How to Play Blackjack

Welcome to our guide on how to play blackjack. Blackjack is a strategic game that lets you decide between multiple actions in each hand. This freedom makes blackjack exciting, but it can also lead to confusion.

You may have questions regarding when to split hands, double down, and more. This guide explains these concepts along with everything else you must know to play blackjack.

It also covers the most important blackjack rules and the different settings where you can enjoy this game.

Goals of blackjack

Beat the dealer’s hand

Your primary goal in blackjack is to top the dealer’s score. You win if your hand score is higher than the dealer’s and you avoid busting out (covered next).

Avoid going over 21

Aside from requiring you to beat the dealer, blackjack also calls on you to avoid going over 21. You bust out and lose your bet if your score exceeds 21.

The dealer can also bust out, but they hold a decided advantage by acting last. They automatically win if you go over 21, regardless of whether they also bust out.

Cash in on double-down and splitting opportunities

Blackjack would normally carry a high house edge due to the dealer acting last. However, the casino includes some player-friendly rules to improve your chances of winning.

Doubling down and splitting are two such rules. These actions help you capitalize on favorable opportunities and earn more money. We will cover them later in this guide.

Blackjack hand actions

All blackjack tables give you the ability to hit, stand on, double down, and split hands. Some tables also offer the surrender option.

You may struggle to sort these hand actions out in the beginning. However, you can quickly master each action by learning about them one by one.

Stand

You stand when you’re satisfied with the current score and don’t want to hit or take any other action. For example, you hold 17 against the dealer’s five upcard and feel confident about your chances.

Standing prevents you from risking a bustout. Your score is compared to the dealer’s total at the end of the round.

Hit

You hit when you want to improve your total. For example, you hold 15 compared to the dealer’s ten upcard and feel that the current odds are unfavorable.

You can hit as many times as you like. However, your chances of busting out increase as you continue hitting.

Split

Splitting refers to when you split a pair into two separate hands. For example, you hold a pair of nines and want to start a new hand with each nine.

You must make a separate bet for each newly formed hand. After placing the separate wagers, you play each hand under the same rules that you would a single hand.

Resplit

Most casinos allow you to resplit hands. The latter refers to when you split a hand that’s already been split once.

For example, you hold a pair of eights and split them. You receive another eight in one of the hands and can now resplit this hand.

Casinos limit you to three or four total hands per round. Also, some gambling venues prohibit you from resplitting aces. 

Double down

Double down refers to when you double your original bet after receiving the first two cards. You receive one extra card and must stand on your three-card total.

For example, you bet $10 and receive two cards totaling ten. You double down, increasing your bet to $20, and receive a nine for a total of 19.

Some casinos allow you to double down on any two cards, while others impose restrictions and only let you double down on totals between nine and 11.

Early surrender

Early surrender lets you surrender your hand before the dealer checks for a natural blackjack. You must give up half your bet to use this option.

For example, you wager $10 and receive a total of 12 against the dealer’s ten upcard. You surrender your hand and $5. 

Late surrender

Late surrender allows you to surrender your hand after the dealer peeks for a blackjack. You give up half your bet in this situation, too.

Insurance

The dealer offers you insurance when their upcard is an ace. In some casinos, dealers also offer this option if they’re showing a ten.

Insurance pays you 2:1 if the dealer gets a natural blackjack. You must wager half your original bet to take insurance.

Here’s an example:

  • You wager $20.
  • Your total is 18.
  • The dealer’s upcard is an ace.
  • You take insurance and wager an additional $10.
  • The dealer gets a natural blackjack.
  • Your original $20 bet loses.
  • However, you win $20 back through insurance.

Steps to playing blackjack hands

1. Choose a table

Casinos offer a variety of blackjack tables that differ in their stakes and rules. Some establishments even feature unique variations, such as Blackjack Switch or Spanish 21.

If you’re new to blackjack, you should consider sticking with classic blackjack and low stakes. These tables help you learn the basics without forcing you to bet too much.

2. Buy in

You must use chips to gamble with in land-based casinos. The dealer lets you exchange cash for chips at the table.

Online casinos require you to place a deposit before playing real-money blackjack. Credit cards, cryptocurrencies, and e-wallets are some of the available online banking options.

3. Make your bet

Each table features minimum and maximum stakes. An online blackjack table, for example, might let you wager between $1 and $500 per hand.

You must bet within the table’s accepted stakes before receiving your hand. Also, you need to put your chips in the designated betting circle.

4. Choose your hand action(s)

After betting, you’ll receive your first two cards. The cards you receive determine what hand actions you can take.

You can always hit or stand. Your ability to split or double down depends on the casino’s rules.

Double-down restrictions are common at many casinos. You can typically split as long as you hold a pair.

5. See the hand result

You automatically win with a natural blackjack (21 on the first two cards). If you and the dealer both hold a natural, then you push and receive your bet back.

Most gambling establishments pay you a bonus for a winning natural blackjack. Depending on the casino’s rules, you receive either a 6:5 or 3:2 payout on your original bet.

If you don’t hold a natural, your hand is compared to the dealer’s total. You win if your score beats the croupier.

If you stand and the dealer busts out afterward, then you automatically win.

Important blackjack rules

Blackjack offers the same basic rules on every table. You can apply the steps presented above to any game.

However, each table can feature small rule discrepancies from the next. These rule differences either raise or lower the house edge (see tips for more information on how to use this to your advantage).

Below, you can see the most common rules that change from table to table:

  • Natural blackjack payout – A 3:2 payout lowers the house edge by 1.39% compared to a 6:5 payoff.
  • Decks in the shoe – A single deck reduces the house advantage by 0.59% when compared to eight decks.
  • Early surrender – This option reduces the house edge by 0.39% when used against a dealer’s ace.
  • Doubling down – Doubling on any two cards lowers the house advantage by 0.25% compared to being restricted to doubling on nine, ten, or 11.
  • Dealer’s action on soft 17 – The dealer standing on soft 17—versus hitting—reduces the house edge by 0.2%.
  • Double down after splitting (DAS) – This option lowers the house advantage by 0.17% when available.
  • Late surrender – Late surrender lowers the house advantage by 0.07% when used against a dealer’s ten. 

Land-based vs. online blackjack

Getting started with online blackjack

You can start playing internet blackjack by visiting a gaming site through your smartphone, tablet, or computer.

Most online casinos require you to register for an account before playing. Some, however, let you play free online blackjack without an account.

When visiting through a smartphone or tablet, you may be prompted to download an app. Android blackjack apps are available on a casino’s website, while iOS apps are available in the App Store.

Assuming you want to play for real money, you must deposit using one of the available banking options. Most casinos feature several available deposit methods.

If you feel like trying out blackjack for real, see the top-rated online blackjack casinos for real money – rated and reviewed by our expert team.

Getting started with land-based blackjack

You can play blackjack at many brick-and-mortar casinos. This game typically takes up most of the tables on gambling floors.

You must exchange cash for chips before playing blackjack. Dealers make this exchange for you.

Many casinos prohibit mid-shoe entry to thwart cart counters. You must wait until the beginning of a new shoe before playing.

Which version should you choose?

Your decision to play land-based or online blackjack comes down to the experience you’re looking for.

If you want a social experience, then you should play in brick-and-mortar casinos. Here, you can chat with the dealer and other players.

Assuming you desire convenience above all, you should choose internet blackjack. Online casinos offer the most convenient blackjack experience possible.

You’ll often find more favorable rules and lower house edges online, too. The average internet blackjack game features a 0.5% house advantage versus 1.5% for land-based casinos.

One thing to consider is that online casinos also have the social aspect if you choose a live blackjack table.

FAQs on how to play blackjack

Are blackjack rules always the same?

No, rules vary from casino to casino. Games can differ regarding natural blackjack payouts, the number of decks, and more.

Each of these rule differences impacts the house advantage. Natural payouts (3:2 or 6:5) carry a major impact on your odds of winning.

When can I double down?

You can double down after receiving your first two cards. However, some casinos restrict what totals you can double down on.

In these cases, you’re usually restricted to doubling on nine, ten, and 11. You can even be limited to doubling on ten and 11 only.

When can I split hands?

You can split a hand whenever you receive a pair. You can typically resplit at least once if you receive another pair.

How can I improve at blackjack?

You can quickly learn optimal play through a strategy chart. Blackjack strategy tables show you how to make correct decisions based on your total and the dealer’s upcard.

Blackjack trainers are also effective tools. These programs point out your correct and incorrect strategy decisions.

You may even consider practicing with free online blackjack. Internet casinos let you play for free as long as you own an account.

Why must the dealer reach 17?

The dealer’s job isn’t to outmaneuver you in strategy. Instead, they facilitate the action, handle bets, and help you buy into games.

Casinos don’t want dealers racking their brains over when to hit, stand, split, and double down. Therefore, they make the process simple for croupiers.

The dealer merely needs to worry about hitting until they reach a hard/soft 17 or higher. No in-depth strategy is required to meet this goal.

Casinos already hold an advantage thanks to the dealer acting last in hands. Therefore, croupiers don’t need to be skilled players.