How to Play Blackjack

Blackjack is one of the most widely played card games in the world, with its origins dating back to several hundred years ago. Its simplicity in terms of rules, coupled with a relatively high chance of winning each hand played, has made it an incredibly popular game worldwide. The odds of winning in blackjack are close to 50% (generally 46-48% is quoted). The reason that it isn’t an exact 50/50 is that the player always goes first, which means there is a chance for them to lose by exceeding the maximum score, without the dealer doing anything.

The Basic Rules of Blackjack

The main objective of blackjack is to get as close to a score of 21 as possible. The closer you get, the more likely you are to beat the dealer, who is also trying to get as close to 21 as possible. But if you go over 21, you’re bust, and you lose. There is also the possibility of a draw – when you get the same score as a dealer. This is called a push.

To play blackjack, you need several decks of cards – the most common number of decks is six, but the number can be anywhere between one and eight. Each player is dealt 2 cards initially, with the objective of adding the combined scores of those cards together, then deciding whether to request additional cards with the goal of getting as close to 21 as possible. Players can continue to request further cards until they decide to stick with their score, they reach 21 or their score exceeds 21 and they are bust. 

In a casino, you sit at a table with up to 6 other players, with the dealer in front of you. You’re all playing against the dealer – not each other. You play left to right, then the dealer gets their chance at the end. If you beat the dealer, you win money – usually at a ratio of 1:1. So, £50 returns £50 a £50 reward + your £50 stake). 

The only exception to this is if the player has “blackjack”, which is 21 with 2 cards (an Ace and a 10 or picture card), when the most used pay-out ratio is 3:2. You will find that this ratio is clearly advertised before you start playing. 

You will typically find that a minimum bet is £5, and the maximum is £500. Again, this will vary based on where you’re playing, but this is the most common.

Card Values

So, how do you start building your score to 21? Well, numbered cards are worth the amount they represent (a 3 is worth 3, a 6 is worth 6) and Jack, Queen and King – called face cards - are worth 10. That’s the easy bit, which just leaves the ace. An ace is worth either 1 or 11, depending on the player’s choice or what is mathematically possible, so the total score does not exceed 21. 

Let’s look at an example of that. If you have an Ace and a 7, the score can be 8 or 18 – you choose. If you then decide to continue and get a 4, the ace will automatically become 1 and the total score will be 7 + 1 + 4 = 12. Obviously, having an ace at the start gives you a strong position from which to take another card as you have the insurance of reverting the ace to a score of 1 if you get a high card. But we’ll get to tactics in a few paragraphs’ time.

How Blackjack Works in Play

To start, the dealer gives each player two cards, faces down. The dealer also deals themselves in, with one card facing up. Remember, players win if they get a score higher than the dealer’s, but not exceeding 21. Players look at their cards and can decide to request another card, stick with what they have, or surrender. Play moves from left to right as you sit, so each player takes their turn before the dealer plays. Remember, you’re only playing against the dealer!
You can surrender, effectively conceding the game, only before extra cards have been received, and this results in a return of half the stake. 

Players can request extra cards until they reach the value of 21, exceed this (thereby automatically losing) or decide to stick. Once players have taken their turns, the dealer then reveals their second card and plays with the same rules. The only exception to this is the “17” rule, whereby the dealer cannot take another card after their score hits 17. In contrast, they have to take another card if their score is 16 or under. This gives them less flexibility. 

Once the dealer has finished, scores are compared, and pay-outs occur if a player has won. If a player has the same total as the dealer, this is a draw – called a push - and the original stake is returned.

Insurance Bets

If the dealer’s face-up card is an Ace, players can place an insurance bet, which pays out at 3:2 if the dealer has “blackjack”, but the original bet is automatically lost.

Splitting

The other rule that effects a player is the “split” rule. If a player’s initial two cards are the same (two 6s or two Kings, for example), then they can choose to split them and receive extra accompanying cards for each original card. This effectively gives the player two chances to play with two different hands, thereby increasing their chances of winning. If the player receives a card that is the same value as the original cards, there is a chance for a further split, but the rules will vary from site to site as to how many multiple splits can be effected during a single game.

Doubling Down

If a player finds that their first two cards equal 9, 10 or 11, they can opt to double down. This doubles the stake but means that the player can only receive one additional card. This increases the risk of finishing on a low score (if you choose to double down with 9 and receive a 2, you are stuck with 11 as your total score), but also acknowledges the possibility of receiving a card worth 10 points, or an ace. 

Terminology

There are several words that you need to remember when you’re playing blackjack. Here’s a handy list of the terminology you might here.

Hit – Asking the dealer for another card
Stick / Stand – Choosing not to take another card
Bust – When you take a card and it pushes your score over 21

Push – This means you got the same score as the dealer, so your original stake is returned
Split – When your initial cards are the same (2 6s, 2 Jacks), you can choose to split them and start two hands. You get a card for each new hand and effectively get double the chance to win

Double Down – Doubling your original bet and accepting another card 
Surrender – Deciding to concede before playing in exchange for 50% of your original bet back
Soft hand – When your total includes using an ace as 11
Blackjack – Getting 21 with only two cards; an ace and a face card or a 10. The reward for blackjack is usually a pay-out of 3:2.

Tips

Obviously, blackjack is a game of considerable chance. You can’t influence the cards you or the dealer receives, and if you’re playing online, you can’t try and count the cards. But there are a few tips you can follow that will tip the odds slightly more in your favour. Here are three of the best.

1. Use the dealer’s hand as a clue
Use your common sense. If the dealer has between 2 and 6, they don’t have anything competitive yet. This means there is a good chance that they will take another card and then go bust. In this situation, you can afford to stick on a lower total. On the other hand, if the dealer has a 9, 10, face card or ace, you might be up against a strong hand so you should try for a bit higher.

2. Aces high

If you see the dealer has an ace, think about reaching for your insurance bet. Remember, there are 4 types of card they could have to give them blackjack – 10, Jack, Queen, King – that’s 16 possible cards.

3. Splitting

Think before you split. If you have two fives and you split, you have wasted a good chance to get 20 by drawing a face card or a 10 next, and 21 if you draw an ace – so don’t do it. Conversely, always split if you have two aces. That’s 2 chances to get blackjack!

How to Get Started

There are plenty of online casinos that offer blackjack for beginners. If you’re just getting started out, look for low stakes and a high welcome bonus. There are also plenty of free blackjack games out there so you can practise a bit before you start putting down actual stakes. If you’re really thinking about getting into blackjack, then this would be a strong option for you.

And remember: while splitting, doubling down, surrendering and the use of the ace are additional rules to get used to, the basic formula for blackjack is easy to learn and remember and this makes the game a great starting point for those people who are new to online gambling. So get yourself online and give it a go!

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