How To Play Blackjack
Blackjack has got to be one of the most popular casino games in the world. The small house edge coupled with the fast paced action the game brings is what makes the game a mandatory to all online casinos. Blackjack is simple to play and with the right strategies in place, players have the potential to make a pretty penny. This blackjack guide will cover all you need to know about the game and if you’re a newbie, fret not!
Best Online Casinos for Blackjack
We’ll be covering the rules, betting structure and basic & advanced strategies to help you gain the confidence you need before hitting the blackjack tables. This online blackjack guide is also designed to help novice players elevate their game to new heights, with in-depth walkthroughs, odds calculations, as well as ‘Do’s and Don’ts that will help maintain consistency in building up your bankroll.
The aim of the game is very simple. With the cards provided, you’ll need to get to 21 or as close to 21 as you can possibly get. All picture cards are worth 10 points while the ‘Ace’ can be used as ‘1’ or an ‘11’. The ‘Ace’ is one of the most powerful cards of the game as it has the ability to draw a ‘Blackjack’, but more on that later. The following is a walkthrough of a hand to get you acquainted with the game.
First, a bet is placed to get the action going and right after, two cards are dealt, face up, to every player. The dealer will also deal two cards to himself, with the exception of one card being visible to all players. This will help players formulate the strategy needed around that card. After the cards are dealt, players have a couple of options to make and these are:
- Stand: This is when the player is happy with the hand and decides not to take any additional cards
- Hit: When a player needs another card. Players have the option to be dealt additional cards until they are satisfied with the hand.
When a player exceeds ‘21’, the hand ends there and in blackjack terminology, it’s referred to as a ‘Bust’. The bet is lost and players will need to wait for the other players to finish their hand before another round commences. Here’s where it gets interesting. When it’s the dealers’ turn to reveal his card to make a hand, he will need to keep ‘hitting’ until he reaches ‘17’, which essentially means that the dealer will need to keep dealing cards to himself until his hand totals ‘17’, or more. When a player or the dealer is dealt a face card (10) and an ‘Ace’, the hand automatically ends there and this is referred to as ‘blackjack’ and is paid 1.5x the original stake. For instance, if you place a £10 bet and are dealt a blackjack, you’ll immediately be paid £15 without having to do anything else.
Online Blackjack Terminology
When sitting at the blackjack table, it’s important to be familiar with all the blackjack terminology, especially since online blackjack is such a fast paced game. The following is some of the most commonly udrf blackjack jargon that you’ll be exposed to when playing this timeless classic casino game:
A blackjack player has the option to ‘double down’ by placing an additional bet depending on the hand that’s drawn. This betting strategy can be used to the players’ advantage in certain situations. More on this later.
These are essentially picture cards, each of which are worth 10 points each. Face cards are very powerful and 12 of these can be found in each deck.
This is the first card which the dealer deals to himself and it’s the one which is kept face down till the end of the hand.
An insurance bet is available to be placed when the dealer is dealt an ‘Ace’ and it’s the card which is face up. This is bet is to safeguard the player in the event that the dealer has drawn a blackjack. If the insurance bet is taken and it turns out that the dealer does have a blackjack, the player will win double the insurance bet.
A ‘Push’ occurs when both the player and the dealer have the same number of points. In this case, the initial bet is returned back to the player and is treated as a draw.
If you’ve played online blackjack before, you might have heard the term. A ‘soft hand’ occurs when an ‘Ace’ is one of the cards that is dealt in the hand. For example, if a player is dealt ‘A + 6’, the total value of the hand can be a ‘7’ or a soft ‘16’. The only reason it’s called a ‘soft 16’ is because the ‘Ace’ gives the player the flexibility to choose the total value of the hand.
When a pair is dealt, the player has the option to ‘Split’ the hand, which essentially means that the pair can be split in two, creating the luxury of having two hands. It’s not always wise to split pairs, but we’ll delve into the best cards to split in more detail in the blackjack strategies later on in this guide.
When a ‘17’ is drawn, it is considered to be a standing hand since the dealer needs to keep hitting until he reaches ‘17’.
The player has the option to ‘surrender’ in online blackjack. When the player folds, depending on house rules, the player will get a portion of the initial bet back.
The following inforgraphic will illustrate the best and the worst starting hands in online blackjack, indicating when to hit, stand, double down and split.
Basic Blackjack Strategy
There are many different strategies and tactics that need to be taken into consideration when playing blackjack online, but before we go any further, you’ll need to know which are the strongest and weakest starting hands, when to hit and when to stand, which pairs to split and the ideal hand range which gives you the upper hand.
Strongest Hands When Playing Blackjack Online
Having an ‘Ace’ in hand is always going to be favourable, as players have the option to use it as a ‘soft hand’. Always keep in mind that the dealer must keep drawing cards until he makes his hand (17 or higher) and the hand you’re drawn is going to make all the difference when playing blackjack online. Keep in mind that the strength of your hand will always depend on the dealer's’ face card. The following are the strongest hands in blackjack and when dealt these hands, players should always ‘stand’
- Ace, 7, Ace 8 and Ace, 9
- Pair of 10’s
- Pair of picture cards (Jacks, Queens or Kings)
If the dealer is showing a 4, 5, or 6 as his face card, it’s wise to stop ‘hitting’ when a minimum of ‘13’ is in your hands. For instance, the dealer is showing a ‘5’ and the hole card reveals a ‘9’, giving a total of ‘14’. The dealer must keep hitting until he totals 17, giving him a limited number of cards that can be drawn to save his hand from busting. There are a number of instances where this would be the case. Refer to the image below as a reference to these situations.
‘Surrender’ in Online Blackjack
Surrender gives players the option to fold their hand. Most players ignore this option when playing blackjack online and power through the hand, even when the odds of winning are not in their favour. When you forfeit or fold the hand, you’ll be given half your wager back and your cards will be discarded, ending your hand. Some online casinos allow surrendering and others don’t, so be sure to go over the house rules before opting in.
When dealt a pair, the player has the option to ‘split’ and each card can be played as an individual hand. The player will need to make an additional bet to activate the ‘split’ and a bet equal to the original one has to be placed. Some pairs are worth splitting because of the card value while others are better off to be kept as a single hand as the total value of the pair will provide a better opportunity to ‘stand’. While the strategy for splitting pairs will depend entirely on how many decks blackjack is played with, when playing live casino, the game is played using a single deck. What the dealer shows as his upcard or face card will also play a role on when you should be splitting. For more detail on this matter, follow the blackjack cheat sheet as a reference. The following are the ideal scenarios for when you should be splitting pairs and the pairs you should keep as a single hand.
Low Pairs (2’s through to 6’s)
As a general rule, you should avoid splitting 5’s at all costs as the total value of the hand will be a ‘10’, which is a very powerful hand. When a player takes another card with a pair of ‘5’s’ will most likely leave the player with an advantage over the dealer, considering the fact that the dealer needs to keep hitting till he reaches ‘17’. Any ‘Ace’ will result in a blackjack and anything over ‘5’ will put the player in a great position to ‘stand’. That’s the reason why 5’s should never be split and a ‘double down’ decision should be taken in this situation. We’ll be covering when’s best to ‘double down’ later in this guide.
Higher Pairs (7’s through to 9’s)
Again, this will depends entirely on what the dealer is showing as his visible card, so if the dealer is showing a ‘7’ and knowing that at ‘17’ he must stand, splitting would be the ideal situation with the pair. This is because the total value of the single hand would be 14 and this will put you in an unfavourable position against the dealer. If you split ‘7’s’ when the dealer is showing a ‘7’, you’ll be in a better position to reach ‘17’, where you’ll be in a very comfortable position with a very small percentage of losing the hand.
A pair of ‘8’s should always be split because with any ‘10’ or picture card, you’ll be in a strong position to beat the dealer with very favourable odds. If you don’t split ‘8’s’, you’ll have a total of 16 points and you’ll still be in a vulnerable position against the dealers’ potential ‘17’.
A pair of ‘9’s’ is a very strong hand and should be split every time unless the dealer is showing a ‘7’ as his face card. This notion is based on the dealer drawing a ‘10’ or a picture card, where he’ll need to stand as per house rules. The total of ‘18’ with a pair of ‘9’s’ will put you in a strong position right from the start and the dealer will have very little outs to win the hand.
‘10’s’ should never be split as the total value of the hand will amount to ‘20’ and only one hand is capable of beating a pair of ‘10’s’.
Doubling Down in Online Blackjack
In all casino games, the house is going to have an edge on the player and it’s important to take advantage of opportunities when they arise. One of the ways to do this is by doubling down. Doubling down allows players to place an additional bet of equal value to the original one on the condition that the player will give up the luxury of taking additional cards. This means that when doubling down, the player will only be allowed to take one additional card and will not be allowed to keep ‘hitting’. Not all online casinos allow ‘doubling down’ and you’ll need to think about when the best situation is to adopt this strategy as it can be costly
When playing blackjack online, the dealer has a better chance of making a better hand and when there’s a clear chance that the dealer might go bust from the starting hand, doubling down is the way to go. Doubling down is an offensive strategy and should be used with absolute caution since you’ll actually putting down a double bet and sacrificing the luxury of taking more cards.
Doubling down on soft hands is often overlooked and unused by blackjack players because they’re unaware of the benefits. The main aim of doubling down on soft hands is to have more money on the table when the dealer has a clear chance of busting. When the dealer has a low value hand, it will be the optimal time to double down. The image above illustrates the best cards to double down on soft hands.
It’s good to point out that not all online casinos allow doubling down and it’s pertinent to know the house rules before opting for any online blackjack game. That way, you’ll know exactly what strategy to adopt for every situation.
The ‘Hit’ and ‘Stand’ Strategy
‘Hit and ‘Stand’ are two of the most common options chosen when playing blackjack online, however, it takes a good understanding of the game to take advantage of when they should be used. The hand dealt is going to play a significant role in what strategy to be used and in this section, we’ll be covering the worst starting hands which give you the biggest disadvantage against the dealer.
There is always a fear amongst inexperienced blackjack players to stand on their stiff hands in fear of busting when there is a possibility of doing so with the next ‘hit’. If the dealer is showing a face card (visible card) of ‘2’ through ‘6’, you should not be afraid of taking another card as you will still have many outs that can make a strong hand, especially when you know the dealer has a stiff hand too. If your hand is anywhere between ‘12’ and ‘16’, it’s wise to stand and hope the dealer will bust with his stiff hand.
When to Split:
- Aces should always be split
- Never split tens because the total of ‘20’ is very hard to beat
- 9’s should always be split when the dealer is showing a ‘2’ through ‘9’, except for 7, as you’ll be in a vulnerable spot
- ‘8’s’ should always be split because ‘16’ is risky and any ‘10’ will leave you in a better position against the dealer.
- With a pair of ‘7’s’ it’s wise to split when the dealer is showing 2 through 7, as ‘14’ is a very vulnerable total
- ‘6’s’ should be split
- Double down on a pair of ‘5’s’ when the dealer shows a ‘2’ all the way through to ‘9’, otherwise split
- A pair of ‘4’s’ should be split when the dealer is showing a ‘5’ or a ‘6’
When to stand:
- Always stand with ‘17’ or higher
- ‘16’ stands on most occasions, especially when the dealer is showing ‘2’ through ‘6’
- Stand with a ‘15’ when the dealer is showing ‘2’ through ‘6’, otherwise hit
- Double down with an ‘11’
- Double down when the dealer shows a ‘2’ through ‘9’ otherwise hit.
- 9 doubles against dealer 3 through 6 otherwise hit.
- Always hit with an ‘8’
Insurance When Playing Blackjack Online
Insurance in online blackjack gives players the opportunity to protect themselves against a potential blackjack when the dealer is showing an ‘Ace’ as his upcard. The decision to take an insurance will have to be made as soon as the hand is dealt and before any of the other options are made. For instance, the player cannot make an insurance bet after taking another card or standing with the hand.
When a player decides to make an insurance bet, he or she will be betting that the dealer will be holding a ‘10’ or a picture card to complete the blackjack. The insurance bet in blackjack is an optional side bet that pays odds of 2:1 and is usually displayed on the blackjack table. Most online casinos limit insurance bets to half the original bet placed on the hand. For example, if you placed a bet of £20 on the hand, the maximum amount that can be placed on the insurance bet is £10 and if it comes through, you’ll get £20 back, including your original stake, where you’ll break even.
Keep in mind that the insurance bet is a separate side bet entirely and completely independent to the blackjack hand. In actual fact, you won’t be insuring anything. All you’ll be doing when making an insurance bet in blackjack is betting on the dealer having a ‘10’ or a picture card when an ‘Ace’ is the visible card. The odds of the dealer making a blackjack with a visible ‘Ace’ stand at 25% in a single deck, excluding the fact that other players might have a ‘10’ or picture card too, otherwise the odds of that happening drop.
Live Blackjack at a Live Casino
Playing Live blackjack at an online casinos is the closest you will get to playing blackjack at the traditional brick and mortar casinos. Most Live Casinos have different blackjack variants of the game and the most common option is the single deck blackjack game. Players can rest assured that they’ll find tables to suit all budgets and the bet sizes are usually displayed on the game thumbnail to avoid loading a game in vain.
Live blackjack is played against a real, live dealer as opposed to the game being played against a machine, which many players prefer as it replicates the land-based casino experience perfectly. All live blackjack games are streamed in full HD and whether playing on desktop or any mobile device, you’re guaranteed that the quality of the game is not going be compromised in any way, as long as you have a solid internet connection.
One main advantage of playing live blackjack at an online casino is the fact that you’ll often find promotions and bonuses dedicated solely to live casino games, something which is very rare to find at a land-based casino. If you’re an experienced blackjack player, you can take advantage of these bonuses and easily make the rollover requirements that are attributed to the promotions.
Bet Behind Strategy at Live Casinos
Blackjack is one of the most popular casino games and it’s understandable that most seats are going to be taken, especially when an online casino is only hosting a few blackjack tables. Bet Behind presents the opportunity to players who are waiting for an open seat to bet on the hands of players who are already playing. Before choosing which player to bet behind, it’s always wise to wait a few hands to discover who’s the best player at the table, since you have no control over the decisions taken at the table.
This is also a great opportunity to learn from other players, so take your time and don’t rush before you decide to bet behind a particular player. Another great advantage of Live Blackjack is that you’ll be able to view the past hands of players and you can base your decision on their success rate. There is no obligation to take a seat at the table if you’re making a decent profit when betting behind a player, especially when considering the fact that you’ll benefit from the same odds and payouts.
Many online casinos host Live blackjack tournaments and while the rules of the game remain unchanged, the aim of the game changes. In blackjack, you’ll be playing against a dealer and the aim of the game is to naturally build your bankroll. In blackjack tournaments, you’ll be playing against the dealer and against the players simultaneously.
In a blackjack tournament, all players start with an equal amount of chips and players will progress to the next round if they have a bigger chip stack than that of their opponents. If you have less chips than you started with but more than your opponents, than you’ll progress to the next round.
When playing tournament blackjack online, your losses will be limited to the to your entrance fee, however, the potential take-home prize could be a six figure sum. There following are the type of blackjack tournaments to play at an online casino:
Elimination tournaments are the most common type of blackjack tournaments where players will be competing against each other. The table winner will be advance to the next stage, although some online casinos allow players to make re-buys. Make sure to read the tournament rules before opting in to play in a live blackjack tournament.
Sit n’ Go’s
Just like in online poker, Sit n’ Go tournaments start when the blackjack table is full and is usually played with six seats. The only difference between Sit n’ Go’s and elimination tournaments is that Sit n’ Go’s end when a player has more chips than all the other players at the table, while elimination tournaments is a multi-stage tournament.
Mini tournaments are hosted on a daily basis at most online casinos and have a relatively low entrance fee compared to their prize pool, which often reach a couple of thousands. Mini tournaments offer great value without having the need to invest big amounts and the best thing is that your losses will be limited to the tournament entrance fee.
This is a dog-eat-dog tournament where players will be competing against each other and the main aim is to take as many chips over the course of the tournament. The leading players will be displayed on a leaderboard, just like at a poker tournament, so other players can adjust their strategies accordingly to climb the ladder.
In live blackjack tournaments, all players will start with the same number of chips and after a series of hands, the player with the most remaining chips will advance to the next stage of the tournament. Live blackjack tournaments are a great way to get more bang for your buck, especially if you’re a newbie to the game and want to limit your investment.
What You Need To Learn When Playing Live Blackjack Tournaments:
- Always make sure you know the state of your chip stack in comparison to the stack of competitors
- Assessing the situation and knowing when to bet high to maintain your advantage over the table
- Using ‘positioning’ to your advantage. Unlike in online poker where acting last is advantageous, in live blackjack, acting first gives you more the upper hand as you get first dibs on the deck
- You will need to learn when to bet the same as your opponents, increase your bet and when the best situation is when betting lower amounts
Blackjack is one of those games which takes a minute to learn but a lifetime to master when considering all the strategies, game variants and multi-deck options available to play. If you’re new to playing blackjack online, try the game for free to get used to the rules, the pace of the game and to discover what type of blackjack player you are. Even though the house has a slight edge over the player (just like any other casino game), there still is potential to make a good amount of money, if you you fully understand the strategy and stay cool at the blackjack table.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to play live blackjack for free, so you’ll have to settle for practising against a machine, but we don’t suggest that any players play for real money before mastering the game as the game is fast and full of action, which means that players can make a pretty penny fast and lose it even faster.