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Blackjack is one of the most popular casino games – both at bricks and mortar and online casinos – of them all. This is partly because of the simplicity of the game (you need to make a better hand than the dealer) and partly because it has one of the lowest house edges of any casino games (with liberal rules just 0.28%). Here we give you information on how to play this exciting game with details of the different options you have in given situations.

What is Blackjack?

Blackjack is a comparing card game in which players compete against the dealer rather than one another. It is usually played with one to eight standard decks of cards (that is, containing the standard 52 cards in each deck), though some casinos now use continuous shuffling machines. The object of the game is not to “get as close to 21 as possible without going over” as many would suggest, but rather, simply, to “beat the dealer”.

Players are each dealt two cards and the combined total of the cards gives the hand’s overall score. Face cards (kings, queens and jacks) are counted at a value of 10, while aces can be counted as either one or 11 points as the player or dealer sees fit.

The dealer is also dealt two cards but only one of which is face up, the other – the “hole” card – remaining face down. Players then have a number of options based on the cards they have been dealt (and, sometimes, on the dealer’s face up card), which will be explained below. The dealer doesn’t have the same options and is compelled to follow a set of actions in a given situation, again see below.

Player Options at Blackjack

After being dealt their initial two cards, players have a number of options, as detailed below.

  • Stand - The player decides they want no more cards and will allow his two-card total to contest against whatever the dealer comes up with.
  • Hit - The player is dealt another card and can then choose to stand or hit again. If the total of the cards exceeds 21, the player has gone bust and has lost that hand (and his money).
  • Double - Players have the chance to double their bet in return for one more (and only one more) card. This is often taken up when a player’s initial two cards add up to 10 or 11 as they seek a picture card to get them close to 21.
  • Split - Players have the option to split their hand if they have any pair or any two 10-point cards, and again this involves doubling their initial bet. The player is then dealt another card to form a new hand with each of his split cards and then plays each of his new hands in turn, hitting, standing or doubling as he would ordinarily. Some game variants do not allow players to double after splitting, while after splitting aces only one more card will usually be permitted for each new hand. Also, hitting a 10-value card with an ace after splitting counts only as a 21-point hand, rather than a blackjack.
  • Insurance - If the dealer hits an ace on his first card he will offer players the chance to purchase “insurance”, a side bet that pays out at 2 to 1 if the dealer’s hole card is any 10-point card (thus gaining them the hand of blackjack).
  • Surrender - Depending on the particular rules of the game or the casino in which you are playing, players are sometimes given the option to surrender their hand, which means they give up have the value of their wager while retaining the other half and they do not continue with their hand. This option (when available at all) is only permitted after the first two player cards have been dealt.

Dealer Obligations at Blackjack

Dealers at blackjack are bound by a number of rules from which they cannot diverge. As such, when playing against a dealer you are really playing against the house rules. As mentioned above, if a dealer hits an ace on his first card, he must offer the players insurance (in most variants of the game, at least). Aside from that, dealers must do the following in given circumstances after the players have had their turns and the dealer’s hole card has been revealed.

  • 16 or Less - If the value of the dealer’s two cards adds up to 16 or less, he must take another card. He will keep drawing cards until the total value of his cards is 17 or greater (or he goes bust and loses the hand). As such, if (or when) the total value of his cards reaches 17 or above, he must stand, even if players in the game have higher totals.
  • Soft 17 - A “soft 17” is when a dealer has an ace and any number of cards that add up to six points (making a total of 17 points when the ace is counted at a value of 11). Some game variants or blackjack tables will have the rule that the dealer must also draw another card when he hits a soft 17.

Winning at Blackjack

As mentioned, the objective of the game of blackjack is to beat the dealer, and in order to beat the dealer the player must do one of three things:

  • 1. Get a higher score than the dealer, without exceeding a total value of 21
  • 2. Get a score of 21 from two cards, that is an ace with a 10-value card (a hand which is termed a “blackjack”) without the dealer hitting a blackjack
  • 3. Score any total value of 21 or below when the dealer goes over 21 (and hence goes bust)

Note that if the player and the dealer have the same total after all hands have been played, it is a “push” and the player will retain their bet without losing or winning anything.

If a player hits a blackjack (an ace and a 10-point card) they will be paid out at odds of 3 to 2, as long as the dealer doesn’t also hit a blackjack, in which case it would be a push.

Rule Variants of Blackjack

There are a number of rules which differ between casinos, online operators or blackjack game variants, and these can be anything from the number of packs of cards used (the greater the number of packs, the bigger the house edge) to the specific rules on splitting and re-splitting hands. Here are some of the more common rule variants.

  • No hole card - In many variants of blackjack (online and in bricks and mortar establishments, mainly outside of the United States) the dealer does not have a hole card but draws just one card and then draws his second only after all the players have completed their hands. This variant adds about 0.11% to the house edge.
  • Different Payouts for Blackjack - While odds of 3 to 2 are standard for a winning blackjack, some casinos or games pay as little as 6 to 5 or even money, both of which will increase the house edge significantly (by 2.3% for evens and 1.4% for 6 to 5).
  • Splitting Aces - As mentioned above, hitting 21 after splitting aces invariably counts only as a “soft” 21 rather than a blackjack, thus – if the hand wins – only the standard even money payout will be forthcoming rather than the enhanced odds for a blackjack.
  • Re-splitting - Some games will allow unlimited re-splitting of hands with cards of the same value, others will specify that only a certain number of splits is permitted (often four).