Blackjack is likely to be the single most popular table game to be played in casinos over the past century. A major part of the allure of this game is that it's relatively simple to learn, but there is a lot of strategy that has to be studied and practiced to become a master. In this guide, we're going to walk you from start to finish on how to get started in blackjack from learning the basic rules to getting into essential strategy.
Card Values and Basic Dealing Procedure
The first thing to learn about blackjack is the card values. All of the cards, two through nine are worth their face value, but tens and face cards (jacks, queens, kings) are all worth ten. Aces can be worth one or 11, whichever gives the best hand.
If you're using an ace in your hand as an 11 that hasn't put you over 21, then you have what's called a soft hand. Otherwise, you have a hard hand. Soft hands are advantageous because you can be more aggressive with them since going over 21 doesn't automatically lose the hand for you because you get to switch your ace from being an 11 to being a one.
The dealing procedure for blackjack is that each player is given two cards face-up, and the dealer is dealt one card face-up and another card face-down. If the player is dealt an ace and a card worth ten right away, then that's called a blackjack. A player with a blackjack is normally paid a bonus payout anywhere from 6:5 to 2:1 just depending on the game that is being played.
Once the cards are dealt, each player is then given a turn to play their hand based on a set of options. Taking the option to stand keeps your hand like it is, but hitting will give you another card to add to your total. Standing and hitting are the two basic options for blackjack players, though there are three other options that can be available in some games that we'll cover in a moment.
If you get a total of more than 21, then that's called going bust, and you automatically lose the hand. Note that you lose the hand if both you and the dealer both go bust, so you can't get a tie by busting.
Once you have finished playing your hand, the dealer flips over his or her face-down card and plays as well. The dealer has to hit until his or her hand is worth 17 or more. This is a simple rule for how the dealer plays, and it comes into play later on when you're learning strategy.
Advanced Player Options
While hitting and standing make up the basic player options, there are three other options than players can take sometimes depending on the hands they are given. The rules for when these options are available will vary from game to game.
Forces you to double the size of your bet and hit exactly once. You typically can't take any other action after doubling in blackjack. This option should be reserved for the most advantageous situations.
An option that you have when both of your cards are of the same rank. You can split them apart to form two new hands, and you have to add an extra bet equal to your original bet to cover the second hand. You can use this option to essentially double the size of your bet when you have the advantage (like splitting aces) or to avoid having to play a disadvantageous starting hand (like splitting eights).
The third advanced option, and it involves taking back exactly half of your bet size and simultaneously giving up any chance of winning the hand. Surrendering should be done sparingly with only the worst of situations, and it's not available in all blackjack games.
Note that another betting option is also available when it's possible that the dealer has blackjack. The bet is called insurance, and the idea is that you place a wager that's a fraction of your original bet size called an insurance bet. If the dealer has blackjack, then you keep your original bet. However, if the dealer does not have blackjack, then you just lose your insurance wager. The insurance bet is an example of a sucker bet, and you shouldn't ever consider it in online blackjack.
There are a few essentials of strategy in blackjack that are easy to remember and that will help you to get started off on the right foot. The first thing to know is that you'll want to take into consideration both your own total (and if it's soft or hard) and the dealer's up card when making a decision, and the dealer's up card is really the first thing you should look for.
The dealer's up cards can be broken up into two groups:
- Cards from twos to sixes = weak dealer cards
- Cards from sevens to aces = strong dealer cards
The reason for this distinction is that weak dealer cards bust a lot, and strong dealer cards end up with high totals a lot.
Once you know how to spot weak and strong dealer cards, it becomes fairly intuitive how to play. If you have a hard 14, for example, then you would want to stand against a weak dealer card because it's better to give the dealer a good chance to bust out than to have a strong chance of busting out yourself. Note that any eight, nine, ten, jack, queen or king would bust you, and that's nearly half of the deck.
With a hard 14 against a strong dealer card, however, it's better to hit. The reason for this is that the dealer is very unlikely to bust out, so your only real chance to win the hand is to try to get a strong total by hitting.
Blackjack is a great game with a lot of depth, but it requires a fair amount of practice if you want to get good at the game strategically. This practice can pay off in a major way, however, because blackjack is one of the few games that will allow you to get payout rates of more than 99 percent on a regular basis with correct play. If you want to have a go, try blackjack in our online casino for free today, and once you get the hang of it, you can start playing for real money!