The description of Blackjack on this page is based on a contribution from Jeffrey Wilkins, editor of CasinoTop10.net.
- Home Game Blackjack
- Betting and Winning
- Game Objective
- Betting and Winning
- The Players' Turns
- The Dealer's Turn
- The Showdown
- Blackjack Side Rules
- Swedish Pub Blackjack
- Sites for blackjack rules, information and analysis
- Blackjack online games and software
- Tournament Blackjack
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.
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.
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, if one or more players have decided to stand the dealer turns over his hidden hole card. If all bets are already settled - because all players who were not dealt blackjacks have busted - the dealer's second card is normally not shown and there is no dealer turn or showdown.
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.
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. For those with the same total as the dealer the result is a push: their stake is returned to them and they neither win nor 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sequence of Play
With the above side rules in effect, the sequence of events in each deal is as follows:
- Dealer receives one upcard and one hole card.
- Each player is dealt two cards face up.
- If the dealer has an ace showing, the insurance bet is offered to each player in turn.
- If early surrender is allowed, each player has the option to surrender, taking back half his bet and forfeiting the rest.
- If dealer has an ace, 10, or face card, the dealer checks for blackjack. If the dealer has blackjack, any insurance bets are paid, and all other bets are settled. If the dealer does not have blackjack insurance bets any insurance bets are collected, players who have blackjack are paid 3:2 and the game continues.
- Each player whose bet has not yet been settled gets their turn.
- If late surrender is allowed they may surrender at any point provided they are not bust.
- If they have two equal cards, they may split if allowed.
- If they do not split they may double down if allowed.
- If they do not double down they may hit as many times as they wish until they bust (go over 21) or stand.
- If there are any players whose bet is not yet settled, the dealer's hole card is shown, the dealer hits or stands as prescribed by the rules, and all remaining bets are collected or paid.
Five Card Charlie
The side rule is rarely offered. When it is in effect, a player who collects a hand of five cards (two cards plus three hits) without going bust is immediately paid even money, irrespective of the dealer's hand.
Swedish Pub Blackjack
Nightclubs and pubs in Sweden often offer Blackjack variant that is less favourable to the players. All the essential rules are the same as in the casino version unless there is except for this: what happens when the player and dealer have an equal total of 17, 18 or 19. In the casino version the player's stake is returned in these situations, but in Swedish pubs the house wins.
Although pub stakes may vary, they are often much lower than in casinos with a minimum stake of 20 or 40 Krona and a maximum of 60 Krona (about US$7) for each hand.
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
- 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.
- Wizard of Odds has a large Blackjack section with information on the game, its variants and strategy. They provide a trainer with which you can practice card counting.
- 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.
- The PoggStrategies Blackjack page provides rules and advice. The Basic Strategy section includes a comprehensive calculator that can generate the optimal basic strategy for almost any rule combination.
- OnlineBlackjack.com publishes an annual Las Vegas Blackjack survey showing the different versions of Blackjack on offer at land based casinos in Las Vegas and their odds.
- The Blackjack section of the Ready Bet Go site has articles on Blackjack strategy, interviews with professional players, book reviews and other resources.
- 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.
- James Yates has written a page Blackjack Solved, which explains Harvey Dubner's Blackjack card counting system.
- 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.
- 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 Mr Blackjack site has rules, strategy advice, a dictionary of terms, and links to online Blackjack games.
- Blackjack Gala provides information about blackjack rules, variations, strategy and places to play online.
- 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.
- The 888 Casino Blog has published Henry Tamburin's Blackjack Strategy Guide.
- Online Blackjack Explorer presents a range of free online blackjack games and games for money, explaining the pros and cons of the different options and variants and the odds of winning.
- 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 Italian site Casino2k has a Blackjack guide with rules, variations and advice on strategy, including card counting.
- Blackjack regler is a Danish language guide to blackjack rules and strategy.
- Another source of information in Danish about Blackjack is the CasinoPrisen site.
- Nettikasino vertailu has Blackjack rules, advice and casino reviews in Finnish.
- Rules of Blackjack in Danish are available at casinobonussen.dk.
Blackjack online games and software
You can play Blackjack online at MoneyGaming.com.
Free Blackjack 4u is a collection of free Blackjack games. They are Flash based, so can be be played online without download.
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.
The Live Blackjack page at RealMoneyAction.com discusses the advantages of online Blackjack games with a live human dealer rather than cards dealt by computer, and recommends some sites where Blackjack can be played with a live dealer.
Blackjack Online provides a free web based Blackjack game in which the cards are dealt from various numbers of decks, allowing you to practice card counting techniques.
GameSlush.com has an online Blackjack game for play money with tournaments, card counting and strategy tutors.
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.
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.
At blackjack.com, Blackjack can be played online for money.