Blackjack Rules - The Ultimate Guide

Blackjack is one of the most popular casino games worldwide – and it’s pretty popular online too. However, even though the game itself seems deceptively simple, for beginners, there’s actually a world of strategy, procedures and more which you need to be aware of, if you’re going to master the game.

What Is Blackjack?

To put it in its most simple terms, blackjack is a card game where you try to get as close to 21 as possible – while beating the dealer.

In its most classic form, you are given two cards, face down, and the dealer is given two cards – one up (the up-card) and one down (the hole card). Using the values on the card, you have to get as close to 21, without going over. This is done by using the values on the card, which give you the equivalent number of points, to be discussed below in ‘Blackjack Card Values’.

There are several different variations of blackjack, where the above rules can change slightly, but the above is the basic, most simple form of the game.

Blackjack Card Values

As mentioned above, the value you see on the card is the value of your points, with some exceptions:

  • 2-10 – give you the same number of points,
  • Jack, Queen, King – the ‘faces’ cards, give you 10 each,
  • Ace – this one is a bit tricky, and can be valued either at 1 or 11, depending on your choice and situation.
  • Jokers aren’t used in the blackjack game in general and are typically removed before shuffling the deck. However for some variants, they are left in.
  • A ‘soft hand’ is when you hold an Ace, and it counts as an 11.
  • A ‘hard hand’ is any hand not containing an Ace – but if an Ace joins the hand, it counts as 1.

How to Play Blackjack?

Blackjack is a fun mix of luck, chance and skill. It’s very straightforward to play.

You begin by placing your bet. The dealer then deals you and other players two cards each, which you can look at. The dealer will also give themselves two cards, one face up and one face down.

What happens next depends on your current hand (two cards you’re holding). You can:

  • Hit – if you want to take another card to try to get nearer to 21, you ‘hit’ and the dealer gives you another card,
  • Stand – you tell the dealer you’re happy with your hand and don’t want any more cards,
  • Double Down – you’re telling the dealer you want to double your bet, and take only one more card.
  • Bust – you’ve gone over 21 and are out of the game.
  • Split – if you’ve received two cards of the same value (e.e.g two 10s), you are given the option to split them into two different hands, and continue playing with both. You need to play with one hand at a time, but in some cases, this can double your potential to win.
  • Surrender – this option doesn’t always come into play with every blackjack variant, but, if you decide not to play your hand, you can tell the dealer you want to ‘surrender’, and lose half of your initial bet. In some variants, you can only surrender after the dealer has checked their cards for a blackjack – this is known as a ‘late surrender’.
  • Insurance – when the dealer’s up-card is an Ace, they will ask players if they’d like to take the insurance bet. This is a side-bet, where players are betting that the dealer’s hole card will be a 10-value. You are therefore insuring your bet against the dealer’s potential blackjack.

Blackjack Variations and Their Rules

In practice, the actual game can vary wildly, depending on which variant you’re playing.

Each has their own rules and knock-on impacts – and are fun and rewarding in their own ways.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Spanish 21: This is played with 6 or 8 decks of cards, with the four 10s in each deck removed. While this increases the house edge (from about 0.5% to a whopping 2%), if a player gets blackjack, they always win – even if the dealer has a blackjack themselves. Doubling after pair splitting is allowed, you can surrender at any time. One thing to note – taking the insurance bet in Spanish 21 is a bad idea, as without the 10s in the deck, the house’s edge doubles.
  • Blackjack Switch: This is a cool, adapted version of the classic game of blackjack. You play two hands per round, and are given the choice of switching your second card in each hand. This is great for players who have bad hands, giving them a second opportunity to get a playable hand. However, you need to know that if the dealer busts on a 22, each player’s hand is pushed (except for those with a blackjack), but blackjacks pay even money – not the standard 3:2.
  • Super Fun 21: probably the most liberal form of blackjack, this variant does what it says on the tin – it’s super fun. Doubling is allowed on any number of cards, after splitting and even on split aces; surrender is allowed pretty much whenever; a player blackjack beats a dealer blackjack, a player blackjack in diamonds pays 2:1 and a player hand of 20 or below with 6 or more cards is an automatic winner. But – player blackjacks only pay even money. Not bad, eh?

Most of the variants revolve around several blackjack rules and their different takes on them, such as:

  • Whether or not the dealer hits a soft 17 (the ‘soft 17 rule’),
  • The number in decks in play – the more decks, the more increased the house edge,
  • Whether or not late or early surrender is permitted,
  • Resplitting, and splitting aces,
  • No doubling after splitting,
  • No hole-cards or OBO – ‘original bets only’,
  • Different payouts for winning a blackjack, and
  • Dealer wins ties or pushed hands.

Basic Strategies

While other casino table games tend to have a lot of strategies of varying complexity, blackjack strategy is very straightforward, and requires only the memorizing of a series of numbers.

blackjack strategy table

Basic Strategies Table

You need to know the best action to do – stand, hit, double or hit, double or stand, split or surrender – in the case of each dealer up-card.

Of course, since this is a basic strategy, this can vary depending on the blackjack variant you’re playing (and so the number of decks, possible missing 10s etc) and whether you’re playing in a brick and mortar casino, or playing online.

Tips and Odds

Like poker, blackjack is a game of mathematical probability, mixed with a pinch of luck. And, with every move you can increase or decrease your odds of winning, and minimizing the house edge.

These are just a few easy to remember tips and tricks to improve your odds of winning:

  • Always split 8s and Aces. Two 8s are 16, which is a sticky situation, whether you hit or stand. Aces have a lot of extra potential, and it makes sense to double that potential by splitting.
  • Stick to the basic strategy when starting out with playing. It’s mathematically proven and will give you a solid foundation when it’s time to move on to more advanced strategy.
  • Always hit when you have a hand or 11 or less – you can’t go bust.
  • Don’t copy the dealer – the dealer works for the casino, and has to hit on a 16 and stand on 17. Also, dealers can’t split, double or do any of the extra things which players can in certain variants. That’s why, when the player busts, the dealer wins. Players and dealers are not playing on an equal playing field.
  • Always watch your bankroll. Steady yourself and make a budget so you don’t blow everything all in one go. Similarly, if you suffer a losing streak, don’t throw more money in, to chase your losses. Keep making bets in a slow, steady way.

As mentioned above, your odds change depending on the number of decks in play. This is how the house edge increases, as the number of decks do too:

  • 1 deck – 0.17% house edge
  • 2 decks – 0.46% house edge
  • Decks – 0.60% house edge
  • 6 decks – 0.64% house edge
  • 8 decks – 0.65% house edge

This doesn’t take into account other factors which could increase the house edge – such as the insurance bet and other variant-specific rules.

Special Tournaments Rules

Blackjack tournaments differ from the usual game of blackjack, and before you compete in one, you’ll need to make sure your basic (and advanced) strategy is flawless, as well as knowing the general blackjack tournament rules.

There are several types of blackjack tournaments:

  • Traditional elimination tournaments – possibly the most popular of blackjack tournaments. You play against the players on your table, table winners advance and others are eliminated – unless they pay a re-buy fee and enter the tournament again.
  • Non-elimination/accumulation tournaments – you compete against every other player in the tournament, trying to win the most chips after several rounds. Tournament leaders are posted on a leadership board alongside their scores, so each player knows how much they need to win in order to overtake the players above them.
  • Tournaments with elimination – as seen on the televised Ultimate Blackjack Tournaments show, the player with the lowest count of chips after 8, 16, 25 and 30 hands are eliminated from the tournament.
  • Live-money tournaments – players need to purchase their chips, and cash them in at the end of the tournament – it’s all real player money that’s being put at risk.
  • Mini-tournaments – usually held regularly (mostly weekly) in land-based casinos, and more regularly (sometimes even daily) at online casinos, there is a fee to enter the tournament and takes a day or less to finish. The prize pool is usually fairly low, but if you play these regularly, the prize pools add up!
  • Major tournaments – these have higher entry fees than the mini-tournaments, take longer than a day to complete and have a whopping six-figure prize pool. They tend to be held over a weekend, and are a real event: contenders get discounted or even free rooms, and there’s often a banquet and free gift thrown in for good measure.
  • Sit ‘N’ Go – these tournaments run continuously and require six players to start. These tend to be very popular at online blackjack casinos.

When playing tournaments, there are three key tips you need to know:

  1. Work out if it’s worth the money. If you have to pay to play, you need to know if the prize pool justifies the entry fee – and, if there are benefits involved, do they also justify the entry fee? You should ask the tournament director how much of the entry fees are given to the prize pool, and play tournaments which return 100% or close enough to the prize pool.
  2. Don’t chat to people watching the tournament as you play. Not only is this distracting but this is also disallowed in most tournaments. Plus, at the final stages, you’re not allowed to speak to your opponents around the table either, or you risk disqualification.
  3. Read the tournament’s rules. No two tournaments are alike, rules-wise, and players can make big (and costly) mistakes when they don’t read the rules properly. Make sure to familiarize yourself with the betting limits, bankroll rules, number of players advancing, whether surrendering is allowed and which are the elimination hands.

Where to Practice Blackjack for Free

One of the best things about playing online blackjack in Canada is that you have the option to practice your blackjack strategy for free. Most online casinos will allow registered players unlimited practice rounds of most of their games – slots, roulette – and blackjack.

Two of the best casinos who do this are Spin Palace, which has over 40 blackjack variants, most of which can be tried out for free, and Platinum Play, where their Microgaming-powered classic blackjack practice round can help you hone your skills.

Registering to play is easy too. First, you should check out which casino you’d like to play at from our recommended top blackjack casinos list. You’ll then be taken to the registration screen of your chosen casino, where you need to put in your details, and will be guided through the process. This usually takes no longer than a minute.

Once you’re registered and you’ve confirmed your details, you’re good to start playing online blackjack!

Bottom Line

Mastering the art of blackjack is easy, if you know what to do and when to do it. By familiarizing yourself with the basic blackjack strategy, rules and some other blackjack variations, you’ll be well on your way to a long winning streak – and maybe even a tournament or two!