Blackjack Rules Explained: Master the Game
Blackjack, a timeless game originating from French casinos in the 1700s, has surged in popularity and spread across global casinos, becoming the renowned card game it is today. Unlike its early days, modern Blackjack is more intricate, especially in online formats where players encounter diverse variants and intriguing side bets absent in traditional land-based casinos.
Whether you're a seasoned Blackjack player or a newcomer to this card game, we're here to provide a comprehensive guide to Blackjack rules. Understanding these rules is crucial for strategic decision-making, moving beyond mere guesswork in hopes of a payout.
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Basic Rules of Blackjack
Before diving into the complexities, let's start with the foundational rules every Blackjack game is built on.
The basic rule of Blackjack is simple: build a hand as close to 21 as possible, beating the dealer without exceeding 21. Exceeding 21 results in a bust, leading to an automatic loss. A hand of exactly 21, comprising an ace and a 10-value card, is a 'natural Blackjack' and wins immediately. You also win if the dealer busts.
Natural wins are rare in multi-deck games, so typically, your goal is to outscore the dealer's hand without busting, but it's not always straightforward.
Suppose your initial two cards are far from 21. You might consider hitting another card, risking a bust. Or, you might prefer to stand with your two cards but risk standing too soon, giving the dealer an advantage. This is where having a solid playing strategy is beneficial, guiding you to the right play.
Once your first two cards are dealt, you have options to double down, split, hit, or stand.
Alongside the game's goal, several other rules are crucial to remember. Note that house rules can vary depending on the Blackjack table you play at. Generally, in a standard Blackjack game:
The dealer stands on a soft 17 (a hand with an ace valued as 11).
Players are allowed to double down, surrender, hit, or stand.
Doubling down doubles the original bet.
Players can split only when they have two cards of the same value, dividing the pair into two hands.
Splitting pairs also doubles the initial bet.
Players can only split or double down as their first move.
Dealers check for Blackjack.
Players cannot play two aces after they split.
There are numerous rules to remember when playing online Blackjack games, but if you sit at a Blackjack table in land-based casinos, additional etiquette rules apply:
Keep your hands visible above the table.
Never directly hand money to the dealer. Place it outside the designated betting section.
Avoid placing anything on the Blackjack table.
Use required hand signals when acting.
Ask permission from other players before joining a Blackjack table.
Wait for a new round to join a table.
Don't touch your bets after the dealer deals the cards.
Avoid advising players on their gameplay.
Be respectful towards the dealer.
Blackjack is played with a standard 52-card deck — jokers removed. Originally played with one deck, online casinos have introduced multi-deck Blackjack tables to counter card counting systems. Casinos may offer single or double deck tables, but 'shoe games' are more common.
In addition to multiple decks, a Blackjack game requires a table, betting chips, a discard tray, a deck, and a cut card. In a single-deck game, a player randomly places the cut card in the stack, and the dealer moves the top cards to the back to show the game can't be rigged. With multiple decks, the dealer shuffles the cards and places them in a dispenser or 'shoe' to manage large stacks of cards.
A Typical Round of Blackjack: Gameplay Sequence
In land-based casinos, a game round starts with card shuffling. The dealer then selects a player to cut the cards, and the same cut card is placed back into the deck to indicate which cards need reshuffling. Remaining cards are returned to the deck. Players can place their bets in the betting circle once the cards are shuffled.
In online casinos, players join a virtual table with a live dealer, greeted upon entry. Various colored chips in the user interface indicate different betting amounts. Players must place bets within a specific time frame (except in first-person Blackjack with no betting time limit). Minimum and maximum bet amounts depend on the table played. Some tables offer higher bet amounts than others.
Once the betting time expires, the game proceeds with the dealer dealing two cards, face-up, to each player. The dealer takes two cards for themselves — one face-up (the hole card) and another face-down.
In some games, the dealer's face-up card is given at the round's start, and the dealer's second card is dealt after all players have acted, which is when the dealer checks for blackjack.
After all cards are dealt, players must decide how to act. Here, they should carefully consider the value of their hand, where using a basic strategy can be very helpful. In a Live Casino, players are given a limited timeframe to decide whether to hit and draw more cards, stand, split, double down, or surrender. Depending on the table, players may also have the option to place blackjack side bets to potentially boost their chances of winning.
End of Round
After players complete their hands, the dealer acts according to house rules, leading to several possible outcomes:
The dealer's hand exceeds 21 and busts.
Both the player and dealer form a hand of equal value. The player's bet is pushed and returned.
The player's hand loses by having a lower value than the dealer's hand.
The player immediately loses by busting.
The player earns a blackjack.
The dealer holds a blackjack, and the player loses.
The player comes closer to 21 than the dealer.
Once the dealer pays each winning player, all cards are returned to the dealer, and a new round begins.
Player Options at the Table
Various actions can be taken once the dealer has dealt all cards. Deciding whether to split, double down, hit, or stand depends on several factors, especially when using basic strategy. Each action is also governed by a set of rules that may vary from one blackjack table to another. That said, here's a quick breakdown of each action you can take:
Choosing to hit indicates you want additional cards as your hand's value is too low. There's no limit to how many cards you can draw, but each hit increases the risk of busting.
Basic strategy recommends players hit when their hand value is 10 less than 21, when they have a pair that could be split, or when they have an ace. It's also advised to only reach hand values between 12 and 16 when the dealer has a seven-value card or more.
Opting to stand means staying with the hand dealt to you and not drawing additional cards. Such a decision is typically made when your hand's value is already quite high. Basic strategy charts recommend standing when your hand value is over 16 and if the dealer has a low-value card. The only exception to this rule is if you have a soft 17.
Doubling down involves doubling your original bet and receiving only one additional card. This action is usually taken when your hand's value is highly advantageous. You cannot double down after drawing cards or if you have a blackjack. It's recommended to double down on hand values of nine, 10, or 11 with some exceptions. You might also double your original bet on a hand with a value of 18 or 20 unless the dealer has an ace.
Splitting involves dividing your hand into two separate hands when a matching pair of cards is drawn. Splitting also doubles your bet as you'll need to place a second bet equal to the first. Basic strategy charts recommend splitting a pair of aces or eights but never splitting a pair of 10s, nines, fours, or fives.
Insurance bets are not common at blackjack tables. However, you can place an insurance bet when the dealer shows a face-up ace and possibly has a face-down ten-value card. An insurance bet doesn't directly affect the game's outcome, but this side bet is used as a kind of 'safety net.' Strategy charts generally advise against placing this side bet, as the likelihood of the dealer actually having one of the ten-value cards is low.
Like the insurance side option, the surrender option is not commonly offered. You can decide to withdraw from the game if you feel there's a high chance of losing your hand. Surrender is only possible after the first two cards are dealt (if the table offers the option). If you choose to surrender, half of your bet is returned. Strategy charts often do not include the surrender rule, as in most cases, you can always hit and potentially improve your hand's value.
Blackjack Card Values
Understanding card values is one of the most crucial elements of playing blackjack, as this is how you build your hand and decide whether to stand with your current value or hit another card to increase it.
Cards from two to 10 take their value based on the number itself. This means that the card's number indicates its value. Jacks, queens, and kings, otherwise referred to as face cards, are all 10-value cards. The ace is a unique card with two different values, as it can be worth either one or 11, depending on your hand.
Aces are counted as 11-value cards until the value of your hand exceeds 21, at which point their value becomes one.
As mentioned, insurance is offered when the dealer shows an ace face-up and a 10 as their hole card. In essence, insurance is offered if there's a chance the dealer has blackjack. If they do, the insurance bet pays 2:1. Otherwise, the insurance is lost, and the game continues as normal. Even money is offered if you hold blackjack while the dealer shows an ace. If you don't take even money, and the dealer has blackjack, your bet is pushed, and your blackjack hand won't be paid.
If players lose the round (by busting) before the dealer plays their hand, it's considered a dead hand. In this case, the dealer will reveal their hole card, sweep the cards away, and discard them. If the player has already lost, there's no point in continuing the round.
While playing blackjack at online casinos, you'll find many variants offering interesting side bets. These side/bonus bets are often used to spice up the base game, making it more entertaining. In some blackjack card games, side wagers can still pay out even if the original bet is lost, helping to soften the blow of a loss we sometimes face when playing online.
Side bets often require an additional wager but are entirely optional. Here are some fun side wagers to look out for while playing blackjack online:
21+3: This bet pays when the player's first three cards form a flush, a three-of-a-kind, or a straight.
Hot 3: This bet pays when the player's first two cards and the dealer's first card total 19, 20, or 21.
Any Pair: This bet pays when the first two cards form a pair.
Bust It: This bet pays if the dealer's cards exceed 21 and bust.
Blackjack Rule Variations
Obviously, with all the different variants available online, blackjack rules can vary from one table to another. The best choice really depends on what you're looking for and your priorities, so be sure to check betting limits, the outcome of a tie, how each bet pays, and whether the table offers options to surrender or buy insurance.
What may help in choosing a table to play at is checking the rules, as some tables often have some variations that might affect how the game is actually played.
The Reno Rule suggests that players can only double down on a hard nine, 10, or 11.
This style of play suggests that the dealer only draws one face-up card and draws their second card once the players have acted.
Most casinos typically offer the classic blackjack payout of 3:2. However, some casinos offer a 6:5 payout, which is less advantageous for the player as it increases the house edge. This also prevents players from using card counting systems.
The Six Card Charlie rule suggests that when a player has a total of six cards that value 21 or less, their hand automatically wins even if the dealer has blackjack. If a player decides to split their hand, the Six Card Charlie rule is applied to both pairs.
Some tables offer players the option to surrender even after drawing another card.
H3: Early Surrender
This rule is now considered a dead rule, as it has not been part of house rules since the 70s. It suggested that players could surrender before the dealer checks for blackjack or offers insurance. It was extremely beneficial to the player — so much so that it almost gave players a small house edge even without card counting, hence why this rule is no longer offered in casinos.
Double After Splitting (DAS)
This rule indicates that players are allowed to double down on the hand they've split, but not all casinos offer this rule as it's highly beneficial and can reduce the house edge.
Re-Splitting Aces (RSA)
This rule suggests that players are allowed to re-split their aces after splitting a pair. So, if players split a pair of aces and then receive another ace, they're allowed to split it into a third hand and even a fourth hand. It significantly reduces the house edge because the ace