Blackjack is an incredibly simple and incredibly popular playing card game. It’s a particular favourite among fans of easy card games, and has the somewhat dubious honour of being the most widely played casino game in the world. Yep, it pips its lifelong nemesis Poker to the post.
When you’re learning how to play Blackjack, at first glance, it may seem to be entirely luck-based. And if you’re not playing sensibly, it is. Going into a game of Blackjack, the odds are stacked against you – the house always wins, didn’t you know? But there’s more strategy to Blackjack than many people realise. In fact, because Blackjack’s rules are so simple, pro players have been able to boil the game down and devise the perfect way to play.
In this guide we’ll explain how to play Blackjack, covering all the rules you need to know for your first game. But that’s not all, we’ll also tell you how to win Blackjack, the main tips and tricks that will give you the best possible chance of triumphing at the Blackjack table. And if you don’t want to win, then a) that’s curious, and b) you can just do the exact opposite of what we tell you, got it?
How to play Blackjack
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’).
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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.
How Blackjack betting works
Betting in Blackjack is super simple. 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.
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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.
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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 Blackjack to devise the perfect strategy. Because it’s such a simple game, and your opponent, the dealer, plays on autopilot, there is always a mathematically correct move to make.
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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 casino’s 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.
That’s pretty dull though, and if you’re just playing with friends just for a laugh, having one of those charts with you will suck the fun away like an enjoyment Hoover. So here are a few more basic 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!