How to Play Blackjack
The game of blackjack has been around for hundreds of years, entertaining casino players all over the globe. It is a fast-paced card game that pits players against a dealer, who represents the “house” or casino. The rules for blackjack are relatively simple to learn, making the game great for beginners. But even experienced players continue to find the game challenging and fun, especially those who study blackjack strategy.
If you’ve never played blackjack or need to brush up on rules and strategies, we hope this guide will prove helpful. Here’s what we cover below:
- How playing blackjack works
- Blackjack rules and payouts
- Basic blackjack strategy and other tips
- Live dealer blackjack
- Blackjack table limits
- FAQ about blackjack
We also cover online blackjack and answers to frequently asked questions about blackjack.
A step-by-step guide on how to play blackjack
The goal of blackjack is to beat the dealer by making a higher hand without exceeding 21. It sounds simple enough, but how does the game actually work?
Step 1: Join a table
First, you must join a blackjack table. If you’re playing in a physical casino, simply find or wait for an open seat. If playing online blackjack in NY, just select the game you wish to play. Online versions of blackjack won’t have other players participating, so there’s no waiting. The exception would be live dealer blackjack games online that sometimes have limited seating, just like in a casino.
Step 2: Place your bet
Before any cards are dealt, you first must decide how much you want to wager on your hand. This will depend on the size of your bankroll, but also the table limits. Take your chips and place them in the designated spot.
Step 3: Receive your cards and take action
Once you’ve bet, the dealer will deal the cards. You’ll receive two cards, both face up. Meanwhile, the dealer also gets two cards, with one card up and one card down. You must now decide if you want to hit (get an additional card) or stand (draw no more cards). You might also be able to split your one hand into two hands or perform other actions, but we’ll talk about those below.
Remember, the object of the game is to get as close as you can to 21 without going over. Cards 2 through 9 are worth their face value; 10s and face cards are all worth 10 points, and an ace can be worth either 1 or 11, depending on what fits your hand better in a particular situation.
If you get a natural blackjack after your first two cards (an ace plus any card worth 10), you win the hand right then and there unless the dealer also has a natural blackjack, in which case the hand is a push and you get your wager back.
Step 4: Dealer reveals cards and acts
Remember that when you are performing your actions, the dealer has one card face up, giving you partial information about the strength of the dealer’s hand. Once you complete your actions, the dealer will reveal the second card and proceed either to hit or stand just as you did.
Unlike the player, the dealer does not have complete freedom when it comes to deciding whether to hit or stand. The dealer has to follow the house rules. If the dealer has cards adding up to 16 or less, the dealer will always have to hit. If the dealer has 17, what the dealer does depends on the house rules. In some casinos, the dealer will hit with a “soft 17” (a hand containing an ace) and stand with a “hard 17” (a hand with no ace). In others, the dealer will stand with all hands totaling 17 or more.
Step 5: Whoever is closest to 21 wins
Once the dealer finishes, it is time to compare hands. If your hand is higher than the dealer’s and you avoided going over 21, you win. However, if you went over 21 and busted, or if the dealer’s hand is higher than yours and the dealer didn’t bust, you lose. If both hands are of equal value (at 21 or less), the hand is a push or a tie. In that case, you get your bet back.
That’s the order of play in blackjack. Let’s now talk further about some other rules, including those having to do with different types of betting and the payouts in blackjack.
Blackjack rules and payouts
In most blackjack games, you’ll find there are four additional types of bets and actions available. These include doubling down, splitting, taking insurance and surrendering. Here are explanations of each:
|Double down||After receiving your first two cards, you can “double down,” which means doubling your initial wager and receiving exactly one more card.|
|Split||If your first two cards are the same, you can “split” them into two separate hands and receive an additional card to go with each. However, this requires doubling your initial bet. You’ll then play both hands against the dealer at once.|
|Take insurance||If the dealer’s up card is an ace, you can take “insurance,” which means making another wager worth half your original bet that the dealer has a card worth 10 as the face-down card, meaning the dealer has a natural blackjack.|
|Surrender||If you don’t like your first two cards, you can “surrender” your hand right there and only lose half of your initial bet.|
You’ll always find doubling down and splitting among your options, and some casinos may even let you split your hand more than once.
Taking insurance and surrendering aren’t always available, but they often are. Whether you are playing live or online, make sure to check the house rules to know what your options are as far as actions other than hitting or standing.
When you beat the dealer at blackjack, how much money do you win? When it comes to payouts, blackjack isn’t too complicated. For most situations, there are only two payouts to know:
When you beat the dealer without making a natural blackjack, the payout is 1-to-1. In other words, you double your money. If you bet $20, you win $20.
When you beat the dealer with a natural blackjack, you win more. At some casinos, the payout for a natural blackjack is 3-to-2. If you bet $20, you win $30. You’ll also find games where the payout is 6-to-5. In that case, if you bet $20, you win $24. So, if you have a choice and everything else is equal, go for the 3-to-2 blackjack game.
Side bets in blackjack
Casinos will also offer blackjack variants with side bets. These side bets are separate from the regular betting that occurs in a hand. Such bets usually feature fairly long odds, giving the house a significant advantage and making side bets a bit of a gamble.
For instance, Blazing 7’s Blackjack is a version of blackjack that lets you make a side bet on whether sevens will appear among your two face-up cards and the dealer’s one face-up card. There are several ways to win this side bet. You’ll find that sometimes the payout for three sevens appearing among the cards is 200-to-1. That means if you bet $5, you’d win $1,000.
That sounds great until you realize the chance that both of your up cards and the dealer’s up card are all sevens is much less than 1 in 200. In fact, in a typical six-deck blackjack game, your chance of three sevens appearing among the up cards is only 0.0003%.
The payouts are even larger if the sevens are all the same color, same suit or all diamonds, as can happen in multi-deck games. However, huge discrepancies between payouts and the odds of winning mean these side bets are usually like playing the lottery. You can win big, but your chances of doing so are generally very slim. The house has a much bigger edge than in the regular blackjack game.
Basic blackjack strategy and other tips
Blackjack is unquestionably gambling. However, it is a game in which knowledge of correct strategy can positively affect your results. Blackjack is different from live or online casino games like roulette that are entirely chance-based. In blackjack, you can make good decisions that improve your odds of winning. You can also make bad decisions that make it more likely for you to lose.
These actions — aka basic strategy or basic blackjack strategy — cover various common situations in blackjack. They explain precisely when to hit or stand as well as when to split or double down. All of the advice depends on your cards and the dealer’s up card.
We won’t cover the particulars of basic strategy here, but we encourage you to seek out and learn more about it if you are serious about becoming better at blackjack. You can easily find basic strategy charts online covering all the situations and what to do in each of them.
Basic tips for winning at blackjack
Beyond learning basic blackjack strategy, there are some other general tips you can follow that can increase your chances of winning at blackjack:
- Play the game with the best odds — If you have a choice between a game that pays 3-to-2 for a natural blackjack versus one that pays 6-to-5, play the 3-to-2 game.
- Limit (or avoid) taking side bets — Side bets in blackjack may seem exciting, but they tend to increase the house edge significantly. Either limit playing them or avoid them altogether.
- Don’t take insurance — Taking insurance is another play in which the math actually favors the house. That is why experienced blackjack players generally avoid doing it.
- Avoid chasing losses — As with all casino games, when playing blackjack you should practice responsible gambling and play within your means. If you lose several hands at blackjack and are down in chips, don’t chase your losses. Don’t keep playing in order to win back what you’ve lost. Set limits for how much you plan to spend and the time you intend to play, and stick to them.
- Read the rules carefully before playing blackjack variants — Be sure to know what you’re getting into before you try any blackjack variants.
- Practice with free blackjack — Some online casinos allow you to play blackjack for free in demo mode (except live dealer games). You can use this to practice before putting any real money on the table.
Can I play online blackjack with a live dealer?
There are two ways to play blackjack online. There are blackjack games in which the computer deals the hands using a random number generator, aka RNG blackjack. And many NY online casinos will also offer live dealer blackjack.
The first option resembles online slots or other “virtual” versions of casino games, with everything relying on that RNG engine. No actual dealers run the game, and there are no players at the table other than you.
On the other hand, live dealer blackjack features a real person dealing the cards. The game takes place in a studio with a video feed showing you the action, and multiple players can participate at every table. You can use the chat to communicate with other players and the dealer. You may also be able to change camera angles and adjust other settings.
Table limits in online blackjack
The table limits you run into when you play blackjack online depend on several factors, including the online casino site you’re using, the version of the game and the table itself.
The minimum limits for online blackjack are usually around $0.10 for RNG tables and $1 for live tables. Generally speaking, when you play blackjack online, the live dealer blackjack games will have higher limits than the regular RNG blackjack games.
When playing online, you might also encounter VIP blackjack tables where the minimum is $100 or more. As for the maximum limits, they can go anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $100,000 or more in VIP games. The same goes for playing in the casino, where you’ll often see high-limit rooms for high rollers looking to make larger wagers.
FAQ about blackjack
Card counting involves a player keeping track of cards to better predict what cards are left to come. This can help you tailor your betting strategy to the situation. While it is not too difficult to count cards in a single- or double-deck blackjack game, it becomes much more challenging when the game uses six or eight decks (as is often the case in casinos). Generally speaking, in most states and in most casinos, card counting is not against the rules. However, casinos can discourage the activity, and in extreme cases they may disallow a proficient card counter from playing.
No, you don’t have to count cards to win in blackjack. While the house will always have an edge, following basic blackjack strategy will keep that edge as low as possible, without counting cards.
The general rule in blackjack is never to split 10s, always standing on 20. However, in some versions of blackjack, splitting 10s might be a good move. This is the case with Face-Up Blackjack, a version some casinos include among their table games in which splitting 10s is the correct strategy in certain scenarios.
Another way to phrase this question might be to ask, “If I play blackjack badly, will it cause other players to lose more (and get mad at me)?” It’s a common blackjack myth to say that having bad players at the table makes it harder to win. In general, bad players only negatively affect their own results, and they have very little impact on the other players’ chances of winning. That doesn’t stop some players from complaining, though, if they think a player’s “incorrect” play caused them to lose a hand. This issue obviously does not arise when you play online blackjack as there aren’t other players at the table, although there are some varieties of online live dealer blackjack where you do.