Introduction to Blackjack: A complete guide

30-second summary:

  • The objective of blackjack is to beat the dealer’s hand by having a total count that is as close to 21 as possible, without exceeding it.
  • Ace cards can be worth 1 or 11, face cards are all worth 10, and the other cards are equivalent to their pip value.
  • Players must place their bet before the game starts. The minimum and maximum bets allowed are established from the beginning.
  • During the game, players have the options to just add another card to their hand (hit), double their bet and add another card (double down), not do anything (stand), or giving up the game (surrender).
  • If the first two cards have the same denomination, players may split pairs and treat the cards as two separate hands-on their next turn.
  • Insurance is a side-bet that lets the player bet on the odds that the dealer will draw a ten-card and have a blackjack when the dealer’s face-up card is an ace.

Blackjack is one of the most well-known card games in casino history, and whose popularity is still going strong thanks to a new generation of players who have discovered real money blackjack online. What makes blackjack so attractive to new players is that it combines skill with chance, giving everyone who is willing to learn basic strategy the ability to reduce the house edge and take the upper hand.

Chasing after the elusive 21 is a thrilling ride and this guide will be your introduction to basic casino blackjack rules, as well as other nuances and strategies, to help you make the most of your time at the tables.

Like all casino games, timing and luck play a significant part in determining your success at blackjack, but with the information in this guide about the game's unique dynamics, you too can learn several ways to shift the odds in your favour when you play blackjack online or at the live casino.

How to play: A look at blackjack rules

The goal of blackjack is to hold a hand whose card value total is as close as possible to 21, while exceeding the card value of the hand held by the dealer. The easiest way to achieve this objective is by drawing a blackjack, that is an ace and a ten, which together make 21 and give you an automatic win with the maximum payoff at 3/2 on your bet.

Each card in a hand has a point value that is added up to calculate the total of the hand. The face cards: King (K), Queen (Q), and Jack (J) are worth 10 points each, while the number cards 2 through 10 are worth their pip value. The Ace (A) can either count as 1 or 11, this makes the difference between a “soft” and a “hard” hand, and the method of calculating the value of an ace depends on the rest of the hand.

Other ways to win at blackjack is to have a hand that exceeds the dealer’s total or by letting the dealer go “bust”, that is going over 21 while you remain under the limit. However, if you’re the one who goes bust by having a count that exceeds 21, then you’ll automatically lose your bet.

Blackjack online follows the same rules as the physical game played in casinos. At the beginning of the round, after making their initial bet, the dealer will deal the player two cards turned up while the dealer also gets a card with its face turned down. There are a few variations to this setup, but the rest of the game revolves around the options to take a hit and add another card, double down and increase the amount of money wagered, or standing on the current hand.

Important blackjack terms you should know

What do the terms “hit”, “double down”, and “stand” mean? Blackjack comes with its own jargon which every player must learn in order to understand the game and play it properly online or offline.

 The following is a list of the most frequently used terms in blackjack games:

  • Stand: Choose this option to keep your current hand without adding more cards, and force the dealer to pick another card to their hand.
  • Hit: This adds another card to your hand, which could improve your count by making it nearer to 21 and thus defeating the dealer, or possibly exceeding 21 and going bust.
  • Surrender: You can avoid losing all your money at the beginning of the round, before drawing any further cards, by choosing to surrender and forfeiting your hand right away. By surrendering you will only lose half your original bet, but not all games offer this option.
  • Double-down: With this option you can double your initial bet and draw another card. This option is usually available after drawing the first two cards.
  • Split: If you are dealt pairs, such as two 8s, you can split them and treat them as separate hands. This option gives you more opportunities to win in a single game.
  • Insurance: Insurance is a side-bet which can be made when the dealer’s face-up card is an Ace. Your wager is on the possibility of the dealer having a 10 as the hole-card and forming a blackjack. This bet pays out at 2:1 odds, but if the dealer doesn’t have a blackjack, you will lose both the original bet and the side bet.

Basic strategies to improve your blackjack game

Blackjack is one of the few casino games where you can apply strategy and actually shift the odds in your favour by decreasing the house edge. By memorising a few rules of thumb, anyone can improve their chances of winning at blackjack and beat the dealer more regularly.

The most comprehensive blackjack strategy uses a strategy chart which displays the best action based on the cards in your hand and those visible on the dealer’s side. This chart is a useful tool to keep handy at all times, especially as online play makes it easier to consult during a game.

If you must remember only a few guidelines for playing blackjack, then we recommend keeping in mind the following strategies:

  • It's recommended to hit when you have an Ace and a 6
  • Stand if you've got an Ace and a 7 or higher
  • You should split 7s if the dealer's card has a value of 7 or lower
  • Always split a pair of 8s or Aces
  • Double down on a 10 or 11
  • Keep hitting until your count is 17 then stand

We cover more advanced strategies in detail in our guide dedicated to Blackjack strategies.

An overview of card counting in blackjack

Another popular strategy in blackjack is card counting, which works by keeping track of the high and low-value cards dealt during the game. This technique was created by the mathematician Edward Thorp to help players estimate how likely the next card to be dealt will favour their hand or the dealer’s hand.

To count cards, players must keep a tally of the high and low-value cards that are drawn during the game. While high-value cards (A, 10 K, Q, J) tend to favour the card counters, the house stands a better chance with the low-value cards (2-6). It can go either way with the rest of the cards (7-9).

If they think they’ll have the advantage over the house, they will increase their bets. Alternatively, if the casino stands a better chance, card counters will place smaller bets or none at all by opting out of playing. Read our detailed article about card counting in blackjack to learn more about this technique.

Advantages of playing blackjack online

Playing online blackjack opens up a world of possibilities for players looking to enjoy this classic casino card game or discover the incredible range of variants, a few of which are exclusively available online at Betfair casino.

Online blackjack also lets you play for free in demo mode, something which we highly recommend if you’ve never played before and would like to master the rules before playing seriously for real money. To win real cash prizes, all you need to do is create a casino account and make your first deposit. Look out for a welcome bonus when you sign up!

Besides online games, you can also experience a more authentic blackjack experience by heading to the live casino. Real dealers are waiting to deal you in the next game when you take a seat at the virtual table streamed live from a state-of-the-card blackjack room or game studio.

Live blackjack play is the closest you can get to playing at an actual casino from home, you’ll also get to hone your card counting skills and go head to head against multiple blackjack players from around the world.

Key takeaways section:

  • Blackjack is a game that combines skill and chance to reach your goal of creating a hand whose count doesn’t exceed 21 and that beats the dealer’s hand.
  • One of the most popular card games in history, blackjack has several unique terms that describe its rules and gameplay such as “hit”, “stand”, “split”, “double down”, and “insurance”.
  • Card counting is a blackjack strategy that works best in physical games; other basic strategies can be used when playing blackjack online to reduce the house edge.
  • Playing blackjack online is safe, convenient, and gives you the option to choose whether to play against the computer or a real dealer.
  • When playing against a real dealer or against other players in multiplayer games, be aware of the rules of conduct to avoid disrupting the normal flow of the game.

FAQs

How do you win in blackjack?

You can win in blackjack in three ways:

  1. by having a hand count of 21
  2. by having a hand count that is higher than the dealer’s hand as long as it doesn’t exceed 21
  3. if the dealer’s hand exceeds 21

If you and the dealer have the same count at the end of the round, then the game finishes in a tie (“push”) and you’ll get back your bet.

What happens if you draw 21?

If you have a hand that is worth 21 (“blackjack”), you’ll automatically beat the dealer if they have a different hand and win the game. If you have a blackjack and win, you’ll receive a 3:2 payout.

Which moves should you avoid in blackjack?

There are various strategies you can learn to improve your chances of winning in blackjack, however, if you do only memorise a few guidelines, then we suggest you follow these four simple rules:

  • Never split a pair of 5s or 10s;
  • Never hit if your count is 18 or over;
  • Never stand on counts of 11 or lower;
  • Never double down when the dealer has an Ace.

Is it permissible to count cards in blackjack?

Yes, although casinos don’t approve of card counters, the practice is allowed at blackjack tables. However, counting cards is more effective for physical games as online blackjack games use sophisticated algorithms to randomise card draws that make counting practically impossible. It is still possible to reduce the house edge of online blackjack when you use other basic strategies described in this article.

Can you win real money at an online blackjack table?

Of course! Online blackjack works exactly like the real deal, whether you play against the computer or a live dealer. After creating your casino account and making a real money deposit, you can find a blackjack table with suitable betting limits and make your first bet. All your winnings will be converted from chips to real money available in your casino account.