Blackjack, also commonly referred to as twenty-one or ‘21’, is an extremely popular card game featuring at least one player and a dealer. Blackjack, which has origins that can be traced back to Europe in the 1500s, is one of the most commonly-played games in NJ casinos as well as around the world today. Many later games were derived at least partly from its rules, but the original game remains king in brick-and-mortar casinos and online casinos alike. NJ online casinos offer online blackjack as a staple, but in recent years, added Live Dealer Blackjack, which has only added to the popularity of the game.
Blackjack is played with a standard deck of 52 cards with the jokers removed. It was originally played with just a single deck, but over time casino card game rules adjusted and multi-deck games became much more popular. The vast majority of today’s games of 21 are offered featuring either one, two, four, six or eight decks, with large-deck games being dealt from a device known as a shoe.
It’s important to keep in mind that with each added deck into a game of 21, the house edge increases slightly, which would make single or double-deck game more advantageous for the player.
After placing their bets, all players including the dealer are dealt two cards to begin each hand. Players receive both cards face-up while only the dealer’s card is showing to the table. At its most basic level, the objective of blackjack is simply to have a hand that beats the dealer’s hand.
In order to achieve this goal, players are aiming to have a hand that totals as close to 21 as possible without going over. There are three ways to beat the dealer:
Each player gets a turn to decide whether they want to add more cards to their hand in an effort to get closer to 21. The player loses the hand if the dealer’s total is closer to the 21 at the end of the round or if the player’s hand exceeds 21. It’s important to keep in mind that the players at the table are not in competition with each other, as all are going against the dealer’s hand only.
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Knowing the value of each card is an essential part of getting started playing blackjack, and luckily it’s extremely straight-forward. Here are the blackjack rules for card values:
AN EXAMPLE OF AN ACES’ VALUE:
+=7 or 17
In this case, the Ace gives the player an option to stand on soft 17, or hit to see if they can improve upon the value of their hand.
++=10 or 20
Understanding basic blackjack strategy and casino blackjack rules are imperative to playing the game successfully. Our basic strategy breakdown will feature examples that cover each of the following blackjack actions:
Basic strategy cannot be learned without a Blackjack Strategy Chart. The Blackjack chart represents computerized results of the most favorable mathematical way to play each individual hand of blackjack, thus helping players decide what move to make next in every situation. Because only one of the dealer’s two cards is face-up, that’s all we have to rely on when playing blackjack. The chart key details which action to take in with every combination of your hand and the dealer’s up card and is meant to cover minor variations in house rules.
Strategy charts are widely used by blackjack veterans, and making playing decisions based on the chart information after careful memorization is the first step to becoming a winning blackjack player.
Charts do vary slightly depending on the rules of the blackjack game being played. The rules for the dealer can dictate the decision-making process, so it’s important to know whether they are bound to hit or stay on 17. If the dealer hits on 17, it’s an H17 game, while standing on 17 makes it an S17 game. The above chart can be applied to an S17 game with four-to-eight decks of cards in a shoe.
Below, we are going to look at examples of several hands and go through a typical situation for each of the major actions in order to help understand basic blackjack strategy.
Blackjack is the goal of any hand you play, and occurs when the first two cards you are dealt add up to 21 (an Ace and a 10 of some kind). Despite the name of the game, you do not need to have a jack to get blackjack and what suits the cards are doesn’t matter at all. In most casinos, blackjack pays 3:2 odds, meaning you win one-and-a-half times your bet assuming the dealer doesn’t also have blackjack.
EXAMPLE OF WHEN YOU MAKE BLACKJACK:
PLAYER MAKES BLACKJACK. The game ‘21’ gained its popularity in the United States in the early half of the 20th century while earning the new name “Blackjack” due to a special bet some casinos used to offer. It was said that If a player’s hand was 21 featuring a ‘black jack’ (jack of spades or clubs) along with the ace of spades, the hand would pay out at 10:1.
If you want to add onto the total in your hand, the dealer will provide additional cards. You receive one card at a time until you either stand or bust. There is no limit to the amount of cards you can take prior to exceeding a total of 21.
EXAMPLE OF WHEN TO HIT:
DEALER: +DOWN CARD (The down card is revealed after player’s decisions are complete)
PLAYER: += 9
RESULT AFTER PLAYER HITS & STANDS, THEN DEALER REVEALS DOWN CARD:
DEALER: + = 18
PLAYER: ++ = 19
In this case, hitting was an easy decision with nine. In terms of low totals, an amount from nine to 11 is ideal. Those hands also allow for many situations to double down and win more money, but we will discuss that later.
If you’re comfortable with just two cards dealt originally, the option to stand tells the dealer to move on to the next player.
EXAMPLE OF WHEN TO STAND:
DEALER: +DOWN CARD= 10
PLAYER:+ = 20
RESULT AFTER PLAYER STANDS, THEN DEALER REVEALS DOWN CARD:
DEALER: += 17
PLAYER: += 20
Standing is very easy with 20, and is always recommended. Sure, splitting that pair is possible too (we will get to that), but why mess with a winning hand? If dealt two 10s, it’s always suggested to stand regardless of what the dealer is showing. On far more occasions than not, collect your money after the hand. Deciding whether to stand or hit with a lesser hand, however, requires much more attention to the dealer’s card and what our 21 strategy chart tells us.
Bust refers to when your hand becomes ineligible because the total exceeds 21 after opting to hit. If you go bust, you are automatically eliminated from the hand. If the dealer busts, everyone with an eligible hand is declared a winner.
EXAMPLE OF WHEN A PLAYER BUSTS:
DEALER: +DOWN CARD= 10
PLAYER: += 14
RESULT AFTER PLAYER HITS:
PLAYER: ++= 24
Unfortunately, it’s quite common to wind up with a hand like this. Hands with a middling total in the range of 12-16 present issues because a 10 buts your total over 21, and that’s the value one is most likely to draw at any given time. With 16 of the 52 cards in a deck being worth 10 in blackjack, there’s just over a 30 percent chance one of them comes out. While you do have a 70 percent chance of avoiding it, there’s a far greater chance you wind up with a 10 than any other card value.
So why hit? Because the chart says to in this case. With an in-between total and the dealer showing a card above six, the computerized results displayed on the chart tell us that over time, blackjack players are better served taking another card than just hoping the dealer isn’t holding a 10 in order to win the hand.
Sometimes, you’re dealt a favorable hand but the total is low (yes, there are favorable hands with low totals), but you need to take another card. Doubling down means you can double your initial bet and the dealer will provide you with just one card to add onto your total.
EXAMPLE OF WHEN TO DOUBLE DOWN:
DEALER: +DOWN CARD= 5
PLAYER: += 11
RESULT AFTER PLAYER ELECTS TO DOUBLE DOWN:
DEALER: ++= 23
PLAYER: ++= 21
Though the player here totaled 21, this is not considered “blackjack” as we covered earlier. Remember, blackjack occurs only if your first two cards total 21. We drew a total of three cards. In this instance, the dealer could have also drew to 21, causing a push. A push is a draw between the player and dealer when their hand values result in an equal value, no matter how many cards either draws. This results in the player taking back their original bet.
Doubling down is recommended in almost all cases with 11 and 10, along with a hand totaling nine being eligible in some spots as well. Doubling can be risky if a high card doesn’t appear, since players will only be dealt one extra card. Doubling is not a universal rule, as some casinos only let you double with certain totals.
If you’re dealt a pair of equal cards, you have the option of splitting them up, with each card being the first of a new hand. This applies to 10s and picture cards as well, even if its not two of the exact same card, because the value is the same. In order to split, players must place an additional bet equal to the original wager.
EXAMPLE OF WHEN TO SPLIT:
DEALER: +DOWN CARD = 7
RESULT AFTER PLAYER ELECTS TO SPLIT:
PLAYER HAND A: ++=19
PLAYER HAND B: ++=22
PLAYER WINS 1 OF 2 AGAINST THE DEALER
Splitting is recommended in many situations other than when the dealer has an eight or higher. The blackjack strategy chart tells us eights and 10s should always be split, along with nine in most cases. In many casinos, players are allowed to re-split in the event of receiving another pair of matching cards after the original split, but are capped at four hands maximum. Many casinos offer the option to double down after splitting as well, but only in multi-deck games being dealt out of a shoe.
When a dealer’s showing card is an ace, players at the table are given the option to buy insurance. This is an additional side bet that costs up to half of your original bet and is essentially a wager on the dealer having blackjack. If they indeed do have 21 with just two cards, the player is paid 2:1 odds.
Like insurance, even money comes into play to potentially protect players against the dealer. Even money is offered to a player that gets blackjack while the dealer is showing an ace. Accepting even money is agreeing to be paid at lesser 1:1 odds instead of 3:2 for blackjack, but erases the possibility of the player losing to a dealer who gets blackjack themselves.
EXAMPLE OF WHEN INSURANCE IS OFFERED:
DEALER: +DOWN CARD = 1 or 11
PLAYER: += 9
Memorizing and having a deep understanding of blackjack basic strategy and the chart that goes along with it isn’t only important when first learning how to play. In the future you may want to try a blackjack alternative (there are many) with its own specific rules variations. Learning a rules-specific chart for a new game can become much easier after mastering basic blackjack strategy.
Once you learn this chart you will have to learn additional rules and deviations that relate to the specific rules of the games you will be playing. The better you learn basic strategy the easier it will be to transition into other similar games.
We pointed out earlier that 10s make up a larger portion of the deck than any other card value in blackjack. Because 10s are so prevalent, people generally play off the assumption that the dealer’s down-card is a 10. While that’s very possible and it’s smart to be prepared for the card with the greatest probability, decisions are made off of the information we have, not what we think we know. Use the showing card and the chart to make your decisions even if you are aware that a 10 could be hiding from you. Always refer back to basic strategy, which are more proven than assumptions.
If a player is dealt blackjack with an Ace and 10 while the dealer’s face-up card is an Ace as well, some NJ casinos and others around the world allow players to take even money. This means that in lieu of insurance, players are paid what they bet as winnings. It seems like a tempting move since a blackjack for the dealer would be a loss, but there is still a 70% chance that the card isn’t a 10. Don’t take even money, stick it out for you 3:2 odds.
When to split is a great blackjack tip and rule to remember. Courtesy of our basic blackjack strategy chart, we know that with Aces and eights, we are always splitting. This provides us a great mathematical opportunity to win two hands at once. In most cases, nines are to be split as well. As mentioned in one of the above sections, splitting 10s is something we aren’t interested in doing. That’s a winning hand the overwhelming majority of the time, and turning down a victory just isn’t in your best interest.