial bet. But if you win, your earnings include the number of free bets you have on the table.
Say you’ve doubled down, with an initial $15 bet and a $15 free bet. You will win back your bet, plus the $15 of the free bet, and the $15 pay-out.
This refers to whether or not your blackjack table accepts surrender. Surrender rules allow a player to surrender at certain times during the game:
- Early: before the dealer has revealed whether or not they have blackjack
- Late: after it’s clear that the dealer does not have blackjack
Again, the ability to surrender will influence your odds as well as your strategy. So it’s not just a small variable.
We have a detailed guide on the odds and when to surrender over here.
Blackjack Switch is potentially the most exciting blackjack variation out there. The main feature here is the fact that you start out with two hands instead of one.
You’ll have to place two bets in order to play. Then the dealer will give you 4 cards total, in stacks of 2.
If you manage to get pairs on both hands, you can even split and get 4 hands, which is a great way to maximize winning odds.
As you have better chances of getting pairs on your multiple hands, you also have the switch-exclusive feature of the super match bet.
This is an extra bet you can place at the beginning of the game. If you get dealt pairs, you can win an extra pay-out!
The specifics of the switch are quite finicky, so we encourage gamblers to read our step-by-step guide. It’ll take you through all the features of blackjack switch. You’ll also find a run-down of odds, and strategy tips.