How to Play Blackjack – Rules and Strategy for Beginners

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18/11/2020

Blackjack is one of the most popular games in any casino. It’s long been the feature game of Hollywood movies and it’s also a game that the “Average Joe” can enjoy as well.

One of the reasons why it’s so accessible is that the rules are relatively simple, and the risks are relatively low in terms of a casinos edge. However, there is a way that you can maximise how you play the game even further.

Throughout this article, we will be looking at the basics of how to play the game and moving into some slightly more advanced processes as well. What needs to be underlined is that all of these processes are really easy to pick up and we give you all the tools necessary to make sure that you are maximising your play at the virtual felt.


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Blackjack Rules

Blackjack is an easy game to learn and this makes it accessible to a wide range of players. There are several different variations of blackjack, but there are basic principles that apply to each of those and are key in the foundations of the game.

For the game to start you need at least one player and one dealer. The dealer will represent the casino. It’s the player's job to have a better hand than the dealer at the end of betting to win.

The concept of the game is based around the number 21. This is the highest score that you can get in blackjack. The cards all represent a numerical value to create an overall score.

The game starts with the player placing a bet to signify they are in the hand. The dealer then deals two cards face up to the player and two cards to themselves, one face up and one face down.

At this point, the player has several options. They can “hit” which means that they take another card. They can “stand” which means no more cards are dealt with them and they keep their current score. Other plays include “split” and “double down”, but these are dependent on the cards you have as to whether these options are open to you.

If the player hits then the cards they take will get added to their score. If they stand, they take the overall score from their first two cards.

Any overall score that is more than 21 means the player loses the hand automatically without the dealer having to show their facedown card.

Assuming the player has a score of 21 or less, then the game moves to the dealer. They turn over their second card and then their score is added. The actions they take now depend on the house rules for that game.

Typically, a dealer will stand on scores of 17 or more and hit on 16 or less. If the dealer scores more than 21 the player wins. If the dealer has 21 or less, the highest score wins. If scores are the same, the game is a “push” and the player bet is returned to them.

When players get 21 with their first two cards, this is known as blackjack. This is an instant and automatic win for the player, usually paying odds of 3:2 on their bet.

Blackjack Card Values

Each card in the deck comes with a different value. You combine these values to create your score.

Working out values is really easy. Numbered cards from 2 through 10 represent their values. So, a 5 of diamonds would be 5 points. The suit has no representation of any numerical value.

Aces can count as either 1 or 11. This can be used at the player's discretion to whichever helps the hand the most. For example, if you have an Ace and a 3, you could count this score as 4 or 14.

Face cards (Jack, Queen and King) have a value of 10.

Blackjack (21) can be obtained by having any combination of an Ace and face card or the number 10 card.

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Blackjack Terms

Blackjack comes with a lot of different terms and names that can be used for different cards, bets and hands throughout the game. Some will be used more often than others, and we have mentioned a couple already.

It’s important to familiarise yourself with some of these, so we have created a list of what we think are the most important blackjack terms to note.

  • Anchor – Based on positioning, the player who is last to act before the dealer
  • Blackjack – This is a hand that creates the number 21 using just two cards. It pays out at higher odds than standard winnings, usually 3:2. A hand that uses more than 2 cards and adds up to the score of 21 is not “blackjack”.
  • Box – Located in front of the player where bets need to be placed.
  • Burn Card – A card that can be discarded from the top of the deck before the start of a new hand.
  • Bust – When a player has more than the value of 21 in their hand, thus losing the hand.
  • Card Counting – A player who mentally keeps a record of the cards that have already been dealt, then allowing them to determine what cards are left.
  • Chip Down – A decrease in your bet size from the previous round.
  • Chip Up – An increase in your bet size from the previous round.
  • Double Down – To buy one more card for that round. Price is the same as your original wager.
  • Hard Hand – A hand that only has one total value. Does not include an Ace.
  • Hit – To take another card from the dealer for free.
  • Hole Card – The card in front of the dealer that is face down.
  • Insurance – When the dealer has an Ace as their hole card, they will offer insurance paying 2:1 if they have blackjack. Optional bet.
  • House Edge – The advantage a casino will have over the player. This will alter based on game type and playing style.
  • Paint – A picture card (Jack, Queen, King)
  • Pair – Two cards that have the same value.
  • Perfect Play – To play a strategy that is mathematically perfect, reducing the house edge to as low as it can go.
  • Push – When the dealer and player have the same hand value, the bet is pushed, returning the original stake to the player.
  • Shoe – Container on the table that includes the cards for the game.
  • Soft Hand – A hand that includes an Ace and can have two values. The Ace can represent 1 or 11 and the player can choose which.
  • Split – When a player has a pair they can choose split, paying the same as their original bet and creating two separate hands for that game.
  • Stand – When a player does not take any more cards from the dealer.
  • Surrender – If a player thinks they cannot beat the dealer for whatever reason, they can surrender, taking half of their bet back and forfeiting their hand.
  • Up Card – The dealer’s card that is face-up for the table to see.

Blackjack Hands

The range of hands and their value is pretty straightforward in blackjack. You simply take the value of the cards, add them together and then you get your score.

There are two types of hands and these are known as soft hands and hard hands. They each work a little differently from the other, as we have explained below.

Soft Hands in Blackjack

  • A soft hand is where your hand includes an Ace. When this happens, an Ace can either count as a value of 1 or 11. The player can choose how they want it to apply to their hand and create their score from there.
  • The term “soft” means that the score that you’ve got is one that you cannot go bust on, so it can be flexible. So, if you have an Ace and a 5, this could represent a total of 6 or 16, which is a soft score.
  • If you were to stand with this combination then your score would be 16, but if you were to hit, then the score of the next card will determine how the Ace is played. One thing that you must note is a soft score can never bust if a player decides to hit.
  • For example, you decide to hit, and the next card is a 7, this would give is a score of 23 if we used the Ace as an 11, which would obviously mean our hand is bust. So, we can switch the value of Ace to 1 and then create a new score of 14.

Hard Hands in Blackjack

  • A hard hand is any combination that does not include an Ace. It has no flexibility to it, and it means that it’s able to go bust with a hard combination.
  • For example, if you were dealt a 6 and a 9, this would give you a score of 15. If you then decided to hit and it came a 7, it would give a score of 22, meaning that you were bust. The increased risk with hard hands is that going bust is a big part of the game with these combinations.

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Blackjack Table Layout

Blackjack games and rules can differ quite a lot with the game types that are now accessible online. However, the way the tables look and how they are laid out rarely change.

The table will include several seats at the bottom where the players sit. If you are playing online these are fairly close together and if you are playing live, then they are a little more spread out.

Assuming you are sat directly opposite the dealer, in the top right corner will be the shoe. This is where the cards for the game are held. In the top left corner will be a box with the discarded cards that have already been drawn for that game.

In the middle of the table will be the rules for the game. It will state the rate that it pays for hitting “Blackjack” and the terms for when the dealer can stand and when they might draw.

It could also include other information such as the price paid for insurance bets or if there is a jackpot attached to the game, it could be written here as well.

Directly in front of the player will be the bet box. You need to move chips into this before the cards are dealt to signify to the dealer that you want to play.

Around the box could be several smaller boxes, depending on the game. These might be side bets, jackpot bets and perfect pairs games.

The game will start with the dealer moving cards in front of you assuming you’ve got chips in the bet box. They will also deal themselves two cards; one face down and one face up.

The dealer takes cards from the shoe and distributes them accordingly. Once all bets have been placed, they play out their own hand and then pay out any winnings. Winning chips will be placed next to your original stack. Make sure that if you are playing live you do not touch your chips before you’ve been paid out as this could void your hand with some casinos.

Blackjack Basic Strategy Chart

One of the reasons why blackjack is as popular as it has been is that it’s easy to play and it has a low house edge. However, there is a big caveat to the house edge theory in that, the house edge only remains low if you play what is known as a “perfect game”.

Unlike the majority of casino games, there is an element of skill involved with blackjack or at least, there is a method that will increase your chances of winning. Given that you’ve choices to make for each hand, these choices can affect your overall chances of winning.

For example, each decision and card combination have to be taken into consideration to make a play that is mathematically beneficial for the player. It’s only when you make the right play every single time, that the house edge becomes as low as it’s reported.

A hand chart allows you to see the correct play to make with every combination of cards that you are dealt. It does this by taking into account the dealers up card and then highlighting the play that will be most profitable.

Charts will go beyond simply saying to hit or stand. You need to include plays such as double down (if allowed), split and split is “DAS” (Double After Split) is offered.

Using the chart is a very simple process. You simply find the combination of cards that you hold between the soft total, hard total and pairs section, then you match that up with the up card for the dealer. In the box, the chart will specify the move that you need to make.

A key to the table might look like this:

  • H = Hit
  • S = Stand
  • D = Double if allowed, otherwise hit
  • Ds = Double if allowed otherwise stand
  • N = Don’t split the pair
  • Y = Split the pair
  • Y/N = Split the pair only if “DAS” is offered

If you are playing online then you can keep the chart handy as you play, and you will have time to check off the correct play. If you are playing live, some casinos will allow you to keep a chart at the table, and some might ask you to remove it.

Either way, it’s going to be massively beneficial for you to memorise the chart. Once you have this engrained you will then be able to play a much more enjoyable process, rather than checking the chart for each hand.

We must add that this basic chart that we have included is just the starting point. Depending on the house rules and the type of blackjack game you’re playing, this chart will need to be altered accordingly. Changes will be minimal, which makes memorising it that much easier when it comes to playing new games.


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Blackjack Simulator

Blackjack simulators are relatively new to the industry, but they are a great way to perfect your strategy and learn how the games work.

Most simulators are set up by independent sites, which are not linked to any casino. You will not be playing for real money here and the idea is that you learn, rather than wager.

The better platforms will allow you to alter the house rules to make it work the same as the casino that you’re looking to join. Features such as the number of decks, blackjack payout, dealer rules, double down rules and many other aspects of the game can all be altered.

Blackjack Calculator

A blackjack calculator is another training tool that is brilliant for reviewing the play and working through tough scenarios that you may be faced. Instead of the game running through as it would at a casino like on a simulator, the calculator allows you to input all the data for a specific hand to see how that might work.

You will be able to set the table up as you like, then assign the face card for the dealer and your two cards. The scenario then plays out and the calculator can tell you what the best next play is and how a certain decision will affect how the play goes down.

This is one of the best ways that you can improve how you play blackjack and also learn the hand chart that we made earlier. Sometimes it’s easier to learn from actual examples and as you can see from the chart, lots of combinations fall into the same correct play.

Free Blackjack Online

One of the best ways to learn is to try and get access to real casinos who offer free play modes of the actual game that you’re going to play. These are often called demo modes and it works by the casino giving you a play money balance that you can use to bet on that game.

If you lose you simply replenish your play money account and if you win, the balance simply increases. It will reset every time you leave and join a new game.

The reason we think that this is the best learning tool is that you’re playing a game with the exact rules that you will be playing with real money. The calculator and the simulator might be limited when it comes to certain features that you can access that the casino is offering. This will affect the perfect strategy if this is the case.

Chips Value in Blackjack

When playing online, most casinos will highlight the value of a chip with a number that appears on the screen. But, when you are playing live, even though chips are numbered, the colour of the chip is often the quickest way to work out what the value is.

The value and the colour of each chip can vary from casino to casino, but there is a set range of colours and nominations, as listed below:

  • White = €1
  • Red = €5
  • Green = €25
  • Black = €100
  • Purple = €500
  • Orange = €1,000

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Number of Card Decks in Blackjack

There is no rule set in stone about how many decks a casino will use for a game of blackjack. If you play at home you’re likely going to play with just a single deck of cards, but a casino will use multiple decks.

The numbers usually range between 4 and 8, but they must specify this at the table for all players to be aware of. The same principles need to take into account online as well, as it can have big implications on the house edge.

What you will find is that the greater the number of decks of cards, the higher the house edge becomes. The reason is that as more decks are added, the number of blackjack combinations reduces. With a single deck, the ratio between blackjack hands and non-blackjack hands is at its highest.

The beauty of online means that you can shop around to find casinos that are offering games with the fewest number of decks. Even though the margins are small, you want to try and take every edge you can or at least minimise the edge that the casino is looking to take.

Why Play Blackjack Online?

There is no doubt that online blackjack, at online casinos or mobile casinos, has changed the way that most players address the game and it’s opened up a whole new world to game variations.

The number one reason to play online is that the house edge is almost always lower than it is with land-based casinos. As we have mentioned, there are many ways that the rules can adjust the house edge in blackjack, but with a land-based casino, you are basically taken what you are given. Online you can quickly shop around, so if there are games with a higher house edge, they simply won’t get the traffic to make them profitable.

Online blackjack has a much wider range of games to choose from as well. Some of them include Spanish 1, Super Fun 21, Pontoon, War Blackjack, Face Up Blackjack, Double Attack, Down Under and many, many more. The base of each of these games are the same, but subtle rule changes mean that they are individual of each other, offering up great choice.

The game is one that is very simple to play. You don’t have to worry too much about playing perfectly each time either, although long term it will benefit you. Most people at least know basic rules, so this makes it highly accessible.

Finally, it’s one of the few casino games where you can apply a bit of strategy to your bets. Unlike things like slots or roulette, blackjack is an art that can be mastered. You will always be an underdog to the casino, but you can at least minimise this, unlike almost all other games, which in reality, a monkey could play.

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