The Aim of the Game
The aim of Blackjack is very straightforward. Players simply need to build a hand of cards that has a value closer to 21 than the dealer’s hand has, but without exceeding 21. If the hand exceeds 21, then it automatically loses, regardless of what the dealer is holding. Importantly, the aim of the game is not to form a hand as close to 21 as possible; rather, it is to have a higher total than the dealer’s total and not to bust when the dealer does. The difference may sound subtle, but it is vitally important.
Understanding Blackjack Hand Values
It is very easy to understand how much your hand is worth in Blackjack. Essentially, all of the cards are worth their face values, and you simply need to add them together. This means that all of the picture cards, Jacks, Queens and Kings, are worth 10. The only exception to this are Aces, which are worth 1 or 11, and this is discussed in greater detail below. It is possible to form a hand of 21 with just two cards, an Ace and a 10-value card. This hand is known as Blackjack, it is the best hand and in the vast majority of Blackjack variants, it will beat all other hands.
Hard or Soft Hand
You will often hear hands referred to as Hard or Soft. This refers to whether a hand contains an Ace, and it is important when it comes to the actions that the dealer takes. A hand is considered hard if it does not contain an Ace or if it contains an Ace that counts as 1. For example, a hand of 7-J is worth 17 and a hard hand, a hand of 7-J-A is a hard hand and worth 18. If the Ace were to count as 11 in that hand, it would bust. However, if a hand contains an Ace that is worth 11, then it is soft. For example, A-4 is a soft 15, A-3-3 is a soft 17, and so on. Very often, if you are dealt a hand containing an Ace, it will start as a soft hand, but as you draw more cards to it, it will become a hard hand (in order to prevent the hand busting).
How a Round works
Blackjack is a fast-paced game, which is one of the reasons it is so exciting. A round takes very little time to complete, with each player requiring just a few moments to play his or her hand. Here we have broken down the different stages of a round so that you will know what is happening from beginning to end.
Placing Bets and Dealing of Cards
At the start of a round, you need to place your bet. This is simply a matter of choosing your chip value and placing it on the table. If you are playing an RNG Blackjack game, (i.e. one without a real deck of cards), then you will need to confirm your bets and the cards will be dealt. If you are playing Live Blackjack, or even in land casino, there will be an allocated betting time in which all players must place their bets. This is also the time to place any side bets that interest you.
Once the betting is over, you will be dealt two face-up cards. The dealer is also dealt cards and the exact way this happens depends on the variant being played. In general, the dealer will either be dealt one face-up card and one facedown, one face-up card, or in one particular variant, two face-up cards. The exact variations are explained below. Once all the cards are dealt, it is time to play your hand.
Playing Your Hand
Each player takes a turn to play his or her hand. Players have a number of potential options, and the exact ones will depend on the cards in the hand. What follows is a brief explanation of each option and how it is used:
If you choose to ‘Hit’, then it means that you are asking the dealer to draw you another card from the pack. After receiving another card, if your hand has not gone bust, then you will be able to Hit again.
If you choose to Stand, then it means that you are happy with the hand as it is and that you do not want to receive any more cards. After you select ‘Stand’, play will move on to the next player or the dealer.
If you Double Down, it means that your initial bet is doubled, you will receive just one more card to your hand, and then play moves on to the next dealer. Generally speaking, Doubling Down is only available after you have received your first two cards; however, some Blackjack variants only allow Doubling Down with specific hand values and others will allow it at any time. For more information on this, take a look at the section on Blackjack variants below.
In most versions of Blackjack, if the first two cards dealt to a player have the same value, e.g. 6 Diamonds, 6 Clubs, then they can be split into two individual hands. When you split a hand, it requires that you place a bet equal in value to your initial bet. You will then be able to play each hand individually. However, in some versions of Blackjack there are rules about how many cards can be drawn to a split hand, whether doubling down is allowed after a split, and more. All of these variations are explained below.
Some versions of Blackjack give you the chance to Surrender, which means that you abandon a hand in exchange for half of your bet back. There are two types of Surrender, Early Surrender and Late Surrender. If a game offers Early Surrender, it means that you have the option to forfeit your hand before the dealer checks for Blackjack if they have a face up Ace or possibly a card worth 10, depending on the specific game’s rules. However, Early Surrender is very rare. Far more common is Late Surrender; this is when you can surrender your hand only after the dealer has checked for Blackjack (assuming that the dealer does not in fact have Blackjack).
In many versions of Blackjack, if the dealer’s face-up card is an Ace, then players are given the chance to take out Insurance against the dealer having Blackjack. Insurance comes in the form of a side bet that is equal to half of the initial bet, e.g. if the initial bet was $10 then the Insurance side bet will be $5. If the dealer goes on to have Blackjack, then the insurance bet pays at 2:1, ensuring that players do not lose any money for that hand.
This is a relatively rare option, but some versions of online and land-based Blackjack do offer it. If you have Blackjack and the dealer’s face-up card is an Ace, then the dealer may offer you “even money”. This means that you will win a payout of 1:1 (which is known as even money) before the dealer checks their facedown card for Blackjack. Therefore, you can be sure of making a profit, as if the dealer does have Blackjack then your bet would be returned as a push.
How the Dealer Plays
When all players at the table have finished playing their hands (or once you have finished, if you are playing a single player version), it is the dealer’s turn to play. Once again, there is a great deal of variation in the rules governing the dealer depending on the Blackjack variant that you are playing. However, in general, the dealer must draw hands until their hand is worth a specific value, and then stand once it reaches that value. A common rule is that the dealer must draw until their hand is worth at least 17 and then stand. However, some games may distinguish between hard and soft 17s.
The End of a Round
Once the dealer has finished, players will be paid out for any winning hands. Assuming that the player has not gone bust, if the player’s hand has a total larger than the dealer’s hand then it pays at 1:1. If the dealer and player have hands with the same value then the bet is returned as a push. If the player has Blackjack (also called a Natural), then it is paid at 3:2. There are some exceptions to this as explained in the variants section below.
Common Blackjack Side Bets
Many versions of Blackjack give players the chance to win a bit more with a variety of side bets. Some of the following side bets are more common than others, and the payouts may vary slightly from game to game.
This is the most common side bet and it pays out if the player’s first two cards match. There are three ways in which the bet can be won.
- Mixed Pair – This is two cards of the same value, but different suit and colour. For example, 6 Diamonds and 6 Spades. It usually pays at 5:1
- Coloured Pair – This is two cards of the same value and the same colour. For example, 5 Spades and 5 Clubs. It usually pays at 12:1.
- Perfect Pair – This is two identical cards. For example, two 4 Hearts. It usually pays at 25:1.
This side bet pays out if the player’s first two cards and the dealer’s face-up card combine to form one of five types of poker hands:
- Flush – This is three cards of the same suit. For example, 4, 5, and 9 of Clubs. It usually pays at 5:1
- Straight – This is three cards in sequence. For example, 3, 4, 5, and it does not matter what the suits or colours are. It usually pays at 10:1.
- Three of a Kind – This is three cards of the same value, regardless of suit. For example, three 7s. It usually pays at 30:1.
- Straight Flush – This is three cards from the same suit in numerical order. For example, 4, 5, 6 of Hearts. It usually pays at 40:1.
- Suited Three of a Kind – This is three cards that are the same suit and number. For example, three 4 of Spades. It usually pays at 100:1.
This is another bet on the first two cards dealt to players. It pays out at 5:2 if the first two cards are from the same suit. For example, 3 and 8 of Diamonds. It pays out a more generous 25:1 if the player is dealt a Royal Match, a king and queen from the same suit.
This is a bet on the sum of the player’s cards, specifically on whether the total will be more or less than 13. It usually pays even money.
This is a bet on the first card dealt to a player being a 7, and it offers bigger payouts if two or more 7s are dealt consecutively. Usually, one 7 pays at 3:1, two unsuited 7s pays at 50:1, two suited 7s pays at 100:1. If the third card dealt is also a 7 then the bet pays at 500:1 if it is unsuited and 5000:1 if it is suited.
This is a bet on the player’s first two cards having a total of 20 and it offers varying payouts depending on how the 20 is formed. An unsuited 20 pays at 4:1, a suited 20 pays at 10:1, a matched 20 (cards with the same rank and suit) pays at 25:1, two queens of hearts pays at 200:1 and two queens of hearts when dealer has Blackjack pays at 1000:1.
This is a bet on the dealer’s face-up card and the player’s first two cards forming a Suited Three of a Kind, a Straight Flush of a Three of a Kind combination. A Suited Three of a Kind pays at 500:1, a Straight Flush pays at 180:1 and Three of a Kind pays at 90:1.
The Hot3 side bets pays if the player’s two up cards and the dealer’s up card have a total of 19, 20 or 21 or are three 7s. It pays even money for 19, 2:1 for 20, 4:1 for unsuited 21, 20:1 for suited 21, and 100:1 for three 7s.
This is a bet on the dealer going bust. The more cards in the dealer’s hand when they bust, the bigger the payout. If the dealer goes bust with 3 or 4 cards it pays at 2:1, with 5 cards it pays at 4:1, with 6 cards it pays at 18:1, with 7 cards it pays at 50:1 , with 8 or more cards it pays at 250:1. If the dealer goes bust with 7 cards and the player has Blackjack it pays at 800:1 and if the dealer goes bust with 8 or more cards and the player has Blackjack then it pays at 2000:1.
This is a bet on the player’s first two cards and the dealer’s first card forming a Suited 777, a Suited 678, an Unsuited 777, an Unsuited 678, a Suited 21, an Unsuited 21, an Any 20 or an Any 19. The Suited 777 pays at 200:1, the Suited 678 pays at 100:1, an Unsuited 777 pays at 50:1, an Unsuited 678 pays at 25:1, a Suited 21 pays at 15:1, an Unsuited 21 at pays 3:1, an Any 20 pays at 2:1 and Any 19 pays at 2:1.
Some online versions of Blackjack are linked to progressive jackpots and players can place a side bet in order to qualify for the jackpot game. The side bet pays out when a player is dealt one of the winning card combinations. To win the progressive jackpot, players need to be dealt four consecutive Aces of the same suit. Receiving three suited Aces pays out 5000:1, four unsuited Aces pays out 2500:1, three unsuited Aces pays out 250:1, two suited Aces pays 100:1, two unsuited Aces pays 50:1 and one Ace pays 5:1.
Common Blackjack Variants
Over the years, many different Blackjack variants have emerged. The differences between the games are usually fairly subtle, but they can have a big impact. In general, each variant will use a different number of decks of cards in the shoe, and there may also be differences in regards to when Doubling Down is allowed and what is allowed after Splitting. Here you can find some information about the most common variants found at online casinos, including a few that truly bring a new twist to the game.
This version most commonly uses six decks of cards that are shuffled after each round. The dealer will stand on all 17s, whether hard or soft, and splitting is allowed once per hand. The game does not offer Surrender, and Doubling Down is allowed with a hand total of 9, 10 or 11 (the same is true for a split hand). It offers the standard Blackjack payouts.
Vegas Strip Blackjack
Vegas Strip Blackjack uses four decks of cards that are shuffled after each round. In this version, the dealer will check to see if they have Blackjack straightaway if their face-up card is a 10 or an Ace. The dealer will stand on all 17s (hard and soft), while the game allows Splitting once per hand and Doubling Down is allowed regardless of the hand total. The game does not offer Surrender.
Vegas Downtown Blackjack
Vegas Downtown Blackjack is played with two decks of cards that are shuffled before each game. The dealer will check for Blackjack when dealt an Ace or a 10 card as their up card. Split and Double Down are available, as is Insurance. However, the game does not allow Surrender. Importantly, the dealer will hit on Soft 17 in this game.
Atlantic City Blackjack
Atlantic City Blackjack is played with eight decks of cards that are shuffled after each game. The dealer must stand on all 17s, hard and soft, and check for Blackjack if the face-up card is an Ace or a 10-value card. Importantly, this version allows for Late Surrender, meaning that players can abandon their hand after the dealer has checked for Blackjack. Players are also able to Split each hand once and they may Double Down regardless of the value of the hand.
Blackjack Double Exposure
This version of Blackjack takes its name from the fact that both of the dealer’s first two cards are dealt face-up. It is played with six decks of cards that are shuffled after each round. Splitting is allowed once per hand, and Doubling Down is allowed with a total of 9, 10 or 11 (however, it is not allowed after a Split). There are a few important differences that are designed to compensate for that dealer’s cards being visible. First, the dealer will win all tied hands (e.g. if the player and the dealer both have a hand of 20, then the dealer wins rather than the bet being returned as a push). The only exception is a tied Blackjack, which is returned as a push. Secondly, in this version of the game, Blackjack pays at 1:1, not the usual 3:2.
This version of Blackjack is significantly different from the regular game. In this version, players will always be playing two hands simultaneously and they will have the option of exchanging the top card of each hand at the start of a round. The game is played with six decks of cards that are shuffled between each round. The dealer will not check for Blackjack; however, they will stand on hard 17s and hit on soft 17s. Furthermore, if the dealer’s hand is worth 22, then they do not bust, rather they will push against all totals, except for Blackjack. Splitting is allowed once per hand, and Doubling Down is also allowed.
This game is played with what are known as Spanish decks, which means that the four 10s have been removed from the deck. Spanish 21 is usually played with six or eight such decks. It allows late surrender, doubling down (including after a split), and re-splitting aces. A player 21 will always win in this game, while player Blackjack will also beat dealer Blackjack. The game even allows surrendering after doubling, which is known as “Double Down Rescue”. Spanish 21 also offers very different payouts, depending on the number and nature of the cards in a hand.
Free Bet Blackjack
This version of Blackjack allows players to Double Down for free on two-card hands that have a hard total of 9, 10 or 11. Furthermore, it also allows hands to be Split for free as long as the cards are not worth 10. In order to compensate for this, if the dealer has 22, then bets are returned as a push. It is played with six decks of cards and the dealer will hit on soft 17s.
Double Attack Blackjack
Double Attack Blackjack features numerous rule twists. However, the main one is that players may Double their bet after the dealer’s up card is dealt and before any player cards have been dealt. It is played with eight Spanish style decks (with the 10s removed). The dealer stands on all 17s and they will check for Blackjack. Players can Double Down (including after a Split), and all hands except Aces may be re-split. Players can Double or Surrender at any time, and Blackjack pays even money.
Super Fun 21
Super Fun 21 is played with one, two or six decks. The dealer will hit on soft 17. Players may Double after a Split, they may re-split to up to four hands, and they may Hit and Double Down on split aces. Players can also Double Down on any number of cards and take Late Surrender on any number of cards. If a player’s hand is contains at least six cards, is worth less than 20 and the player has not doubled, then the player automatically wins. A hand of 21 consisting of five or more cards pays 2:1 automatically, unless the player has doubled. Player Blackjacks always win, and if it is in diamonds it pays 2:1, otherwise, it pays even money.