How to Play Blackjack for beginners?

Playing cards have been providing people with fun and entertainment for almost a thousand years; having originated in China and spread to Europe in the 1300s. Many different games utilising cards have been invented in that time, with variations of these games still being enjoyed across the world today. Even in this modern age, card games still hold huge appeal, with America's biggest producer and distributor, the United States Playing Card Company, selling around 100 million packs a year. While many of these packs will be used in the thousands of casinos across the US, hundreds of thousands of packs will also find their way to the homes of people who still love to play card games. Read and find out how to play blackjack.

basic blackjack rules

However, with the rise of the digital age, fewer physical cards are needed as the focus has shifted to online versions. Rather than making card games less popular, this shift has dramatically increased interest as virtual casinos and individual computer games replace the physical card games. One particular game that always catches the imagination is Blackjack. Perhaps due to its simplicity, it is now the most popular card game played via online gambling sites. There is more to this game than you may realise though; to play it properly and get the most enjoyment out of it - and, more importantly, to potentially increase your chances of winning - it pays to take a closer look at this fascinating game.

Where did Blackjack get its name?

Originally called '21' ('Vingt-et-un' in French) or pontoon, the game found its way across the Atlantic and into the gambling halls of America in the 18th century via colonists from Europe. The gambling halls needed means of promoting these new games, often awarding bonus payouts for playing a jack of clubs or spades along with the ace of spades, hence the term 'black jack'. These bonuses were phased out over time, but the name stuck, with the two words eventually being pronounced as one. The rules of blackjack have evolved over the years, with a number of different formats arising - especially when it comes to modern, online blackjack versions. This is unsurprising as online casinos need to tempt players to their sites by creating unique and interesting variations. Still, the basic blackjack rules remain fixed, so, now we have a better idea of its history, let's take a look at how to play blackjack.

Basic Blackjack rules

Starting from scratch, you need a standard pack of playing cards. There'll be 52 cards, split into four suits: clubs, spades, diamonds and hearts. Generally, two suits will be black (spades and clubs) while the other two suits (hearts and diamonds) will be red. Occasionally you will find packs that distinguish between the suits further, with each of the four being a different colour; the most common difference being that diamonds are blue and clubs are green.

splitting in blackjack

Each suit contains 13 cards, going from the ace - representing the number one - up to ten. Following this, there are three 'face' cards; the Jack, Queen and King. These last three cards might have different values and meanings depending on the game being played.

Whether playing with a real pack, in a traditional casino or playing on a computer screen, all blackjack games will use the same type of cards. While the styles and designs may be different - for example, the expressions on the faces of the jacks, queens, and kings, or the sizes of the symbols on the cards - all decks of cards are basically the same.

To avoid confusion later, a 'hand', is the selection of cards given to you by the dealer.

Also, be aware that there is a British game by the name of Blackjack that is very different, being similar to the American game known as Crazy Eights.

How to win Blackjack

The whole point of Blackjack is to beat the dealer; as opposed to defeating the other players at the table, as you would in poker and most other games. That's it, basically. And there are just three ways to do this:

  • By drawing a hand that has a higher value than that of the dealer.
  • Remaining in play when the dealer goes 'bust' (by playing a hand that equals more than 21 in total).
  • By drawing a hand that equals 21 in the first two cards dealt, when the dealer doesn't do the same.

All pretty straightforward so far!

While winning is easy, you can just as easily lose by going bust yourself or playing a hand that adds up to less than that played by the dealer at the end of the round.

So, you can see that the whole idea is to beat the dealer by getting as close to the number 21 as possible, using the fewest possible cards.

As mentioned earlier, 'face' cards - Jack, Queen and King - can change in value according to the game. In Blackjack, they are each worth 10 points.

The ace, however, can be worth either one or 11, depending on which brings the better score for your hand.

Wherever the game is being played, and however many players are involved, the rules will be basically the same. You will, though, need to be aware of any terms or conditions or variations in the rules when playing in a real casino or partaking in online games.

Depending on where you wish to play, the advice will be different, so we'll approach each one separately for the best results.

how to play Blackjack for fun

When playing for fun - or at a friend's place or another social setting - you will most likely only use a single pack (or 'deck') of cards. This is when the game is usually played in its simplest form, often without any other equipment like chips or 'shoes' (which are machines used for dealing the cards at speed). 

The dealer will shuffle the deck to mix it up before dealing two cards to you (and any other players) and two for themselves. The dealer usually turns your cards over as they deal them, placing them facing upwards on the table, though when dealing out their own cards they keep one face down (this is known as the 'hole' card).

Playing Blackjack in a casino

Casinos all across the world come in a variety of shapes and sizes. From modest, small-town halls, right up to glamorous Vegas-style mega-casinos, they will all probably offer a chance to play blackjack. Whichever type of casino you choose, always be aware of the in-house rules and codes of conduct. There will be a certain amount of blackjack etiquette that you will be expected to follow, and while you might not be thrown out for not observing it, you certainly won't make yourself popular with the staff or any of the other players.

playing blackjack in a casino

How do you play blackjack at casino etiquette

Don’t place your hands beneath the table. Your cards and your hands should be visible to the security cameras at all times.

Some establishments will require transactions to be undertaken at a separate cash desk, under the security cameras where cash will be exchanged for chips for placing bets. In casinos that don't operate a separate cash desk, you should always place money carefully on the area outside of your betting spot, and then let the dealer know which type of chips you desire. Never hand the money directly to the dealer - they will not take it from you.

Keep bags, wallets, purses, etc. on or next to you at all times. Ladies' purses are allowed to be placed on the lap. Drinks are usually allowed, but always use the drink holders provided. You will be in trouble should you spill your drink across the table.

When you have placed your chips to make a bet, don't touch or remove them once the dealer starts dealing the cards. And always set lower denominations on top of higher ones, never the other way round.

If playing for fun, certain things are acceptable, like shouting instructions at the dealer. In a casino, yelling 'hit me!' at the dealer is not the correct thing to do. There is a range of hand signals that are always used, depending on whether the game is one where the cards are dealt face-up or face-down. It makes good sense to familiarize yourself with these before heading to the table, as money has been lost due to poorly-executed hand signals. You can be sure that the security cameras will record your movements to be used as evidence in any dispute.

It is considered impolite to try to join a game or place a bet while the dealer is dealing. This is known as joining 'mid-shoe', referring to the machine usually used to deal the cards. Even at tables where there is not a sign to discourage this practice, you might want to ask your fellow players if they are happy for you to join, simply out of politeness.

Don’t advise other players on how to play. It's their hand, let them play it their way and make mistakes if necessary - unless they ask you for help! 

Having covered some of the potential pitfalls, we can now move on to the game itself. We’ll cover the actions you can take during the game and also the hand signals to match those actions. 

There are four basic, commonly-used signals; hit, stand, double-down and split. Hit and stand are simple enough to grasp and have been covered earlier, but doubling down and splitting will take a bit of explanation.

What does double down mean in Blackjack?

Doubling down in Blackjack

Let’s tackle doubling-down first. This means that the player is committing to 'standing' after receiving one more card - and no more. They are then allowed to increase the value of their bet up to 100%. It's an exciting move, but a risky one. You could end up winning a fair amount, but if you are dealt a low-value card you may possibly end up losing twice as much as you originally bet, as you are not able to 'hit' again, which could leave you with a very low overall score. Doubling down can only be done using the initial two cards dealt to you, and never after you have requested a hit.

What does split mean in Blackjack?

Splitting usually happens when a player is initially dealt two cards of exactly the same value. It is similar to doubling down, in that you are allowed to place an extra bet equal to the original one, 'splitting' your cards to create two separate hands. Again, this can work in your favour but equally can result in a greater loss. The trick is learning to know when it’s best to do this, and that's something that comes with experience. As a general rule, though, it is thought wise to always split if you are dealt a pair of aces or a pair of eights. Likewise, it is not generally advisable to split if you have a pair of fours, fives, nines or tens.

  • Hit - Point at your cards or tap the table.
  • Stand - Wave a hand across the top of your cards. Do not move your arm.
  • Double-down/Split - Add your second bet next to the original by placing further chips. Raise one finger to double, or two fingers to split. Do not touch the cards themselves.

For 'face-down' games, the rules are a little different:

  • Hit - Lightly scrape the table with your index finger.
  • Stand - Gently slide your cards under your chips, but try not to disturb them.
  • Double-down/Split - Turn your cards face-up while placing your extra bet, then raise one finger to double-down or two fingers to split.

It might take a while to remember the signals and perform them with confidence, but it is well worth the effort to avoid misunderstandings and unpleasantness at the table.

With regards to games where cards are dealt face-down, few casinos offer this option, but if you look around you’ll find there are still some that do. Cards face-up or face-down is a matter of personal preference, with some players enjoying the sense of suspense associated with cards face-down. 

This system was used heavily in the past but saw the rise of 'card-marking'; players had to handle the cards so there were plenty of opportunities to mark them. This provided an advantage as those marking cards could keep track of individual cards and place bets accordingly. Subsequently, the practice of dealing cards face-down was gradually phased out, with cards being dealt facing upward so that players did not need to touch them. As well as reducing the risk of cards being marked in any way, it made each round quicker.

It is also important to keep in mind that casinos will most likely use more than one deck of cards. In fact, some will use four, six, or even eight decks. This is to try to stop the practice of 'card counting', which is when a player tracks the flow of individual cards in order to gain an advantage. When a player has an idea where a certain card or cards may be, it enables them to better guess (or even to know for sure, if they’re good at it!) what cards might be dealt to them - or to others. This clearly makes it more likely that they will end up with a winning hand. 

For obvious reasons, casinos don't like people doing this as it provides an unfair advantage over other players and the dealer. Card counting isn't actually illegal, but if a casino suspects a player is doing it they will probably ban them from the premises, as well as informing other casinos in the area.

Because of the multiple decks used by most casinos, they use a shoe to hold the cards, which is why you may see the term 'shoe game' being used in some gambling establishments. The table is almost always covered with green felt and is semicircular in shape, with spaces for between five and twelve players. The dealer will remain standing on one side of the table along with the chip rack, while the players are seated in front, each with their own space in which to place bets. Other equipment you might expect to see include a cut card, which is a coloured, playing card-sized piece of plastic for dividing the deck before playing, and a discard tray for cards removed by the dealer during a game.

blackjack cards

Playing Blackjack - step by step

  • Chips are bought either from a separate cash desk or at the table. If purchased from the dealer, money is placed on the table, in clear view. A 'Pit Boss' may come and check the amount, the dealer then pushes chips equal to the value of the cash across the table towards the player. The money is usually laid out for an overhead camera to see clearly. The player may then handle the chips.
  • Players then place their chips in the circle or square designated to them. Most tables are covered with green felt and will probably have a logo of the casino printed on it, along with a sign somewhere stating what the minimum and maximum bets are for that particular house, possibly with other house rules.
  • The cards are shuffled and a player is chosen at random to cut the cards using the 'cut card' to reduce any chance of 'card counting'. They are then dealt clockwise, one at a time, face-up. When the dealer deals their own first card it will be face-down (known as their 'hole card'). The second round of cards is then dealt, again face-up, with the dealer's last card also face-up. All players and the dealer now have two cards.
  • Depending on the value of the cards, players may ask for another (hit) or they might stick with what they have (stand/stay). If they are lucky enough, they may have a 'ten-value card', which is either 10, jack, queen or king, as well as an ace - in which case they have a blackjack! These are a good thing, as it usually means they get a 3:2 payout immediately (meaning that they get 1.5 times the original wager, or put another way, $3 for every $2 bet). However, if the dealer also has a blackjack then this is cancelled out. But all is not lost, as when a player and the dealer have a hand of equal value this is known as a 'push'. They haven't won, but in most cases, they won't lose the original stake either.
  • The dealer points at each player in turn, and they decide how they want to play their hand, letting the dealer know by using the appropriate hand signal. The options are to ‘stand’ - if the player is happy with their hand as it is close enough to 21 that they do not want to risk taking new card, or to ‘hit’ and receive more cards one at a time. Players can continue to ‘hit’ until they choose to stop, reach 21, or go 'bust' by going over 21. Players can also ‘double-down’ or ‘split’.
  • At this point, all players who are not bust compare their hand to the dealer's. Those with a higher score than the dealer will win, while those with an equal value will tie (or 'push', as seen above). Rules as to whether the dealer can 'hit' will vary with each casino, but they should be stated beforehand or be clearly visible during the game. Likewise, establishments vary on their rules for tied rounds, with some stating that a 'push' result is classed as a win or even a loss to the player. Make sure you know which it is before playing to avoid nasty surprises!

There is a further option not included above, and this is the signal to 'surrender' your initial hand if you are not happy with it. Be aware, you will lose half of your original wager.

To communicate this to the dealer, draw your index finger across the green area behind your cards as if cutting the felt on the table. The reason this is kept apart from the other signals is that it is the only time it is acceptable to vocalize your intentions to the dealer, by saying 'surrender' as the hand signal by itself is sometimes mistaken for the sign requesting a 'hit'. By combining the words with the hand signal you should avoid any misunderstanding, but be clear in your actions as using the wrong signal or words could give the casino the impression that you are engaging in subterfuge. Should you try to give instructions to the dealer for any other action it is likely that you will be ignored.

Once the dealer has played their hand, the round is over and any winnings will be awarded and any losses taken.

Then the process begins again.

How to play Blackjack online for real money?

Online gambling, it is safe to say, has taken the digital world by storm. For a while, US statistics went against the trend, with the figures showing that most gamblers preferred to visit a casino in person. This is rapidly changing, however, as shown by the revenue for online gambling in 2018 for the USA, which was a massive $306.5 billion.

With the availability of 'smart' devices, and with tablets and laptops being cheaper and better connected than ever, more people are finding their way to online gambling sites. Blackjack is by far the most popular game, especially live blackjack played with others in real-time.

playing blackjack for real money

One of the main differences between online and traditional casinos is convenience. Yes, there are obviously terms and conditions to abide by, but the freedom from having to observe the codes of conduct and remember hand signals,  added to the fact that you can log on at any time, is an attractive proposition for thousands of people.

One issue that deters more serious and dedicated gamblers from partaking in online blackjack games is that digital versions more or less cancel out the possibility of 'card counting'. It just isn't practically possible - unless you're an absolute genius, and even then it is highly unlikely you will be successful. This doesn't put off the casual gambler who is purely looking for entertainment and possibly the odd win.

Another point in favour of online blackjack is that the minimum bets are usually lower, with as little as $1 per hand played. This makes it quite an attractive proposition compared to other forms of gambling as, although the casino has the odds slightly stacked in their favour, you stand a better chance of winning in the long run as you can play for longer without betting large amounts of money. Whilst blackjack is essentially a game of chance, there is an element of skill involved, and its simplicity when compared with Texas Hold'em poker or other similar casino games - as well as the fact that it is a quick game - ensures that it remains popular.

There are many sites to choose from, so choose wisely! Look for the ones that have more favourable pay-outs or welcome bonus offers. Above all, have fun and stay in control.

Online blackjack will look similar to a normal casino table, and most of the same rules will apply. The procedure for playing is still the same but is usually quicker, as it is computerized. Sometimes, depending on the site, or type of game you select, you will be playing with other 'live' players. This brings the best of both worlds as you combine the speed and convenience of playing online with a live dealer. Other than this, you are essentially playing against a computer. 

That's not to say you can't enjoy playing against the computer; it's about the thrill of the game and the potential chance of winning. Some sites offer games that can be played simply for fun, with no payout. Even if this doesn't sound like something that would interest you, it might be wise to take a look before risking your money.

How to play Blackjack Tips and Tricks ?

So, whether you choose to play for fun socially with real cards, online, or in a casino, Blackjack can be a lot of fun. When it comes to odds, it is almost as random as flipping a coin - which is one of its attractions. The thing that makes it more interesting is the extra rules. All traditional casinos impose rules to ensure that they win in the long term. But this doesn't mean you can't ever win against them. There are 'advantage' players who use various systems to consistently win blackjack games. These wins may be small, but over time they can amount to quite a haul.

Some of the techniques used are not encouraged by casinos. In fact, most places will eject you from the premises should they discover what you are doing. Though most of these are not 'illegal' as such, some will technically fall on the wrong side of the law, so be careful which ones you employ!

blackjack tips

Here are a few tips that you might want to consider:

  • Take a look around, find a table with better odds on payouts for Blackjacks (3:2 or 2:1, for example, and avoid those with 6:5 or 'even money'). Check the house rules carefully. Many of these favour the dealer in different ways, so look for tables where either a single or double-deck of cards is used and check to see whether the dealer hits or stands on a 'soft 17'. A soft hand is one that contains an ace valued at 11. If the dealer gets an ace and a six in their hand, it is better for the player if the dealer stands, as it gives a better chance of winning.
  • The Insurance Wager is essentially a 'side bet' offered by casinos, that pays out 2:1 against the dealer having a card with a ten-value downcard (the hole card, which is face-down) to go with their ace that is face-up. The odds of winning are 2:1 or less, so it really isn't worthwhile paying this.
  • While there’s no excuse for being to your fellow gamblers, this isn't a team sport. How they play their hand has no real bearing on your decisions; you are trying to beat the dealer! Focus on the dealer’s hand and yours. Nothing else.
  • Basic Strategy cards may look complicated at first, but they can be extremely useful in helping you to decide how to play your hand. They have been compiled by experts, over many thousands of games, and before you ask - yes, they are legal! Casinos will allow you to use them, but be discrete and keep it in your hand, glancing at it briefly to help you make a decision. While some players memorize these cards,  there's no shame in carrying a small, laminated card with you. Just don't place it on the table as this is not acceptable in most casinos.
  • Experts have studied the mathematics of Blackjack for several decades, proving that there are ways to reduce the 'house edge' (the built-in advantage that the casino has over the customer) to 1% or less.
  • The bad news is that most of these just don't work. Often called Progressive Betting Systems, these are mathematically calculated formulas that instruct you to bet a particular way. They all have different names, such as Martingale, Parlay, or Oscar's Grind. By all means, take a look at them. But the facts speak for themselves; whatever slim chance they offer, they are very unlikely to work. The odds of winning or losing a hand in Blackjack do not depend on the hand you just played. Popular or Progressive Betting Systems do not take this into account, which is why they will, in all probability, fail.
  • A CSM (Continous Shuffling Machine) often holds about five decks and is used by casinos to further reduce the practice of card-counting. In theory, the use of a CSM will slightly increase the odds in favour of the player. It may seem odd, then, that you are being advised to avoid places that use them, but the truth is more complicated. To the casino, time equals money. When a dealer manually shuffles the cards, this reduces the games played per hour, which in turn reduces the overall revenue from the table in one day. A CSM increases the speed of each game dramatically, meaning that more games are played each hour. And that means, as you will be placing more bets, that your losses will be theoretically greater. In general, try to find a table with manual shuffling or even an auto-shuffler which is not combined with the 'shoe'.
  • The Hole Card, as we have discussed, is the card placed face-down by the dealer. It is up to the dealer to make sure you do not see this until it is turned over at the end of the round. It is possible, when the dealer is dealing the cards, to catch a glimpse of the hole card. This gives the player a great advantage as they now know exactly what hand the dealer has. They can then play their own hand accordingly and have a good chance of winning. This may not seem ethical to some players, and once again, while it is not illegal you will certainly find yourself being escorted from the premises if you are caught doing so. In the end, it is entirely up to you and your conscience. Some 'advantage' players see it as a legitimate way of beating the casino, reducing the house edge and levelling the playing field. It is considered to be the dealer's own fault for not being professional enough to avoid the card being seen. To them, it is a good basic strategy and nothing more.
  • Blackjack is an example of a 'dependent trial process', in that as cards are removed from play in each round, the odds of being dealt a particular card either increases or decreases. For example, if you are observant enough to notice that (in a game using only a single deck of cards) all four aces have already been dealt, then in the next round it is sensible to offer a low bet against a Blackjack as it is not going to happen. Likewise, if no aces have appeared, it is wise to increase your bet as the odds of a Blackjack are increased.
  • Some casinos will not allow players to double down after splitting, but it is a handy feature when allowed. In fact, it's one of the best options available, which is why some establishments rule it out.

There are many other ways of giving yourself an extra advantage at the Blackjack table, but this all depends on how seriously you wish to take your game. Really, the game should be about enjoyment, though there are those who have achieved fame through their exploits at the Blackjack table.

As long as you stick to the rules, or at least avoid getting caught 'bending' them, you will be fine. It's been mentioned many times here that casinos will kick you out and serve you with a ban - probably for life - if you do get caught. They take these things very seriously. They, like you, are out to win, and will always seek to keep the advantage. Using a combination of the techniques and advice given above, it is possible to level those odds a little, but don't expect to become a millionaire overnight.

Take some time to familiarise yourself with the processes and strategies. Practice for fun and you may build your confidence. And remember a few key things; 'scout' the tables and find the best mix of rules. Be sure to know the betting limits. A full table is better than one with only a couple of players. 

Above all, have some fun, and lastly...

Good luck!


 

Next: What are the best Blackjack Rules

Can I win at live blackjack

Blackjack tips guide

What are the odds of winning blackjack

What are the best Blackjack Rules

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About History of Blackjack

4 common Blackjack Myths

What is the Blackjack House Edge?

Proper Blackjack Etiquette. How to behave at a Blackjack Table

Play Blackjack Online - very short guide