How to Play Blackjack – Basics and Pro Tips for Beginners to Master the Game
Probably you are about to play real money Blackjack for the very first time but are too embarrassed to ask about the rules. Perhaps you feel you would blow away all your hard-earned cash without a single win. It is okay to feel awkward when you are trying something new.
To help you out, I have put together this comprehensive guide that explains how to play Blackjack and win. Beginners and novice players can learn the game and benefit from the pro tips I have shared. Because too much information can leave you confused, I have avoided jargon and explained just the basics.
Let us cut to the chase.
Introduction to Blackjack
Blackjack is a gambling card game played at online and offline casinos. Gamblers compete against a dealer with the goal to beat the latter’s card hand without their own hand exceeding 21. If you learn how to play it, you would know it is one of the most exciting and high paying casino games that exist.
Pro tip: Live casino games that are played against a human dealer are more fun than RNG games that are played against a computer AI.
Basics of the Game
To start playing Blackjack, you need to know your cards, their values and the general terms associated with the game. I have listed below the most important subjects which you must understand to play the game without getting perplexed.
If you are familiar with the traditional deck of playing cards, you need not invest more time in reading this bit. Blackjack uses the same.
For the uninitiated, a traditional deck has 52 cards in 4 different suits – clubs, diamonds, hearts and spades. Clubs and spades come in black while hearts and diamonds are coloured red.
Each suit has 13 ranks – A, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q and K. So, there would be an A of clubs, diamonds, hearts and spades each. Similarly, there would be a 2 of each of the suits and so on.
New players must keep in mind that A is known as Ace and symbolises 1. However, it is also considered the highest rank in the deck, which is 11. The cards J (Jack), Q (Queen) and K (King) are known as face cards.
Pro tip: Buy a pack of cards and study the suits before you start playing. The Joker cards are kept out.
In Blackjack, the suits and their colours have no value unless you are playing side bets or some uncommon form of the game. Because this is a guide for beginners, I will ignore them. Generally, the hands are ranked according to the number on the cards. This is what the cards mean in Blackjack:
- Ace (A) – 1 or 11 (depending on which is a better hand)
- Face cards (K, Q, J) – 10
- All other cards – according to their value
In other words, a 2 of any suit would be worth 2 points, a 3 of 3 points, a 4 of 4 points and so on. A Blackjack hand is calculated by adding the points for all the cards that are dealt. The hand with a higher point wins the game.
Players must note that in a game of Blackjack, it is always the dealer’s hand vs. the player’s hand. Even if the game is being played with multiple players, every round is always one-on-one. Players are never pitted against each other.
Pro tip: Play the demo game in any online casino to get a feel of the game.
Before I talk about the entire betting procedure and rules, here are some important moves and terms you must keep in mind.
- Hit – taking an additional card
- Stand – not taking any additional card
- Bust – exceeding 21 (dead hand) and losing
- Split – dividing a pair (two cards of the same rank) into two separate hands worth the original bet each
- Double Down – placing an additional bet (2x the original) and taking an additional card
- Surrender – giving up half the bet and quitting the hand
- Insurance – placing a side bet on the possibility that the dealer has a 10 (K, Q, J, 10) face-down if his face-up card is an Ace (dealer cannot ask for insurance from players)
- Blackjack – a 2-card hand that totals to 21: an Ace and a 10 (K, Q, J, 10) together
- Hard Hand – a hand without an Ace or with one that can be counted only as 1
- Soft Hand – a hand with an Ace that can be counted as 1 or 11
- Push – a tie where the initial bet is returned to the player
A typical Blackjack table at a casino is arc-shaped. It has seats for seven players and a dealer sitting on the opposite side.
Players would usually find the following phrases and signs written on it:
- Blackjack pays X to Y: Depending on the casino you choose, a Blackjack hand (Ace and 10) might pay you 3 to 2 or 6 to 5 when you win. The numbers represent the payout and odds. If the payout is 3 to 2, you would get back £30 when you bet £20.
In case of a tie (push) where the dealer, as well as the player, get a Blackjack, the initial bet is returned to the latter. However, if the dealer draws 21 in three or more cards, the player is considered the winner and gets paid 3 to 2. Other winning hands usually pay off at even odds. It means if bet £20 you receive £20.
Pro tip: Try to avoid casinos where Blackjack pays off 6 to 5. Such tables have a higher house edge than the standard one.
- Dealer must draw to 16 and stand on all 17s: In Blackjack, the dealer is required to play his hand in a specified manner. Like the players, he can choose to hit. However, he must always stand or make other available moves on a 17 or up (unless mentioned otherwise). Also, he must always hit a 16 or down.
Although this rule might seem like an advantage, it is carefully tweaked to the casino’s advantage adding almost 0.2% to the expected house edge. Some tables might read ‘dealer must hit soft 17,’ which means the dealer has to hit when it reaches a 17 with an Ace that can be 1 or 11.
- Insurance Pays 2 to 1: As I discussed earlier, insurance is a side bet (additional bet) on whether or not a dealer will land a Blackjack. If you initially bet £10 and the dealer has a possibility of landing a Blackjack, you need to place another £10 or £5 (depending on the game) bet as insurance.
If the dealer gets a Blackjack, you lose your initial bet, but get paid out 2 to 1 on your insurance bet. However, if the dealer doesn’t get a Blackjack, you lose the insurance bet.
Now, there is a 50% chance of predicting the wrong outcome. Also, you might do away with your main hand. Therefore, you have more than 50% chance of losing both your bets. No wonder insurance bets are known as sucker bets; they seldom benefit the player.
Pro tip: I would recommend new players to avoid insurance bets.
- £X minimum, £Y maximum: These values represent the table limits – the minimum and maximum bets you can place.
Pro tip: New players should play Blackjack games where they can place a minimum bet without blowing away their budget.
- Players play against a dealer one-on-one.
- Each player places a bet in chips (and not cash). Designated spots are put on the table for players to place their chips.
- Each player is dealt two cards face-up or face-down (depending on the casino) in the beginning. The dealer’s cards are either face-down until the game ends or one of the cards is face-up and the other face-down.
- Players can either hit or stand depending on their preference and the hand they have.
- If a player’s hand goes over 21, he busts and the dealer wins regardless of his hand value.
- If a player receives a 21 (Ace and 10) in the beginning, he lands a blackjack and wins 1.5x his initial bet or the amount predetermined in the game (3 to 2 or 6 to 5) if there is no tie.
- The dealer has to hit until his cards reach 17 or up. Depending on the game in action, a player can choose to split his hands, double down, surrender and place insurance bets.
- Once all the cards are dealt, the dealer sees his card(s) to check if he landed a blackjack. In case he did, every player at the table loses. In case he did not get it, the players can either hit or stand.
In case a player has two cards of the same rank, he can split them into two separate hands by placing an additional bet equal to the initial bet. For instance, you receive 2 Ks for a bet of £10.
You can then split it into two hands by putting in another £10. The dealer will give you 2 more cards for each hand. You might win or lose both or win or lose any of the hands.
If a player chooses to double down, he is actually asking to hit at the expense of an additional bet. For instance, you place a £10 bet and receive a 7 and a 4, totalling to 11.
You now decide to double down by investing another £10 and receive an additional card of value 10. You have now reached 21 with a bet of £20 in action. If the dealer has not reached a blackjack or a hand worth 21, you win and get paid £60.
Lastly, a player might choose to surrender and part with half of his bet, thus ending the game for him. Please note that some operators would allow players to surrender early and others would let them surrender late.
Early surrender lets you quit the game before the dealer can check his hand. This is not advantageous to the operator and hence, such casinos are rare. Casinos that enable late surrender are more common.
You can opt out of the game only after the dealer sees his cards. There is no surrendering if the dealer lands a blackjack.
Pro tip: New players should bear it in mind that they can only double or split on the first move of a hand. This can be the initial hand or one due to a split.
If you receive two Aces and decide to split, you can play only on one. Hands resulting from a split can be doubled down by putting in 3x or 4x your bet.
Common Rules and Strategies
- When you are playing each hand, always base your next move on whether the hand you received is soft or hard. Soft hands will give you a bigger wiggle room.
- Always focus on the dealer’s face-up card and calculate the possibilities of him going bust. If it is 6 or lower, he will probably bust.
- Stand if your hand is 12 to16 and the dealer’s hand is 2 to 6.
- Hit if your hand is 12 to16 and the dealer’s hand has 7 to Ace.
- When you get Aces and 8s in pairs, always choose to split.
- You should never split 4s, 5s and 10s.
- Double down or hit if your hand is Aces to 6.
- Double down if your hand total is 11 and the dealer has 2 to 10.
Pro tip: Please remember that the gameplay in Blackjack is entirely mathematical. Because the number of cards is fixed, the number of possible outcomes will also be fixed.
You don’t have to be a mathematical genius to learn the basic strategy and win the game. All you need is this ready reckoner:
What Makes Blackjack a Profitable Casino Game?
Like every casino game, Blackjack comes with a mathematical house edge. However, this house edge is one of the lowest, which makes it one of the most profitable casino game ever.
House edge is the percentage of a bet which the casino gets to keep. It is calculated over a period of time and after multiple bets are placed. For Blackjack, the house edge can go as low as 0.5%, sometimes even lower.
Let me explain why this is profitable. Say you place a bet of £10 per hand and play 100 hands in an hour. Therefore, you are investing £1000 per hour. With 0.5% as the house edge, you lose in theory only £5 an hour.
If you consider other casino games such as Baccarat (house edge 1.5%), Roulette (house edge 2.7% to 5.6%) and Slots (house edge 2% to 10%), Blackjack emerges as the game that offers the highest return on investment.
How to Get an Edge over the House?
Of all Blackjack tips, this one is my favourite. In a game of Blackjack, you can get an edge over the house via something called advantage play.
Do not confuse it with cheating or bluffing. When you choose an advantage play technique, you will always go by the already established Blackjack rules and nothing beyond.
If you are a casual player or beginner, it is easy to get overwhelmed with all the explanation. This is why I will scratch just the surface without going deeper into the technicalities.
A common technique of advantage play is counting the cards.
Busting the very first myth, I would like to tell you that you don’t need to remember who played which card in a round of Blackjack. Also, it is neither illegal, not immoral.
Although it might seem like rocket science, counting cards is fairly easy. It is used to determine the ratio of high cards to low cards. Bets are raised if high cards are more in number and lowered if they are less.
Now, the highest cards in Blackjack are ace and 10s. While playing, if you see that the dealer has already dealt all the Aces, you would know the odds of landing a Blackjack are 0%. You would have to wait for the deck to be reshuffled so you can expect a Blackjack and a 3 to 2 payout subsequently.
A process known as ‘hi-lo’ goes into the counting of cards. It works like this:
- Whenever a 10 is dealt, you need to minus 1 from the count.
- Whenever a 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 is dealt, you need to add 1 to the count.
- Bet more if the total is positive and high
- Bet the table minimum if the total is 0 or negative.
Of course, it is difficult for beginners to pick up the trick. But as they say, practice makes a man perfect. I can go into hardcore advantage play. But that would mean leaving you beginners puzzled. I am sure this information itself is too much to handle. So, go slow, play more and play often until you master the game and become a Blackjack pro
Best Online Casinos to Learn Blackjack
If you want to learn how to play Blackjack, you must go beyond theoretical knowledge. The best way to do it is to try demo games hands-on at online casinos. These games can be played for free although you don’t get to keep your winnings.
Below is a list of the best Blackjack casinos in the UK for your consideration:
Learning Blackjack is not difficult if you have the zeal and patience. Even beginners can pick up this game of skill pretty quickly, which makes it an ideal choice when you are gambling for the first time.
But above all, what makes Blackjack a go-to game is its low house edge which translates to high profitability. If you have read this guide thoroughly, you should be good to go. Of course, don’t hesitate to look for extra information if you want to boost your knowledge.
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