Apr 20, 2020
Apr 20, 2020

How to play Blackjack

Blackjack rules

Blackjack gameplay

Blackjack odds and probabilities

Basic Blackjack strategy

How to play Blackjack

Blackjack is an exciting and fast-paced card game that is well-known around the world, as well as one of the most popular and straightforward to play on our casino. Here is a simple guide on how to play Blackjack, so that you can ensure you fully understand the rules and terms involved and how to try and make the most of the cards you are dealt.

Blackjack rules

The primary objective of Blackjack is to get a hand of cards with a greater value than the dealer’s without the value of your hand exceeding 21, which is referred to as going bust. Essentially, you bet on being able to do this to beat the dealer.

Blackjack is generally played with one to six players (not including the dealer) and can a use a solitary deck of cards or up to as many as eight.

Blackjack card values

Face cards (Kings, Queens and Jacks) are worth 10, cards from two to 10 are worth their 'pip value' (the value stated on the card) and Aces can be worth one or 11.

A hand containing an Ace card worth 11 is called a soft hand, as it can take another card without risk of going bust. For instance, if a hand comprised of an Ace worth 11 and a seven initially totaling 18 gets an eight card, the player would not then go bust with a value of 26. Instead, the Ace would then be considered worth one to give the hand a new overall value of 16.

A hand containing an Ace card worth one or no Aces whatsoever is called a hard hand. This means that if a player goes bust on their next card, they are out of the round.

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Blackjack gameplay

At the start of the round, each player places their bets. The dealer then deals each player two cards face up and deals themselves one card face up.

Once the player has received their two cards and their turn begins, they have several options. They can stand, meaning they are happy with the initial value of their hand and do not want to receive any more cards. Alternatively, they can hit, meaning their hand receives another card. Provided the value of their hand has not exceeded 21, a player can hit as many times as they want.

If a player or the dealer’s opening two cards are comprised of an Ace card with a Face or 10 card for an overall value of 21, then they have got Blackjack. This is the strongest possible position a player can be in, meaning their turn automatically ends. Winning via Blackjack often pays out winnings at a 3:2 ratio as opposed to the usual 2:1.

At this stage, a player can also double down, split or surrender, and they may wish to place a side bet or insurance bet: all of these options are covered in more detail in their own articles.

When every player has completed their turn, the dealer then deals themselves a second card. From that point, a dealer is required to hit until their hand is worth at least 17 (generally, a dealer is also expected to hit if they have a soft hand worth 17). Once the dealer has completed their turn, the outcome is decided as follows:

  • If the player gets Blackjack and the dealer does not, the player wins.
  • If the player has a higher value than the dealer without exceeding 21, the player wins.
  • If the player has a value of 21 or under and the dealer goes bust, the player wins.
  • If the dealer gets Blackjack and the player does not, the dealer wins.
  • If the dealer has a higher value than the player without exceeding 21, the dealer wins.
  • If the player goes bust, the dealer wins, even if the dealer goes bust themselves.
  • If both the player and dealer get Blackjack or hands with the same value, this is known as a push and neither wins. In this instance, the value of the original bet is returned to the player.

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Blackjack hand example

Here are is an example of a Blackjack round based on a game featuring three players and the dealer:

  • The dealer deals the three players their cards and their own first card, which is an eight.
  • Player 1 is dealt a nine and a six, for an initial value of 15. They decide to hit and receive an eight, meaning their hand is worth 23 and they have gone bust.
  • Player 2 is dealt an Ace and a three, for an initial soft value of 14 (11 + 3). They decide to hit and receive a nine, meaning their hand now has a hard value of 13 (1 + 3 + 9). They hit again and receive a five, taking the value of their hand up to 18, at which point they stand.
  • Player 3 is dealt an Ace and a Queen, meaning they have got Blackjack worth 21.
  • The dealer then draws a four, moving the value of their hand up to 12 and meaning they are required to hit. They then draw another eight, leaving the final value of their hand at 20.
  • Player 1 has therefore lost to the dealer because they went bust and Player 2 has lost because the value of the dealer’s hand (20) exceeded the value of their own (18). However, by getting Blackjack Player 3 has beat the dealer and won the round.

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Blackjack odds and probabilities

Your exact chances of winning a round of Blackjack depend on numerous factors, including the specific rules in play, how many players there are and the number of decks of cards being used. However, by possessing a basic understanding of the odds and probabilities involved, you can make informed decisions on what to do with your hand to give yourself the best possible chance of winning.

The probability of getting a card of any value from Ace through to King is approximately 7.7%. As there are four cards worth 10 (10, Jack, Queen and King), the probability of getting a card worth 10 is 30.8%.

Using these figures, the probability of getting Blackjack is 4.8%, equivalent to almost one in every 21 rounds. The probability of getting 18 or higher in your opening hand – which basic Blackjack strategy often dictates is a value you should always stand at – is 27.5%.

Perhaps more crucially, probability can be utilised to assess your chances of going bust when taking a hit on your opening two cards, as outlined in the table below:

Blackjack chance of going bust

Value of first two cards

(not including soft hands)

Cards required to go bust

Approximate chance of going bust

11 or less

N/A

0%

12

10, J, Q, K

31.0%

13

9, 10, J, Q, K

38.6%

14

8, 9, 10, J, Q, K 

56.2%

15

7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K

58.1%

16

6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K

61.6%

17

5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K 

69.2%

18

4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K

76.9%

19

3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K

84.6%

20

2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K

92.3%

While it may seem obvious to state that there is a considerable risk of going bust when hitting on a value of 18 or higher, it is worth noting that you are more likely than not to go bust when hitting on a value of at least 14. Therefore, it is important to carefully assess the situation when dealt a hand worth 14 to 16 as to ensure you do not immediately go bust and lose the round.

Probability can also be used to determine the dealer’s chances of going bust depending on their face up card:

Dealer chance of going bust

Dealer's card

Approximate chance of going bust

2

35.3%

3

37.6%

4

40.3%

5

42.9%

6

42.1%

7

26.0%

8

23.9%

9

23.4%

10, J, Q, K

21.4%

Ace

11.7%

The obvious takeaway from this is that if you find yourself in a situation where you possess a lesser chance of going bust than the dealer (for example, your two cards have a value of 12 while the dealer’s face up card is a six), probability dictates that it is advisable to stand.

While it may be tempting to hit in this instance as you have just under a 70% chance of safely boosting your hand’s value, exclusively focusing on the safety of your own hand is a common mistake and the dealer’s chances of going bust are equally important to pay attention to.

Finally, as the dealer is required to hit up to 17, probability can measure which value their hand is likely to finish the round with:

Blackjack dealer hand probability

Dealer's final hand value

Probability

Blackjack

4.8%

21 (more than two cards)

7.4%

20

17.6%

19

13.5%

18

13.8%

17

14.5%

Bust

28.4%

This table can be utilised to inform your chances of winning depending on the value of your own hand, although as previously mentioned, you must consider that the dealer does not necessarily lose if they go bust.

Basic Blackjack strategy

Adopting a strategy for Blackjack can assist in playing the game quicker and with a more consistent approach, as well as help you in scenarios where you are unsure as to how to proceed with your hand.

There are a multitude of Blackjack strategies available in books and online, although outlined below is a popular basic strategy which should prove useful to beginners and those seeking to play the game more frequently. Please note that for the purposes of this strategy, a setup of four to eight decks has been assumed with the dealer hitting on a soft 17 and doubling down, splitting and surrendering all prohibited.

Blackjack strategy

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While it is important to learn any strategy you decide to adopt in detail to make sure that you are fully familiar with it, here are some key points from the above:

  • You should always stand on a hard hand valued at 17 or higher.
  • For hard hands valued at 13 to 16, stand if the dealer’s face up card is six or less but hit if it is a seven or higher.
  • Hit on hard hands valued at 12, unless the dealer’s face up card is a four, five or six. Always hit on hard hands valued at 11 or less.
  • You should always stand on a soft hand if the non-Ace card is an eight or nine. If the non-Ace card is a seven, you should hit if the dealer’s face up card is a nine, 10 or Ace.
  • You should always hit on a soft hand if the non-Ace card is a six or less.

Learn more about Blackjack

If you want to develop a more detailed Blackjack strategy, remember to read our articles on how to double down, split or surrender, alongside how to place a side bet or insurance bet. We also have an article outlining an advanced Blackjack strategy. If you want to learn more about Blackjack beyond how to play the game, you can read about the history of Blackjack.

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