The following guidelines are designed to assist beginners and somewhat experienced players with the basics of blackjack, including all the actions and betting options available to an online blackjack player. The fundamental blackjack rules are straight forward and easy to understand, but in this article we venture to give detailed explanations about the additional options available to blackjack players.
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Don’t get confused about the aim of 21
One of the biggest mistakes players make in blackjack is to think they must get as close to 21 as they possibly can. It is critical to understand this is not the case: all you have to do is beat the dealer in order to win your bet, so play your entire game based on that strategy. For example, standing on a hard total of 12 against a dealer’s face-up card of a Four, Five or Six, is correct blackjack strategy.
Before the dealing begins
All tables have a minimum and maximum betting limit which are featured on the blackjack betting table. Make sure you find a table with an appropriate limit to suit your bankroll. If you desire to use $200 playing blackjack, a table with a minimum limit of $15 may be a good starting point. Place your wager on your backhand hand (and any other side bets if you choose to do so), and when playing a computer-generated game, hit deal once ready. If playing a live dealer blackjack game, the croupier will announce no more bets, and begin dealing the cards.
Two initial cards and natural blackjacks
Each player receives two initial face-up cards and from there, has a few options to continue to play his or her hand. Obviously, if you receive a 10-valued card and an Ace, you’ve drawn a natural blackjack (good job) and do not need to proceed further with any other moves. All other two-card totals require a move on your behalf:
Hitting tells the dealer you want another card in order to attempt to better your current total. Always choose to hit (possibly double down or split, too – but more on that later), if your total falls anywhere between (and including) two and 11, because it is impossible to surpass a total of 21 by drawing another card. You can hit as many times as you wish before choosing to stand (below), however the more cards you take, the more you increase your chances of busting (drawing a total greater than 21).
When you are happy with your total, you can choose to stand – if you have a total from 17-20, strategy says to always stand, because the risks involved in taking another card without busting are far too high, and you are in a strong enough position to beat the dealer.
Note the dealer’s face-up card:
The standard standing blackjack guidelines can be carried out without worry of the dealer’s face-up card. However, with the above hitting guidelines and all other totals, the player must always first take in to account the dealer’s face-up card in order to make his or her decision. It could be in a player’s best interest to split as opposed to hitting on a two-card total of six with two Threes. For a complete basic blackjack strategy of what to do in every possible scenario (strategy which has been mathematically proven to be most effective), check out our blackjack charts.
If you have a total from 13-15, you might automatically consider hitting, but if the dealer is showing a Deuce through to a Six, standing is the correct blackjack strategy. Any other dealer up-card, and it is in your best interest to take a hit.
Splitting can only be performed when a player is dealt two of the same ranked cards (for example, a pair of Aces, a pair of Kings or a pair of Fours). Some blackjack variants will allow a player to split unlike same-ranked cards, such as a Queen and a 10 (both valued at 10), however strategy suggests to never split a pair of 10s, so this should not play a factor in what game you choose to play.
In order to split a pair of cards, the player is required to place out another bet next to the original bet (of the same value), and the dealer will split those cards in to two separate hands. When to split hands is dependent on what card the dealer is showing and what variant of 21 you are playing, apart from never splitting 10s, never splitting Fives and always splitting Aces. For complete blackjack splitting guidelines, view our splitting article here.
If you split a pair, and are dealt another card of the same rank, you will typically be allowed to split those card again. This is usually allowed to be done up to four times, but can change from game to game. Splitting Aces however, often come with a different set of rules – because splitting Aces is very advantageous to the player, casinos will often introduce rules which only allow one extra card to be dealt to each split Ace, while almost all variants will not classify a 10-valued card dealt to a split Ace as a natural blackjack, and only payout 1:1 if the player wins. Having said that, you should still always split Aces.
To double in blackjack (also known as a double down) is the option to put forward another bet (of the same value as your original blackjack wager) in exchange for one more, and only one more, card to be dealt to your hand. If you win, you get paid out your total wager now, as opposed to what would have only been your original wager. For example, you start with a bet of $5, opt to double, so you’ve now laid out $10. If you win, you’ll profit $10 rather than $5.
Some games of 21 hold no restrictions on doubling down, so you can double on any total you desire. However, according to strategy, there are key scenarios where you should and should not double down, and these situations are based entirely on what the dealer is showing as his or her face-up card.
The best hands to double down on are 10 and 11, because you are a good chance to receive a 10-valued card as your next drawn card to put you in a very favourable position. Double on hand totals of 10 and 11 when the dealer has a face-up card from a Deuce through to a Nine. Avoid doubling down with a total of 10 or 11 if the dealer has a 10 or Ace up-card, as we need to assume the dealer has a 10-valued card as his or her hole-card (face-down card), or in European games, that he or she will draw a 10 card next. This would therefore place too much risk on going for a double down. For a complete double down strategy, check our blackjack strategy charts.
Usually offered in American hole-card games where the dealer checks for blackjack, players often have the option to surrender their hand – that is to forfeit the current blackjack hand the player is involved in, give half the bet to the casino, and have the other half returned to the player.
There are two distinct surrender variations:
- Surrender directly after the dealer has checked for blackjack (called late surrender).
- Surrender before the dealer has checked for blackjack, or in a no hole card game (called early surrender).
Late surrender is the most common option. Early surrender is hardly seen anymore, but does remain available in limited land-based casinos and some online blackjack titles.
Correct strategy for late surrender is to only surrender on the very worst hands, because even having a one in four chance of beating the dealer is better than losing half your wager and pushing the other half. Hands to surrender would include:
- A hard total of 15, against a dealer’s 10 (dealer stands on soft 17).
- A hard total of 16, against a dealer’s 10 or Ace (dealer stands on soft 17).
- A hard total of 15, 16 and 17, against a dealer’s Ace (dealer hits on soft 17).
Early surrendering is far more favourable for the player, and most medium-strength hands should be surrendered against a dealer’s Ace when early surrender is offered (dealer has not checked blackjack, or European games).
Effective money management
Having an effective method to manage your money while playing blackjack for real money is crucial. You need to know when you should be betting, when to raise your bet, and when to lower your bet. If you are playing blackjack with $100, it is advisable to wager hands worth around $5. If you hit a winning streak, it can often be smart to double the size of your wagers. If you start to plummet, consider dropping the size of your wagers. You always want to have enough money to be able to double down or split if the situation arises.
Always follow the golden rule of gambling – never bet more money than you stand to win, and always bet within your means.