Blackjack (21)

The description of Blackjack on this page is based on a contribution from Jeffrey Wilkins, editor of CasinoTop10.net.

Introduction

Blackjack is a popular American casino game, now found throughout the world. It is a banking game in which the aim of the player is to achieve a hand whose points total nearer to 21 than the banker's hand, but without exceeding 21.

In Nevada casinos the game is generally known 21 rather than Blackjack, and the holding of an ace with a 10-point card is called a "natural".

Confusingly, the name Black Jack is used in Britain for an entirely different card game which is essentially the same as Crazy Eights.

The following outline explains the basic rules of standard blackjack (21), along with the house rules most commonly featured in casinos. Players should bear in mind, though, that blackjack rules vary from casino to casino, and check for local variations before playing.

Equipment

Blackjack is played with an international 52-card deck without jokers. Casinos normally use several decks mixed together (called a shoe), both in order to speed up the game (with more cards in play you don't have to reshuffle after every single hand) and to make card counting more difficult (card counting is a technique used to gain an advantage over the casino by keeping track of the proportions of different value cards remaining in play.)

The number of decks differs from casino to casino, but there can be anything from two to eight decks in the shoe. The re-shuffling frequency also differs from casino to casino, and of course depends on the number of decks used. Frequent re-shuffling is another way to diminish the value of card counting.

In casinos, blackjack is played on a specially designed table. There is a permanent dealer employed by the casino, and room for up to eight simultaneous players, playing against the dealer. Each player has a designated playing area in front of him where cards are placed and bets are made.

The betting limits should be clearly posted on a sign on the blackjack table. Normally, some of the most important rules, such as "Blackjack pays 3 to 2" and "Dealer must draw on 16 and stand on all 17's" are printed on the table.

To play blackjack you need chips to bet with, and you typically buy your chips directly from the dealer. When there is a break in the action, you simply put cash on the table and the dealer will change it for an equal value of playing chips.

The standard denominations for casino chips are:

  • white chips = $1
  • red chips = $5
  • green chips = $25
  • black chips = $100

Home game blackjack

When you play blackjack at home, you should take turns being the dealer, to ensure fairness in the game (unless the player who is hosting the game specifically has stated that he or she wants to act as the house the entire game and the other players agree to this.)

You can switch dealer every hand, every five hands or whatever you decide. If you're playing with a single deck of cards, the best idea is to re-shuffle after every hand. Of course, you don't need a fancy blackjack table to play the game, but you will need at least one pack of cards and something to bet with - cash, chips or maybe matches.

Betting and winning

Each player at the blackjack table has a circle or box to place bets in. There will always be a minimum bet and a maximum bet for the table. The maximum bet is normally ten to twenty times the minimum bet, meaning that a table with a $5 minimum would have a $50 to $100 maximum. Each player decides how much to bet on a hand before the deal.

Each hand will result in one of the following events for the player:

  • Lose - the player's bet is taken by the dealer.
  • Win - the player wins as much as he bet. If you bet $10, you win $10 from the dealer (plus you keep your original bet, of course.)
  • Blackjack (natural) - the player wins 1.5 times the bet. With a bet of $10, you keep your $10 and win a further $15 from the dealer.
  • Push - the hand is a draw. The player keeps his bet, neither winning nor losing money.

Game objective

Although many players may play in a single round of blackjack, it's fundamentally a two-player game. In blackjack, players don't play against each other; and they don't co-operate. The only competition is the dealer.

The aim of the game is to accumulate a higher point total than the dealer, but without going over 21. You compute your score by adding the values of your individual cards.

The cards 2 through 10 have their face value, J, Q, and K are worth 10 points each, and the Ace is worth either 1 or 11 points (player's choice).

The deal and "blackjack"

At the start of a blackjack game, the players and the dealer receive two cards each. The players' cards are normally dealt face up, while the dealer has one face down (called the hole card) and one face up.

The best possible blackjack hand is an opening deal of an ace with any ten-point card. This is called a "blackjack", or a natural 21, and the player holding this automatically wins unless the dealer also has a blackjack. If a player and the dealer each have a blackjack, the result is a push for that player. If the dealer has a blackjack, all players not holding a blackjack lose.

The players' turns

After the cards have been dealt, the game goes on with each player taking action - in clockwise order starting to dealer's left.

First, the player must declare if he wants to take advantage of the side rules (explained below). You can only use the side rules once, when it's your turn to act after the deal.

Then the player can keep his hand as it is (stand) or take more cards from the deck (hit), one at a time, until either the player judges that the hand is strong enough to go up against the dealer's hand and stands, or until it goes over 21, in which case the player immediately loses (busts).

In most places, players can take as many cards as they like, as long as they don't bust, but some casinos have restrictions regarding this.

The dealer's turn

When all players have finished their actions, either decided to stand or busted, the dealer turns over his hidden hole card.

If the dealer has a natural 21 (blackjack) with his two cards, he won't take any more cards. All players lose, except players who also have a blackjack, in which case it is a push - the bet is returned to the player.

If the dealer doesn't have a natural, he hits (takes more cards) or stands depending on the value of the hand. Contrary to the player, though, the dealer's action is completely dictated by the rules. The dealer must hit if the value of the hand is lower than 17, otherwise the dealer will stand.

Whether or not the dealer must hit on a soft 17 (a hand of 17 containing an ace being counted as 11) differs from casino to casino. There might even be blackjack tables with different rules within the same casino.

Showdown

If the dealer goes bust, all players who are left in the game win. Otherwise players with higher point totals than the dealer win, while players with lower totals than the dealer lose.

Players with a blackjack win a bet plus a bonus amount, which is normally equal to half their original wager. A blackjack hand beats any other hand, also those with a total value of 21 but with more cards.

As described above, if the dealer has a blackjack, players with blackjack make a push, while all other players lose.

Blackjack Side Rules

Above, the basic rules of blackjack are described. In addition, numerous side rules allow for more intricate betting strategies. These side rules can only be used immediately after the deal, before you take any more cards. You cannot, for example, take a third card and then decide to double down.

The most widely practiced options are explained below:

Insurance

When the dealer's face-up card is an ace, each player gets the chance to bet on whether the dealer has a blackjack or not. This is done before any other player actions.

The insurance wager equals your original bet and is used to cancel out the likely loss of this bet. A winning insurance bet will be paid at odds of 2:1, and since you lose your original bet, you'll break even on the hand. Strategy guides tend to advice against taking insurance.

Surrender

If you have a bad hand compared to the dealer's hand (judging from what you can see of it,) you can give up the hand and reclaim half your bet. The casino keeps the other half uncontested. You need a really bad hand match-up for a surrender to be profitable, such as 16 vs the dealer showing a 10.

At some casinos, surrenders will not be allowed if the dealer has a blackjack (which he then checks for immediately after the deal). If the dealer has a blackjack, no surrenders will be granted and you'll lose the entire bet - unless you also have a blackjack, in which case it's a push. This side rule variation is called late surrender.

Splitting

When you get two starting cards of the same face value, you have the option to split the hand in two. You place another bet of the same size as the original bet and play on with two hands. (Note that it is legal to split 10-point cards even if they do not form a pair - for example you could split a jack and a king.)

When you've decided to split a hand, the dealer immediately deals a second card to each hand. Now, if you're dealt yet another pair, some casinos allow you to split the hand again, while others don't.

When you're done splitting, each of your hands will be treated separately, meaning that you will take cards to your first hand until you stand or bust, and then carry on with the next hand.

If you split aces, you are dealt a second card to each hand as usual, but you are not allowed to take any further cards (unless you are dealt another ace and split again). All hands resulting from splitting aces remain as two-card hands.

If the second card dealt to a split ace is a 10-point card you do not receive the blackjack bonus for this hand. It does however win against an ordinary 21 made of more than two cards. If the dealer also has a blackjack the result for this hand is a push as usual. In many places the same rule (no blackjack bonus) is played if an ace is dealt as the second card to a 10-point card after splitting.

Doubling Down

If you're fairly sure that your hand will beat the dealer's, you can double your original bet. You're sometimes allowed to double down for any amount up to the original bet amount. In most casinos you may double down on any hand, but some casinos require an opening hand worth 11, 10 or 9.

When you've chosen to double down, you'll only get one more card from the dealer.

Sites for blackjack rules, information and analysis

Here are some links for rules and information about Blackjack (21).

  • The Blackjack FAQ and the associated newsgroups rec.gambling.blackjack.moderated and rec.gambling.blackjack
  • The Lucky Blackjack site has information on Blackjack rules and variants, advice on tactics, links to online casinos where Blackjack can be played, and other Blackjack resources.
  • Wes Young's How to Play Blackjack provides a straightforward introduction to the game and a range of useful articles explaining strategy and variations and reviewing some casinos where blackjack is offered.
  • Kenneth R Smith's blackjackinfo.com site, where you can use the Blackjack Basic Strategy Engine to check the best basic strategy under various casino rules, and where you can also find a complete explanation of the rules of casino blackjack.
  • Norman Wattenberger's Blackjack in Color is an unusual free Web-based Blackjack book providing an analysis of Blackjack and Card Counting illustrated by 139 charts. He also publishes the Blackjack Scams site, which points out some short-cuts that will more likely cost you money than make a profit.
  • The Blackjack Professor site provides information on Blackjack rules and strategy, plus links to other resources including online Blackjack games.
  • Blackjack Classroom is a Blackjack information site with a focus on hosting live card counting seminars in Las Vegas and Southern California. It also has basic strategy tables, guides to the effect of different casino rules on the house advantage, and listings of the rules in use in various Californian casinos.
  • lol Blackjack offers an introduction to Blackjack, information on basic strategy, card counting and betting systems, biographies of players. and other resources.
  • The Blackjack section of the Ready Bet Go site has articles on Blackjack strategy, interviews with professional players, book reviews and other resources.
  • BlackJack Doc has blackjack rules, variations, strategy tables and card counting information, plus reviews of online casinos where blackjack can be played.
  • Jacob Rief's Beat Blackjack site has a useful discussion of Blackjack probabilities and strategies, including card counting, and offers the open source computer program bbjd which can be used to investigate optimum strategies.
  • The Counting Edge site explains Blackjack card counting strategies, and includes a Java card counting tutor.
  • Atte Aaltonen's Gaming the Odds site has a section on How to Beat Blackjack which introduces several card counting systems as well as covering basic strategy and providing other tips and advice.
  • James Yates has written a page Blackjack Solved, which explains Harvey Dubner's Blackjack card counting system.
  • Marty Taylor's Blackjack Betting Strategies site explains various betting strategies and card counting systems.
  • Colin and Ben's Blackjack Apprenticeship site offers information and advice on card counting in Blackjack, including a free video course, and an attractive 'how to play blackjack' graphic in the form of a blackboard.
  • The Blackjack Informer site provides rules, advice, information on variants and biographies of some prominent Blackjack players.
  • Online Blackjack .org has Blackjack rules, variations, strategy advice and links to casinos where Blackjack can be played online.
  • The Blackjack Information page of the Online-Casinos site has rules, tips on strategies including card counting, a printable strategy matrix and a free online Blackjack game for practice.
  • The Gamblers Edge Online Blackjack Guide provides an introduction to online blackjack: basic strategy, blackjack tips, blackjack simulators and blackjack links.
  • The Mr Blackjack site has rules, strategy advice, a dictionary of terms, and links to online Blackjack games.
  • Charlie Post's All About Blackjack site, with rules, history and strategy and other information about the game.
  • Blackjack Gala provides information about blackjack rules, variations, strategy and places to play online.
  • The Casino Directory includes a Blackjack page with Blackjack rules, tips and information.
  • The Online Blackjack Review has rules, advice on money management and strategy, including card counting, advice on where to play, and links to online casinos.
  • Blackjack Guru, which has rules, tips, strategies and a free online Blackjack game.
  • Blackjack on the Web has rules, notes on basic strategy and card counting, and reviews some web sites where Blackjack can be played online.
  • The Blackjack Rules and Strategy page from casino-gaming.com
  • From Learn Pro Blackjack you can obtain an Android App that teaches basic Blackjack strategy.
  • The Online Blackjack Odds site has a range of Blackjack information, advice and news.
  • The Blackjack Man site has rules, strategies and links.
  • Blackjack.co.za is a South African based site with news, rules, strategy, card counting information and online casino reviews.
  • The Blackjack section of the Online Casino Tips site has rules, information and advice.
  • DownloadBlackjack.it is an Italian language site giving information on where to play Blackjack online, along with rules, advice and other information on the game.
  • The Il Dado site has pages about Blackjack
  • Blackjack online is an Italian language site covering the rules, history and strategy of the game, and with information about places where it can be played online.
  • The Blackjackman site has information about Blackjack and links to on-line games.
  • Greedy Hog Blackjack has rules, tips and links to casinos offering Blackjack games.
  • Blackjack-en-France is a French language site with Blackjack rules, advice and casino reviews.
  • Nettikasino vertailu has Blackjack rules, advice and casino reviews in Finnish.
  • Blackjack Strategy Card has strategy guides for Blackjack and various other casino games, and links to online casinos.
  • CanIWin.com offers advice on how to win money playing Blackjack at online casinos, taking advantage of their introductory bonuses, and has a forum where people who have tried this compare their experiences of various casinos.
  • Blackjack Games Online has basic blackjack tips, information on variations and reviews of some casinos where blackjack can be played.
  • Online Blackjack List has rules for blackjack variations, articles with tips on playing blackjack, and reviews of some online casinos that offer blackjack games.
  • The Blackjack Babe site has rules, strategy and links to online casinos.
  • The Enjoy Blackjack site has rules, basic strategy and stories.
  • Blackjack Scout has rules, basic advice on strategy, some training tools and reviews of online casinos offering Blackjack.
  • The Casino Blackjack site has Blackjack rules, strategy advice and recommendations for online casinos where it can be played.
  • The Gambling Page includes some straightforward Blackjack tips.
  • Lisa Xu's Blackjack Bee site has blackjack rules and tips.
  • Blackjackonline.at is a German language site with Blackjack rules, advice, information and links to online blackjack sites.
  • Blackjack.nl is a Dutch language site with sections on rules and strategy and links to online casinos where blackjack can be played.
  • Rules of Blackjack in Danish are available at casinobonussen.dk.

Blackjack online games and software

You can play Blackjack online at MoneyGaming.com.

Casino Tropez Mobile offers an online Blackjack game that can be played using a mobile phone.

Free Blackjack 4u is a collection of free Blackjack games. They are Flash based, so can be be played online without download.

The Blackjack Jam site provides a guide to online Blackjack games, organised by the game type and the software used, along with a large amount of useful information on Blackjack rules and strategy.

A Blackjack game is included in the Favorite Games Ltd. package.

Norman Wattenberger's QFIT Casino Vérité provides Windows Blackjack software products for card counting, basic strategy, shuffle tracking and Ace prediction. The associated site Blackjack-Counting.com provides a suite of online Blackjack calculators and tables of Blackjack card counting data.

Hit or Stand is a free blackjack computer game and trainer that teaches you basic strategy while you play.

The Blackjack section of Casino Advisor has Blackjack news and articles and reviews of online casinos where Blackjack can be played.

The computer program Ultimate Blackjack is available from Accidental Software

Casino Blackjack from XFusion Software teaches basic strategy and also card counting, keeping track of the running count for several counting systems. It is available in Windows and Macintosh versions.

Gipsy King Software offer a Blackjack Gold, a shareware game for Macintosh OSX, PPC and Windows, that lets you test alternative strategies.

The Blackjack Practice site has a free online Flash Blackjack game that can be played for fun.

Casino Games Simulation has a Java version of Blackjack which can be played on line for fun or practice.

At Liza Xu's Blackjack Trainer site you can play Blackjack online for fun.

The Backgammon Masters - Blackjack site has a collection of short Blackjack articles and an online Blackjack game.

Kendal Saville's Free Blackjack App is available to play online in your browser or as apps for iOS and Android.

The following servers offer on-line Blackjack games with no program download and no Java, so should be compatible with webTV.

  • Marc Brocoum's Blackjack
  • The Blackjack 21 page offers a free single deck game using Las Vegas Strip Rules.

The following sites also offer on-line Blackjack games: