Blackjack is a popular card game that is easy to get started with, but difficult to master. In its essence, blackjack is a straightforward game that anyone can enjoy. The game is not purely based on luck and, by using different tactics, it is theoretically possible to beat the dealer.
If you are a beginner looking to learn how to play, or you want to learn about some basic strategies, you have come to the right place. In this blackjack guide, we'll give an introduction to everything you need to know about the game of 21!
How to play blackjack
Before getting started, the first thing you need to know about playing blackjack is that you only have one opponent – the dealer. In other card games such as various types of poker, you are normally playing against the other players at the table, and the dealer is there to simply hand out cards and take bets. But in blackjack, any other players at the table aren't someone you need to worry about as they are playing their own games. Your only aim is to have a better hand than the dealer.
In blackjack, normal decks of cards are used with no jokers. The sum of your hand is based on the value of each card, where numerical cards from 2 to 10 are worth their face value, picture cards (J, Q, K) are worth 10 and Ace can be worth 1 or 11. You don't have to worry about the suits or color of the cards as the only thing that matters is the value.
The aim is to have a value of 21 or as close to 21 as possible, without going over this amount. If you get 22 or more, you "go bust" and lose your bet. The best hand you can have is therefore an Ace and a picture card right away, as this gives a value of 21. You can also start with a smaller value and draw more cards to total up to 21.
When playing most versions of blackjack, the dealer starts by dealing two cards to you and themselves. You can see both of your cards, but only one of the dealer's. You therefore won't necessarily know if you have a better hand than the dealer or not. After the first two cards, it is up to you if you want to draw more cards (hit) or not (stay). Once you are happy with your hand, the dealer will reveal their hidden card, draw more cards for themselves if needed, and announce if you won or not. It can be a quick game – especially if either of you go bust.
Rules of different blackjack variations
The basic gameplay of blackjack is quite simple to understand and get started with, but you might come across different variations with additional rules that might lower or raise the house edge. Some rules to make note of include:
- Double down: With a double down bet, players can double their bet and potential payout. But if opting for this, you can only get one more card to complete your hand.
- Insurance: Insurance is a side bet sometimes offered if the dealer's card facing up is an ace. The insurance stakes half the original bet against the dealer hitting a natural blackjack (ace combined with 10, J, Q or K).
- Split: If a player's initial two cards are of the same value, a split might be allowed. This splits the one hand into two separate hands and the player will get two additional cards to complete the two hands.
- Surrender: With the surrender rule, players can fold their hand and give up only half their bet after seeing their original hand and the dealer's up card.
- Switch: A version of blackjack you might come across is Blackjack Switch. This is a multi-hand variant of the game where you play two hands. Each hand is dealt two cards and it is possible to switch one card from each hand with a card from the other in order to create better hands.
Basic strategy for blackjack
Since blackjack does not have a lot of confusing rules you have to follow or bets you need to understand right away, it is easy to start out and learn as you go. You can for example start by playing some rounds of free blackjack games and play through a few hands to familiarize yourself with the game. But if you want the upper hand and a chance to beat the dealer right from the start, there are some strategies to keep in mind.
Here are some basic tips for when you get started:
- Print out or find a blackjack chart online that can be of help. There are many charts created that give an overview of different outcomes and what you should do. Follow these strategies religiously in the beginning while you are getting to know the game and rules.
- Remember that ace can be used as both 1 and 11.
- Based on probability, it is not recommended to take insurance. If the dealer doesn't have blackjack, the insurance bet loses.
- In the beginning, always stand on hands that have a value of 18 or more. Then as you get more used to the game and possible hands, you can start taking other actions with a higher value too, when it is the right thing to do in that specific situation.
- And finally, if you are playing for real money, remember to play responsibly. This includes setting a budget for how much you can afford to play for (and lose) and sticking to that budget.
A note on card counting
Something that a lot of players might have heard of, that used to be considered a sure blackjack strategy, is card counting. This is a strategy where players try to keep a running count of high and low valued cards dealt. By doing this, the aim is to overcome the house edge by predicting what is left to be dealt. There are various systems that can be used to keep count.
While card counting might sound like a good strategy in theory, it is not always so in practice. First of all, many casinos ban players that are caught counting cards as it is seen as a way to "cheat the casino". And many casinos make it difficult to do it, by using a bigger stack of decks or shuffling more frequently. And when playing blackjack online, it is normally not even possible to count cards as the games use random number technology and not traditional decks of cards in play.
We recommend that you try out different strategies and find the best solutions for you. You should of course first get a grip of the game's basic setup, and then you can start to experiment with additional rules and tactics. If you play your cards right, you can lower the house edge, but it requires smart moves and a full understanding of the game.