How to Play Blackjack

BlackJack, also often referred to as 21, is a casino card comparison game of chance. In it’s most common form player plays versus the so called house (usually a casino) and tries to get a hand featuring point value of 21 or as close as possible. This is one of the most popular games out there regardless whether you choose to play in an online gambling environment or play at a brick & mortar casino.

There have been countless movies created about the game as well as stories. Due to the nature of this game, I can personally say that it is one of the most addictive games out there. Having said that, it also is one of the most entertaining and exciting ones. The house advantage, while still in place, will usually be tiny compared to other games which brings in the statistical variance that can go one way or another in shortterm.

BlackJack is also one of the rare casino games that allow skill to play a role and makes having a longterm edge over the house possible. This is done by card counting and we will take a brief look at the topic later in the article.

Hand Valuation

The hands in BlackJack are valued real simple and in an easay to understand fashion, when compared to other card games like Baccarat.

  • Aces are worth 1 or 11 points, allowing you to choose the value that fits you best.
  • All face cards including tens are worth ten points.
  • Numbered cards are worth their face value – a deuce is worth 2 points while an eight is worth 8 points.

To determine your hand value simply add up the value of cards dealt to you in a particular hand.

GamePlay

The game is divided into rounds or better said hands. At the start of each particular hand, you will be required to place a wager on one of the betting boxes. A BlackJack table can have anywhere between 1 to 6 of these and you can bet at any of them, given that no other player has taken it.

Once a wager is made, dealer will start to deal the cards from a shuffle machine that consists of 1 to 8 standard 52 card decks of cards. Hands for players will be dealt one by one until each participating hand has two cards dealt. The dealer will then place a card face up for himself. In some variations of the game, the dealer will also put a second card face down, but most commonly he will wait until all players have finished playing to do so.

After all cards have been dealt, players act clockwise and have to choose between one of the offered options, unless a natural hand of BlackJack has been dealt. Here are the options that will be offered playing most game types:

  • Hit – take another card.
  • Stand – do not take another card and wait for the dealer to draw his hand.
  • Surrender – by choosing this option, you give up half of your bet and end to play that particular hand. Players can surrender only when dealer does not hold an Ace as his face up card.
  • Split – if your hand consists of 2 equal value cards (such as 7;7 or two face cards), you can play each of them as a single hand. You will have to put a bet equal to your wager on that hand to do so.
  • Double Down – double your wager and hit only one card. Doubling down is usually done when the dealer holds a bad card and you hold a point score that is likely to turn into a very good one such as nine, ten or eleven.

Once you have played all the hands by choosing one of the options above, the dealer proceeds to drawing cards to his own hand. He follows a simple drawing rule by hitting cards until he has at least 17 so he can’t stand on anything less even if none of your hands have higher value than 12 for example. Some BlackJack types will allow dealer to hit on soft 17, but I would advise to avoid these as they benefit the house instead of you.

As the dealer ends drawing cards to his hand and has at least 17 or has gone over 21, which means all players with a live hand win, payouts are awarded.

Payouts

All wins at BlackJack are paid out at even money odds meaning if you wager $100 on a hand and win, you will win $100+$100 for a total payout of $200 and a net profit of $100. You will qualify for a payout if your hand features a point value that is higher than the dealers. Otherwise the hand will result in you losing your wager. However, if you and the dealer both hold hands of equal value it is considered as a push and you neither win or lose.

There is one exception to the even money payout odds which is when you get dealt a natural hand of BlackJack. Natural hand is one that consists of an ace and a face card – a card worth ten points. If this is the case, you will be paid at increased odds of 3 to 2. Getting a hand like this dealt comes as almost a guarantee of winning unless the dealer also hits the same hand, which is unlikely to say the least.

Insurance

When dealer deals himself an ace of any kind, you will be offered with one extra option to choose from – insurance. It actually is pretty much the same as insurance you might have dealt with in several real life situations. You can insure yourself against the dealer having a natural hand of BlackJack that will result in you losing with any hand combination other than BlackJack.

If you want to insure yourself, you will have to put uphalf of your wager for every hand that needs to be insured. If you bet $100, insurance will cost you $50. Note that this works as a separate bet and even if you end up bustin that particular hand, you will still get paid on your insurance bet given that the dealer actually has BlackJack. In most variations of the game, insurance pays at 3 to 2 odds.

Even Money

You just hit a natural hand of BlackJack just to see that dealer has also dealt himself an ace, which means that he also has a high chance of having the same combination resulting in a push. There is a way to avoid any stress though and that’s taking even money. You can instantly get paid at 1 to 1 odds for your hand of BlackJack and be done with the hand right there. Of course, you can alternatively wait and check whether the dealer will actually hit his BlackJack. If he does, you won’t win a dime, but if he does not, a payout will be awarded at 3 to 2 odds.

The House Edge

Even though BlackJack is a game of chance, casinos do feature an advantage over you. However, as I already stated in the opening of this article, it is relatively small when compared to most other casino games. The actual edge will vary depending on what type of BlackJack you choose to play, but the average number is around 0.5%. Here’s a small hint – play single deck BlackJack as the house edge is only 0.16% in this variation.

When we turn these percentages into real money, you as a player hold an expectation of losing $0.50 every time you wager $100 in bets. When playing single deck type, this number is even smaller – $0.16.

Strategy

The game of BlackJack can actually be solved by card counting, but we won’t get into that topic in this paragraph. The percentages I listed above is the actual house edge, when a player follows the so called BlackJack Basic Strategy. Here is a handy chart showing what to do in certain situations and when the dealer holds certain cards. Note that most brick & mortar casinos actually allow players to have this chart with them, meaning you can take it to the table and use it.

Card Counting

This will just be a basic and very brief introduction to the card counting and to actually learn to use it, you will need a fair bit of more in-depth advice. So what is this card counting that a ton of gamblers are famous for? Esentially, it is applied by keeping the track of what cards are dealt on the table until eventually a player can have a good idea about the amount of high cards left in the shoe. Why would you want to know how many high cards are left in the shoe? Because these are the ones making BlackJack and high point scores.

A deck of cards is usually assigned with point values of -1, +1 and 0. As the cards are dealt, you will be able to keep the count in your head while playing hands following the basic strategy. Once the count is favourable enough, you can start to adjust your wagers according to it.

Casinos have done a heck of a job to prevent card counters from playing, as they also have card counters working for them and trying to detect whether a particular player is doing so. I’ll just add that there have been people taking millions of dollars simply by using card counting at BlackJack.

Note that this was a really basic introduction to the card counting and it trully is an art and will take a while to learn how these systems can be applied while playing. We will try our best to write some in-depth articles on these topics as soon as possible.


March 22, 2013 - Offer valid as of date published. T&Cs apply.