Learn to play smart with our straightforward blackjack guide for beginners.
Our step-by-step blackjack guide will take you through the rules of play, to basic betting optimisation and finally to an overview of live and mobile play. Once you familiarise yourself with the information in this guide, you’ll be well equipped for some premium blackjack action.
Most people are taught to play a version of blackjack as children. The UK version is known as ‘Pontoon’, while other names include ‘Twenty-one’ and ‘Ventiuna’.
Blackjack in its non-casino form is usually a two player game. One player is the player, and the other the dealer, and the deal switches between the two players after every hand. The dealer deals two cards to each player, and then the player chooses what to do next.
The basic object of the game is to have a hand with a total number of points that’s either worth twenty-one, or is as close to twenty-one as the player dares. If a hand is worth more than twenty-one then it automatically loses.
All cards are worth their face value, aside from jacks, queens and kings which are worth ten, and aces which can be worth one or eleven, whichever the player chooses. Once the deal is complete, a player may ‘stick’ (or ‘stand’ in casino terminology) or ‘twist’ (‘hit’). If they stick, they receive no more cards. If they twist they receive another card. They can keep twisting until they stick, or bust.
If the player hasn’t bust and chooses to stick, the dealer then plays. He flips his cards and tries to beat the player’s total without going bust.
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Blackjack is based on the near-identical card game called ‘twenty-one’, which has been popular in France and Spain since before the 1600s. The first mention of the game is in a short story by the famous Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes, who wrote the infamously lengthy tome Don Quixote. The story revolved around two Spanish con-men who swindled the people of Seville by cheating at the game ‘ventiuna’. Ventiuna is Spanish for twenty-one, and the object of the game was to score as close to twenty-one as possible without busting.
The game eventually made its way to the US. At first, it was not a popular game, so gambling dens added various bonuses to make the game more interesting. One of the bonuses was a ten-to-one payout if a player was dealt the aces of spades and a black jack – either the jack of spades or the jack of clubs. This hand was known as ‘blackjack’, and it became the name of the casino version of ‘twenty-one’, even when the blackjack bonus was dropped. These days, a hand consisting of any ace and any card worth ten is known as ‘blackjack’, and usually pays either 2/1, 3/2 or 6/5, depending on the rules of any particular casino.
The casino game blackjack has a number of different rules to twenty-one, but it remains a duel between dealer and player.
Usually a maximum of five players can play at once at a casino blackjack table. All five are playing against the dealer, and not against each other. Each active player places a chip or chips in the betting box in front of their position, which indicates they are in on the deal.
The dealer will then deal one card face up to each player, then one to themselves. They do the same for a second card for each player, but then they deal a second card face down to themselves.
Each player plays in turn, and ends up either standing or busting. Once all players have played, the dealer reveals their down card and plays out their hand according to the rules of the casino. If a player beats the dealer they receive back double their stake. If they lose, they lose their stake. If it is a tie (known as a ‘push’) their stake is returned to them.
When it comes to the dealer’s play, they must keep hitting until they have at least reached 17, or bust. It doesn’t matter if all the players have decided to stand on 12, and the dealer’s dealt cards total 13. Even though the dealer has ‘beaten’ all hands, they must keep hitting until they reach at least 17.
In some casinos a dealer must keep hitting even if they have reached 17, if their hand contains at least one ace. This is known as a ‘soft 17’. A hand of ‘A6’ must therefore be hit, the same as a hand of ‘AA5’. Once the total of the cards reaches 17 and all the aces count as having the value of one (i.e. ‘AA5A9’), then the dealer may stand.
There are a number of other special rules that apply only to the casino version of blackjack. These will be explained in brief here, and explored in more depth in the lessons.
While card counting is not illegal, it is frowned upon by most real-world casinos. Anyone suspected of card counting is usually ‘politely’ asked to leave a casino.
Card counting involves keeping track of how many tens are appearing out of the dealer’s shoe. In casino blackjack the game is played with between four and eight decks of cards shuffled together. When few tens appear out of the shoe, the shoe is deemed ‘hot’ and a card-counting player will increase their bets accordingly. When lots of tens appear out of the shoe then the shoe is deemed ‘cold’ and the player will lower their bet.
Card counting is frowned upon as it reduces the house’s edge over the player, and can even swing it into the player’s favour.
Card counting is not possible at online casinos as there’s no physical card deck. Even if you’re playing at a ‘live’ casino via an online video feed you’ll be unable to count cards since the decks are re-shuffled after every couple of hands.
Blackjack possibly rivals poker as the most popular gambling game seen in movies and TV shows.
Blackjack is the second-most popular activity provided by online casinos, behind online slots. Nearly every single online casino offers at least one version of blackjack, and most casinos will offer several. Some casinos will also offer ‘live’ versions of blackjack where you can play with a live dealer in a studio or casino room. The live casino action is then streamed back to your PC, laptop or mobile via a video link.
Blackjack at an online casino is played using the same rules as at an real world casino, although usually it’s you alone versus the dealer. Before playing blackjack at an online casino you should check what the casino’s policy is on each of the following:
Our first lesson will familiarise you with the basic rules of blackjack.
Most rule guides on blackjack will tell you that the objective is to get a hand with a value close to 21. This is incorrect – the real objective is to beat the dealer. To begin with, our guide will introduce the basic rules of blackjack, before discussing betting optimisation in lesson two.
As you can see, the blackjack table is very simple, containing relatively few components. Each player has one ‘betting box’ for placing wagers and the croupier is located in the centre, dealing to the left.
Blackjack is a card game played with between one and eight 52-card decks. Each card has its own value:
Suits have no bearing on blackjack. The value of a blackjack hand is the sum total of the point values of cards in that hand. For instance, a hand of one king and an eight has a value of 18.
The exception to this rule is ‘blackjack,’ which consists of an ace and any card with a 10 point value (any royal or a ten). This is the highest possible hand that outranks all others (except the dealer’s blackjack). Play begins when players place chips in front of them to indicate their stake. The dealer then distributes two cards to each player and him/herself.
All of this is done via an electronic interface in virtual blackjack. Also, the dealer is replaced with a computer that automatically distributes cards and manages its own hand.
One of the dealer’s cards is played face up – the unseen card is the ‘hole’ card. If the visible card is an ace, the dealer will offer players a side bet called ‘insurance.’ This pays at odds specific to the casino.
The dealer will then look at his or her hole card (without showing the players). If it is a 10-point card, the round will end immediately and all players who did not take insurance bets will lose.
Play begins with the player on the dealer’s left. Each player is given five options:
If a player’s total hand value exceeds 21, they are ‘bust’ and lose their stake. After all players have had their turn, the dealer uncovers his or her hole card. If the hand value is lower than 16, the dealer must draw again. However, in the case of a ‘soft’ 17 (made up of the two initial cards) the dealer can choose to stand.
If the dealer busts, then all players who haven’t already bust will win. In the event of a tie, there is a ‘push’ and all bets are returned. Winning wagers are paid even money.
There are a few different versions of blackjack, with distinct rules and odds.
As a centuries-old casino classic, blackjack has diversified into a variety of different games. Many players enjoy mixing up their play by trying their hands at alternatives to standard blackjack rules. Be warned, the information in our blackjack strategy guide will not apply to these variants.
Below are the most popular blackjack variants hosted by online casinos, organised from lowest to highest house advantage. All assume players bettors use basic strategy.
Follow the RightCasino strategy to optimise your play and give yourself the best chance of winning.
The strategy on this page is based on Michael ‘The Wizard of Odds’ Shackleford’s ‘Basic Strategy,’ which provides the soundest possible model for betting optimisation in blackjack. Following our betting chart will not guarantee success, but it will mathematically optimise your play and help you avoid silly bets.
This strategy makes reference to ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ hands:
The following applies to 4-8 deck blackjack following standard, non-European rules (the UK and most online casinos fall under this category).
These rules of thumb fall outside of the betting chart, but should inform the way you play:
As mentioned above, a ‘blackjack’ is any two-card total worth twenty-one. Most forms of the blackjack game pay extra for a blackjack – usually 3-2 – as opposed to the 1-1 odds you get for winning a hand. A player’s blackjack automatically wins unless the dealer has blackjack too.
A way of beating the casino by keeping a eye on how many tens are being dealt from the dealer’s shoe. If a low number of tens have been dealt, then it’s time to increase your bet. If a high number have been dealt, then it’s time to decrease it. Unfortunately, card counting does not work at online casinos – even live online casinos – due to the number of cards that are dealt unseen.
A bet you can make after receiving your first two cards. You are allowed to double your original bet on the understanding that you only receive one more card. In some forms of blackjack you can double down on any total, in some just on 9, 10 and 11, and in others you cannot double down at all.
A hard hand can only have one value, i.e. a ten and a six is sixteen. A soft hand contains an ace and some hands can have more than one total, i.e. an ace, a four and a two can either be seven or seventeen.
When the dealer’s up card is an ace, a player can choose to make a side bet of half the size of their original wager. If the dealer has blackjack, then the player has his bet returned plus the insurance wager. This is not seen as a good side bet as the odds of a dealer having blackjack when showing an ace (around 4-1) are worse than the dealer not having blackjack (around 4-3).
In most blackjack games, if you are dealt a pair you are allowed to split them and play them as two separate hands. You cannot often re-split a hand that has already been split, and if you split aces you are only allowed one more card for each hand. Most pairs are worth splitting aside from fours, fives and any tens or court cards.
In blackjack there are a fixed number of possible hands, based upon the player’s cards and the dealer’s up card. ‘Perfect Strategy’ is knowing what to do in each fixed scenario in order to maximise your chances of winning the hand. In all forms of blackjack the house has an edge, but that edge is often less than one percent if you play using perfect strategy. This will increase your chances of getting on a ‘hot streak’ and actually winning some cash. You also need to bear in mind that even with perfect strategy, long losing streaks are still perfectly possible. You can learn more about perfect strategy here.
Blackjack is a fun game to play and if you use perfect strategy, there’s always the chance of finding yourself on a decent winning streak and earning some cash. Just remember – if you hit a losing streak just walk away from the table instead of chasing your losses. Also, avoid silly betting systems such as the Martingale as they just do not work. Enjoy yourself, and may the cards be with you!