Blackjack

Blackjack is a popular card game which is played at every casino in the world, both online and offline. In this guide, you can learn all about the game of blackjack, including a strategy which you can use to give yourself a greater chance of winning.

After reading the article you can try your strategy here or choosing from one of the many different variants available at the end of the page:

History of blackjack

A game called 21 existed long before blackjack, and there are records of this being played throughout Europe as early as the beginning of the 17th century. In France, the game was known as vingt-et-un and was even played by nobility including King Louis XV.

The game was introduced in the United States by Europeans in the 19th century and in 1820, a gambling house in New Orleans became the first place to legally offer the game to players. In order to increase its popularity, casinos started to offer improved odds on certain outcomes in the game. One such outcome, which had odds of 10/1, was to get 21 points with the help of the ace of spades and any blackjack. This is from where blackjack takes its name.

The rules of blackjack

Blackjack is quite a simple game to play and the rules are very easy to follow. Before any cards are dealt by the dealer, you must decide how much you wish to bet on the game – each individual round of blackjack is known as a hand. Place the desired amount of chips in the box in front of you at the table – this area is known as a box, despite usually being circular in shape.

The dealer will then deal 2 cards to you, face up. He or she will deal themselves 2 cards, one of these is face up and one is face down.

The idea of the game is to beat the dealer by coming as close to 21 points as possible without going bust or scoring more than 21 points. All cards from 2 to 10 have the same number of points as their face value; jack, queen and king are 10 points; and an ace is 1 or 11 points. You will decide how you wish to proceed based on your own 2 cards and the single card of the dealer which is visible.

There are then four options:

  • Hit

You can take another card or several cards from the dealer as long as your total remains below 21.

  • Stand

This is where you take no more cards because you are satisfied that you have a good enough total to potentially win. Your turn ends at this point.

  • Double down

You can double your initial stake to take one more card from the dealer. You are only allowed to receive one more card if you double down and even though you may wish to continue playing if you are dealt a lower card than you anticipated, this is not allowed.

  • Split

If your two cards are a pair, you can split them. This means that you form two separate hands by moving the cards slightly apart. You will need to match your original stake for the new hand.

Once you have either informed the dealer of your wish to stand, it is their turn. They will first turn over the card which is face down. They must follow the casino’s rule of when to keep drawing cards. Generally, the dealer must stand on soft 17 or better (soft 17 is an ace and a 6; a hard 17 would be a 10 or picture card and a 7).

Once the dealer stands, he or she will determine who wins and pay out chips accordingly. All cards are collected by the dealer and a new hand can be played. In the event of a player busting, the house wins.

Blackjack pay-outs and alternative variants

If you beat the dealer in blackjack, you will be paid out at od sav 1/1. This means you double your stake. The exception is if you have a blackjack, which in the modern version of the game is a 10, jack, queen or king and an ace. This gives you 21 points and is the best initial hand you can be dealt with. This is paid out at odds of 3/2, or two and a half times your initial stake.

If your total is the same as the dealer’s, it is a draw. This is known as a push in blackjack and your stake will be returned to you.

If the dealer’s initial visible card is an ace, you might suspect that they will have blackjack if the face down card is a 10 or picture card. In this case, you can make an insurance side-bet. This bet is half your initial stake and pays out at odds of 2/1 if the dealer does indeed have blackjack. If the dealer has blackjack, you win on the insurance bet and lose on your initial bet (unless you also have blackjack, which would be a push). If the dealer does not have blackjack, you lose your insurance bet, but you can still win on your main bet.

These are the odds and rules of classic blackjack, but there are other versions of blackjack you can find online and some of these offer great odds on different outcomes in the game, such as:

  • 21 with three 7s
  • 21 with cards of the same suit
  • 21 with five or more cards

The odds available for these outcomes are much better than the 1/1 of a standard blackjack game. We recommend checking the rules of an individual online blackjack game before you start to play.

Blackjack can be played as a single deck or multi-deck game. In a game with just one deck, the house has a significantly bigger advantage (0.17%, rather than 0.46% when offering a two-deck game).

Try the double deck blackjack!

Blackjack perfect strategy

It isn’t possible to play blackjack in such a way that you win every single hand, but it is possible to improve your chances of winning. By using a system known as basic strategy, you will play based on the total of your two cards, the visible card of the dealer and the statistical likelihood of the next card helping you out.

Casinos are happy to let players use basic strategy and on many casino websites, you can find information about the strategy. The table below shows you how to proceed following the dealing of cards in blackjack. The horizontal values are for the dealer’s visible card and the vertical values are for the total of your cards.

blackjack_perfect_strategy
The perfect blackjack strategy table

Another way to give yourself an edge is to count cards. This is frowned upon by most casinos, but it is not in fact illegal. With card counting, you assign a value of either 1, 0 or -1 to each card which is dealt and keep a running total in your head.

The values of cards are as follows:

  • 2-6: 1 point
  • 7-9: 0 points
  • 10-A: -1 point

When the running count is positive, you should bet larger as there are more 10s, picture cards and aces left in the deck. Conversely, a negative count should see you make smaller bets as the most favourable cards are no longer remaining in the deck.

Blackjack in popular culture

Blackjack makes an appearance as the main theme in several works of fiction. These include Ken Uston’s The Big Player and Ben Mezrich’s Bringing Down the House.

In music, there are blackjack references in Elvis Presley’s Viva Las Vegas and the Ray Charles song, Blackjack.

The most famous blackjack moment in the film is in 1988’s Rain Man. Dustin Hoffman plays an autistic man who counts cards at a blackjack table. His companion Tom Cruise wins hand after hand thanks to his friend’s card counting skills.

Blackjack also features in 1997’s Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. The eponymous spy stands with a total of just 5 and claims he “likes to live dangerously”.

Advantages of playing blackjack online

The main advantage of playing blackjack online is that you can play it anytime, anywhere. Online casinos are never closed and thanks to mobile technology, you can play anywhere on a smartphone or tablet, if you have an internet connection. This means you don’t need to get dressed up or travel anywhere in order to enjoy your favourite game.

Another advantage of online blackjack is the stacking limit. Online casinos cater to both small and large stakes players. You can play a hand online for as little as $1, which is not always possible in land-based casinos. At the other end of the scale, some online casinos allow huge stakes on each hand that would not be possible in offline casinos.

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