How to Play Blackjack
Blackjack is the most popular casino card game by a long way – nothing else even comes close. The popularity of this game is due to the mix of simple game-play, and enough unique situations for player skill to make a difference. You can pile up some big stacks of chips in this game when the cards go your way.
First, you need to learn the rules and the basic plays, so that you are not handing the casino an unnecessary edge. This page gives you those rules in easy to follow format. You will find the most common Blackjack terms defined below. These will help you understand the next section, which describes the roles of the dealer and player as the hand progresses. Finally, I have added some insight into different Blackjack rules variations, and how these can affect your play.
Here are the key terms you will hear in any discussion on how to play Blackjack:
Blackjack: This is a 2 card hand totaling 21 points. It is made up of one picture card (10 or above) and one ace. A card totaling 21 with more than 2 cards is not a Blackjack.
Hit: If you want to take another card to add to your hand, then you are ‘hitting’. Players often hit the felt to indicate this.
Stand: If you are happy with your total, and do not want to take another card, then you are standing. This is indicated live by swiping your hand sideways over the cards.
Double: Also called ‘Double-down’ this is a situation in Blackjack where you add another bet, and receive one and only one more card for your hand.
Split: Cards of the same rank can be split into two separate Blackjack hands, an additional bet is required to do this. The hands are then played separately.
Soft / Hard: You might hear a term like ‘Soft 17’ in this game. This refers to hands containing an ace, which can count as either a 1 or 11. You cannot go over 21 by hitting on a soft hand.
Bust: If a hand goes over 21 at any point, then it has ‘bust’, the hand and your bet are removed from the table.
Insurance: This is a side-bet that will be offered in most games when the dealer shows an ace. You bet an additional half of your stake, and if the dealer gets 21, you will get paid 2-to-1 on this bet. This bet has a large edge in favor of the house and should not be taken.
The Objective of the Game
Many people mistakenly think that the objective of this game is to get as close to 21 as possible. This is only partially the case. Your real objective is to beat the dealer every time the cards are dealt. There are two ways of doing this. You can either get a total closer to 21 than the dealer, without going over. Alternatively, you can hold a live hand when the dealer busts.
Blackjack Rules – Dealer and Player Actions
Once the cards have been shuffled and the bets placed the dealer will deal two cards to each player face-up, and one face-up and one face-down card for themselves.
The first thing that happens is the dealer checks for Blackjack if she has a 10 or an ace showing. If this is an ace, players will be offered insurance before this check occurs. If the dealer does have Blackjack then all non-Blackjack player hands lose, with bets returned if both the player and dealer have a Blackjack at the same time.
Next, any player that does have Blackjack (assuming the dealer does not) will get paid out, usually at 3-to-2 odds on their stake.
The decisions on whether to hit, stand, split or double (and in some games surrender) will then be taken by each player in turn. Decisions will usually be simple, for example you will stand with any total 17 or over and hit with 11 or less. Marginal decisions can be based on the dealer’s showing card.
Once all the players have acted, either standing or busting their hands, it is time for the dealer to act.
The dealer will flip up her second card, and then will follow pre-determined rules on whether to hit or stand. Usually standing on 17+ and hitting below this, with rules about whether the dealer hits on a soft 17 varying from game to game. If the dealer busts, then all live player hands will win by default. If the dealer makes a total between 17 and 21, this is compared to the totals on the live player hands to determine who wins and who loses. Any hands which have the same totals are considered a push (drawn, with the player bet returned).
Blackjack Rules – Game Variations
There are many Blackjack variations nowadays, some with minor rule changes and others mixing up the game completely while maintaining the 21 theme. Make sure that you understand the rules of the game you are joining before you sit down. It is better to ask and find you have found the wrong game, than to lose money making what you thought was a ‘good’ play.