Blackjack Basics

Blackjack is a simple game with centuries of history. The casino game translates well to the online format. In fact, the online version affords players even more social choices and an opportunity to take even more command of their experiences.

Goals and objectives are consistent in blackjack. Get a card total of 21 or as close to it. Going over, commonly referred to as busting, means a player automatically loses the wager for that hand. When the dealer busts, players with live hands automatically win! A blackjack is a total of 21 dealt with the first two cards, an occurrence that happens about one in 21 hands, and in this instance a player cannot lose.

If the dealer does not also have a blackjack, the player is awarded a premium on his/her wager. Blackjack generally pays 3:2, meaning one and one-half times the initial wager. Winning hands otherwise pay even money or 1:1. The game is played directly and solely versus the casino, known as the house, and not other players.

Note that the actions other players take on their hands does not have any affect on the likelihood of any other player winning or losing. Online, blackjack is usually a heads up experience where a player wagers on his/her hand (or multiple hands) versus one dealer hand.

Card Values

In the game of blackjack, the most important card is the Ace. Players cannot make a blackjack without one. There are four aces in a 52 card deck, and if somehow a player knows in advance he/she is getting one, bet the max! Free Aces are sometimes used in casino promotions. Aces can be dynamically valued high or low at 11 or 1 respectively depending on how the card most benefits the hand (player or dealer’s).

Don’t worry about having to accredit the value of the ace on a given hand. The dealer or software will make it clear as the hand progresses.

Brief examples include a player being dealt a ten value card and a three to make 13. If a player sees a third card, an Ace, the player now has 14 (and has not busted with 24). Being dealt a three and an Ace yields a total of four or 14. If the next card is a ten, the hand total is still 14. If the next card were to be a seven instead, the total would be 21.

Tens, Jacks, Queens, and Kings all have a value of 10. The remaining cards, two through nine are always face value.

To Hit or not to Hit – That is the question

On all hands players are choiced with at least two decisions. Additional options exist on certain hands / in specific situations. Players can find the correct play under any circumstance by following basic strategy, a set of mathematically optimal actions for any given situation. Basic strategy charts can be found online and vary only slightly depending on a few casino rules like whether the dealer hits soft 17 (a total of 17 that may be seven because of an Ace) or if surrender is allowed.

  • Hit – On any two cards (less than 21 of course) a player may elect to hit, which means to take one additional card.
  • Stand – Standing is simply passing on any more cards.

The following actions are only available to player hands and never the dealer’s:

Double Down

A player may elect to double his/her wager in exchange for only one more card. While most casinos offer the right to double down on any two cards, basic strategy dictates doubling on only 9, 10, or 11 depending on the dealer’s up card. (The up card is the card exposed to the player, while the unexposed card is called the hole card.)

Split

Players may split any dealt pair (AA, 22, 33, etc.) A common casino rule is that players may only split aces once, receiving one card each. While players generally face no further action when splitting aces, some casinos generously have an RSA (re-split aces) rule, which allows for players to re-split when dealt a third or fourth ace after splitting the initial two. Following basic strategy when deciding whether or not to split provides players with the best chance to win.

Though most casinos allow the splitting of all ten value cards (i.e. splitting a J and a Q), splitting tens is ill-advised. Players should split Aces and eights always regardless of dealer up card.

Surrender

To surrender is to accept an immediate loss on one’s hand in exchange for half of one’s wager back. The surrender rule is not one that every casino offers, yet it is mostly used when a player has a two card total of 16 versus a dealer ten. A less common form of surrender is called early surrender.

This is where the casino allows players to surrender before the dealer checks for blackjack. When early surrender is allowed specifically on hit soft 17 games, basic strategy dictates surrendering not only 16 versus a dealer ten or ace but also 15 and 17 versus a dealer Ace too.

Rules and gameplay

Much of what makes blackjack so attractive is that players have a fair amount of autonomy when it comes to decision making during a hand. The dealer however, representing the casino’s hand, must strictly adhere to a set of rules. Knowing these rules and how the dealer must play out their hand provides players with elemental information on how to play theirs.

In other words, basic gameplay is predicated on predetermined house rules. While small variations may exists between casinos, the following set of actions or rules progress each hand from start to finish:

  • Dealer must hit sixteen – The dealer must always hit on a total of 16 or less.
  • Dealer must stand seventeen – (exception for soft 17). The dealer must always stand when the card total is 17 or higher. One exception is when casino rules say that the dealer must hit soft 17. The hit soft 17 rule increases the house advantage, and is therefore better for the casino than players. As a player, if possible, find a game where the dealer stands on soft 17.

Because of the above rules, players should stand when the dealer is more likely to have a total of around 16, thus allowing the dealer to bust while eliminating any chance that the player busts.

In simple terms, stand on 12 or more versus a dealer 4, 5, or 6. Stand on 13 or more versus a dealer 2 through 6. Always stand on 17 or more.

Gambling fallacies are not strategy

Lastly, it is important to note that many flawed systems and practices exist, posing as strategy. Online casino software uses a single deck, shuffled after every hand. Without knowing what / how cards will be dealt, the probability that a player wins a hand remains constant regardless of past outcomes.

A player may win or lose several hands in a row, and this does not affect the probability of a win or loss on subsequent hands. The key to getting the most out of a gambling bankroll is to strictly adhere to a basic strategy chart.

Good Luck at the Tables

Since not every hand is a blackjack, what’s essential to remember is that in each situation there’s only one optimal action. Though some playing decisions are closer than others, trust in the math that hitting 16 versus a dealer ten is the correct play (if surrender is not available). Follow basic strategy accurately and feel confident in knowing that the casino only has a small edge.

Deviate from basic strategy based on hunches, and the casino’s advantage rapidly increases with each mistake. Having certitude and confidence in the math of basic strategy will certainly make playing blackjack most enjoyable in the long run. Good luck at the tables!