Blackjack is considered one of the easiest casino games to master and with hundreds of gambling operators offering it online, players from around the world now have a chance to enjoy some thrilling blackjack action from the comfort of their surroundings.
The game is appealing for yet another reason – it comes with a very low house edge that can be further reduced through the use of perfect blackjack basic strategy. Yet, many rookies feel apprehensive before joining a blackjack table, thinking the game requires remarkable math skills which it does not.
This comprehensive guide on playing Blackjack aims at introducing beginners to the basic rules of play in blackjack in a simple enough manner so that anyone can attain a clear understanding of how this casino staple is played.
Main Objective in Blackjack
Blackjack is played against a dealer with one to eight full decks of cards. The players’ main objective is to beat the dealer by obtaining a higher hand total than theirs as long as said total does not go over 21. Any hand whose value exceeds 21 busts, i.e. loses the coup.
There is no need for the player to always draw to 21 in order to beat the dealer. You can have a winning hand of a lower value and still win when the dealer breaks their hand and goes over 21. When both player and dealer have the same hand total, they push. No money changes hands because nobody wins or loses in this scenario.
The Values of the Cards
Suits are irrelevant in most blackjack variations so you can ignore them while learning the game. In blackjack, the cards have the same values as in poker, with aces being the only exception as they are worth either 1 or 11, depending on which of the two values benefits the player.
Jacks, Kings, and Queens are worth 10 whereas the remaining cards (2s through 10s) are worth their pip value. The strongest hand in the game is blackjack itself – it consists of an ace and a ten-value card for a total of 21 and awards a payout of 3 to 2.
In blackjack, there is a distinction between soft hands and hard hands. Hard hands contain an ace whose value is 1 whereas the ace in soft hands can have a value of either 1 or 11, meaning that the player cannot go over 21 on the next draw.
The Basic Player Actions in Blackjack
Both player and dealer receive two cards at the start of the round. The dealer follows fixed rules and is required to stand on a certain total, usually 17. The player is given more freedom and has a choice from several actions.
- Hit – The player is not pleased with their total and requests additional cards to improve the hand’s value. Players can hit their starting hands as many times as they wish provided they do not go over 21.
- Stand – The player declines additional cards after the initial deal.
- Double Down – The player posts an additional bet (usually 2x the original wager) and is dealt only one more card on the initial two-card total.
- Split – Pairs of same-value cards (eg. 8/8, A/A) can be split and played one after another as two separate hands. The player again needs to make an additional wager equal in size to their first wager. In some blackjack variations, you can resplit if dealt another pair.
- Surrender – The player forfeits the hand after the deal and receives half of their initial bet back.
- Insurance – Insurance is offered when the dealer’s upcard is an ace. A side bet must be posted that the dealer has a blackjack and if this is indeed so, the player would receive a 2 to 1 payout but lose their original hand. If not, the insurance bet loses and play continues as usual, with the player choosing one of the above actions. The insurance bet gives the house a very high edge and should be avoided altogether.
Blackjack players can boost their winning chances by applying basic strategy. This strategy is available online in a table format and shows you how to correctly play every possible hand combination in blackjack. It tells you what move to make depending on your hand’s total and the dealer’s exposed card. Basic strategy reduces the house edge to around 0.50% so that blackjack almost becomes a break-even game.