Ask a stranger to list popular card games, and undoubtedly, blackjack will be among the first few rattled off. Or maybe they’ll list ‘21’, but we’re counting that too, as it’s another name for the ever-popular card game.
It’s a casino floor and humble home games night favourite with good reason; it’s easy to learn how to play blackjack, and the rules are simple.
We’ll start with the basics such as card values and winning hands, before walking you through blackjack betting rules, the dealer’s buy in, and how playing blackjack online differs from a traditional casino. Buckle up and get ready to brush up on your table skills.
The rules of the game are relatively straightforward. Players will be given two cards face up, while the dealer receives one card face up and one face down. The object of the game is to beat the dealer. To do this, you’ll need to have a hand higher than the dealers, getting as close to 21 as possible without exceeding it.
You’ll have the choice to “hit” (take additional cards) to improve your hand or “stand” to keep your current hand. If your hand, or the dealer’s hand exceeds the number 21, it’s called a bust.
There are a few different ways you can win in blackjack. The best possible hand is “Blackjack”, when your first two cards are an Ace (which can be valued at 1 or 11) and a face card (meaning a Jack, Queen or King which are each worth 10). If you’re dealt Blackjack, you’ll win immediately – nice one!
If both you and the dealer do not have Blackjack, you’ll need to have a higher hand than the dealer to win without exceeding 21. So, if the dealer has a hand lower than yours or busts (exceeds 21), you’ll win. But, if the dealer’s hand is closer to 21 or you bust, the house wins.
You’ve probably gathered this in the ‘how to win’ part, but we like to make things super clear. The Ace can be worth either 1 or 11 so it’s up to the player to decide! The Jack, Queen and King are worth 10, and any other card is worth the pip value displayed on the card. The rest of the cards, well, we hope they’re self-explanatory! We told you the rules were simple…
Here’s where it gets interesting; let your strategic mind set in! If you don’t have Blackjack and neither does the dealer, each player decides how to play their hand, starting from the player to the left of the dealer in a clockwise rotation. There are multiple ways you can play your turn, so, here are the terms any beginner or seasoned pro needs to know when playing this casino game.
If you’re happy with your first two cards, you can choose to “stand”, which means you do not want an extra card and would like to end your turn.
Deciding to “hit” means you would like an extra card to improve your hand and get closer to 21. You can continue to hit and the dealer will deal you more cards, one at a time, until you choose to stand, or until you go bust. If the dealer's cards are worth 16 or less, they must hit and draw another card, and if their hand is equal to 17 or more, they must stand.
“Doubling”, as the name hints, is when you choose to place a double wager to receive only one additional card and end your turn.
If your first two cards have the same value, such as two 4s or two 9s, you have the choice to “split” the cards. You’ll need to place a second wager, which is the same amount of the original bet, before the dealer splits the cards. Each card will then become the first card in its own hand. The dealer will draw one card to each split to complete them, and the hands will be played one after the other, with the choice to stand or hit on each hand.
Whether you can split two different face cards, such as a Queen and a King, depends on the game you’re playing. This is not possible in Single Deck Blackjack for example, so you should check the individual game rules before playing.
Knowing the difference between “hard” and “soft” hands is super important for developing a basic strategy in blackjack because they offer different odds. The difference between the two hands is the presence or absence of an Ace. The hand is considered soft when one of your cards is an Ace that can be counted as 1 or 11. This means you can’t bust if you take another card, happy days! A hard hand either doesn’t contain an ace, or contains an Ace that must be counted as 1 to avoid a bust.
Picture a hand consisting of 8 and 7 (totalling 15) or a hand with 10, 5, and Ace valued at 1 (totalling 16) – these are considered hard hands. A hand consisting of Ace and 6 (totalling 17, with the ce counted as 11) or a hand with Ace, 4, and 2 (totalling 17) are considered soft hands. So, the value of a soft hand can change during the hand. If drawing additional cards would cause the hand to exceed 21, the Ace can be counted as 1 instead of 11 to avoid busting. This flexibility makes soft hands advantageous to players as they have more room for manoeuvre.
At the beginning of the game, the decks are shuffled, and players place their bets. Once all bets have been placed, each player is dealt a card in a clockwise rotation and this card is placed face up on the table. The second card is then dealt face up to each player, but the dealer’s card is placed face down, and is referred to as the “hold” card.
If your first two cards are an Ace and a face card, that means you have 21 – Blackjack! When a player is lucky enough to get Blackjack, and the dealer does not, the dealer will immediately pay out 3 to 2 (one and a half times) your wager. This will be the case if you achieve this in Atlantic City Blackjack and all of our other games.
If a dealer’s face up card is an Ace or a face card, the dealer is then allowed to take a look at their hold card. If the dealer’s cards add up to 21 too, this means they have blackjack as well and results in a “push”, which is a tie. In this case, you wouldn’t win anything but on the plus side you won’t lose your original wager either and you will take back your chips.
Fancy a side bet? The insurance bet is a side bet that can take place when the dealer’s face up card is an ace, but only in some variations of the game. If you choose to take insurance, you are betting that the dealer’s face down card is a face card, so they have blackjack. The side wager can be up to half the original bet. If you’re correct and the dealer does indeed have blackjack, this bet pays out at two to one.
When you play blackjack in an online casino, instead of traditional blackjack in a land-based casino, the rules and objective of the game remains the same, but there’s plenty of benefits to online blackjack. From the variety of games available, to the flexibility to take on the dealer whenever you’d like. Check out our blog about playing blackjack online to discover all the benefits you get, as well as why online casinos are becoming the preferred place to play.
Another key difference to online blackjack from the in-person experience is the live dealers, or lack of in this case. When you play our online casino games, you control the speed of the game and when the hands are dealt, but this is obviously not the case in brick and mortar or live casinos. We’ve covered more about what separates live dealer and online casino games in another of our posts.
If you fancy showing off your table skills, check out all the exciting variations of blackjack games we have here at Virgin Games. We have something to offer every type of blackjack player, from classic versions of the game to cool new variants.
Want a truly authentic casino experience? Check out our range of live blackjack games in our Live Casino.