Casino Game Guide: Blackjack
Sometimes referred to as ‘21’, Blackjack is by far the most popular casino table game in existence. Its popularity stems from the fact that it is fun and easy to learn, available at almost any casino live or online, and gives you the player some of the best odds of beating the house and winning big!
Not only is it easy to learn the rules of blackjack, but it’s also just as easy to learn optimal strategy to give yourself the best odds of going home a big winner. Don’t worry if you aren’t a fan of statistics or despised math in school; we break down our explanations and strategy into simple to follow and easy to remember ways that will have you playing like a pro in no time.
If you’re new to the game or it’s been a while since you’ve played, and you’re looking to brush up on your knowledge, we’ve got you covered. Our blackjack experts have taken some time away from the tables to put together comprehensive guides to teach you everything you could ever need to know to be the best blackjack player around.
If you’re absolutely brand new, start with the beginner’s guide we’ve prepared especially for you.
If you already know the basics and are looking to sharpen up your game, the rest of these guides are for you.
Why Play Blackjack?
There’s a reason blackjack is the most popular casino game and has been for many years. Frankly, there are lots of reasons. If you’re a seasoned player, you probably have experienced a lot of these benefits already, and it’s the reason you keep coming back for more. If you’re a brand new player, here are the great benefits of this game you have to look forward to!
Blackjack takes just minutes to learn.
Have you ever had to play a game with so many rules and nuances that it loses all its fun and allure and your head starts to spin? We’re looking at you Monopoly. Blackjack, in contrast, was masterfully designed as a game that only takes minutes to learn. Its simplicity allows you to focus on sharpening your strategy skills and more importantly, have fun without having to pay 100% attention to the game at all times. Gambling is supposed to be fun, not feel like a mind-bending exam.
Blackjack has an incredibly low house advantage.
We’ve all probably heard the phrase “Vegas wasn’t built on winners,” at some point before. If the phrase didn’t make sense to you, it basically is pointing out that even though lots of people are big winners at casino games in the short run, the casino always has a mathematical edge to win in the long run. We wish it weren’t this way, but hey, there wouldn’t be casinos if it weren’t.
This inevitable house edge is not the same in every game in the casino. Some games the casino has a much higher chance of beating you. The reason so many people love blackjack is that it has one of the lowest house advantages in the entire casino. This means you have the best odds of going home a winner by playing blackjack.
The house edge in blackjack varies depending on your strategy. If you follow our basic blackjack strategy, you can cut the house advantage down to less than 1%! The casino would prefer you play other games which makes this our favorite game.
Basic strategy is easy to learn
A lot of games in the casino are based solely on blind luck. A monkey could be trained to play a lot of the games and would do just as well as you would (possibly better if it’s a very lucky monkey). The great part about blackjack, though, is that you have strategic control over how you play and ultimately the outcome of the game. A terrible blackjack player, or the lucky monkey, are going to do significantly worse than you in the long run if you follow what is commonly referred to as ‘Basic Strategy.’ We’ll get into this more later.
Let’s be honest, the game is fun!
Blackjack is an incredibly exciting and social game. As having fun should always be your main focus when it comes to gambling, this game gets five stars in the fun department. If you’re playing in the casino, it can feel like a big party at the table sometimes. Since everyone is competing against the house, the whole table is on the same team.
We must warn you, though; be prepared to laugh a lot, smile until your face hurts, and get more high-fives than a little league baseball coach.
Online blackjack is just as fun, but for a few different reasons. It allows you the opportunity to relax and play at your own pace while working on perfecting your strategy. Don’t worry, the rush and excitement are still there, and I’m sure your dog will give you high-fives when you win too!
Play for as long or as short as you’d like.
No one likes to feel trapped or that they can’t do as they please, especially during their recreation time. Some casino games, like craps and poker, require that you play for a certain period of time. In craps, you might be required to wait until a new roll of the dice or stay until the end of the current one. In poker, sometimes a tournament can take hours, and if you leave, you’ll forfeit your chances to win. Blackjack allows the player to play one hand or play for hours, whatever you feel like. If the tables aren’t going well for you on that day, you can simply pick up your chips and come back later. If you’re on a heater and winning big, you can stay as long as you’d like and keep raking in the winnings.
Variations of Blackjack Rules
All games are not created equally. This mantra reigns true when it comes to blackjack, whether in the casino or online. When you first approach a blackjack table (or an online lobby), you will see a placard or sign with the specific set of rules for that table. There are lots of different ways the casino can choose to run the game of blackjack, and it’s important you know what these are so that you can pick the table that best fits your style and preferences. These different rules variations can affect the way the game is played, the speed of play, and most importantly the casino’s advantage.
Here are the three most common rules variants that you are going to want to pay attention to.
Number of Decks in Play
The two main options you will have here are single deck blackjack and multi-deck blackjack. The house edge will be slightly higher in single deck blackjack and therefore is not offered in a lot of casinos. It’s easier for expert card counters to take advantage of and for that reason, a lot of establishments will shy away from it. From an entertainment standpoint, the dealer also has to shuffle the cards rather frequently, so the rate of play is going to be considerably slower.
Dealer’s Soft 17
As you know from the basics section, if you have 17 with an ace, it is considered a ‘soft 17, ’ and you have the option to hit or stand on it. Casinos don’t want their dealers having to make any decisions but would rather they act robotically the same every time. For this reason, the tables are marked that the dealer is either going to hit on soft 17 or is going to stand on soft 17, every time. Most popular casinos will have the dealer always stand on soft 17, but you should pay attention to see if one does not. The house edge increases slightly if the dealer is instructed to hit on soft 17.
Payout for Blackjack
This is definitely a big one to pay attention to. Casinos will either pay out blackjacks at a rate of 3:2 or 6:5. What does this mean? Let’s look at an example and how this will affect you:
You bet $10 and are dealt blackjack in two casinos. Casino A pays 3:2 and Casino B pays 6:5.
You can quickly see how important it is to get a rate of 3:2 on blackjacks if possible.
While these are the three most important rule variants, there are several others that casinos will offer or not offer that can affect your experience. These include doubling, doubling after a split, re-splitting, surrendering, and dealer peek. We’ve put together an in-depth list of these variants and explanations of how they will affect your experience, and we highly recommend you take a few minutes and read about them. Knowledge is power!
Variations of Blackjack Games
Not only are there different variations of basic rules, but there are also variations of the actual game. Most everything we are referring to in this article deals with standard blackjack, but it’s important for you to know there are other variations that exist. Typically, these other variations have a slightly higher casino advantage. Players still love these games because a lot of them provide the chance to win big jackpots in addition to the standard bet. These include Blackjack Double Exposure, Blackjack Switch, Progressive Blackjack, and Perfect Pairs.
Click here if you’d like to learn more about these variations as our experts have put together great explanations with pros and cons of each game.
Basic Blackjack Strategy
As we mentioned before, blackjack can be broken down by math and statistics to find the outcome of different moves and strategies. Don’t worry; we aren’t going to make you do any math so you can put your calculators away. Some genius math lovers have gone ahead for us and calculated the chances of winning based on what moves you do in certain situations. They’ve taken their findings and compiled them into simple to follow rules that you can apply to every hand you play in blackjack. They’ll tell you exactly when to hit and exactly when to stay so you can always know you’re giving yourself the best odds to be a winner.
Basic strategy is different than counting cards as it is figured completely independent of what has or what may come out. This means that no matter if you’ve seen every ace in the deck come out, you will still make the same move. What’s nice about this is that it is easy to learn, requires minimal thinking, and allows you to focus on enjoying yourself while still playing optimally.
If you employ basic strategy, the casino’s edge will vary slightly based on the rules of the casino. Here is an example of the edge with a popular rule set you will see.
Thanks largely in part to several Hollywood movies, people are constantly asking about what card counting is if it’s legal, and how it might help them to win. Several years ago, several mathematicians from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) came up with a system that would effectively take away the casino’s advantage and give the winning advantage to the player. Labeled the MIT Blackjack Team, this group took casinos for millions of dollars with their mathematically driven strategy.
In oversimplified terms, card counting was a system of tracking how many higher ranked cards and how many lower ranked cards remained in the dealer’s shoe. They found that the more high cards are remaining, the higher your chances of getting blackjack was which meant a higher payout. By tracking this information, they could strategically bet higher amounts when the deck was more favorable to hit blackjack. There is a lot more to it but this was the basis of the strategy, and it was highly effective.
Technically, they were breaking no rules or laws doing this, but casinos were not happy. Since casinos have the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason, they began trying to ban people they suspected of card counting. This was combated with elaborate schemes and costumes to continue raking in the money. Card counters are still rumored to be floating around casinos, but we can’t be completely sure.
The million dollar question, are you allowed to count cards in a casino? Technically, card counting is NOT illegal. That being said, if you are caught doing it, you will most likely be thrown out of the casino and banned from coming back. Casinos have gotten plenty of new technologies and systems to catch card counters. Over the years, they’ve seen just about every trick in the book and are not easily surprised. We would highly advise against it, but again, it’s technically not illegal.
Online Blackjack vs. Live Blackjack
- Play at your own pace, no matter how fast or slow
- Much lower limits that are great for beginners
- Keep your strategy notes in front of you on every hand
- Always a seat open, 24/7 with no wait
- No one around to make you nervous or rush you
- Change ‘casinos’ or tables quickly
- More social interaction with other players
- Enjoy the upbeat casino atmosphere
- Can be used as a group activity
As you can see, there are quite a few differences between playing live and online. Same game – totally different experience.
Live Blackjack Etiquette
If you’re venturing out to play in a casino for the first time, there are several things that you are going to want to pay attention to. Casinos have certain systems and processes for how they like to do things. These include how you buy chips, where you place your bets, how you touch the cards and more. Some of these might seem silly or odd to you at first but most of them are in place for security and to comply with gaming regulations.
One of the best ways to get comfortable with these processes is to watch for a while before you start playing. You are totally allowed to watch a table as long as you’d like as long as you aren’t bothering the players at the table or hovering too closely. This is a great first step to getting comfortable with the speed of play and how every step of the process goes down.
There are also several unwritten etiquette rules that you should be aware of. These include how you interact with other players when you join the table, and the time it takes for you to make decisions. While these are not hard rules and you can break them if you’d like, we recommend following them as it is respectful of the other players and will generally create a much better experience for you.
We’ve included an in-depth look into live blackjack etiquette that we recommend you read before venturing into a live casino to play.
Online Blackjack Etiquette
Thankfully, we were able to drop the word ‘etiquette’ off of this section’s title as when you play online blackjack at home, you are the king or queen of the castle. Pants are optional. As many of you may be new to online gaming, we would like to give you a little tour of what it’s like to play online and how to get started.
When you select an online casino site to play on, you will need to create an account, pick a screen name, and make a deposit. This should be fairly simple as most sites will walk you through this process and have several deposit options. If you have any problems whatsoever, every site has customer support that will be happy to assist you in any way they can.
After you get set-up, you’ll be able to click over to the gaming lobby.
As you can see, there are tons of different tables for you to play at. Most sites will have filters that you can set which will allow you only to see the tables, stakes, and game variations that you want to. Typically, once these are set, they will be saved for you for future visits and of course can be changed at any time.
The online blackjack tables are going to look quite similar to a live table except instead of actually putting your bet out and asking the dealer to hit or stand, you will be doing all of that with a set of buttons. Here’s a look at a common game interface you will see.
You’ll see that the buttons are very clearly marked for the different actions you take. We recommend taking some time at the super low limits or play money tables to get comfortable with the interface. The only thing worse than losing a hand of blackjack is losing it because you clicked the wrong button! Thankfully, these interfaces are designed with the user in mind and are very user-friendly, so you should have no problems. In our list of suggested sites below, we took user interface and user friendliness into account. We only want you playing somewhere you are going to be happy and have a great experience.
Recommended Sites: Start Playing Now!
If you’ve got the basics down and are ready to try your luck at blackjack, online casinos have made it convenient to play from the comfort of your own home. If you’re a seasoned player, you can go ahead and scroll down to our list of trusted sites that we recommend and start playing now!
For those of you that have never played before or it’s been a long time, here are a few tips to getting started.
Start by playing online first before live in a casino.
Casinos can sometimes make new players nervous as there is a lot going on at once. There are other players running around, pit bosses watching you, and sometimes dealers like to push the action quicker than you might be comfortable with.
Online, on the other hand, allows you to play by yourself if you’d like, and play at your own pace, no matter how slow that pace is. This will allow you to become comfortable with the gameplay and help to develop your strategy. If something comes up that confuses you, you can stop playing and click back over here to our site and look up what you need to know.
Start small until you get more comfortable playing.
One of the great things about playing blackjack online is that you can find limits extremely low, even as low as $0.01 a hand! This will allow you to get comfortable with betting, strategy, and the flow of the gameplay. If you’re doing well and feel comfortable, you can always then move up in limits to where you’d like to play. Many sites also offer free game play with play money if you really want to take it slow and dip your toe in. Remember, only play with amounts that you are comfortable losing. The aim is to have fun!
Analyze your sessions and game play.
It’s important to spend some time after your sessions to take a look at how you played. Did you follow basic strategy? Did you like how your mindset was? Was there a betting strategy you tried that you particularly liked? Taking a look at all of these factors and figuring out what worked and what didn’t will ultimately help you to be a better player in the long run.
Pick a site that fits you best.
Not every online casino is created equally. Many of them have different interfaces (how the table looks when you play), different buttons and features, and different bonuses. As the main goal of playing is to have fun and enjoy your time, it’s important to “shop around” and look for the site that fits you best.
To get you started, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite and most trusted sites. All of these are fantastic homes for you to get started playing online now!
Common Blackjack Myths
Again, thanks to Hollywood and misinformed individuals, there are several myths about blackjack that we need to dispel. As much as people will argue with you that these are true, remember, it can all be proven or disproven with math and statistics.
People jumping into the game will mess up the cards.
If you’ve played in a casino before, you most likely have seen this one. Someone is winning, and as soon as someone else joins the table, they start losing. They immediately blame that person for messing up the cards and causing them to lose.
If someone jumps into the game, it will change the outcome of all hands to follow, but they will still be statistically random. There is no guarantee that if they didn’t join that you would still be winning. There are also just as many times that someone has joined and you started winning where you might have lost had they not.
The point is that everything is completely random. Our brains look for patterns and cause and effect in everything. Many times, this will make our paranoid brain see things that aren’t actually there. It’s easy to try and find someone to blame in the short run, but it’s just not correct no matter how badly you want it to be.
Players can “take the dealer’s bust card.”
A lot of players like to disregard math and logic and blame other players for “taking the dealer’s bust card.” What this means is that you may decide to hit and draw a big card that if you had stayed, would have forced the dealer to bust. Players typically get mad because they think you are to blame for the whole table or them losing.
If you hadn’t hit this one time, would the dealer have busted? Yes. Would the other players have won this hand? Yes. That’s the short sighted view of it. How many times though have you hit and because of that the dealer busted? Probably a lot but people just fail to recognize these. It’s easy to only pay attention to the times you lose or what happened in the very short run.
Card counting is illegal.
I can guarantee that if you talk to enough people about blackjack, a lot of them will try and tell you that card counting is illegal. They’ll tell you that if you are caught, you will be arrested and sent to jail.
The best response for when someone insists that card counting is illegal is to ask them what specific law it is breaking. They’ll typically mumble and grumble but never be able to produce an actual law. This is because card counting is not illegal. It is not considered a form of cheating as you are merely using the power of your brain and trained abilities to gain an edge.
The correct answer is that card counting is not illegal, but it is highly frowned upon by casinos. You will not be arrested if you are caught card counting. You will, however, most likely be escorted off of the casino property and permanently banned from coming back on the property. Casinos also share information on card counters with other properties so you can expect to probably be banned from a large percentage of casinos if you are caught at one. As we stated earlier, it is not illegal, but we would highly recommend against it.
The object of blackjack is to get as close to 21 as possible.
A lot of players think that the object of every hand is to get as close to 21 as possible.
We’re sure a lot of you are looking at this myth with a confused look on your face. Isn’t that the point of the game? Technically, it is not. The point of blackjack is to have a higher number than the dealer or not bust when the dealer busts. This means that in some situations you won’t risk getting closer to 21 because the dealer statistically should bust. If the dealer busts, you don’t get paid more for having 18 instead of 14.
You need to be a math whiz to win at blackjack.
Statistics are tossed around a lot when talking about blackjack. For this reason, a lot of players think that being good at math is necessary to play well and be a winning player.
It’s true that the basic strategy we talked about was devised by using statistics and math. Thankfully for us, all of the heavy lifting and calculations have already been done. We just need to follow the guidelines that have already been figured out, and we’re on our way to playing like a pro. If you want to understand the odds and reasoning behind the rules, you will have to get into doing some calculations. But if you’re content with trusting the experts, you can just follow the rules with a smile.
FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions about Blackjack
Is blackjack all luck?
The short answer is no. It’s fairly common for people to think that blackjack is 100% luck as a lot of casino games are. Blackjack definitely involves a considerable amount of luck as every card that comes out is completely random and can’t be controlled by you. That being said, the strategy and skill that you can use to play the game can dramatically change your odds of winning.
The bottom line is there is definitely luck involved, but how well you play the game has a direct effect on how likely you are to win.
Is online blackjack the same as live blackjack?
While the game itself is the same, the experience you’ll have is quite different. Live blackjack is typically a more social environment, though it does come with more distractions. The lowest limits are typically higher and you must keep up with the pace of the other players and dealer.
Online blackjack is less of a social experience, but comes with far less distractions. The lowest limits are typically extremely low which is great for beginners. You can also set your own pace and go as quickly or as slowly as you’d like. This is great for new players or players looking to practice their strategies.
What is the house edge in blackjack?
The house edge in blackjack refers to the percentage advantage the casino has long term over you. By having this edge, the casino ensures that they will win in the long run over all players. You can still win in the short term and can even win in the long term but at the end of the day, across all players, the casino will win. Casinos would ceases to operate if they did not have a house edge as they would not be making any money, but instead losing it.
The actual house edge varies based on a few factors. First, the rules that the casino decides to use will affect the house advantage. For example, if they use a six show deck instead of a single shoe deck, the house edge will increase. This means you will be at a slightly bigger disadvantage. Second of all, how you choose to play will affect the house edge. The more in line with basic strategy that you play, the lower the house’s edge over you will be. In popular rule set ups, the house edge can be somewhere around 0.45%.
For more FAQ questions, here is the link to our complete list of Frequently Asked Questions