The concept of blackjack is pretty simple: get as close to 21 as possible without exceeding it. You’ll be playing against a virtual dealer, who’s also aiming to reach 21, and whose hand you want to beat. Let’s run through everything you know about playing blackjack.
Blackjack card values are pretty simple to understand. The value of cards 2 to 10 is their pip value and face cards (jack, queen and king) are worth 10. An ace can be worth 1 or 11, depending on which value most helps your hand, but using it as an 11 is known as a soft hand.
You have a number of options in a blackjack game, and each move has different consequences.
- Stand – Standing means you wish to stick with the hand you’ve been dealt and you won’t be dealt any additional cards;
- Hit – Hitting is a request for another card in addition to your original hand. This action is useful if you’ve been dealt two low value cards in your first hand;
- Split Pairs – If your two cards are identical, you’ll be able to split them to play as separate hands, giving you two chances to beat the dealer. This move isn’t available to blackjack dealers;
- Double Down – This doubles the initial bet, committing to stand after receiving just one more card in your hand. Blackjack dealers don’t have the option to double down;
- Surrender – In some games, if you’ve been dealt a bad hand, you can choose to surrender. This means you’ve accepted you won’t beat the dealer and you’ll be able to recoup half of your bet;
- Bust – No one decides to bust, but this is what happens when your total card value exceeds 21. Going bust means you’ll instantly lose the bet.
Blackjack in Play
Here’s how a standard game of online blackjack might unfold:
- Bets are made – Bets are placed before any cards are dealt. Betting tables will usually have maximum wager limits, which will vary between games and casinos.
- Cards are dealt – Both your cards will be dealt face up. The dealer’s first card will be face up, but neither of you will be able to see the second.
- Check for naturals – You’ll check for a natural blackjack— an ace and any card with a value of ten— to hit 21 straight away. The dealer can only check for a natural if his faceup card is a ten-card or an ace. You’ll instantly be paid 1.5 times your initial bet if you land a natural blackjack. If both you and the dealer have a natural blackjack, neither you nor the casino wins and your bet will be returned. This is known as a push.
- Actions are decided – If you don’t have a natural 21, and the dealer cannot check for one, you’ll continue play in an attempt to get as close as possible without exceeding the number. From here, you’ll decide whether to split, double down or hit until you stand or bust.
- Winnings are paid out – Once you stand, or you or the dealer busts, the results of the game will be displayed on the screen and your winnings paid out. You’ll win if your hand is higher than the dealer’s and doesn’t exceed the limit of 21.
How to Beat the Dealer
When playing blackjack, your opponent is the house or the dealer. Which begs the question, how do you beat them? As we’ve already touched on, the goal is to get the hand closest to 21 without going bust — essentially, that’s all you need to do to beat the dealer.
There are a few ways you can win a hand of blackjack:
- Your first two cards make a natural blackjack and you automatically win, assuming the dealer does not also hold a blackjack.
- The dealer stands and your hand is closest to 21.
- You stand, and then the dealer hits and goes bust.
If both the player and dealer have the same hand value, it’s a tie or ‘push’ and your stake is returned.
If you’re looking for tips and tricks to improve your odds of beating the dealer, there aren’t any secrets or shortcuts. But you can apply basic strategy to ensure you make the best decisions according to the maths. While it depends on the specific rules of the blackjack variant you’re playing, it’s worth learning what to do in certain situations.
Some elements of blackjack strategy which will help you beat the dealer include:
- Always hit hard 11 or less;
- Always stand on hard 17 or higher;
- Always split 8s and Aces;
- Never split 5s or 10s;
- Always stand on soft 19 or higher.
Read more of our blackjack tips and perfect your skills with our full guide to blackjack strategy.
How to Lose to the Dealer
While it’s a situation you’ll be wanting to avoid, losing to the dealer is inevitable when playing blackjack. The dealer wins in a number of situations:
- The player hits and busts as their hand has a value above 21;
- The player stands and the dealer gets a hand closer to 21 without going bust;
- If the dealer’s up card is a 10, face card, or ace, they can peek at the hole card. If they have a natural blackjack, they flip over the hole card and automatically win the hand.
If your hand is worth the same as the dealer’s, it results in a push and your stake is returned. Keep in mind some variants of blackjack feature the ‘push on 22’ rule, where the round ends in a push if the dealer’s hand is worth 22, even if you have a blackjack.
How the Blackjack Table is Set Up
Most RNG and live dealer blackjack games emulate the real thing you’ll find in a brick-and-mortar casino. The table is usually a semicircle covered in green felt. The dealer sits along the straight edge of the table, with player seats positioned opposite around the curved edge. Within easy reach of the dealer is the shoe, used for dealing cards, and the chip tray.
Each player’s position is marked clearly on the table. This is where they can place their betting chips and where their cards will be dealt. Some blackjack games let players bet on more than one hand per round, with each hand given its own spot on the table.
If the game features side bets such as Insurance or 21+3, these will also be marked on the table. In online blackjack, this is all taken care of for you — your actions and betting are controlled via the interactive interface.
The exact odds for a blackjack game will change depending on the variation you’ve chosen and how many decks are in use. For a standard game, blackjack pays out at 3:2, which means you’ll receive 1.5 times the amount of your bet if you win. So let’s say you’ve placed a bet of £5 and you successfully beat the dealer- you’ll receive £7.50 as a payout.
Each blackjack variation features slight differences in rules and gameplay, which in turn will impact a player’s chance of beating the house. However, ultimately, the house edge means a casino will always have a slight advantage when you’re playing blackjack over a longer period of time. This means that, while you might seem to have the hot hand, your winning streak won’t last forever. These are the house edge percentages for a standard blackjack game:
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