How To Play Blackjack: Tips & Strategy

Introduction

Picture of a to do in a casino from slots, poker, roulette, and blackjack

Blackjack is one of the simplest and most popular card games that is played in casinos across the world. Even online, simple card games are popular and blackjack is the one leading them all. If you’re here, you want to learn how to play blackjack so you can enjoy yourself and earn some money at the same time.

This guide has all the tips and tricks you’ll need to gain an advantage over the average gambler who wanders over to your table. You’ll find the guide is split into four main sections that cover different aspects of the game:

  • How To Play Blackjack
  • Blackjack Rules To Keep In Mind
  • Blackjack Strategy Sheets
  • Tips On Improving Your Winning Chances

Each of these segments addresses how you can become a better blackjack player by learning and exploiting the rules of the game. You can always learn more, so we’ve also referenced other content you can check out. If you want to do more research into blackjack and casino gambling in general, those materials are a great place to start.

Let’s start by going through the average game of blackjack.

How To Play Blackjack

Family playing a board game

Before you can focus on getting good at playing blackjack, you need to learn how to play blackjack. If you’re here as a total beginner, this first part of our guide has you covered. Here’s a breakdown of how a game of blackjack works.

Objective Of The Game Is To Beat The Dealer By Getting Close To 21 As Possible

The objective of blackjack is to use your cards to beat the dealer and his cards. You both will need to get close to 21, or exactly on 21, with the value of your cards. If you go over 21 then you lose, which is called going bust. Whoever gets closer to 21 wins the game. If there are other players on your table then you’re not just competing against the dealer, you’re competing against them too.

Before The Game Begins, Each Player Places A Bet

Before any cards have been dealt, each player needs to decide how much they bet. Whether you’re in a physical casino or an online website, you’ll typically place bets with chips given out by the establishment. The colors on these solid or virtual chips determine their price value.

The prices attached to the chips are set by the house, depend on the game you’re playing, and reflect the stakes of the game. There are some general price patterns that most poker chips follow, such as the white chips representing the smallest values, but this is all information you’ll get from the casino when you start playing.

You bet by moving the chips to a designated place on the table. Before you bet, there should be maximum and minimum limits set up. These manage expectations and allow everybody to understand the stakes of the game. Most tables have a min/max limit of $2 to $500.

The Dealer Gives Out The Cards

The dealer should then shuffle the cards to ensure that the dealing is completely random. Once all parts of the pack have been shuffled, they may also cut part of the pack out by requesting a player to place a plastic card into the pack. This cuts out 50 to 75 cards that won’t be used for the game, disrupting card counters, though not all establishments practice this.

Once that’s done, the dealer gives out the cards. This happens in four steps:

  1. Rotating clockwise, the dealer gives one card to each player and themselves. It faces up.
  1. The second round of dealing gives players a second card, also facing up. The dealer gives themselves a second card too, but this one is face-down.
  1. Some games and establishments may let players hold the cards but this is very rare. Most dealers place them face-up so you don’t need to touch them and are prohibited from doing so.
  1. From here, the game is set. You all have two cards and know their values but you don’t know the full value of the dealer’s hand. Can you beat them?

Work Out The Value Of Your Hand

Wait, you can work out the value of your hand, right? It’s simple, there are just three things you need to know when playing blackjack. Cards valued at 2 to 10 are worth 2 to 10, so there’s no catch there. Face cards, which are Jacks, Queens, and Kings, are worth 10.

So far, it’s very easy. The only wrinkle is what you do with the ace card, which is totally up to you. Well, you can only choose between 1 or 11, so you’ll have to figure out which one appeals to you the most and choose that. In some rare cases, the house or the dealer will choose what the ace counts as. Needless to say, you should check out the specific rules at your establishment or your chosen website so you know how much the ace is worth and how it factors into the game.

Decide Whether To Hit Or Stand

Now the cards are dealt and you know what hand you have, and you have a choice to make. Do you hit or do you stand? After working out the value of your hand, you’ll be somewhere below 21. Maybe you lucked out and sat at 19, in which case you have great chances of winning from the start.

When you hit, you’re asking the dealer for another card. Great for when you’re far away from 21 but risky if you’re close to 21. You’re banking on that next card getting you closer to 21 without sending you over, where you’d go bust. If that next card does send you over 21 then congratulations, you’re out of the game.

You don’t have to get that next card if you think you’ve already beaten everybody. That’s what standing is. When you stand, you tell the dealer to move onto the next player without giving you a card. When you’re over 17, most would advise you to stand since you’re in a pretty good position.

Once every player has decided to hit or stand, it’s time to see who comes out on top.

See Who Is Closer To 21

Now you’re at the end of the game, where the dealer reveals their second card. If it’s over 17 then they must usually stand but if it’s over 16 then they have to hit. Once they’ve done that, they have revealed the entire value of their hand. If the dealer’s hand is closer to 21 than yours, you’ve been beaten. If the dealer’s hand is closer to 21 than the entire table, everybody loses. If your hand is closer to 21, you beat the dealer and have won.

If you win, the dealer will get your winnings. How much you win depends on the bet that you placed, like with every other casino game out there.

Then the game is over. You can take your winnings and go or you can stay put and play another round. Blackjack is popular because of its quick and convenient games that don’t take much time dedication on the players’ part.

Blackjack Rules To Keep In Mind

Old people playing blackjack understanding the rules

So now you know how a game of blackjack works, there are some other things you must keep in mind. These are the rules that you should know when playing blackjack but many rookies stumble their way through the game without them. Knowing these puts you one step ahead of the rookie crowd.

Blackjack Wins Pay 3:2

A blackjack is where you land exactly on 21. This is the best possible position that you can be in, so you’ve already won unless the dealer draws with you (more on that later). Blackjack winnings are less likely and very lucky, so they pay out more when you win through this setup.

Most tables will pay you at a 3:2 ratio. This is where you get $3 for every $2 that you have wagered. This rewards the players who achieve a blackjack while also giving the house elevated odds, so it’s simply good for business.

Some tables offer to pay at a 6:5 ratio. That’s great, right? Wrong. Get away from the casinos that offer that arrangement. Rookies make the mistake of thinking that 6:5 is more profitable than 3:2 games. They see the possibility of getting $6 for every blackjack win, which is more than $3, but the ratio is different. 6:5 is smaller than 3:2 and gives the house better odds that aren’t in your favor.

Other casinos may offer a 2:1 ratio. This isn’t as common anymore and for good reason, it gives players better odds than the house themselves. If it doesn’t make the house money, it doesn’t make it to the floor, so many establishments don’t offer these payouts anymore. If you find a casino that does, play it for all that it’s worth.

Regular Wins Pay 1:1

When you beat the dealer with a regular hand, without getting 21, then you get 1:1 winnings. What does this mean? It means if you wagered $100 then you get $100 in profit. You effectively double your initial bet.

Dealer Must Hit On Any Hand Valued At 16 And Below

Once the dealer has served all of the players, they may have to make a play. As we said above, they’ll stand if their hand is worth 17 but they absolutely must split if the hand is worth 16 or less.

If they have less than 17, the dealer hits, taking another card. If they have a total hand value of 4 and then draw a 6, they have to draw yet another card until they’re totaling 17 or more. The dealer typically counts aces as 11s here so they can get over 17 and stand. The dealer’s decisions are automatic since they are a function of the game, not another player sitting at the table.

Players Must Choose Between Adding To Their Hand Or Not

Knowing when to hit or stand is the main skill involved with blackjack. When you’re a skilled blackjack player, you’ll know when hitting or standing gives you the best statistical advantage to win against the dealer. By tipping the scales in your favor, you can win more than the average rookie. Remember that it’s always down to luck, so sometimes winning just isn’t possible.

Sophisticated players will use strategies that determine whether they hit or stand after looking at the cards in your hand and the visible card in the dealer’s hand. We’ve covered a basic blackjack strategy below and provided resources on other strategies that can help you out at the blackjack table.

Split

Hitting or standing aren’t the only choices you have, you can also split in certain scenarios. Splitting isn’t always viable, more on that later, but for now, we’ll explain what splitting is. When you have been dealt two cards of equal value, you can split your hand. For example, if you have two 8s, you can split so you have two 8 cards that then get joined by an extra card each, creating two hands.

The logic is that having two hands gives you an extra chance to beat the dealer. This is true, sometimes. Since you’re taking another shot at the dealer (and the house) you need to double your bet too. Whatever you bet on one hand must also be bet on the other, potentially doubling your wins or your losses by the end of the game.

Players Can Choose To Double Their Bet Mid-Hand

Speaking of your wager, you can also choose to double your bet. This is called doubling down. When you double down, you double your bet and get one more card in return. This is your last card, so if you’re left with a weak hand then you’re stuck with it. If you win, you get twice the winnings from that one game.

Doubling down is typically done when your hand is worth 9, 10, or 11. You should also pay attention to the dealer’s hand, of course. For example, it’s best to double down with a 9 when the dealer’s visible card is between 2 and 6. For 10 and 11, it’s best when the dealer’s card is lower.

When should you double down? Well, people have already done the math for you.

Players Can Take Insurance If The Dealer Shows An Ace

If the dealer’s face-up card shows an ace, all of the players at the table are allowed to make a side bet. This bet can total half of the original bet that relies on the dealer’s face-down card is a 10. This means the dealer has blackjack and so the game was virtually unwinnable from the very start. This side bet is called insurance because you at least get half of your bet back in that case.

Once insurance bets are in place, the dealer checks immediately and turns it up if it is a 10. In that case, the insurance bet gets you a 2:1 payoff. Insurance bets aren’t usually attractive for players unless you’ve been paying attention to the cards and know that there are 10s left undealt. You can learn more about insurance betting here.

A Soft Hand Is A Hand That Has An Ace In It

Many different hands can form during a blackjack game, one of which is the “soft hand.” A soft hand is where you have an ace, so you have to decide whether that ace is a 1 or an 11 based on the other card that falls in front of you. A desirable hand is the soft 17, where an ace and a 6 can create either a 7 or a 17. 17 is a great hand, so you can stand and still feel good about the results, but it also opens up the possibility of hitting once or twice more to edge as close to 21 as possible. If they go over 21, they can consider the ace as a 1 and try again.

You Can Tie With The Dealer

Did you know that you can tie with the dealer? It’s uncommon but sometimes you and the dealer have the exact same hand. A tie is called a push and you simply get your wager back and move on to the next game. This can even happen if both you and the dealer show a blackjack, an incredibly rare occurrence indeed.

Blackjack Strategy Sheets

Woman strategizing in the game of blackjack

So, you hopefully have some idea of how blackjack works now. Let’s bring it home by giving you some strategies. Smarter people than us have gathered strategy sheets that can help you out.

So, here’s a basic strategy that you can use to slightly improve your winning chances:

  • If the dealer has a 7, 8, 9, or 10 as their face-up card, you should hit until your hand is worth 17 or more.
  • If the dealer’s face-up card is weak, which would be 4, 5, or 6, then stand once you get over 12.
  • If the dealer’s face-up card is average, so a 2 or a 3, then you should stop once you hit or go over 13.
  • If you haven’t figured it out yet, the logic here is that you never hit if there’s a chance of going bust. It’s a very conservative approach that can ensure you only lose when the cards are totally against you. It’s also hoping that the dealer goes over 21 and goes bust.
  • If you get a soft hand, you should hit until you have at least 18. Yes, this means hitting when you have a soft 17 (an ace and a 6).
  • If you have a total of 11, you should always double down.
  • If you have a hand total of 10, you should double down unless the dealer has an ace or a 10 card.
  • If your hand total is 9, you should only double down when the dealer’s face-up card shows a 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6.
  • As for splitting, you should always split aces and 8s. If you have 10s, do not split them. We have more information on these two scenarios below.
  • Don’t split 5s either. If you have a total hand value of 10 then you’re better off doubling down.
  • Don’t split 4s, a total of 8 is much better for hitting.
  • You can split 2, 3, or 7 cards but avoid this if the dealer has high cards like an 8, a 9, a 10, or an ace.
  • You can also split 6s but only if the dealer’s face-up card is 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6.

There are thirteen bullet points there that encapsulate a conservative and risk-averse blackjack strategy. Will it make you rich? Well, probably not. Is it a great beginner strategy that minimizes money loss while allowing you to find your footing in one of the greatest card games of all time? Why yes, yes it is.

Once you’re playing with this strategy and turning more games into a win, you can look around for other strategies that better suit your temperament. If you’re more of a visual learner, you can find so-called blackjack “cheat sheets” online. Be wary of anything that promises to make you money by downloading a PDF document, however. Gambling is flirting with chance, so there’s no one way to consistently win and take home profits.

Tips On Improving Your Winning Chances

Tips of playing blackjack

Like so many other casino games, there’s an element of luck to blackjack that can make a game unwinnable. That said, there are ways you can make your own luck. Let’s take a look at some of the things you should do to increase your chances of winning, giving you an edge over the universe when the cards are drawn.

Don’t Split 2 Face Cards

When you’re playing blackjack, there’s no greater joy than seeing a 10 or the pale, regal face of a King, a Queen, or a Jack land in front of you. All of these cards are worth 10 and so they put you in a good position. What happens if yet another card lands in front of you, also a 10 or a face card?

If you said “split” then you’re a rookie. That’s a rookie mistake that is based on a statistical fallacy, let us explain why. By having two 10 cards or two face cards worth 10 points each, your hand is worth 20. This puts you in a very good position. You are as close to winning as you can be without getting a blackjack.

When a rookie splits their cards into two hands, they think that two hands are better than one, and so their chance of beating the dealer’s hand has increased. It hasn’t. By having a hand valued at 20, you’ve practically won the game already. Maybe the dealer has 21, that’d be unfortunate, but the point is that you will never recreate that advantage with two hands.

Splitting also means you double your bet too, so you’ll lose even more money if you lose. Don’t get greedy, you already lucked out with the 20, stand proudly and wait for the game to end and the winnings to come in. If you don’t win even with a 20, it wasn’t because you kept that one hand, it’s because the cards were against you.

Here’s a breakdown of how splitting can earn you less, as well as some rare occasions in which splitting a 10 may be useful.

Always Aim To Split Aces & 8s

So, when should you split? Splitting isn’t in the game to trick rookies into losing their cash, there are instances where splitting is a no-brainer. The main times you should split are when you’re playing with dual aces or dual 8s. Why?

First, two 8s gives you 16. That puts you at a disadvantage where you can easily go over the 21 thresholds. When you split 8s, you’re hoping that a face card will show up and empower one of your hands. Even if you only get 1, 2, or 3-cards to pair with an 8, you’ll still be in a good position to get a hand in the high teens and win the game.

Similarly, a pair of aces will mess you up. The fun part is you’ve decided how you’re messed up. If you chose that aces are worth 1, your hand is worth 2. If you chose that aces are worth 11, your hand is 12. Both of these are low and undesirable, so you should split these hands and hope for a 7, 8, 9, or 10. All of those are great for rebalancing your hand and putting you back in the game.

Memorize A Basic Strategy

Every game has a strategy that can be followed to succeed. The age and popularity of blackjack mean it has many strategies, as we’ve covered above. Take a look through those strategies, and others floating around in the online sphere, and decide on one that’s your favorite. It needs to be simple enough that you can memorize it and stick to it when the going gets tough.

If you’re a beginner who isn’t that confident in your ability, you should try online blackjack. Not only does it limit the shame you may feel when you lose embarrassingly (because nobody can see it) but you can also have your chosen strategy guide in another window and consult it in real-time.

Avoid Betting More Than Half Your Stack On A Single Bet

When playing with cash, you need to be very careful. You can lose your hard-earned money and, if you have the wrong temperament, you can even get addicted to the rush of gambling. Never bet more than half of your stack during a game and follow other risk aversion tactics, like not throwing away good money after bad. This means you don’t chase losses and double down in the hopes of winning money back. Set a budget and stick to it at all costs.

If you’re bad at the game then you’re bad at the game. If you think luck is to blame, walk away and try again another day. If you think you’re struggling with gambling addiction, you should reach out to your loved ones and even qualified professionals if gambling is making your life tough.

Keep Calm

Many casino games are about three things, luck, strategy, and nerve. With the right luck, you’ll typically get the cards you want. With the right strategy, you can make the best situation possible out of those cards, increasing the chance of a win. With the right nerves, you’ll have the conviction to stick to your strategy and stop yourself from tilting, keeping you on track for success.

If you feel yourself tilting, where you’re becoming frustrated, upset, or angry over the game, then walk away and decompress as soon as the game ends. Nobody makes good decisions while being emotional, so you should practice keeping calm and sticking to the plan when the cards look like they’re against you. This is something that should come naturally as you play blackjack.

It should also be mentioned that you’ll have a stronger emotional reaction when you put more money forward. When you’re usually calm but even you start sweating during a game, maybe it’s time to lower the amounts you’re betting to make it easier on your nerves.

Summary

Two dudes playing blackjack

With that, you should now know how to play blackjack better than most. It doesn’t guarantee a win, maybe you just have bad luck, but it’s better than nothing. You’ll learn blackjack real fast when playing – experience is the best teacher, after all. We’ve even given you a solid strategy that can help you find your footing as a beginner, so good luck! If you ever get confused about the game and some of the rules and strategies that help, you’re free to check back here anytime.

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