Blackjack Rules & How To Play
Blackjack requires the player to make many more decisions than most table games and as such it is important that players fully understand all the rules.
Blackjack is a hugely popular game and therefore has spawned countless variations and special rules sometimes exclusive to just a single casino. Below is a guide to the most common rules found in most online casinos. Note that online casinos usually have several variations of blackjack available for players and this guide relates mostly to European Blackjack (often just called Blackjack or Classic Blackjack), however the rules of the most common variations will also be briefly introduced.
The aim of blackjack is to get as close as possible to 21 points without exceeding 21. The points are the same as the numbers on the cards with picture cards (Jack, Queen, King) being worth 10 points each and the Ace counting as either 1 or 11, as desired by the player. If the player exceeds 21, they instantly lose (or bust), regardless of what the dealer gets. If the dealer exceeds 21, the player wins and their bet is returned along with their win (the same as the bet). If neither the dealer or the player exceed 21, whoever is closer to this number wins.
Blackjack enables multiple players to play in the same round against the dealer at the same time. Each player takes a turn to make their decisions consecutively. Furthermore, each player is usually allowed to play multiple hands during the same round. The total number of playable hands, both different players and the same player playing multiple hands, is limited, usually to a maximum of 6 or 8 places.
Interesting Fact: The name ‘blackjack’ is a result of bonus incentives paid out by casinos when the game was first introduced into US casinos. If a player’s hand was made up of the ace of spades plus a black jack (clubs or spades) the player would receive a 10 to 1 bonus payout. This bonus was later removed but the blackjack name persevered.
In virtually all variations of blackjack the dealer does not have any decisions to make. The most common forms of blackjack require that the dealer hits up to and including 16 and sticks on 17 (both soft and hard). The dealer is not permitted to split or double-down or make any other decision or side bets available to the player.
The first thing to occur in a hand of blackjack is the initial betting. All players involved in the hand must declare their bet before the and cards are dealt out. After all the bets have been placed, the cards are dealt from the dealer’s left with each player receiving two cards shown and the dealer receiving two cards, but with only one card shown.
If a player is dealt a blackjack, they instantly win and receive a payout of 3:2. If neither the player or the dealer receives a blackjack the first player must now make their first decision. Typically this would be to hit or stand.
‘Soft’ hand – a hand which includes an ace, e.g. a soft 17 could be A,6. Conversely, a ‘hard’ hand is one which does not include an ace, e.g. a hard 17 could be 9,8.
Hit or Stand
The most common decisions that a player will have to make it to either hit (also called twist) or stand (also called stick or stay). Choose hit to receive another card and stand to stop receiving cards and declare your score for the round. There is no theoretical limit to the number of cards a player can receive however in practice it is highly unlikely that a player will get a valid score from more than 6 cards.
When the dealer and the player get the same hand, a push is declared which means no-one wins and the player receives back his wager for that hand. The exception to this is if the player receives a blackjack, it is an instant win (some casinos will declare push if the dealer also receives a blackjack, but this variation is not very common in online blackjack sites).
When the player’s cards total more than 21, the hand is declared bust meaning that the player loses and their stake is lost. Conversely, if the player stands and the dealer busts the player wins and their stake is matched by the dealer. The player then receives their stake back plus the same amount again for the win.
A ‘blackjack’ (also known as a natural) is the term given when the first two cards dealt are an ace and another card of value 10 (i.e. 10, J, Q, or K). If a player receives a blackjack, it is an instant win. Most casinos immediately pay out to players who get blackjack, however if the dealer has an ace showing, some casinos will check to see if the dealer also has blackjack (see American Blackjack), in which case the hand is pushed. If the player reaches 21 in their hand but the dealer reveals a blackjack, the dealer wins. If both the dealer and the player have blackjack, the hand is pushed (some casinos give an instant win when the player receives blackjack whilst others will wait to see if the dealer also has it, resulting in a push).
The chance of getting a blackjack is approximately 4.8%.
The double-down rule can be a very effective way of increasing your long term winnings. To double-down the player doubles their initial stake and will only receive one subsequent card.
• Reno rule – doubling down only permitted on 9, 10, or 11.
• European standard – doubling down only permitted on 10 or 11.
If the initial hand dealt to a player is made up of two of the same value, e.g. 6,6 or 9,9 or J,K the player has the option to create two independent hands and continue on each as if they was the first card dealt from the dealer i.e. the player receives two further cards, one for each of the originally split paired hand. The player must place a further wager matching their original bet and both hands continue as normal. Double-down and further splitting may be restricted depending on the particular rules of the casino. Blackjacks attained after a split are treated as 21 rather than a regular blackjack in comparison to the dealer’s hand.
If the player receives another matching card after splitting their initial paired hand, most blackjack games allow the player to split again or re-split. Some games allow players to continue re-splitting indefinitely whilst other casinos limit the number of permitted splits (e.g. re-split to 4).
The only exception to the split rule is when the player receives two aces and decides to split. After splitting aces, virtually all casinos will only give the player one subsequent card on each hand. According to basic strategy, the player should always split aces.
If the first card received by the dealer is an ace (some variations offer insurance on value 10 cards also), the player is offered ‘insurance’. Insurance protects the player’s stake in the event that the next card the dealer turns over completes their blackjack. Insurance pays 2:1, however the stake is limited to half the initial bet therefore if the player predicts correctly and the dealer receives a blackjack then the player will lose their initial bet but get double their insurance bet. The end result is that the player will just get their initial stake back sometimes referred to as ‘even money’.
According to basic strategy, the player should never take insurance. The statistics suggest that it is always preferable in the long term for the player to risk losing rather than play safe with an insurance bet.
The surrender rule (not common in European and Classic Blackjack variations) enables the player to ‘cut their losses’ and escape from a hand that they think is very likely to be beaten by the dealer. When a player surrenders a hand it is immediately dead and the dealer will take half the player’s stake with the other half being returned to the player. For American blackjack and variations that give the dealer a hole card alongside an initial card face up have two types of surrender that relate to when the player is allowed to take this option:
• Early surrender – the player is allowed to surrender before the dealer checks for a blackjack if the first card the dealer receives is an ace or a 10.
• Late surrender – the player is only permitted to surrender after the dealer has checked and confirm they do not have a blackjack.
An Example Hand
Here is an interesting hand which incorporates several of the rules explained above such as hitting, splitting, re-splitting, and doubling-down (flick through the slideshow and hover your cusor over each picture to explain the process of the hand):
All blackjack tables will have minimum and maximum betting limits. Always check the table limits in both online games and in real casinos as this is an important consideration when you decide which table to sit down and play.
Dealer to hit on soft 17 – Most casinos require the dealer to stand on all 17s but some require the dealer to hit on soft 17. This is a disadvantage for the player and the dealer is more likely to improve their hand.
There are many different versions of blackjack but the two most common variations found in most online casinos are European and American blackjack. This rules guide and strategy is based on European Blackjack (often just called Blackjack) and there are only a few subtle changes in the American version that have a slight impact on basic strategy:
• The dealer only receives one card initially face up, and will not receive another card until all players have finished their turns.
• The player is only able to double-down on initial hand totals of 9, 10 or 11.
• The player is not allowed to surrender.
• Often the dealer must hit on soft 17 (not always the case).
• The dealer initially receives one card face up and one card face down (a hole card).
• The player is able to double-down on any initial hand.
• The player is allowed to surrender at any point during the hand.
• The dealer must stand on soft 17.
The most significant difference of American blackjack is perhaps the fact that the dealer receives a hole card and when they receive an ace (and often also a 10-value card) as their face up card they will immediately check to see if they have a blackjack. If they do then the hand is over and all bets are lost. See the strategy guide for how this affects how a hand should be played.
Different Payouts for Blackjack
Some casinos deviate from the normal 3:2 blackjack payout and those which give less than this amount should be avoided at all times!
Dealer Wins Draws
Instead of a push, some casinos give the dealer the win when the hands are tied. Again, this rule is very significant for the player’s odds and you shouldn’t sit on these tables.
This variation of blackjack requires the player to play two hands in one round and the player is able to switch the cards between the hands e.g. if the player is dealt 10,5 and K,6 the player can switch the cards to give the more favourable hands 10,K and 5,6. To compensate for this, blackjacks only payout 1:1 and a push is announced if the dealer gets 22.
Some casinos and blackjack variations allow players to make side bets. Side bets must be played in addition to a blackjack hand are independent to the actual blackjack hand being played. Side bets are placed on a separate space beside the normal blackjack bet before the hand is dealt and are normally settled on completion of the initial deal. Insurance is the most common side bet but some casinos and online sites offer several other side bets. Side bets often offer some of the least value betting available and have a high house edge as such they are generally not recommended.
The perfect pairs side bet is a commonly found optional variation in online casinos and does not require any changes to the normal rules of blackjack. To win with a perfect pairs bet, quite simply the player must be initially dealt a pair, for example two jacks or two fives. However, the amount won by a winning perfect pairs bet varies according to the nature of the pair using the following odds:
• Mixed pair, pays 5 to 1 – A pair made from different colours, e.g. queen of clubs, queen of diamonds.
• Coloured pair, pays 10 to 1 – A pair made from the same colour but different suits, e.g. nine of clubs, nine of spades.
• Perfect pair, pays 30 to 1 – A pair made form the same two cards, e.g. jack of hearts, jack of hearts.
Luck Lucky works by combining the player’s two cards with the dealer’s face card to make a three card hand. The payouts are as follows:
• Suited 777 – 200 to 1
• Suited 678 – 100 to 1
• 777 – 50 to 1
• 678 – 30 to 1
• Suited 21 (sum in total) – 15 to 1
• 21 (sum in total) – 3 to 1
• 20 (sum in total) – 2 to 1
• 19 (sum in total) – 2 to 1