The Ultimate Guide to Blackjack
If you want to read one—just one—blackjack page, you’ll love this ultimate guide.
I’ve written, edited, and/or published at least 50 pages across this site on the subject.
But some people enjoy having a single page that explains almost everything in comprehensive detail.
This page covers almost everything you’d ever want to know related to blackjack. Where possible, I’ve linked to insanely detailed pages covering various subtopics from within the post.
Here are the topics covered in this post:
- The rules of the game
- How to play in Las Vegas or anywhere else
- How to use basic strategy to increase your chances of winning
- What are advantage gambling techniques and how do they apply to the game
- Which variants and variations are available and how they differ from traditional blackjack
- Questions and answers
Blackjack Rules in Las Vegas Casinos (and Elsewhere)
Blackjack falls into several different classes of card game:
- It’s a gambling game. That’s a game where you risk money hoping to win money. (See our page about casino games.)
- It’s a banking game. That’s a game where you play against the house. Contrast that playing style with poker. That’s an example of a gambling game where you compete with the other players.
- It’s a comparing game. That’s a game where you compare your cards with the opponent to see who wins.
Here’s an overview of the rules of the game. (See our detailed page for a full description of the rules.)
The game is played with one or more standard decks of cards. Such a deck has 52 cards, divided into 4 suits and 13 ranks. In most blackjack games, the suit is irrelevant. But in some variations, suit plays a role in determining bonus payouts.
Different casinos use different numbers of decks. The best situation for the player is a game with only one deck. But games with 2 decks or 8 decks are more common. The more decks, the higher the house edge.
The table has a dealer on one side and seats for either 5 or 7 players on the other side. The table also has specific house rules posted, including betting limits, the payout for a blackjack, and whether the dealer hits a soft 17.
At some casinos, cash plays, but most casinos prefer (or require) you to play with chips instead of cash. The table is marked with a circle for you to place your bet in. That’s the first and second step of getting into action—(1) buying in and (2) placing your bet.
Each hand plays out quickly. You’ll either win, lose, or push. Winning means you get a payoff, usually even money, but sometimes more. If you lose, the dealer takes your bet. In the event of a push (a tie), you don’t win any money, but you don’t lose any money, either.
The dealer starts the game after the bets have been placed. She gives each player 2 cards and takes 2 cards for herself. In a single deck game, your cards are usually dealt face down. In the more common multiple-deck games, your cards are dealt face up. Either way, the dealer gets a face-up card and a face-down card.
The first thing the dealer does is check to see if she has a blackjack (a “natural”). That’s a hand with a total of 21 on the first 2 cards. (The game is even sometimes called “Twenty-One”.)
If she has a blackjack, you and the other players lose instantly—unless you also have a blackjack. If you both have a natural, the hand ends in a push.
The players play their hands first. They base their decisions based on the point totals in their hands. Each card has a numeric point value, as follows:
- Aces are worth 11 points or 1 point.
- Face cards are worth 10 points.
- All other cards are worth their ranking. (The 9 of spade is worth 9 points, for example.)
If you have a blackjack, you automatically win—unless the dealer also has a natural. Most casinos pay off 3 to 2 on a natural, although some casinos now only pay off 6 to 5.
If you have any other total, you must decide what to do with your hand. You have the following options:
- Stand – To decide to take no other cards and keep the total you have.
- Hit – To decide to take an additional card. This choice can be repeated until you decide to stand or until you bust.
- Double down – To decide to take exactly one additional card and stand while simultaneously doubling the size of your bet.
- Split – This option is only available when you have 2 cards of the same rank. When you split, you put up an additional bet and play 2 hands. The first card of each hand is one of your 2 starting cards. The dealer gives you an additional card for each new hand. You can then decide how to play out your hand.
- Surrender – To decide to not play your hand at all and forfeit half your bet.
Since hands are scored based on total points, the highest 2-card total you can have is 21. When you start getting additional cards into the mix, though, that total changes. The rule is that a hand with a total of 22 or higher is an automatic loser (a bust).
So when it’s your turn to play, you’ll hit until you decide to stand or until you bust. (Unless you’ve double down, in which case you agree to not take additional cards.)
The dealer doesn’t play her hand until you’ve finished playing your hand. This is where the house gets most of its edge. If your hand busts, you lose immediately. The dealer can bust later in the game, but you’ve already lost your bet in that case.
When you’re playing live blackjack (as opposed to a computer or video version), you always have the option of announcing what you want to do verbally. In that case, you don’t use any hand signals. But some casinos and some dealers prefer that you use hand signals to make your moves. That’s because they can videotape your actions in case of a dispute.
These hand signals work differently depending on whether you’re playing with the cards face down or face up. If the cards are face up, you NEVER touch them. You signal that you want to hit by pointing at your hand with your index figure. You signal that you want to stand by waving your hand over the cards (parallel to the table). You signal that you want to double down or split by moving your chips.
If you’re playing with the cards face down and want to hit your hand, you gently scrape the table with your cards. If you want to stand, you put your cards under your chips.
If you’re playing in an online or video game version, you’ll have buttons to click on for the various actions that are available.
There’s one other option that I haven’t mentioned—insurance. This isn’t really an action, though. It’s an optional side bet that’s only available when the dealer has an ace showing. The bet is the same size as your original bet, but if the dealer has a blackjack, you win 2 to 1 on the side bet. (Of course, you still lose your original bet.)
For the most part, insurance is a sucker bet. It has a high house edge unless you’re counting cards and in a favorable situation. I’ll discuss that more in the card counting section below.
The most complete coverage of blackjack rules that I’ve seen on the Internet is the page at Pagat on the subject. I consulted that page to double-check some of the finer points related to the rules when I wrote this post.
Win at Blackjack with Strategy Charts
One of the reasons blackjack is such a popular game is its low house edge. But the only way to take advantage of the low house edge is to play each hand correctly. With perfect strategy, the house edge might be as little as 0.25% – 0.5%. If you’re just flying by the seat of your pants, the house edge might be as much 4% or 5%.
What’s the house edge?
That’s the amount of each bet that the casino expects to keep of each bet in the long run. It’s expressed as a percentage. If you’re betting $100 per hand, and the house edge is 1%, the casino expects you to lose (in the long run) $1 per hand you play.
Of course, in the short run, anything is possible. In fact, in the shortest of short terms (a single hand or a couple of hands), it’s impossible for your actual results to mirror the long term mathematical expectation. On a single hand when you’re betting $100, you’re going to see one of the following happen:
- You’ll win $150 (if you’re dealt a natural).
- You’ll win $100 (if you beat the dealer).
- You’ll win nothing and lose nothing (if you tie the dealer)
- You’ll lose $100 (if you bust or if the dealer beats you)
Notice that in none of those situations do you even come close to losing $1 on that $100 bet. The long run doesn’t kick in until thousands of hands have played out. The mathematical expectation is where the casino makes its money. A casino with dozens of full blackjack tables generates thousands of hands relatively quickly.
Here’ how a basic strategy chart works:
In any given situation in a game of blackjack, you have access to the following information:
- Which cards you have and what their total is
- One of the dealer’s cards
Given that information, there’s one decision you can make which offers the best expected return. In a lousy situation, the best expected return might be negative. But it might be less negative than another decision.
Some decisions are obvious. Hitting a hard total of 20 is just silly. Almost any card you get is going to bust your hand. You’ll always stand with a hard total of 20.
Other decisions are trickier. They become more so when you’re dealing with rules variations, like whether the dealer hits a soft 17.
The easiest way for most people to learn basic strategy is to use a chart. This chart (or table) lists the possible totals you have on the left along with the possible dealer up-cards across the top. When you cross index those two numbers, you have a color-coded playing decision.
You should ALWAYS do what the chart says. Ignore your hunches. In the long run, the key to maintaining the lowest house edge and getting the most gambling for your money, is to make the mathematically correct decision every time.
Here’s an example of a common blackjack strategy table:
And here’s the key:
H – Hit
S – Stand
P – Split
D – Double down
DS – Double down (stand if not allowed)
This is the correct strategy for a game with 6 decks, where the dealer hits on a soft 17, and in which there’s no surrender option. The house edge using this strategy is 0.66%.
The chart might look hard to memorize, but if you pay close attention, you can see that most of it can be boiled down to a handful of guidelines:
- Hit any hard total of 8 or less.
- Stand on any hard total of 17 or more.
- Hit with a hard 12 unless the dealer has a 5 or 6. (In that case, stand.)
- Hit a hard 13, 14, 15, or 16 unless the dealer has a 7 or higher. (In that case, hit.)
- Always double down on a hard 11.
- Double down on a hard 10 unless the dealer has a 10 or an ace. (In that case, hit.)
- Double down on a hard 9 if the dealer has a 3, 4, 5, or 6. (Otherwise, hit.)
- Double down on a soft 13 or 14 if the dealer has a 5 or 6. (Otherwise, hit.)
- Double down on a soft 15 or 16 if the dealer has a 4, 5, or 6. (Otherwise, hit.)
- Double down on a soft 17 if the dealer has a 3, 4, 5, or 6. (Otherwise hit.)
- Double down or stand on a soft 18 if the dealer has a 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6. Stand if the dealer has a 7 or 9. Hit if the dealer has a 10 or an ace.
- Stand on a soft 19 unless the dealer has a 6. In that case, double down or stand.
- Stand on any soft 20 or higher.
- Split 2s or 3s if the dealer has a 7 or less. Otherwise hit.
- Split 4s if the dealer has a 5 or 6. Otherwise hit.
- Double down on a pair of 5s unless the dealer has a 10 or an ace. In that case, hit.
- Split 6s if the dealer has a 6 or less. Otherwise hit.
- Split 7s if the dealer has a 7 or less. Otherwise hit.
- Always split 8s.
- Split 9s unless the dealer has a 7, 10, or an ace. In those cases, stand.
- Always stand on 10s.
- Always split aces.
Of course, the strategy changes in certain hands based on rules changes. You can find a basic strategy generator here. Input the rules for the game you’re playing, and the generator creates a custom chart for that game. You can print it up and take it to the casino. You can even refer to it at the table. Just don’t slow down the game while you refer to it.
How was this basic strategy derived?
Computer scientists use algorithms to play millions of blackjack hands virtually to determine what the best decision is in each situation mathematically. But many of these decisions make a lot of sense if you just think about them.
Here’s an example:
You wouldn’t split a pair of 10s because you have a hard total of 20. That hand is almost impossible for the dealer to beat. Having two hands with 10 as a starting card would be good, but not nearly as good as having a total of 20.
You always split 8s because a hard total of 16 is a lousy hand. You’re likely to go bust if you hit, and you’re likely to lose if you stand. But two hands with an 8 as a starting card isn’t bad at all.
You always double down on a hard total of 11 because there are more cards worth 10 in the deck than any other point total. If you get one of them, you’ll have a 21, which will beat anything except a dealer 21. Even then, your hand is a push. A hard total of 11 is a great chance to get more money into action when you have a better than usual chance of getting a total of 21.
Of course, I could explain every possible hand, but there’s no point. The math doesn’t lie.
I want to point out one other thing, though:
You don’t have to skip blackjack if you think basic strategy is too hard. The truth is, if a game has a house edge, if you play long enough, you’ll eventually lose all your money. That’s just how casino gambling works.
But if you use basic strategy, you’ll lose it a lot more slowly.
You’ll also stand a better chance of going home a winner.
And you can use it as a basis to learn other techniques where you can get an edge over the casino—like counting cards. I cover that in the next section.
I consulted two sites heavily when researching this section of the post: Ken’s BlackjackInfo.com and Michael’s WizardOfOdds.com.
Advantage Play Techniques: Counting Cards, Shuffle Tracking, Dealer Tells, and More
Blackjack is one of only a handful of casino games where a smart player can get an edge over the casino.
But it’s not as simple as just following basic strategy.
Playing your hands correctly is only the beginning of 21 wisdom.
Even if you’re a perfect basic strategy player with an almost perfect set of rules, the house still has an edge (albeit a tiny one).
But if the house has an edge, they’ll win in the long run.
No, to get an edge over the house in blackjack, you’ll have to learn and then apply one of the various advantage play techniques.
The most common of these techniques is card counting. And luckily for you, it’s much easier than you think.
Gambling novices who had seen Rain Man think that you must be able to memorize an entire deck of cards to get an edge. That’s not the case at all.
Here’s how card counting works:
The first thing to understand is that not all hands pay the same. A blackjack (or natural) pays off at 3 to 2.
If you’re in a hand where you have a higher probability of getting a blackjack, you bet more, hoping to get that bigger payoff.
If you’re in a hand where you have a higher probability of NOT getting a blackjack, you bet less, wanting to put as little money in action as possible.
In blackjack, the cards that have been dealt from the deck change the probability of being dealt a natural. That might seem counter-intuitive, but think about it for a minute:
Only cards of two ranks combine to make a natural—10s and aces.
If you get any other card, you can’t have a natural. It’s impossible.
In a deck of 52 cards, you have four aces and sixteen cards with a value of 10. That’s 20 cards out of 52.
But if you take all the 5s and 6s out of the deck, you now have 20 cards out of 44. Your odds of getting a blackjack have improved dramatically.
On the other hand, if you’ve dealt all four aces out of the deck, your probability of getting a natural are now 0. Without an ace, you can’t get a natural.
What card counters do is assign a heuristic value to each card in the deck, low or high. The value changes based on what system you’re using, but a common system is to count all aces and tens as -1 and any card ranked between 2 and 6 as +1. The 7s, 8s, and 9s count 0.
A card counter mentally adds or subtracts 1 every time he sees a card with a value. This gives him a way of estimating whether the deck is relatively rich in 10s and aces or not.
He can raise and lower his bets accordingly.
Some systems give different cards different values. These are called multi-level counting systems. For example, you might have a system which counts aces as -2 instead of as -1, and it might also count 5s as +2 instead of +1. But the 10s might still count -1 and the other low cards might count as +1.
Most systems are balanced. When you count through the entire deck, you’re left with a total of 0. But other systems are unbalanced—they have more negative values than positive values.
The multi-level counting systems are striving to provide a more accurate representation of your advantage.
The unbalanced systems are striving to eliminate the need of converting a running count into a true count.
That last part might need some explaining, too.
These card counting systems are usually designed with a single deck in mind. But when you’re playing a blackjack game using multiple decks, the effect of each card being eliminated from the deck is diluted.
Here’s an example:
In a single deck game, if all four aces have been dealt, the probability of getting a natural has been reduced to 0.
In a game with eight decks, if four aces have been dealt, you still have 24 aces left in the deck. Your odds of getting a natural are lower. But they’re not 0.
Converting the running count to a true count accounts for the extra cards. You convert a running count into a true count by dividing the count by how many decks you estimate are left in the shoe.
But some card counters hate division. They’d prefer to just deal with addition and subtraction. Unbalanced counts start with a negative count (instead of starting at 0). This eliminates the need for a conversion from a running count to a true count.
The rest of card counting is easy. You just raise your bets when the count is positive. The higher the count, the higher your bet.
When the count is negative or zero, you bet the minimum.
Some card counters are dedicated to getting the most out of their play. They memorize index numbers which indicate when they need to adjust their strategy decisions. This increases their edge over the house. But doing so isn’t necessary to get an edge.
But, the higher your edge is, the more you stand to earn per hour.
Here’s an example:
Let’s assume that you’re a card counter with a 0.5% edge against the house. You’re playing 60 hands per hour at $100 (average) per hand. That means you’re putting $6000 into action each hour, and you’re expecting to win an average of $30 per hour.
But if you can get an edge of 1% by making some strategy adjustments based on the count, you can increase your hourly earnings to $60 per hour.
Counting cards isn’t the only way to get an edge in blackjack, either. Shuffle tracking is another means of getting an edge.
The theory behind shuffling tracking is that shuffling doesn’t completely randomize the cards. The cards tend to fall into groups, and if you can spot groups rich in tens and aces, then follow them through the shuffle, you can raise your bets when you have a better chance of getting a blackjack.
Spotting dealer tells is another way of getting an advantage. The idea behind this strategy is that dealers will provide you with nonverbal clues about their hole card with body language. Poker players use tells to get an edge. Some blackjack players do the same thing.
Hole carding is like spotting dealer tells, but it’s more valuable. A player (or team) engaged in hole carding take advantage of sloppy dealing technique. Some dealers expose their hole cards when they check for blackjack.
Imagine what kind of advantage you could have if you knew what the dealer’s hole card was.
Players using this technique need to be subtle. Some play at other tables so they can see what’s going on. They then signal their partners based on what they’ve gleaned.
I consulted the following sites when researching this section:
Blackjack Games, Variants, Tournaments, and Side Bets
Blackjack is a straightforward enough casino game.
But it also has a bewildering number of rules changes from casino to casino.
And some casinos offer games that are based on blackjack, but are different enough from the traditional game that they’re consider a variant.
Some games offer specific side bets with clever names, too.
And blackjack tournaments are fun.
This section covers all these.
Here’s a quick list of rules that commonly change based on the casino:
- The payoff for a natural can change. Some casinos offer a 2 to 1 payout for a blackjack. This is great for the player, so it’s rare. Other casinos offer a reduced payout for a natural. 6 to 5 is a common rule. It’s as lousy for the player as 2 to 1 is great. Your best bet is to NEVER play 6/5 blackjack. You can also find properties that pay out 2 to 1 if you have a suited blackjack. This is good for the player, but it’s not as good as 2 to 1 on any natural. (7/5 payoffs are also out there, but 3 to 2 is still the standard. You can even find lame casinos that only pay even money on a natural. This is the default for video blackjack, in fact.)
- Some casinos allow you to triple down instead of double down. Since you only double down when you have a shot at a great hand, being able to triple the amount of money you have in action is also great for the player. This is another rare variation. Doubling down rules vary, too. Sometimes you’ll find a casino which will allow you to double down regardless of how many cards you have, too. Other casinos don’t allow doubling down at all.
- Some casinos have a rule called “five card Charlie”. This is an automatic win if you get five cards in your hand without going bust. Some casinos offer a reduced payoff for this hand. Some offer increased payouts for this hand, while others offer increased payouts if you have a five-card total of 21. Some casinos also have a “six card Charlie”. You can also find casinos which have bonus payoffs for seven card hands.
- Some casinos consider any player total of 21 a winner regardless of what the dealer is holding. Most casinos treat a player total of 21 a push if the dealer also gets 21, so this rule benefits the player.
- The number of decks in use varies. The fewer decks in use by the casino, the better it is for the player. A single deck game is better than a game with two decks, and a game with two decks is better than a game with four decks, and so on.
- Rules about surrendering vary. Most casinos don’t even allow surrender any more. But some have “early surrender”, while others have “late surrender”. Having the option to surrender is better for the player than not having the option. Being able to surrender early instead of late is also better for the player. (Early surrender is when you’re able to surrender before the dealer looks at her hole card to see if she has blackjack.)
- Rules about splitting vary, too. In some casinos, if you split aces and get a 10 as your next card, that’s treated as a total of 21. In others, it counts as a natural, and you get a 3 to 2 payout. Casinos don’t always allow you to double down on aces after splitting, either. Sometimes you’re allowed to re-split aces, but most of the time, you’re not. Some casinos don’t allow re-splitting at all. And you’ll sometimes find a casino that doesn’t allow splitting at all.
- 777 is sometimes a bonus hand. At some casinos, you get a payout of 3 to 1 (or 2 to 1) on this hand. You can even find progressive games where you get huge jackpots if the 7s are suited. This is an advantage to the player, but not a huge one—this hand rarely comes up in actual play.
- Whether the dealer hits on soft 17 is an important rule distinction. It’s better for the player if the dealer must stand on any 17.
Actual blackjack variants include games like Pontoon and Spanish 21. (Pontoon is Spanish 21 with a couple of minor variations. They just have a different name for it in Australia.) Here are some of the rules changes from regular blackjack. Obviously, there are enough rules changes for it to be considered a different game entirely:
- The games use a “Spanish deck”. This is a deck of cards with the 10s removed. (The jack, queen, and king are still in the deck.) So it’s a 48 card deck. If you read the section on card counting, you’ll realize quickly that removing the 10s from the deck automatically gives the house a higher edge. Casinos offer a lot of other favorable rules to somewhat make up for this.
- The dealer hits a soft 17. This is NOT one of the favorable rules for the player. But that’s the way it’s done in Pontoon or Spanish 21.
- Players can double after splitting, but they’re only allowed to double on a total of 9, 10, or 11. This is good news and bad news. Those are the best hands to double down on anyway.
- A player total of 21 wins immediately. In fact, the dealer doesn’t even take a hole card at the beginning, so it’s impossible for the dealer to win up front with a natural.
- Double down rescue is a surrender variation available. It allows you to surrender after doubling down.
- Five card, six card, and seven card Charlie rules are in full effect. The payoffs are 3 to 2, 2 to 1, and 3 to 1, respectively.
- 678 and 777 both have bonus payouts, too. The amount is based on whether the cards are suited. 3 to 2 is the standard, but you get 2 to 1 if they’re suited and 3 to 1 if they’re spades. If the dealer has a 7 as her face up card, there’s an even bigger bonus—either $1000 or $5000. (The former applies if you bet $25 or less; the latter, if you bet more.)
The game has other variable rules, too. The number of decks varies between 4 and 8. The rules for splitting vary with the casino, too. Doubling might or might not be allowed if you have 3+ cards
Here are some other blackjack games, along with their distinguishing characteristics:
- Blackjack Switch is just regular blackjack, but with a wrinkle—you make two bets, and you get two hands. Then you can switch card #2 from each hand.
- Double Attack uses a Spanish deck. You get to double your money after seeing the dealer’s up card (if you want to).
- Double Exposure is played with both the dealer’s cards face up.
Of course, you’ll also find games with a wide variety of side bets. These often have names of their own. They barely count as different games, because if you ignore the side bet, it’s just regular blackjack. (In fact, you should ignore most of these side bets, because the house edge is generally high.)
Here are some common side bets:
- 21+3 is a poker variant side bet. You get paid off based on the poker hand ranking of the three-card hand consisting of your two cards plus the dealer’s up card. You can consider this an amalgamation of Three Card Poker and blackjack. The house edge on this side bet is over 3%.
- 2 Run 21 pays off based on a combination of the player’s first two cards and the dealer’s first two cards. It resembles 21+3, paying off based on poker hand values for the resulting four-card hand.
- 2 to the River is another blackjack/poker hybrid. In this game, you only get a poker hand if you bust. If you don’t bust, the poker bet is returned as a push. Payoffs are based on the strength of your poker hand.
- 2 through 6 pays off when you hit certain hands, like any hand with an ace or king of hearts, any blackjack, any total of 9 through 11, any total of 17 through 20, and any blackjack when the dealer has an ace through 7 showing.
- Bet the Set pays off if your first two cards are of the same rank (a pair). It’s also called Pair Square. You can sometimes find progressive variations of this side bet.
- Blackjack Match pays off if you and/or the dealer have a blackjack. You get bonuses based on whether the cards are suited.
- Blackjack Only is a side bet that only pays off if the dealer gets a natural. It pays off between 15 to 1 and 19 to 1 depending on the casino. (Blackjack Attack is the name for this game when it pays off at 18 to 1 at certain casinos.)
- Blazing 7s is a side bet that pays off based on how many 7s are in your hand. The more 7s you get, the bigger the payoff. You also get bonuses if some of them are suited.
- Bonanza Blackjack pays off if you have a total of 20 and the dealer has a 10 as her up card. Payoffs increase when cards are of the same rank and/or suit.
- Bonus Blackjack is a bet that either the player or the dealer will have a blackjack. It includes a progressive bonus payout if the hand is made up of the ace and jack of spades.
- Bust It pays off if the dealer busts with her third card.
- Field of Gold is one of several side bets that has multiple payouts based on what happens during the hand. Ace-jack suited is the highest payout at 25 to 1, but a pair of aces also pays off at 10 to 1.
- High/Low is a bet on whether the dealer’s up card is going to be higher or lower than the player’s first card.
- High Tie Bonus offers multiple possible payouts, based on what’s in your hand and the dealer’s up card. The best paying possibility is a blackjack tie, which pays off at 50 to 1.
- Jack Magic pays off based on what kinds of jacks and how many jacks the player gets. The best payoff is for a hand with three one-eyed jacks.
- Lucky Lucky pays off based on the combination of your first two cards and the dealer’s up card. For example, if you have suited 7s, and the dealer has a 7 of the same suit, you win 200 to 1. Multiple payoffs are available based on the possible combinations. Straight 8s is almost the same thing, but focus on hands with 8 in them instead of 7.
- Match the Dealer pays off if either of your cards match the dealer’s up card. If both your cards match the dealer’s up card, you get paid off twice.
- Next Step is a side bet that pays off if you or the dealer get a blackjack. The “next step” is the roll of four dice, the result of which determines the bet’s payoff. Bonus Spin is similar, but instead of rolling dice, you get to spin a wheel to determine your prize amount. Wheel of Madness is another variation.
- Over/Under 13 pays off if you correctly guess whether the total of your first two cards is over or under 13.
- Pair Play is a variation of Bet the Set with an 11 to 1 payoff. Dare any Pair is another name for this one. Perfect Pairs is another name for it. The differences in the games with different names usually relate to the payout structure.
- Progressive Blackjack is any blackjack game with a progressive jackpot tied to the side bet. A wide variety of winning conditions can be available, but they often include having cards of a certain rank and/or suit in your hand.
- Push Your Luck pays off 10 to 1 if you and the dealer tie. It’s sometimes just called Tie.
- Royal Match is a bet that pays off if the first two cards are suited. You get a bigger payoff if you get a king and queen (the “royal match”).
- Silver Jack pays off at 17 to 1 if you have a suited natural. Gold Jack is the same thing, but it only pays off if you have a natural consisting of hearts. (It pays off at 300 to 1, though.)
- Streak is a bet on whether you’ll win a certain number of sequential hands.
- Super Sevens is another side bet based on the 7s in your hand, but the first card you’re dealt must be a 7 to win. You get a bigger payoff with each subsequent 7 that you’re dealt. (Crazy Sevens is the same thing, but the payoffs differ.)
- Sweet Sixteen pays off based on certain hands, like a hand totaling 16-21 points, a hand with an ace in it, a hand with two aces in it, and a pair of 2s through 7s.
- Winners Option is basically a bet on the dealer to win, but with the following restriction: you must follow the same rules as the dealer. In other words, you can’t intentionally lose your hand to win the side bet.
You might already have noticed, but there are a tremendous number of side bets available.
New side bets are being introduced almost daily.
What do they all have in common?
The house edge is too high. Just skip the side bets altogether, unless you know mathematically that this side bet is a good deal. (Hey—it could happen.)
In a blackjack tournament, you’re competing against the other players as well as the dealer. My favorite tournament format is “Elimination Blackjack”, which works like a poker tournament. You have several rounds to play, and the player with the biggest stack of chips at the close of the event wins the entire prize pool.
Other blackjack tournament formats exist. They all resemble each other in one way:
You’re competing against the other players as well as the dealer.
I’m again indebted to Michael Shackleford’s site. He has the most complete collection of side bets and how they work on the Internet on his website.
Some Commonly Asked Questions, Answered
I did a little research on Google and Bing to see what common questions people asked about the game. These seem to be the questions that most people have a lot interest in. I’ve included brief answers to each for each of them along with links to more detailed resources.
How do you play blackjack (21)?
There’s a detailed guide to playing blackjack here. In short, the game involves getting a two-card hand and competing with the dealer. Each card has a point value of between 1 and 11. Your goal is to either get closer to 21 than the dealer, or to still be in the hand when the dealer busts. You do this by taking additional cards or standing on your total.
If you lose, you forfeit your bet. If you win, you get even money on your bet. If you get a “natural”—a two-card total of 21—you get paid off at 3 to 2.
How do you deal in blackjack?
The basics of dealing blackjack are simple enough. It works a lot like any other card game. The cards are dealt clockwise around the table, one at a time, starting with the first player to the dealer’s left. Everyone gets two cards, including the dealer, except in certain variations where the dealer doesn’t get a hole card.
In single deck games, the cards are all dealt face down except for one of the dealer’s cards, which is dealt face up. In multi-deck games, the cards are all dealt face up except for one of the dealer’s cards, which is dealt face down. In almost every version of the game, the dealer has one card face-up and one card face-down.
Once everyone has cards, the players make their decisions about their hands until they stand or bust.
What does it mean to push in blackjack?
A push is just a tie. You don’t lose your bet, but you don’t win anything, either. In every situation besides a push, you either win something or lose your bet.
What is a soft 17?
A soft 17 is a total of 17 that includes an ace that counts as 11. In some casinos, the dealer is required to hit such a hand. In others, the dealer stands. It’s better for the player if the dealer stands.
Here’s the thing about hitting a soft total of 17. You can’t bust. The highest card you could be dealt would be a 10. In that case, you’d just count your ace as a 1, so your new total would be 17 again. It’s not always correct for a player to hit a soft 17.
But that’s only because you should double down if the dealer has a 3, 4, 5, or 6 showing.
In every other situation, you should hit.
How many cards do you get in blackjack?
You start with 2 cards in blackjack. In most situations, you can keep getting cards from the dealer until you reach a total of 22 or higher. At that point, you bust, which means you lose. (Getting additional cards at that point would be useless.)
It’s rare that you’d ever get a hand with more than seven cards. In fact, five-card and six-card hands are rare, too. Some casinos have a five-card Charlie, six-card Charlie, or seven-card Charlie rule. In those casinos, any hand with that many cards is an automatic winner. In some cases, you even get a bonus payout.
If you still have question, you might find the answers in the glossary of blackjack terms on this site. If you still can’t find the answer to your question, contact us. We’ll answer it somewhere on the site, be it in this post or on another page.
I hope you enjoyed this definitive guide to blackjack.
Now I have a request for you:
Let me know in the comments below what you thought of this guide to blackjack.
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Or maybe I got some information wrong.
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