Looking to learn the Blackjack rules and how to win at this classic card game? You’re in the right place. Yes, Blackjack is a game of chance, and yes, the odds are stacked against you in the dealer’s favor – but some Blackjack strategies are simply mathematically better than others. This guide explains the rules, basic strategy, and general tips for your next game.
Blackjack (also called 21 or Pontoon) is an incredibly simple and popular playing card game. It’s a fairly easy card game to grasp, and – as long as green baize, casino atmosphere, and money on the line are your idea of a good time, it’s one of the best card games in the world.
If you fancy something with less cash and more color, try our guide to the best trading card games instead – or explore the wider world of card games for adults. Otherwise, ante up, and we’ll get on with the basic rules of Blackjack.
How to play Blackjack
We said learning how to play Blackjack was simple as hell, and we meant it. You win Blackjack if you can get closer to a target score of 21 than the dealer, without going over it. That’s the goal.
At the start of each round, the dealer hands out two cards to each player, including themselves. The dealer gets one card face down and one face up, so you won’t know exactly what their hand is worth till you’ve played.
The dealer will then have everyone play out their hand, one by one. You play a Blackjack hand by asking for extra cards (hit me) until you’re satisfied, at which point you ‘stand’ and the dealer moves on to the next player. Get too greedy (or unlucky) and go over 21, and you automatically lose (this is known as ‘bust’).
Once everyone has played out their hands, it’s the dealer’s turn. They reveal their face down card and must take new cards if their hand is below 17. They do this until they have 17 or more (or go bust) at which point they have to stop. The dealer’s play is therefore fully automatic.
If your hand is worth more than the dealer’s, you win. Calculating blackjack card values is simple. Number cards (2-10) are worth that number, the face cards (Jack, Queen, King) are each worth 10, and an Ace can be worth 1 or 11, whichever is better for the person holding it.
In a casino, Blackjack is usually played at a table with a dealer facing off against multiple players, but it’s essentially a two-player game, as there’s no teamwork to speak of. If you’re playing with friends, it makes more sense for the dealer role to change each round. Or you can even just simulate a dealer, since the dealer doesn’t actually make any decisions.
Blackjack betting is super simple to understand. You have to bet a minimum amount each round and there’s a maximum amount you’re allowed to bet. Everyone places their bets at the start of the round.
If you beat the dealer, you get back double what you bet (so if you bet five chips, you’d get your original five, plus five more). If you lose, you lose your money. If you draw, you just get what you bet back and break even.
Insurance is an optional side bet that the dealer will offer if their face up card is an Ace. This is to protect against a ‘Blackjack’, the name given to an unbeatable hand of an Ace and a face or 10 card. You can bet up to half of your initial bet for insurance, and this will get paid out at 2-to-1 odds if the dealer hits a Blackjack. It might seem like an attractive option, but over time the odds don’t work out. It’s usually best to stay clear.
Doubling down is another betting action you can take in Blackjack. After you’ve received your first two cards, if you’re confident that that one more card will give you a hand that will beat the dealer’s, you can double your bet. You then receive one more card, and only one, and your turn is over.
What is splitting in Blackjack?
The last move to know about in Blackjack is splitting. This can be done if the first two cards dealt to you are identical. You can ‘split’ them, and play on as if you have two hands.
Be aware that you have to add a second, equal bet alongside your first bet if you’re splitting, to represent the new hand. These hands are treated entirely separately, and played one at a time. You might therefore win one hand, and lose the other.
Blackjack strategy – how to win
As we said at the beginning of this guide, some people have finetuned the perfect Blackjack strategy – that’s right, despite assumptions to the contrary, there is a real element of strategy to this game of chance. Because it’s such a simple game, and your opponent, the dealer, plays on autopilot, there is always a mathematically correct move to make.
Therefore, if you want the best chance at winning in Blackjack, you should take a good hard look at a Blackjack Basic Strategy chart, like the one above, and do your best to commit it to memory. Or just bring one along to your Blackjack game, it’s not cheating – some casinos even sell the charts. A Basic Strategy chart will tell you exactly what move gives you the best outcome, based on probability, in every situation.
Playing the Basic Strategy is pretty dull, and if you’re just playing with friends for a laugh, having one of those charts with you will suck the fun away like an enjoyment vacuum cleaner. So here are a few more general Blackjack tips and tricks that could give you an edge:
- Remember that 16 is the worst possible hand.
- This means you should always split if you’re dealt two 8s.
- Always split Aces, as 10 is the most common card value.
- Play as if the dealer’s card you can’t see is a 10
- Don’t take insurance
Most importantly, be aware that even with Basic Strategy perfected, the odds in Blackjack are always slightly in the dealer’s favour. So, if you’re playing with real money, don’t go in expecting to win big with the perfect strategy. Wargamer says – always gamble responsibly!
Fancy something a bit more social? Try your hand at Texas Hold ‘Em with our guides to the Poker rules and best Poker hands. If playing for hard cash ain’t your style, don’t worry, we still have you covered – we’ve recommended a bunch of solid free card games too.