Regardless of your expertise level, you've probably got some questions about blackjack and how it's played. This page is aimed at people of all experience levels. The questions start with the most basic at the top and get more advanced in subject matter as you proceed down the page.
All of the questions are listed first, with the answers below. There are also links to further information where relevant.
We've worked hard to create a comprehensive resource about blackjack in this section. If your question isn't answered on this page, be sure to browse through our complete blackjack section. Chances are the answer is contained within one of the other pages on the site. If you still can't find an answer, get in touch. We'll update this page accordingly.
Blackjack FAQ: The Questions
Blackjack FAQ: The Answers
Blackjack is normally played in a casino at a blackjack table. You'll face a dealer, but you'll also have other players at the table. They also face the dealer. You and the other players aren't competing with each other (unless you're playing in a tournament—more about that later.)
Your goal is to beat the dealer. You can do this in one of two ways:
- You can get a hand total of closer to 21 than the dealer does.
- You can still be in the hand if the dealer busts.
The cards in blackjack each have a point value from 1 to 11. Aces count as either 1 point or 11 points, depending on what's more favorable for the player. The face cards (the jack, queen, and king) count as 10 points each. All the other cards in the deck have a point value equal to their rank. Suits are irrelevant.
To play, you have to place a bet. Once all the players have placed their bets, the dealer gives everyone a 2 card hand. She deals herself a 2 card hand, too—one of her cards is face up, the other, face down.
If the dealer has a 21, she's an automatic winner unless you also have a total of 21, in which case, you have a push. You get your original bet back, but no winnings.
Usually, though, the dealer won't have a 21. Neither will you, usually, but when you do get a 2 hand total of 21, you get a 3 to 2 payout. That 2 card hand—an ace and a ten—is called a "natural" or a "blackjack".
After you look at your cards, you have the option to receive additional cards or stand. To take an additional card, you "hit". Otherwise, you "stand".
You also have the option of "doubling down" or "splitting". Doubling down means placing an additional bet and taking one—and only one—additional card. Splitting is only an option if you're dealt 2 cards with the same value. In that case, you can place an additional bet and start two hands, the first card of each being one of the cards from your original hand.
You might bust by getting a total of 22 or higher. In that case, you lose. The dealer collects your bet and moves on to the next player. Perceptive readers will notice that you play your hand before the dealer plays hers. If you bust, the dealer wins even if she busts too.
Those are the basics. For more detailed instructions on how to play, please see our page on blackjack rules.
Blackjack offers the best odds in the casino, but the house still has an advantage over the player. The short answer for the average gambler is that you can win at blackjack by getting lucky and quitting while you're ahead.
That's also the boring answer, though.
If you want to win consistently at blackjack, you have to implement some kind of advantage gambling strategy. Most people are familiar with the idea of card counting, even if they're not up on all the specific details. But that's only one way to get an edge over the casino. Other techniques, like shuffle tracking and dealer tells, can also help you beat the casino consistently.
Advantage gambling techniques take knowledge and practice. It's not easy to get rich as a card counter, but if you're willing to put in the work, there's no reason you couldn't be a consistent winner in the long run at the blackjack tables.
Yes, blackjack really does offer the best odds for casino gamblers. The house edge for blackjack varies from around 0.19% to 1%, if you play according to the correct basic strategy. Most other casino games don't even come close.
In fact, the only games that come close to offering odds as good as blackjack are video poker games, but you can't get as much money into action playing video poker. They just have lower betting limits.
Basic strategy is the mathematically correct decision to make in every situation you'll ever come across in a casino at a blackjack table. It's determined by calculating the expected value of each possible decision you could make.
So the appropriate basic strategy decision in the above example is to stand.
The dealer will have one of only 10 possible up cards. You compare your total to the dealer's up card to determine what to do. Generally speaking, you'll play more aggressively if the dealer has a 7 or higher showing. Many other times, you'll stand on a lower total in hopes that the dealer is going to bust.
You can learn the correct basic strategy by memorizing a table or chart, or you can learn it by memorizing a list of rules for various hands.
The rules in Downtown Vegas are more liberal than the rules on the strip. For example, on the Strip, most blackjack games are dealt from a shoe with as many as 8 decks of cards in it. This reduces the player's chances against the casino. It also makes it harder to count cards.
Las Vegas Strip casinos usually have higher minimum bets, too. If you have a limited bankroll and only want to risk $5 per hand, you'll be better off finding a game in Downtown. Most of the games on the Strip have at least a $10 or $20 minimum bet per hand.
Other rules variations to look out for on the Strip include 6/5 blackjack. This is a variation where instead of getting a 3 to 2 payout for a natural, you only get a 6 to 5 payout. This adds more than 1% to the house edge. You should never play in a 6/5 blackjack game.
Please see our page on blackjack games and variations for a more detailed look at the different variants and their rules.
You should only take insurance if you're counting cards. Insurance is just a side bet where the odds are against you. If you're counting cards, you'll know when the situation is right to take insurance, but otherwise, don't do it. It's a sucker bet.
Here's the problem, though. The dealer only has a 4 out of 13 chance of having a 10 in the hole. The bet only pays even odds.
You would only want to take insurance if the deck were really rich in 10s, but that's rare enough that you might not ever get in that situation.
Taking insurance at the correct time is also a clue to the casino that you're a card counter, so even if you're counting, you might want to avoid the insurance bet.
You can find dozens of different methods of counting cards, but they all involve the same approach. You don't actually memorize which cards have been played. Instead, you assign a value to the low cards and a value to the high cards. You keep a running total of these values. This enables you to predict whether or not you have an edge over the casino.
There's a little more to card counting than this, but that's the basic idea.
You can find more details, including specifics for the various systems you can use, at the appropriate page on our site.
Counting cards is not illegal as long as you're not using some kind of device to help you keep your count. Counting cards is just a matter of thinking while you're playing a game. How could that be illegal?
Casinos hate it when you count cards, though, and in most jurisdictions, they can legally bar you from playing blackjack. In Atlantic City, casinos cannot ban card counters, but they've instituted such strict rules for their blackjack games that you can't get an edge by counting anyway.
A skilled card counter can get an edge of as much as 2% when counting. 1% is a more realistic target, though.
Card counters who make mistakes are generally not playing with an edge, though. Some casinos and casino managers realize that some wannabe card counters aren't actually good at it. In those cases, they let the amateur play even though they're trying to count cards.
Beat the Dealer by Edward O. Thorp is the beginning of card counting, but it's outdated in some ways. Plenty of great blackjack books have been written and published since, though. We're especially fond of The Big Book of Blackjack and Black Belt in Blackjack. Arnold Snyder wrote both of those.
Professional Blackjack by Stanford Wong is also excellent.
Further Information: We've compiled a comprehensive list of the best blackjack books, which features detailed reviews of over 20 recommended reads.
Casinos have a built-in mathematical edge on all their games. They don't have to cheat. In fact, they're insanely profitable because they've stacked the odds in their favor on all the games.
That being said, some small out-of-the-way locations might cheat. There's probably not much you can do about their cheating in these smaller venues. Your best bet is to probably avoid any place that seems small and shady.
Think about the risk and reward scenario for casinos that cheat. Casinos have a hugely profitable business, but they can lose their license and go out of business if they're caught cheating. Why would they want to kill the golden goose in that way?
Casinos don't allow you to use cell phones because you could use them to cheat. For example, you might have a confederate standing behind the dealer when the dealer peaks at her hole card. It would be easy for your confederate to share that info with you via cell phone.
Another way you might cheat using a cell phone is to use it as a tool to keep up with the count at the table. Using any kind of tools (other than a basic strategy chart) to get an edge over the casino is a strict no-no.
In the United States, you're required to pay income tax on all your income, including that from gambling. Casinos are required to report winnings of $600 or more at the horse track, $1200 or more at a slot machine or bingo game, $1500 or more at keno, and $5000 or more in a poker tournament. But you're required to report any income from winnings, even if they're smaller than those amounts.
If you itemize, you might not have to pay taxes on your winnings. You're able to offset your winnings by reporting your incurred losses, too. You have to fill out the itemized tax return in order to do this.
Laws relating to taxes on blackjack winnings vary in other parts of the world.
The house edge is the percentage of each of your bets the casino expects to retain over the long run. For example, if the house edge is 1%, the casino expects to win 1% of every bet you make in the long run.
Of course, the casino doesn't just pay you $99 every time you bet $100. You'd have to be crazy to play a game where that was the outcome.
Instead, they have the game rules set up so that over the long run the results mirror the mathematical probabilities.
On the other hand, if you can get an edge over the casino, you can expect to win at that rate in the long run. If you're counting cards and you have a 1% edge over the casino, you can expect—in the long run—to win $100 per hour.