Everything you need to know for playing blackjack
Everything you need to know for playing blackjack
It is difficult to talk about popular casino games without mentioning blackjack. For years, blackjack was the most popular table game in US casinos by far, with roughly 80% of land-based casino floor space containing blackjack tables. While that number has dipped in recent years, around 50% of casino floor space is still dedicated to the game. Even during its declining popularity, the game remains incredibly well-loved, in other words, with players from all over the world lining up for a chance to win big.
There are a few different reasons behind blackjack’s success, but one of the most important is the game’s low house edge. Players who understand how to play blackjack have a good opportunity to win impressive sums of money over their follow players as well as the casino, a combination that is not readily replicated in other casino games. This article will explore how to play 21 (blackjack) and what beginners need to know to master the game.
What is blackjack?
Blackjack is a table game popular in casinos around the world. Table games refer to games where players sit around a table and play against each other, rather than sitting behind a slot machine and trying their luck spin after spin. Table games are some of the most popular activities at casinos both online and in person, in fact, and blackjack is easily one of the most loved of them.
The goal of blackjack is simple. Players must beat the dealer’s hand without landing too high a hand. If they go over 21, they go bust and lose the round. When all players go bust, the dealer wins the game and all hands are revealed. It is also possible to win the game immediately via a ‘natural’ 21. This refers to a 21 that is dealt by the dealer in the first two cards dealt to players.
More specifically, blackjack is played by dealing the players around the table as well as the dealer two cards. One of these cards is face up and visible by everyone at the table, while the other is face down and visible only to the player. Every card has a value, which we will discuss in more detail a bit later, and players must decide if they want to ‘hit’ – be dealt another card – in an attempt to get closer to 21. New cards are dealt face up, allowing everyone at the table to estimate what cards are still left in the deck as the game proceeds.
Players who manage to hit 21 without going over win. The exception to this rule is when more than one player has a natural 21, or when the dealer and one or more players hold natural 21s.
With all of the above in mind, what are the basic blackjack rules – how to play, in other words? The good news is that it is possible to improve the odds of big wins when playing blackjack simply by spending some time learning basic strategy. We will look at some of the more common and effective tips below! First, however, we will touch briefly upon the game’s origin as well as its increase and decline in popularity.
History of blackjack
Blackjack is not a new game. In fact, it has been a popular addition to games of chance for centuries. There are a few different theories regarding blackjack’s origins. The most likely, and commonly accepted, of these is that the game was created in France around 1700 in a game called ‘vingt-et-un’, or ‘21’. Blackjack was a popular court game during the reign of King Louis XV and was a common sight in the French royal court.
Perhaps the most popular version of blackjack today is American blackjack. The game arrived in the Americas in the 18th century via French colonists and was immediately adopted in gambling hotspots, including in New Orleans in 1820, where the game was popular at legalized gambling halls. The rules were different during this time, however, and the game evolved over the decades to the game that is still beloved today.
How does blackjack work?
Blackjack is played by assigning each card a specific value. Face cards – the queens, jacks and kings of the deck – are worth 10. Aces can be worth either 11 or one, depending upon player needs, and all other cards are worth face value. Players dealt a queen and a six have a hand worth 16, in other words, which means that they need five more to equal 21.
There are some common terms that players should understand if they want to play blackjack.
When players want to boost their hand total, they can be dealt additional cards one at a time. This is called receiving a ‘hit’, and there is no limit to the number of cards that players can take. Remember that the goal is to remain under 21, however, as going over will lead to a ‘bust’.
Going ‘bust’ in blackjack means going over a total of 21. Both players and dealers can go bust.
When players are satisfied with their hand, they can ‘stand’. This means that they will not be drawing any additional cards and are ending their turn.
Doubling down is a technique that players should keep in mind. If they have a total they are satisfied with but they must take another card, they can double their additional wager. This will lead the dealer to deal them only one more card so that they have a better chance of avoiding going bust. Note that some casinos allow players to ‘double for less’. This means that they can ‘double down’ without actually doubling their full wager amount.
Doubling for less is almost never a good decision, however, and we recommend that players double their full amount even if the casino allows them to double for less.
Another common blackjack rule is the ‘split’. Players who are dealt two cards of the same value have the chance to split their hand. They do this by placing a second wager and using the cards each as the foundation card of its own hand. This can also be done with face cards. Jacks and kings are both worth the same amount, for example, and so they can be used to split a hand even though they are not a matching pair.
Not every hand is going to be a winner. Sometimes, players receive an initial hand that simply won’t work for them. When this happens, it is possible to ‘surrender’ the hand in exchange for half of their original bet back.
Note that blackjack is most commonly played using hand signals. The dealer will look for players asking to be ‘hit’ via a scratching motion against the table. Players who want to stand will make a waving motion from side to side with their fingers. Doubling down can be signaled by adding a second wager (equal to the initial wager) to the left of the original bet.
Splitting can be indicated by putting up a second wager equal to the first, and then making a ‘peace’ sign to show that the player wants to split (not double down). Finally, surrendering can be signaled by drawing a straight line behind players’ bets. It is a good idea to verbalize the word while signing to ensure that the dealer does not mistake the sign as the ‘hit’ signal.
Note that these are not big gestures. Everyone around the table understands how the game works, so there is no need to wave energetically.
How do bets work in blackjack?
Once players understand which hand signals to use and when, they are ready to start playing. The game itself is pretty simple, and we have some foundational blackjack tips to win along the way.
Once the initial hand of two cards per player has been dealt, players will make one of three decisions. They will stand, hit or surrender. If they hit and go bust, the player is out of the game along with those who surrender their hands. If they hit and do not go bust, they have the chance to either hit or stand once more. This continues until they go bust or are satisfied with their hand.
Dealers play their hand next. They turn over their face-down card and either hit or stand. Dealers hit on hands of 16 or under and typically stand on 17s or higher. The possible exception to this rule is when the dealer holds a six and an ace. Because an ace can be a one or an 11, dealers can decide how they want the ace to count. Sometimes, they will consider the ace a one because it gives them the chance to land a better hand against the players. This specific rule can vary from casino to casino, so make sure to do a bit of digging before sitting down to play.
Once dealers are down with their hands, one of two things happens. They either go bust, in which case player hands win, or they make a hand. If the former happens, players with hands in play receive even money wins. The latter will see the dealer compare their hand to player hands. When they beat player hands, the dealer will sweep the bet. If they lose, they will receive one times their wager. When the dealer and players tie, players receive their wagers back but are not paid another additional.
Players who win via blackjack receive a payout that is equal to one-and-a-half times their wager.
Just like that, the round is over and the cards are swept up! Another game is about to begin.
How do I win in blackjack?
Winning in 21 does not need to be overly complicated. However, it is not as simple as just sitting down and making random plays. In order to do well, players must understand how to play blackjack strategy. Even basic strategy is enough to give players a solid advantage over others.
The good news about basic strategy is that it is predictable and easy to understand. Here are some important rules to keep in mind while playing.
Pay attention to the dealer’s up card
Players should always check a dealer’s up card before they make any decisions about their bets. The card will either be ‘bad’ – a two through a six – or ‘good’ – a seven through an ace. The dealer’s card should influence what actions players take throughout the course of the game. Remember that while the ultimate goal is to land a 21, the more practical goal is to beat the dealer without going bust.
Do not jump into the game with maximum bets immediately. Play a few hands to get a feel for the dealer and the way that the luck is flowing. Blackjack flows in hot and cold streaks, and players should wait until they hit a good streak before they maximize their bets. Doing so immediately is a good way to lose money.
Focus on the dealer, not the other players
While players certainly want to pay attention to the cards in play across the table, the real competition comes from the dealer. The decisions that other players make will not influence the cards that anyone else holds, so there is little point worrying about whether other players are standing or hitting, or even if they go bust. Keep an eye on the cards that are face up so that you can get a feel for what is left in the deck, but otherwise play as if you and the dealer are in the middle of a one-on-one game.
Set a budget
Blackjack can be a fun way to spend some time, but it can also be a quick way to lose significant amounts of money. It is important to set a budget before you begin to play and to stick to it no matter how well you are doing. The goal is to always know how much you have left in your budget and plan your play around that number, rather than simply raising your budget as the mood strikes.
It is very easy to lose funds, especially when players are more interested in having fun than they are being responsible. Do not deviate from your budget, especially when emotions are running high.
Assume that the hole is a 10
The card that is face down on the table is called the ‘hole’ card. Players should assume that this card is a 10 and bet accordingly. In fact, it is a good rule of thumb to expect that the next card revealed at any given time is a 10.
Out of a 52-card deck, 16 cards are worth 10. This means that it is more likely that players will uncover a 10 than any other value in the deck! Players should always assume that the next card is a 10, as they will find their decisions to be a lot more realistic.
Double on 11
Whenever players are dealt an 11, they should double their bet. This is related to assuming that the hole is a 10. Players should assume that they will receive a 10 when they hit.
Know when to stop
It can be tempting to keep playing even in the middle of a losing streak. In fact, some players find leaving the table after losing consistently to be especially difficult. When one outcome dominates the table for a significant amount of time, the belief that soon the opposite will happen is common. The more players lose, in other words, the more they believe that they will soon be winning big.
Do not fall into this trap. In addition to keeping an eye on the amount of money lost, players should be cautious about how much time they invest in a losing wager. Sometimes, sessions are just not meant to be, and it is okay to take a break and come back again another time.
Even players who understand how to play blackjack (21) and win can find themselves in trouble if they do not pay close attention to the tables that casinos host. More specifically, pay attention to the name of the game before you bet and start playing. Sometimes, games that look like blackjack have terrible odds for players!
Some of the names to avoid when looking for a blackjack table are:
- Super Fun 21
- Spanish 21
- Free Bet Blackjack
- Blackjack Switch
All of these games look similar to blackjack. They tend to use the same decks and advertise the same rules. The problem is that all of them have rule variations that raise the house edge and make it more difficult for players to win. You want classic American blackjack – no more, no less. Do not be afraid to pause and watch the game being played for a while before jumping in.
Are you ready to learn more about how to play blackjack for beginners? Keep our above tips in mind! They will help you as you find the right table for your needs and begin to play, be it online or in person.