The most important rule of blackjack is so simple it was burnt directly into the historic name of the game of “21“. This name was actually used for centuries until the game started to be played in the saloons and gambling houses of frontier America. To grab more money from cowhands and saddle tramps, some tables began offering 10 to 1 payouts to any 21 that was reached with an Ace of Spades and either of the two black Jacks in the deck. It was clear that the name of “Blackjack” was going to stick.
The game’s rules are so simple in fact, that they can sometimes get in the way of the true objective. Many people forget that the goal is not to get a hand close to the magic number of 21, rather the goal is to beat the dealer’s hand. Sometimes a player’s 12 will work quite nicely in that task, but lets not discuss strategy yet and get ahead of ourselves. Let’s begin with the basic rules of the game and the common variations that you will find.
The game begins with a wager of an amount equal to, or greater than the table minimum that has been set by the House. It is dealt out from a lone deck of 52 cards, with 2 to 9 valued according to the number of pips on the card, all 10s and face cards counting as ten, and the Aces can be used as either a one or an eleven.
Each player in the game receives two cards face up, and at brick and mortar casinos there is a maximum of seven players to a table. This may be the max amount of people allowed at Live Dealer Blackjack tables at online casinos, as well. In traditional versions of the game the dealer receives two cards, one face-up and one face-down.
After all of the cards are dealt, if the dealer has a ten showing they will look at their hole card to see if there is a dealer blackjack. If yes, all player bets are lost unless a player has a blackjack as well, with the hand becoming a tie or push, and the player’s original stake is returned.
If the dealer has an Ace showing the players are given an opportunity to take insurance against the dealer having a blackjack by making a separate side bet of up to 50% of their original stake, which will pay at 2 to 1 odds. If the dealer does in fact have a blackjack, the insurance is then paid off and all other bets are lost except for player blackjacks, which still tie/push enabling the player to keep their original wager amount.
If the dealer does not have blackjack and one of the players has a 21, that wager is paid off at house odds, which are traditionally 3 to 2. Once all non-dealer blackjacks have been reconciled the game continues as normal.
Please note that we recommend never making insurance bets because over time you will mathematically lose money. It is simply a statistical fact the wager is not profitable for the player.
Play begins with the player to the dealer’s far left and anyone whose ultimate card total exceeds 21 busts and loses the hand, which is explained in detail below. If the dealer busts, all players remaining in the hand are paid 1:1 on their original stake.
If the dealer does not bust, the hand total with the highest points less than 21 between the player and the dealer wins. Any tie is a push and the original wager amount is returned.
The play of the dealer is always strictly conducted according to House rules. After the dealer turns over their hole card, if the two-card total is 16 or less, they must draw another card. Any total of 17, 18, 19 or 20 becomes their total for the hand with the exception of a Soft 17 that is made from an Ace and any number of cards totalling six.
Depending on House rules, a dealer must either stand on this Soft 17 or take another card, which gives a slight advantage to the house (0.2%).
After receiving two cards and seeing one of the dealer’s cards, the player now proceeds in their quest to beat the dealer’s hand. These are the choices available to them:
- Stand: The player’s final total is the sum of the two cards that were dealt.
- Hit: The player can draw additional cards until the total exceeds 21 or the player decides to stand.
- Double Down: The player can double the initial bet and get one single card that will decide the final total.
- Split: If the player receives a pair, or any two 10 point cards, the hand may be split into two hands, with the second hand staked at the same bet amount as the original wager. The dealer adds a second card to each hand and both follow the rules of play as normal, with standing, hitting, and doubling as options.
You should note that different casinos may apply additional rules to split hands and there is no universal standard for how to deal with this situation. For instance, you can find House rules that dictate that split Aces receive only one card, re-splitting and doubling may or may not be allowed, and Ace-tens count only as a total of 21 and not blackjack.
It really all depends on where you are playing and what their individual rules state so always make sure to read up on them before gambling for real money.
Every land-based or online casino will have their own set of rules for blackjack, but of course the vast majority of these rules will be pretty much the same across the board. However, there are still some variations that you should be aware of.
- No-Hole Card: Usually in casinos not located in the United States, the dealer takes only one card until all play has been completed. Then when the second card is drawn, if the dealer’s hand is a blackjack the player loses not only the original bet but all splits and doubles as well.
- Surrender: Some blackjack tables allow players to drop out of the hand after two cards and keep half of the original wager, “surrendering” themselves as if on a battlefield.
- Number of Decks: Blackjack can be played with two, four, six or eight decks. This is very important because the House advantage increases with the number of decks used, so choose your tables wisely.
- Splitting and Doubling Restrictions: As mentioned earlier there is no standard way for casinos to set rules on the making of extra bets in a blackjack hand. Therefore, you will have to familiarize yourself each time before sitting down at the table.
- Five, Six or Seven-Card Charlie: Some casinos consider the player hand a winner and pay automatically if they draw five, six, or seven cards without exceeding 21.
- 7-7-7: This is when the House pays players for achieving 21 with a trio of sevens, however this variation is extremely rare to find in both land-based and online casinos.
- Busted 22 is a Push: This is one of the worst blackjack variations in existence. Some casinos, especially in New Zealand, do not give players a win if the dealer draws to 22 but play it as a tie instead.
- Reduced Blackjack Odds: Speaking of terrible blackjack variations, some operators have gone so far as to shrink the payout for player blackjack from 3:2 to as thin as 6:5. Such tables should obviously be avoided whenever possible.
These are just some of the more popular rule variations that you can encounter at the blackjack table and this is not meant to be an exhaustive list. Remember that most rules exist to increase the House Edge, which in a standard game using accepted basic strategy is less than 1%, making it one of the most player-friendly you’ll find.
Once you have a sound grasp of the basic rules you’ll be able to decide for yourself which blackjack variants are fun enough to play and which are too risky to try out.