Blackjack Rules and How to Play

Blackjack, the most widely played casino banking game in the world, has been enjoyed by gamblers for hundreds of years. Whilst the origins of the game (also known as twenty-one) are unknown, variations on the blackjack rules we know and love today are documented in France and Spain as early as the 17th century.

The secret of its success is simplicity. The rules of blackjack are easy to learn, fair for players, and the game is fast-paced. Play a little longer though, and you’ll discover a strategic depth that continues to draw a huge number of gamblers from high-rollers to weekend chancers. If this is your first plunge into the world of twenty-one, stick around and let me walk you through how to play blackjack.

The Blackjack Table

Blackjack is played on semicircular table. The dealer faces two to six players, and is the only person to handle cards during the game. The playing surface is marked with various areas for placing bets. Each player has an area for stacking chips to opt into each round of betting. The rules of blackjack are often also printed on the cloth.

In between the dealer and the players’ betting boxes, is the insurance box – more on taking out insurance later – and, depending on the operator, a description of the dealer’s restrictions may be written too. Finally, the blackjack payout information is displayed closest to the dealer.

Blackjack
screenshot of a blackjack table from 888 casino
Information:
Alternative Names: Twenty One
Category: Card Games
No. of Cards Used: 52 to 416
No. of Players: 2+ (usually 2-6)
Random Chance: High
Difficulty: Low
Strategies: Yes
Skills Needed: Observation, Strategic Thinking, Discipline

How to Play Blackjack

The goal of blackjack is very simple: Each player faces the dealer in a head-to-head duel. Closest to 21 with two or more cards wins. Players around a blackjack table do not play against each other, it’s everyone against the dealer. Each betting box on the table represents a hand. Experienced players will often play multiple hands at once by placing bets in adjacent boxes.

Dealing clockwise, each player receives two cards face up. The dealer also receives two hole cards, but only one is revealed to players at first. If you are completely new to blackjack rules, you may find my guide to blackjack terms useful before continuing. The dealer calculates the value of the hand in play and offers two options. Stand or hit. Stick or twist. Players can decide to stand, and take their chances with what they’ve got, or they can hit, and take another card from the top of a pre-shuffled deck. It’s a delicate balance. Play too safe, and the dealer can beat your hand too easily. Take too big a risk, and you’ll go bust! All winning bets are paid at evens. If players are dealt a hand worth 21 points in the hole, blackjack is announced and an instant win is called. Blackjack pays out higher odds than regular wins, usually at 3 to 2.

A third action available to players dealt matching cards in the hole. The option to split a pair of matching cards into two hands mid-round is called, unsurprisingly, splitting. The player is responsible for matching the stake on the second hand. This option is particularly popular with players holding two aces, as a maximum score of 12 is not strong, and splitting creates the chance of a double blackjack.

Finally, players can take the option to increase the original bet by 100% in exchange for only receiving one more card. This practice is called doubling down, and is a popular move for players holding 11, increasing the stakes whilst hoping to catch a 10 and hit blackjack. Only once all players are either standing or bust will the dealer play. Finally, losing bets are scooped up, and winning bets are paid out. A single round of blackjack can take anywhere from 1 to 10 minutes, depending on the play.

The Basic Rules of Blackjack

Now you’ve got a grasp of the basics, let’s take a closer look at some of the more complex aspects of playing blackjack – and how to best go about those.

The Card Values

The numerical value of each card in the rules of blackjack is nice and straightforward. Numbered cards are valued as presented, with all pictures cards (Jacks, Queens and Kings) counting as 10 each. Aces are counted at either 1 or 10, depending on which is best for the player in any given situation. Aces can change their value mid-round if beneficial to the player.

Take a look at my guide to basic blackjack strategy below to give you an idea of how to play 21 depending on your hand. Remember, what the dealer is holding is JUST as important as what the player is holding in blackjack, so pay attention to your opponent.

Basic Blackjack Strategy – The Simple Way to Play
Total of Your Hand Our Recommended Approach % Chance of Bust On Hit
Less than 8 Always hit 0%
9, 10 or 11 Double Down or hit 0%
12 Stick if the dealer has 4 to 6, otherwise hit 31%
13 to 16 If the dealer has 2 to 10, then hit 39 – 62%
17 or higher Always stick More than 69%
A-8 and A-9 Always stick 85% – 92%
AA You should split and play two hands 0%
Two 10s Never split two 10s, always stick 92%
Two 7s If the dealer has 2 to 7 you can split, otherwise hit 56%
A-4 If the dealer has 4 to 6 you can stick, otherwise hit 58%

Restrictions on the Dealer

Like all casino games, blackjack rules incorporate a ‘house edge’. The dealer’s advantage over players in the rules of blackjack stems from position. The dealer always plays last. This means that if your hand goes bust, you lose despite the outcome of any subsequent hand. In short, if both the player and the dealer go bust, the house still wins. However, unlike the player, the dealer is bound by a strict set of rules. This makes the dealer predictable, and therefore beatable. If the dealer’s hand is 16 or less, the dealer must hit. If the dealer’s hand is 17 or higher, the dealer must stand. Hitting on a 16 is risky, anything over 5 will bust the dealer. Whilst standing on 17 leaves room for defeat to higher hands. These restrictions give blackjack players room for strategy, making blackjack one of the fairest games you can play at an online casino.

Insurance

In the event of a dealer being dealt a visible ace in the hole, players are given the chance to take out insurance. Insurance is a separate bet, placed to soften the blow of defeat. It pays 2:1, meaning that the player has a chance to recoup some of the chips lost in the event of a dealer blackjack. In traditional blackjack a player can wage up to half the amount of their original bet as insurance, though this may vary with more modern variation of the game.

The History of Blackjack

The game of blackjack, originally called twenty-one, can be traced back to 1601. A card game where players try to reach a score of 21 is referenced in a short story by the author of Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes, titled Rinconete y Cortadillo. Other references to the game appear in France and Spain around the same period.

image of hendrick ter brugghen gamblingBy the time twenty-one was introduced in the United States, bonus payouts were starting to be offered by casinos to entice players. Odds of up to 10 to 1 are reported as being given to players holding the ace of spades and a black jack. The popular version played all over the world today, blackjack, was born. Whilst the odds of 10 to 1 for blackjack have disappeared, the rules of blackjack today state that any ace paired with any card valued at 10, regardless of suit, are paid out as blackjack. More recently, online casinos offering many variants of the much-loved game of blackjack have surfaced. Bonus Blackjack is played with only two decks of cards, reducing the house advantage to just 0.46%. It’s a popular choice for online players as the rules are exactly the same as regular blackjack, and therefore the same strategies can be used. Seven-card Blackjack is also popular with online players. This variant rewards players for knowing when to place side bets that can return huge payouts. Pontoon, an English derivative of the twenty-one format, differs slightly from the rules of blackjack in the UK. It is often more difficult to beat the dealer, but the payout is higher than in blackjack.