Blackjack’s status as one of the most popular casino games is unquestionable. Fast-paced with plenty of strategy to keep you interested, online Blackjack also has the lowest house edge of all casino games!
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How To Play Blackjack
Blackjack is a relatively simple game to pick up and play. Some will say that in Blackjack the object of the game is to get a hand totalling as close to 21 as possible without going over and busting. However, this is incorrect – your aim in Blackjack is even simpler than that: beat the dealer.
There are two ways to beat the dealer in Blackjack:
- Get a hand which totals closer to 21 than the dealer’s
- Dealer goes over 21 and busts
Here’s how the game works in practice:
- Before the hand is dealt, you place a bet.
- After all bets are placed you will be dealt two cards face-up, and so will the dealer. One of the dealer’s cards will be face-up, and the other face-down – the face-down one is known as the ‘hole card’.
Once the cards are dealt, you are given a few options on how you want to proceed. These options can vary depending on the variation of Blackjack you’re playing but typically they will be:
- Stand – this means that you are happy with the cards you have and don’t need any more. If you have a ‘natural’ (Ace and a 10, J, Q, or K), the decision to stand is automatic.
- Hit – this is the option to choose if you want to get closer to 21. The dealer will give you another card, face-up. You can do this as many times as you like, but if your card total goes over 21 (for example with a 6, 9 and Jack making 25), then you have ‘Bust’ – the hand is over for you and you lose your bet.
- Double – if you select this option double your original bet is doubled in exchange for being dealt one more card. You automatically Stand after Doubling. The regulations for this option vary, so check up on this beforehand.
- Split – you can choose to Split if you are dealt two cards that are the same (i.e. two Aces or two Queens). In order to do so, you make a bet of equal value to the first bet you made on each card. The cards are separated, and dealer gives a second card on each. You then play the hands out one at a time until you Stand or Bust.
Fundamentally, Blackjack rules are the same everywhere, with different variations which are discussed later. The rules that are used in what some might call ‘standard’ Blackjack are as follows:
- 8 standard decks of cards are used.
- Card values are equal to face value, except for:
- Jack, Queen and King = 10
- Ace = 1 or 11
- The Dealer must continue to Hit until their card total is 17 or higher, at which point they must stand.
- You can Double or Split only on the first move.
- Three or more cards totalling 21 are not a Blackjack or a Natural.
- Bets are returned to the player if they have the same hand total as the dealer (this is called a Push).
- Normal winning payout is 1:1 and a winning Blackjack hand pays out at 3:2.
Blackjack Terms Explained
In order to be successful while learning how to play Blackjack online, you will need to be aware of what all the different words on the screen mean. Here is a very brief overview of the common Blackjack jargon you will find.
- Hit: The word to say when you want to ask for another card.
- Stand: End your turn by keeping your current card total.
- Double: Double your original bet but receive only one more card.
- Split: Separate your dealt hand into two hands (can only be done with two cards of the same value) and double your bet so you have 1x the original bet on each hand.
- Push: When the dealer and player have the same value of hand – bets are returned to the player.
- Natural: Another word for the hand known as Blackjack; an Ace paired with a 10, Jack, Queen or King.
- Insurance: A side bet that the dealer has Blackjack. Some tables allow this when the dealer’s visible card is an Ace.
- Hard hand: A hand not including an Ace.
- Soft hand: A hand including an Ace valued as 11.
- Surrender: Retrieve half of your bet by folding your hand (availability of this option varies).
Blackjack Odds And House Edge
The odds of winning at Blackjack vary from hand to hand. They depend on the cards you hold, and the card that the Dealer is showing.
However, as with any casino game, online or offline, there is an element to the game which tips it in the favour of the casino/house. The overall ‘house edge’ of Blackjack (when using standard rules) is around 0.5% – one of the lowest when compared with other casino games.
In Blackjack, players have their choice of action, whereas the Dealer is bound by the rules – i.e. they must Hit until their hand total exceeds 16. So where does the Blackjack house edge come from? It’s simpler than you might think.
- The Hole Card
Remember that as a player, your aim is to beat the Dealer. But the Dealer only shows one of his cards, which makes it more difficult for you to know the best course of action on your turn.
- You Play First
The Dealer will always play their hand last. If you bust on your turn, you lose your bet automatically, regardless of the Dealer’s actions.
Interestingly, if you played your hands to the same rules as the Dealer has to follow in standard Blackjack, you would both win 46% of the hands. But the remaining 8% of the time you would both Bust, and that means you lose your bet. In this case, the house edge would be 8%.
Fortunately, the ability to Double, Split, and Stand on lower totals reduces the Blackjack house edge considerably, down to the 0.5% we mentioned earlier.
The 0.5% house edge in Blackjack is dependent on how you play your hands. To help with this, you can use what is known as the Basic Blackjack Strategy. This is mathematically proven to reduce the house edge to its absolute minimum, by telling you the best action in every possible situation.
Below is a basic chart to get you started – for the most optimal strategy including Splitting hands and Ace hands, check out our in-depth Blackjack strategy page.
When Should I Split In Blackjack?
Splitting is an option you are only given when you are dealt two cards of the same denomination. But it’s not always the best option to take. Use our handy strategy card below to know when Splitting your hand is genuinely in your best interests.
Should I Take The Insurance In Blackjack?
Insurance essentially allows you to bet on the Dealer having Blackjack. This option is offered if the dealer’s visible card is an Ace. If the dealer has a Blackjack, you receive a 2-1 payout, but if the dealer does not have a Blackjack, you lose your insurance money.
Although it can be tempting, Insurance is a bad bet to take in all circumstances – the house edge is a whopping 7.47%. Most seasoned players will never use the option to take Insurance.
Commonly Misplayed Blackjack Hands
TAKING THE INSURANCE
It can be awfully tempting to take the Insurance offer when your dealer is showing an Ace. After all, it means that there are four cards which will give the dealer Blackjack! Insurance allows you to regain your original bet should you be right in thinking their down card is one of them. However, the odds are dramatically in the dealer’s favour if you choose this option. Remember there is a bigger chance that they do not have Blackjack. You are therefore better off turning down the even money insurance bet and chasing the 1.5x win instead.
NOT DOUBLING 11 VS 10
If the dealer is showing a 10, there is a decent chance that they will have another one face-down. But with an 11, your chances for hitting a 20 or 21 are higher than the chances of the dealer having another 10 face down. This is one situation in online Blackjack which favours the brave. Doubling up against a dealer’s 10 might seem counter-intuitive, but you are playing to the odds. Bet £10, hit your 11, and you’ll win 56% of the hands on average. Double your bet amount, and you’ll win 54% of the time, but for £20.
STANDING ON 16 VS 7
When the dealer is showing a 10, it’s easier to justify hitting your 16 because of the higher chance of the dealer beating your hand. But hitting a 16 carries the same risk regardless, and drawing a small number like 2 or 3 will significantly increase your odds of winning. Always hit on a 16 when playing against a dealer’s 7. If you get lucky and hit a low enough card, the improvement to your odds is enough to mitigate your losses over time. Remember: while an 18 vs a dealer’s 10 is little better than a 16, an 18 against a dealer’s 7 is much stronger.
STANDING ON SOFT 18 VS 10
Many players believe that 18 is a hand which shouldn’t be messed with, because it will bring them a win more often than not. Against a dealer’s 10 though, the odds say different. Neither option offers great odds here, but hitting will give you a slightly better chance. Over time, you will lose more hands on average than you win, by standing with a soft 18 against a dealer’s 10. This is also true of hitting, but with the small mitigation that you don’t lose quite as much. So be bold, and give yourself the best possible chance by taking a hit on that soft 18.
Blackjack derives a lot of its popularity from being easy to pick up and learn, even if you are a total beginner. And despite this, there is an undeniable sense of satisfaction that you feel when winning at Blackjack online. That’s because the game is not entirely luck-based. You feel that you have earned your win more than if you were playing Bingo or Slots for example. It is not surprising therefore, that a lot of people out there are playing their Blackjack hands in the wrong way. Or to put it more accurately, in a way which doesn’t guarantee them the best odds of coming out a winner. How many of us have read the instructions only long enough to turn on the device, before deciding to figure it out as we go along? It’s only normal to pick up a few bad playing habits this way. That’s why we have compiled this list of four commonly misplayed Blackjack hands. Read on, and stop making those costly mistakes at the felt:
If you’re playing for the first time you might find yourself confused in regards to which of the many variations of Blackjack you should play.
Most of the games you’ll find have the same basic rules, referred to above as the standard Blackjack rules. But creative casino software developers have incorporated some more complex rules into some of their Blackjack variations.
This is a popular derivative of Blackjack that emerged in London, and its most notable difference is in the betting mechanics. The biggest difference is that bets are made by players after seeing their first card. Also, players cannot Stand with a hand total of less than 14, however they can bet after Doubling – which is referred to in this variant as ‘Buying’ a card.
In addition to this, there’s also a hand called the ‘Five Card Trick’. This is when a player builds a hand of five cards while still retaining a total of less than 21. It beats any of the dealer’s hands, except Blackjack.
If you choose to play this game you should note that the rules tend to vary according to which casino you opt to play at. The great thing about this true British game is that the payouts are often much higher than in Blackjack, although the odds of beating the dealer are lower.
Overall, this is a fine choice for anyone who wants to play Blackjack at a slightly faster pace – check out our dedicated Pontoon page to find some online casinos offering this popular Blackjack variation.
Variations of Blackjack that include the Surrender option are popular, but rare. Surrender allows you to essentially ‘fold’ your hand in return for half of your bet being returned to you. This is beneficial if you are in a situation where your odds of beating the dealer (based on the cards visible to you) are so low that it is worth taking a small hit.
There are two types of Surrender in Blackjack:
- Late Surrender is the most common, and gives you the option to fold your hand after the dealer checks his ‘hole card’. This is important, as if the dealer has Blackjack you will automatically lose the hand and your bet without being given the option to Surrender.
- Early Surrender allows you to fold before the dealer even looks at his ‘hole card’ and therefore affords you an extra advantage.
In a casino, there are three ways that you can indicate that you would like to Surrender your hand:
- Use your finger to draw a horizontal line behind your bet, indicating that the bet is being cut off.
- Hold up both hands with your palms facing the dealer.
- Simply tell the dealer you wish to Surrender the hand.
In an online Blackjack game, the Surrender option should be clearly present in the form of a button on your screen, assuming that it is available at that particular table.
In Blackjack Switch, you are dealt two hands and have the option to ‘Switch’ the second card dealt to each hand. For example, if you’re dealt 10-5 and 7-10, you could Switch the second card of each hand, which would give you 7-5 and 10-10. Perhaps surprisingly, this variant of Blackjack has a higher house edge than traditional Blackjack, at 0.58%.
The other main difference is the Dealer’s hand does not bust on 22. Instead, a Dealer hand of 22 will result in a push against all player hands except for 21. Furthermore:
- 6 decks of cards are used
- If a player switches to a Blackjack, it will count as a standard 21
- Dealer Hits on Soft 17 (a hand totalling 17 where one of the cards is an Ace)
One basic Blackjack Switch strategy is to swap cards in order to create a single strong hand. However, this way you can often end up with one winning hand and one losing hand cancelling each other out. It is therefore generally recommended to try and hold two decent hands (i.e. a 16 and a 20), instead of one brilliant hand and a poor one (i.e. a Blackjack and a 14).
This was primarily created to counteract players who’ve trained themselves in card counting. Crucially, the Dealer does not check whether he’s reached 21 until after the players have made their moves.
There is also no splitting of 4’s, 5’s or 10’s in European Blackjack. This is because casinos are aware that expert card counters usually attempt to split these types of pairs when the Dealer is weak and will most probably go bust.
In short, the following rule differences apply when playing European Blackjack:
- 6 decks are used
- Dealer checks for Blackjack after the players have played their hands
- Dealer stands on Soft 17 (i.e. A-6), or any higher hand
- Doubling is only allowed on hard hands totalling 9, 10, or 11
- Splitting of 4, 5, and 10 is not allowed
- Players are allowed to double after splitting their hand
The biggest difference in this Blackjack variation is that all of the 10, Jack, Queen and King cards are removed from the deck. Thus, with no cards which equate to 10, it becomes far more difficult for the player’s hand of cards to make up 21 and makes the game a lot more unpredictable.
Double Attack Blackjack
Quite a new variant of the game which is found at both at land-based casinos as well as online. The rules of the game are based on the Spanish 21 game. However, it incorporates some interesting twists such as side bets.
Double Exposure Blackjack
This variant of Blackjack takes its name from the fact that the dealer’s cards are made visible to the player from the start of the hand. This creates an advantage as the player is able to see the hand he has to beat rather than guess.
This version of Blackjack is available at online casinos all over the Internet. As implied by the name of the game, playing this variant will allow you to enjoy playing more than one hand at a time.
Live Blackjack Online
A live Blackjack online game attempts to emulate the experience of playing the game in a land-based casino, as closely as possible. One of the defining aspects of Blackjack is that you’re competing against the dealer. When the dealer is simply a computer program, the game loses a lot of its charm. This is one of the biggest reasons live casinos have become so popular.
When you use one of the online casinos on our list, you can expect to see only quality dealers who know the rules in and out. The standards for the dealers are generally just as high as they would be for a land-based casino – they are all very smartly dressed and deal very efficiently.
Live Blackjack Variations
As with the majority of popular casino games, there are a number of Blackjack variations out there. Since the game has been played around the world for centuries, it’s not a surprise that people have tried to put their own unique spins on it. Here, we describe three classic variations. You can typically find these at the Blackjack live casino sites listed.
Variation 1: Pontoon
Pontoon is essentially a British version of American Blackjack. It’s very similar to its American counterpart but has a few differences which add a bit of interest. The key difference is that players get to see a card first before they make their bets. They can also increase their bets during the hand itself. This gives you a lot more control over the action. Find out more on our Pontoon card game page.
Variation 2: Blackjack Switch
Another popular variation, Blackjack Switch was invented by Geoff Hall in 2009. The game is more or less the same as conventional Blackjack but there’s a twist. In this game, each player gets dealt two separate hands. After the initial deal, you get the chance to switch your hands, hence the name!
Variation 3: Double Exposure Blackjack
This variation of Blackjack is popular among players as it’s one of the few casino game variations that actually offers positive winning odds for the player in some cases. Sadly, that means this variation is quite rare, as most casinos stick to offering variations where they have at least a small house edge. The key difference in this game is that both of the dealer’s cards are exposed, so when you make your decision, you know exactly what the dealer has.
Blackjack tournaments have always been reasonably popular because they add an extra layer of competitiveness to the game. Instead of simply competing against the dealer, you are also competing against other players. It also makes it possible for you to win a bigger pot at the end of your Blackjacks session.
There are three main types of Blackjack tournament:
All players buy in for a certain amount, and are given a stack of chips to play with. Whoever has the biggest stack at the end of the allotted time is the winner and claims the prize money. These tournaments are popular as they allow you to win large sums of money with a relatively low entry fee investment.
Each player is given a starting stack, and is obliged to bet a minimum amount each round. At certain intervals, such as after every 10 rounds, the player with the smallest stack is eliminated from the game. This is played until there is only one player left standing – and he or she is declared the winner.
As the name suggests, these online Blackjack tournaments are free to join and play in. The prizes in these types of tournaments are rarely monetary due to the lack of entry fees, but the prizes are still valuable. Prizes typically include free credit which can be used to play at the online casino.
The Story Of Blackjack
There has been no clear agreement about when and where the Blackjack card game originated. Nonetheless, researchers have their theories!
Blackjack in Spain and Ancient Rome
It is possible that the game came about as a derivative of the Spanish game called ‘One and Thirty’. Similarly to Vingt-et-Un, which was played in French casinos, the main aim of the game was to reach a certain score.
In the Spanish version of the game the target score is 31 rather than 21. This could be achieved with a minimum of three cards rather than two.
Another popular theory is that Blackjack was invented by the Romans. Researchers believe that the Romans used to play it using wooden blocks bearing the different numerical values, in lieu of playing cards.
The Global Spread of Vingt-et-Un
When the game was in its infancy, there were various different versions of Blackjack. But it is the French version ‘Vingt-et-Un’ (more commonly known as ‘21’) which spread furthest around the globe.
The most widely believed theory is that Blackjack was first played in 18th century French casinos. Many believe that it stems from the French card game, Chemin de Fer and French Ferme which were extremely popular during that era.
The game ended up in North America due to French colonialism. Soon after, it was being played throughout the entire continent. However, Blackjack’s rules back then where profoundly different to the ones you find in contemporary Blackjack.
In what is thought to be the original version of Blackjack, only the dealer was allowed to double – not the player. Furthermore, there was also a betting round between each of the cards that were dealt, similarly to Pontoon.
This French connection is shared by Roulette – so named as it means ‘little wheel’ in French.
When the game reached Nevada in 1931, it still carried its original name with it. In order to draw in more people to the game, some casinos started to offer a special bet.
This special bet activated if a hand consisted of black Jacks (either the Jack of Spades or the Jack of Clubs) together with the Ace of Spades. In these cases, a payout of 10- 1 would be given to the lucky player.
Even though casinos stopped this type of payout, the name of the game still stuck. Hence, instead of being called ‘21’ the game began to also be referred to as Blackjack.
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