This is essentially the same whether you’re playing in your local casino, on your mobile or on a desktop computer and this is the perfect place to start if you don’t know your hitting from your twisting or your splitting from your doubling.
How and When Blackjack Emerged
Blackjack developed out of a game called 21 and that was referenced by the legendary Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes. In his book Novelas Ejemplares, he references the game “ventiuna” (Spanish for 21) in which players try to get as close as possible to 21 without going over and in which the ace counts as one or 11. Given the book was published at the very start of the 17th century, it’s safe to assume that blackjack, or at least its forerunner, 21, was played in the 16th century.
Similar games were played in various European countries around that time and when the game spread to America, through mass immigration during a time of upheaval in Europe, it evolved, with changes bringing it much closer to modern day casino blackjack.
Gambling dens competed with one another and one way in which they did this was by offering an enhanced payout for getting a “natural” with the ace of spades and either of the black Jacks. This hand paid out at a tasty 10/1 and became known, unsurprisingly, as blackjack.
The name of that hand slowly became synonymous with the game and although the 10/1 payout was dropped because it happened too infrequently to offer sufficient incentive to players, the name stood. Instead of the 10/1 payout, casinos introduced odds of 3/2, payable for any two-card 21.
In essence, blackjack has changed little since that move, although of course the technology used has created new possibilities. Blackjack started out as a game between friends, moved into illegal gambling dens, then legalised casinos before the advent of the internet made playing blackjack online possible.
We have since seen live dealer blackjack and, of course, mobile blackjack but the basics of the game remain the same and the maths, strategy and gameplay have largely stayed unchanged for the last 200 years or so.
- House Edge – Blackjack has a very low house edge, making it a great game for the player. Using the best rules around the house edge is just 0.26%!
- Insurance – Insurance is a BAD thing. Never (EVER) take it as – depending on the number of decks – it adds as much as 7.47% to the house edge.
- Hall of Fame – The Blackjack Hall of Fame is in San Diego at the Barona Casino.
- MIT – The card counting team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is the most famous in history and won tens of millions of dollars in the 1980s and 1990s.
- Card Counting – Edward O. Thorp is considered the godfather of card counting although the technique was probably around for 10 years or so before Thorp published Beat The Dealer in 1962.
- Making a Fool of Myself – When I was 16 and in a casino illegally I asked to twist and got laughed at. “Wrong game lad” was the slightly patronising comment as I risked my entire month’s paper round money!
- 21 – 21 is an important number and, coincidentally, you can expect to get blackjack once every 21 hands!
- Bust! – The dealer will probably go bust about 30% of the time, whilst a player using basic strategy will bust around 16% of the time.
- Third Base – We aren’t talking sex here but rather the fact that the third seat at a blackjack table is the best spot for a card counter. I’ve always liked third base.
- Famous – Napoleon apparently liked a game of blackjack (I think he played on Android) but more modern famous blackjack players include Ben Affleck, Prince Harry and Paris Hilton. That’s a table we’d pay to sit at!
Blackjack Rules and Objective
Blackjack is a comparing card game in which you must get closer to 21 than the dealer in order to win, without going over 21. Aces can count as one or 11 and face cards (jacks, queens and kings) count as 10, while other cards keep their traditional value.
To start you must select a stake – how much you want to bet on the game. Having done that everyone will receive two cards, the player getting theirs both face up, the dealer showing just one face up.
If you bust, that is to say, reach a total of 22 or more, you have lost and the dealer automatically wins, without playing out their hand. Otherwise, once you have played out your hand or hands, the dealer will turn over their second card and then play theirs.
The casino (dealer) has very strict rules about what they can do and their only choice is whether to hit or stand.
If the dealer has 16 or less they must always hit until they have at least 17, at which point they must always stand. Different rules may allow the dealer to hit if they have a “soft” 17 (or higher) but normally they will have to stand on such a hand. A soft 17 is one including one or more aces in which, if the ace(s) was given a value of 1, rather than 11, they would have fewer than 17 and so thus be able to hit.
Something that you should note is that there are no two identical blackjack games on the Internet. In the current market, there are dozens of software providers and each looks to push their product. As a result, each company tweaks the rules for their blackjack titles just enough so that they are different from the rest, but not so much that they appear outlandish. Consequently, we have a variety of different blackjack games at our disposal that vary only slightly. If you wish to optimize your odds of coming out ahead, you should read up on the rules of each blackjack title that interests you and compare between the different sets.
The player must then choose what to do, with a number of options available. What they choose to do depends on the value of their cards and the value of the dealer’s one visible card.
- Hit – To hit (which is called twisting only in Pontoon) is to request another card from the dealer. The player can hit, if they want, anytime the value of their cards is less than 21.
- Stand – To stand (stick in Pontoon) means that you want no more cards.
- Double – Depending on the rules of the blackjack variant you are playing, you may only be allowed to double – sometimes called double down – on certain numbers, usually 9, 10 or 11, though some versions of blackjack allow you to double on any number. You can only double after the initial deal, that is to say when you have two cards. When you double you must bet the value of your stake again and you then receive one additional card, with no further hitting or doubling permitted.
- Split – Splitting is possible when your first two cards are a pair, for example, two 8s, although some rules allow any cards worth 10 to be split, for example, a 10 and a Jack. When you split you must add the value of your stake again and your cards are split into two hands. Each hand receives an additional card and is played separately. Subject to the specific rules you may or may not be able to re-split your hand should you receive another card of the same value.
- Surrender – Some blackjack rules allow a player to surrender their hand without playing it out, losing just half their stake. In early surrender rules, you can do this before the dealer checks for blackjack whilst in the more commonly played late surrender rules you can only surrender once the dealer has checked for blackjack (if they check and have it you lose but if not you surrender and lose half your stake). In any event, games that feature the Surrender rule are more likely to have a lower house edge than those that don’t. Essentially, it gives you the opportunity to cut your losses and make the most out of a bad situation.
- Insurance – If the dealer’s open card is an ace you may be offered insurance. This is a side-bet of half your stake on the dealer having blackjack (i.e. their second card is a 10-value card). Insurance is paid at 2/1 if the dealer has blackjack and you lose your stake if not with your main bet being played out separately either way. Should you already have a blackjack, rather than insurance you may be offered a payout of even money, as opposed to the standard 3/2 – you can choose to accept or reject this. In most cases, Insurance is a bad deal and you shouldn’t take it, given the fact that the odds of winning this side bet are significantly lower than not winning it. It is better to just eat the loss and move on, rather than try to guess the dealer’s hole card.
Bet Types and Casino Odds in Blackjack
Above is essentially all you need to know about how blackjack is played but you’ll probably also want to know what you win and how the betting works. In a standard game, you bet your stake and that is what you stand to win or lose in a given hand. So if you wager £5 per hand you will either win £5, getting a total of £10 back or else you will lose your £5 stake if your hand loses.
When playing blackjack you will win if any of the following happens:
- The dealer busts and you don’t
- You get closer to 21 than the dealer without exceeding 21
- You have blackjack and the dealer doesn’t
As said, normally you will win or lose whatever your stake was but there are exceptions to this as follows:
- If you get blackjack and the dealer doesn’t you will normally get paid at odds of 3/2, so a £5 stake returns £12.50 for a profit of £7.50
- If you tie with the dealer, either on the same number or both with blackjack the hand is a “push” and you get your stake returned
- If you have doubled you will have added the value of your stake (e.g. £5) so would win or lose £10
- If you have split and/or re-split each hand you play will have a stake equal to your original bet
- Insurance pays at 2/1, so a £2.50 insurance bet would return £7.50 for a £5 profit, although your main bet would normally lose
As said, if you surrender you would lose half your stake.
Beginner Tips for Improving Winning Odds in Blackjack
Okay, so we’ve discussed how to play, but what about WHAT to play? There are many factors to consider when choosing a blackjack game and there is no be-all and end-all solution to this. Each game comes with its own (mostly) unique set of rules and you will have to compare between the different titles. However, rules are not made equal and some are clearly more favourable to players than others.
The house edge – which you can think of as the profit margin the casino takes from a game – is very low on blackjack but it can vary a lot depending which rule variants you choose.
With the best rules imaginable (imaginable but rarely, if ever, found online these days) the house edge on blackjack, played to basic strategy, is less than 0.3%, meaning that if you played 1,000 hands at £10, wagering a total of £10,000 you would expect to lose less than £30. However, besides diverging from optimum play (taking insurance gives a huge house edge of almost 7% for example!), different rules also increase or decrease the house edge on blackjack.
Though you should certainly look for the game with the lowest house edge, do not fret too much over the numbers. The house edge only comes into effect after thousands of hands and will not influence your sessions in the short term. You should instead look at the specific rules and see whether or not they suit your style of play. In most cases, the more permissive the rules, the lower the house edge would be, giving you a lot of options when it comes to making decisions.
Whilst there are numerous possible options, as a general rule the most basic blackjack games will have the lowest house edge, so ignore any bonus or progressive games and stick to standard blackjack. The same goes for side bets that we often see in modern games. While interesting and seemingly rewarding, these bets come with ridiculous house advantage percentages and will likely lose you money in the long run. Playing the base game will provide you with the best results profitwise.
Another simple and obvious factor is the odds at which blackjack is paid, with 3/2 the lowest payout you should accept. Some games pay blackjack at a rate of 6/5 – or even lower – and this has a big impact on your overall profitability, so never play blackjack at a casino that pays less than 3/2. While it may not seem to much at first glance, that is a 20% difference and you will feel its impact over the long haul. Blackjack experts recommend staying away from such games, even if the table has other more enticing rules, such as resplitting aces or doubling down on any hand.
The next thing to look out for is the number of decks being used, with fewer decks being more favourable to the player. In today’s market, the average blackjack game is played with 6 standard decks, though there are plenty of ‘Single-Deck’ variations that can be played at most online casinos. In terms of odds, these are superior to ‘Multi-Deck’ versions, however, software providers may tweak other rules to make up for the difference. Certain companies lower the payout for a blackjack from 3/2 to 6/5, which significantly pushes the odds in the favour of the casino. As we have mentioned above, it is best that you stay away from such titles, even if they are only played with one deck. Ideally, you should look for titles such as NetEnt’s Single Deck Professional Series, where the payout for a blackjack is the normal 3/2 and there is only one deck in play. This particular title comes with a house edge of ~0.40%, which is just about the best that you can do in the industry.
Those are the biggest factors to be aware of, although if you can find a casino that offers late surrender, allows doubling on any number, re-splitting and hitting of aces and the dealer standing on soft 17 then grab it! (And let us know where it is too!).
Blackjack Advanced Winning Strategies and Techniques
Blackjack is a great game and playing is really simple because there is a mathematically proven way to play that delivers the best results and tells you exactly what to do in any given situation based on what cards you have and what the dealer is showing.
This is called “basic strategy”, or sometimes optimum strategy, and whilst some of what it dictates may seem counterintuitive, it is guaranteed to deliver the best returns in the long term.
If you are serious about playing blackjack then you simply have to apply the principles of basic strategy. The “rules” are best presented in a table (see below) that tells you exactly what to do and whilst this may vary slightly depending on the rules of the exact version of blackjack you are playing, the table below covers the most common rule variants assuming four to eight decks and the dealer standing on soft 17.
Basic Strategy Chart
Click the link to view and print the Blackjack Basic Strategy Table (PDF version) for a game with four to eight decks in which the dealer stands on a soft 17, that is:
|Players’ Hand||Dealer’s Up Card|
Of course, the beauty of playing blackjack on your mobile or online is that you can keep your basic strategy guide to hand and so refer to it without having to memorise all the options. If you are playing in a brick-and-mortar casino in Las Vegas or anywhere else or simply don’t have your guide handy, the following are the most simple principles you should always remember:
- Never take insurance or an even money payout for blackjack
- If the dealer has a seven or more, keep taking cards until you match or better them
- If the dealer has 2 to 6, always stand on 13 and upwards and 12 and upwards if they have a 4 to 6
- If you have a 10 or 11, double unless the dealer matches or beats your total
- Always split aces and 8s
- Never split 10s
Interesting Variations of Blackjack
Blackjack is certainly one of the most diverse game genres and there are plenty of unique and memorable titles on the Internet. For your convenience, we have singled out some of the best blackjack variations that are currently available at online casinos.
NetEnt: Single Deck Blackjack Professional Series
NetEnt has a long history of providing top-quality casino games and this one is no different. This variation of blackjack has enjoyed a lot of popularity since it was released to the public and with good reason. Played with only a single deck of cards, Single Deck Blackjack Professional Series provides players with some of the best casino odds in the industry. A blackjack hand pays the usual 3/2 ratio and the house edge of the game pushes the limit, standing at an approximate 0.40%. Where fairness is concerned, you can hardly do better than this.
Microgaming: Premier Blackjack Multi-Hand Gold
If Microgaming’s history of operation is anything to judge by, the Premier Blackjack Multi-Hand Gold should be one of the best games in the industry. As it happens, there is much truth to that statement. This game is played with only two 52-card decks and a blackjack hand will pay the normal 3/2. Moreover, betting limits are quite liberal, ranging between 1 and 200 units of currency per hand. The Multi-Hand feature is also interesting, allowing you to play with several hands at once, each with its own individual bet and actions. With a standard RTP of 99.60%, there is very little to complain about with Premier Blackjack Multi-Hand Gold.
Microgaming: Atlantic City Blackjack Gold
If you have never had the pleasure of playing the Atlantic City style of blackjack, then Microgaming provides with just that opportunity. This game is a good adaptation of the rules that Atlantic City casinos employ at their blackjack tables. Despite the use of 8 full decks in the shoe, Atlantic City Blackjack Gold does provide a fair gambling experience. More specifically, it pays the normal 3/2 for a blackjack, while also allowing you to split a hand up to 3 times. Moreover, the option to surrender is always on the table if you feel that your cards are not up to par. Atlantic City Blackjack Gold features a house edge of 0.35%, which makes it more than fair in the eyes of many gamblers.
Playtech: Blackjack Surrender
While Playtech does offer a substantial selection of casino games, Blackjack Surrender does stand above all the rest with its interesting rule set and entertainment value. This blackjack game is played with 6 standard decks and a blackjack hand pays 3/2. Moreover, the dealer has to draw to 16 and stand on both a soft and a hard 17. The iconic feature that gives the game its name is Surrender. It allows you to forfeit your hand for 50% of your initial stake, a rule that can only work in your favour. Overall, Blackjack Surrender is quite good and the low house edge of 1% will not affect your bottom line too much.
Overall, blackjack is simple to get into and can be very entertaining. Getting into the game is not difficult and just about anyone can play it. The tricky part is mastering the rules and learning the play to your advantage.
Lucky for you, we have provided you with the best advice that you can find on the Internet and as long as you stick to it, you should have no trouble in earning a decent profit. Though, you should always remember that at the end of the day blackjack is a game of chance and sometimes luck will not always be at your side.