How To Play Blackjack Guide

Ziv Chen

Updated by Ziv Chen


Lee James Gwilliam

Fact Checked by Lee James Gwilliam

Senior Vice-President

Last Updated 24th Apr 2024, 11:34 AM

Online blackjack is perhaps the most dynamic of all virtual casino games at every online casino. It is easy to learn but challenging to master, making it an ideal choice for beginners and experts alike. Whichever category you are in, our ultimate guide on how to play blackjack has something for you.

Blackjack is the classic game of 21. You play against the dealer to get as close to (or on) 21 as possible. You will win if your hand is of a higher value than the dealer within the score of 21. To help you compete with the dealer, you can hit (take another card), stand (stick on the value you have), and make multiple side bets. Getting a value of over 21 results in what is known as a 'bust'.

On this page, you will discover the different blackjack variants, available bets, and strategies for winning. From the basic rules to complex ideas, this guide will give you the confidence to make the best betting decisions when playing blackjack.

The Objective of Blackjack

While you can dig down into complex systems and concepts, the core objective when playing blackjack, regardless of whether you're playing at an online casino or at a land-based location, is to beat the dealer. To do that, you will need to collect cards with a higher value than the dealer without going over 21. Sounds easy, right? Well, while blackjack is easy to learn, the complexity of bets and wager options means it takes time to master.

Although you might know how to play blackjack, understanding the ways in which you can beat the dealer - or indeed lose to them - allows you to take more control of your betting. Below you can check out how to play blackjack at a casino by learning the winning and losing patterns:

How To Beat the Dealer

Of course, while playing blackjack online is fun, you really want to win. To do that, you will need to beat the dealer in one of the following ways:

  • Draw a hand with greater value than the dealer's hand but no greater than 21.
  • The dealer draws a hand that goes over the value of 21.
  • Win on your first hand if you draw two cards with the combined value of 21 without the dealer doing the same.

How You Lose to the Dealer

Even if you use our blackjack how-to-play guide, losses will happen. Blackjack is a game of luck, and sometimes the dealer will win rounds in one of the following ways:

  • Your hand goes over the value of 21, and you bust.
  • The dealer holds a hand that is of greater value than yours but no greater than 21.

Blackjack Hands

One of the first things you need to understand when learning how to play blackjack is your blackjack hand. Consisting of two or more cards, a hand is essentially the cards you currently hold. The range of hands and their value is relatively straightforward in blackjack. You simply take the value of the cards and add them together to get your score.

There are two types of hands you can hold when playing blackjack. These are known as soft hands and hard hands. Yet, they each work a little differently from the other, which we have explained below.

Soft Hands in Blackjack

A soft hand is where your hand includes an Ace. When this happens, an Ace either has a value of 1 or 11. Then, you can choose how you wish to apply it to your hand and create your score from there. Effectively, the term "soft" means that the score that you have is one that you cannot go bust on. Therefore, it can be much more flexible.

For example, say you have an Ace and a 5. This hand could represent a total of 6 or 16, a soft score. If you were to stand with this combination, your score would be 16. But, if you were to hit, then the score of the next card would determine how the Ace is played.

Yet, one vital thing to note when learning how to play blackjack at a casino is that a soft score can never bust if you decide to hit. For instance, if you choose to hit and the next card is a 7, this would give you a score of 23 if you use the Ace as an 11. Of course, this would mean your hand is bust. Therefore, you can switch the value of Ace to 1 and create a new score of 14.

Hard Hands in Blackjack

On the contrary, a hard hand is any card combination that does not include an Ace. It has no flexibility, meaning that your hand can go bust with a hard combination. Understanding how to play blackjack for beginners means understanding the consequences of a hard blackjack hand.

Say you were dealt a 6 and a 9, giving you a total score of 15. If you decide to hit and are dealt a 7, you would have a score of 22, meaning you have gone bust. The increased risk with hard hands is that going bust is a big part of the game with these combinations.

Blackjack Game Variations

When considering how to play blackjack, card game players should understand that there are numerous versions of the game. While these variants share many similarities, there are core differences between them. It is essential to understand these differences when choosing which free blackjack game to play and which basic strategy to use.

  • Classic Blackjack: Classic blackjack is the traditional and most common variant, using eight 52-card decks. The classic variant is a good option if you want to learn how to play blackjack for beginners. It provides back-to-basic gameplay without side bets, allowing you to experience blackjack in its simplest form.
  • European Blackjack: Online blackjack has its roots in the European version of the game. While it is the same as classic blackjack in gameplay and structure, there are some fundamental differences. For example, both player cards are dealt face down, while the dealer doesn't get a second card until the player bets on their hand.
  • American Blackjack: When learning how to play blackjack, card values are essential. American blackjack is one of the best variants for making intelligent betting decisions with less risk. That's because, in this variant, the dealer gets two cards before you bet (unlike in European games), with one card (hole) facing up.
  • Spanish 21: One of the blackjack variants with the most drastic differences from the classic game is Spanish 21. Here all cards with a value of 10 are removed from the decks. So, 10s and face cards like Jacks, Queens, and Kings are all missing. Doing so makes the gameplay exciting, as you need to hit to draw more cards on every hand.
  • Perfect Pair: While not specifically a blackjack game, Perfect Pair/s is often presented as a variant, sometimes included as a side-bet in regular blackjack. Essentially the player is betting on their two cards being of identical value (such as two kings). Ultimately, this makes it a volatile game without the favorable house edge of other blackjack variants.
  • Blackjack Switch: Making its debut in 2009, Blackjack Switch is one of the newest blackjack game variants. It involves the player receiving two hands on each betting round instead of one. Players can then choose the best two-card hand from their four cards. Doing so improves blackjack odds, with Blackjack Switch odds at 1:1 instead of the normal 3:2.

Basic Blackjack Rules to Remember

Part of the charm of blackjack is how easy it is to play. Even so, there are rules to know if you want to learn how to play blackjack. Customers have the choice of multiple variants, but most have the same core game rules:

  • If you hold a hand with 21 or lower and the dealer has a hand with less value = you win.
  • If you hold 21 or lower, but the dealer has a hand with a higher value (under 21) = you lose.
  • If you have 21 or lower, but the dealer has higher than 21 (a bust) = you win.
  • If you go higher than 21 and bust = you lose.
  • If you and the dealer have the same hand value (a push) = your bet is returned.

Blackjack Hand Step-by-Step

Once you know how to play blackjack, customers can visit one of our recommended online casinos. Understanding the basics of blackjack gameplay will help you get started and choose the best game variants for you. Below, our team of blackjack experts has put together a convenient step-by-step guide to help you play blackjack online:

  1. Choose an online blackjack variant and place the amount you want to bet by moving chips into position.
  2. Next, the dealer will deal two cards to players at the table and two to themselves. In most blackjack variants, the dealer shows one of their cards (hole card).
  3. Select any side bets you want to make, or that are available on your blackjack game, such as pairs, double down, etc.
  4. Check your dealt cards and decide if you want to hit to receive another card from the dealer.
  5. If you feel you don't need any additional cards, choose to stand (stick on the hand you have).
  6. You will win the round if your value is higher than your dealer's without going over the value of 21.

Counting Blackjack Hand Value

Blackjack is essentially a card counting game where each hand has a value that contributes to an overall number equal to or less than 21. Learning how many cards to play blackjack and their value is fundamental to understanding the game.

Blackjack Card Values

  • Ace: 1 or 11
  • 2: 2
  • 3: 3
  • 4: 4
  • 5: 5
  • 6: 6
  • 7: 7
  • 8: 8
  • 9: 9
  • 10: 10
  • Jack: 10
  • Queen: 10
  • King: 10

Blackjack Hand Options

On the surface, playing blackjack is easy, and even beginners can enjoy games at top online casinos. Although, if you want to make the most from blackjack, we recommend understanding all the potential options you have during the game. Here, blackjack becomes more complex, and you can manage your hands in the following ways:

  • Hit - If the value of your two-card hand is too low, you can ask the dealer to give you an additional card. Doing so will allow you to potentially improve your hand, but in some situations could result in you busting.
  • Stand - When you receive a hand you're happy with, you can stick with what you have and acquire no additional cards from the dealer. You should consider a stand if you have close to 21 (for example, 17 or over).
  • Double Down - With this blackjack rule, you can choose to double the value of your first bet, allowing you to potentially win a bigger prize. This bet happens once your first two cards are dealt and under the following scenarios:
  • When your hand is a hard nine from two cards (without an ace), and the dealer's hole card is a 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6.
  • If your hard hand (without an ace) has a value of 10 or 11 and the dealer's visible (hole) card is less than 10 or 11. Hit for a third card because it is impossible to bust, and you can get a high score. It is worth doubling down as the dealer may need to hit twice and could go bust.
  • When you hold a soft (with an ace) hand of 16, 17, or 18 and the dealer's hole card is a 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6, choosing the double down and hitting the dealer for another card is worthwhile.
  • Split - A game can offer you a split bet when you have two cards of the same value, meaning you split the equal-value hand into two separate hands and receive an additional card for each. You will need to place a bet on this secondary hand too. Splits can be helpful or not, depending on the situation. For example, splitting on aces is good, while 10-value cards are not so good.
  • Surrender - A surrender bet is an option where you can give up half of your stake when your hand is not good. When you choose to surrender, you can receive half your wager back on a losing hand. While surrender minimizes losses, it is not always worthwhile. Furthermore, surrender is not a betting option in all blackjack games.
  • Insurance - One of the most popular advanced bets is blackjack insurance, where you can protect some of your stakes. This option becomes available if the dealer holds an ace on their visible card. Insurance bets are put on top of the original wager with odds of 2:1.
  • Soft 17 - Soft 17 is a fascinating feature that forces the dealer to hit when holding a soft 17 hand. While this is an excellent betting option, it is not available on most blackjack tables. In fact, some variants will force the dealer to stand on a soft 17.
  • Even money - The best hand available in blackjack is an ace and 10 value cards. This hand gives you the blackjack hand of 21. Sometimes the dealer may be showing an ace and also have blackjack. If you hold blackjack and think the dealer might, too, the even-money betting option allows you to initiate a push (tie).

Blackjack Payouts

Knowing the payout percentages of games is essential when playing blackjack at one of our recommended online casinos. Each game has a specific payout rate that tells you the house edge or how much the casino with instant withdrawal wins back on average. Understanding how each rule and betting option can influence the house edge/payout will allow you to find the best blackjack games.

Playing blackjack online games with the best payout rates will give you more chances of winning and help your bankroll last longer. Regular blackjack has a standard payout of 3 to 2. Yet, other online tables have different payout percentages that can be less or more than this standard, so it is worth researching individual games to find out.

Blackjack Side Bets

One of the first things you will notice when understanding how to play blackjack is that you have plenty of side bets to choose from. However, the majority are reasonably rare. As a rule of thumb, you should almost always avoid these bets. Some of them carry a huge house edge, offsetting any low edge from the main game.

One of the most popular bets is that of 21+. In this game, you are looking at hands that create a flush, straight pair and combinations of each from the players' two and the dealer's one card. The house edge for this bet is a massive 8% in games played on four decks. Yet, this edge does decrease the more decks that are in play. As you'll soon uncover when learning how to play blackjack, this is a common theme with side bets.

If you're looking to go pro playing blackjack, you should steer clear of these bets. You would be far better off nailing the basic blackjack strategy from within the main game than messing around with side bets that may offer you little value in the long run.

Blackjack Strategy Lingo and Phrases

Blackjack comes with tons of different terms and names that you can use for cards, bets, and hands. You will likely use specific terms more often than others, and we have even mentioned a couple already in this blackjack how-to-play guide. It's vital to familiarise yourself with some of these phrases, so we have created a list of what we think are the most crucial blackjack terms to note.

Blackjack Lingo

  • Anchor - Based on positioning, the anchor is the player who is last to act before the dealer
  • Blackjack - This is a hand that creates the number 21 using just two cards. It pays out at higher odds than standard winnings, usually 3:2.
  • Box - Located in front of the player where bets need to be placed.
  • Burn Card - A card you can discard from the top of the deck before starting a new hand.
  • Bust - When a player has more than the value of 21 in their hand, thus losing the hand.
  • Card Counting - A player who mentally records the cards that have already been dealt, allowing them to determine what cards are left.
  • Chip Down - A decrease in your bet size from the previous round.
  • Chip Up - An increase in your bet size from the previous round.
  • Double Down - To buy one more card for that round. The price is the same as your original wager.
  • Hard Hand - A hand that only has one total value. Does not include an Ace.
  • Hit - To take another card from the dealer for free.
  • Hole Card - The card in front of the dealer that is face down.
  • Insurance - When the dealer has an Ace as their hole card, they will offer insurance paying 2:1 if they have blackjack.
  • House Edge - The advantage a casino will have over the player. The house edge will alter based on game type and playing style.
  • Paint - A picture card (Jack, Queen, King)
  • Pair - Two cards that have the same value.
  • Perfect Play - To play a mathematically perfect strategy, reducing the house edge to as low as it can go.
  • Push - When the dealer and player have the same hand value, the bet is pushed, returning the original stake to the player.
  • Shoe - Container on the table that includes the cards for the game.
  • Soft Hand - A hand that includes an Ace that can have two values. The Ace can represent 1 or 11, and the player can choose which.
  • Split - When players have a pair, they can choose to split, paying the same as their original bet and creating two separate hands for that game.
  • Stand - When a player does not take any more cards from the dealer.
  • Surrender - If a player thinks they cannot beat the dealer for whatever reason, they can surrender, taking half of their bet back and forfeiting their hand.
  • Up Card - The dealer's card that is face-up for the table to see.

Why Play Blackjack Online?

Undoubtedly, online blackjack, both at live blackjack casinos and mobile casinos, has changed how most players address the game. It's opened up a whole new world to game variations.

The number one reason to play online is that the house edge is almost always lower than it is with land-based casinos. As we have mentioned in our blackjack how-to-play guide, there are many ways that the rules can adjust the house edge in blackjack. Yet, with a land-based casino, you take what you are given. Online, you can quickly shop around. So, if games have a higher house edge, they may not get the traffic to make them profitable.

Playing blackjack online also gives you a much more comprehensive range of games. Some include Spanish 1, Super Fun 21, Pontoon, War Blackjack, Face Up Blackjack, Double Attack, Down Under, and many more. The base of each of these games is the same, but subtle rule changes mean that they are unique, offering an incredible array of choices.

The game is one that is very simple to play. You don't have to worry too much about playing perfectly every time, although it will benefit you in the long term. Most people at least know basic rules, making the game highly accessible.

Finally, it's one of the few online casino games where you can apply some strategy to your bets. Unlike online slots or roulette, blackjack is an art you can master. You will always be an underdog to the casino, but you can at least minimize this, unlike almost all other games.

Every Blackjack Hand Signal

While blackjack is arguably the ultimate casino game, it is also one of the most welcoming. You can easily sit at a table and verbally instruct the dealer on your betting choices. However, if you want to add a touch of efficiency to your blackjack playing, you can use hand gestures to communicate your bets:

  • Hit - If a player wants another card, they should tap their index finger on the table.
  • Stand - Wave your hand over your cards to signal you are happy with your hand.
  • Double Down - Place additional chips next to your original bet (outside the box) and point to the stack to double down.
  • Split - Again, place additional chips next to the first bet (outside the box), but this time point with two fingers in a clear V shape to signal a split.
  • Surrender - You should draw a horizontal line across the blackjack table with your index finger to alert the dealer that you wish to surrender.

Our Top Tips When Playing Blackjack

Now you know how to play blackjack at a casino, it is time to put your knowledge into action. But before you head off to one of our recommended blackjack casinos, our team of experts has put together some tips to help you get the most from playing blackjack online:

  • Learn basic strategies: No betting strategy will guarantee you win, but understanding basic systems can help you control betting and manage gameplay more efficiently.
  • Start small: High rollers are pro-level gamblers willing to take risks for big rewards. For regular players, starting with small bets allows you to maintain your bankroll and have more enjoyment from blackjack.
  • Manage your bankroll: Set yourself a budget from disposable income not related to your monthly expenses and stick to it. Knowing how much you have to spend and not going over allows you to enjoy gambling within your personal limits.
  • Play for free to practice: If you are new to playing blackjack or are testing a variant, most casino sites allow games in free play. You can practice betting, test out strategies and learn hands.
  • Take advantage of casino offers: Casino bonuses like deposit bonuses are a great way to give your bankroll a little nudge in the right direction. Remember to read the T&Cs of any bonus you want to claim and pay close attention to wagering requirements and game restrictions.
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Meet The Author

25 Years
Ziv Chen
Ziv Chen
Writer Writer

Ziv Chen has been working in the online gambling industry for over two decades in senior marketing and business development roles. Ziv writes about a wide range of topics including slot and table games, casino and sportsbook reviews, American sports news, betting odds and game predictions. Leading a life full of conflict, Ziv constantly struggles between his two greatest loves: American football and US soccer.

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