A Guide to Blackjack

Complete online blackjack guide with tips to help you get the edge.

Blackjack Top Tips

  • Never split tens or fives and always split eights and aces.
  • Never take insurance when it’s offered — it’s a waste of money.
  • Always take a card when you have soft 17.
  • Don’t be scared to take a card when you have 16 and the dealer has seven or above.
  • Never double with a hard hand greater than eleven.

The goal of blackjack is simple: Beat the dealer’s hand without going over 21.

Online blackjack is among a handful of casino games that require a mixture of both skill and luck. It’s this mix that makes blackjack such an exhilarating game to play. It’s also the reason why so many professional poker players first started off by playing this popular casino game.

Standard blackjack rules state that both the player and the dealer are dealt two cards. When added up, the winning card value will be the one that comes closest to 21 without going over (that’s called “busting”, and it’s an instant loss). If you make 21 out of your first two cards, that’s known as ”blackjack” or a ”natural”, and in most cases pays out 3 to 2. If both player and dealer hold the same value, the game is tied, which is called a “push”. Blackjack is very easy to play — you only need a deck (or more) of playing cards and a dealer (or, of course, an online casino).

The modern version of blackjack is a variation of a game first made famous in France as vingt-et-un (twenty-one). When it was first introduced to the United States in the 1800s it wasn’t very well received. However, the game was later tweaked to reduce the house edge to less than one percent, making it much more appealing to players. Since then the game has gone from strength to strength, and its widespread popularity with players all over the world has made it one of the most played of all casino games. The growth of online gambling has only compounded its blackjack’s popularity.

As well as giving birth to the modern blackjack game there are numerous other versions of vingt-et-un including pontoon, Spanish 21, and Chinese blackjack.

Introduction to Blackjack Game-Play

There are three possible outcomes when playing blackjack: win, lose, or tie (referred to as a “push”). Losing is a result of either "busting" (which means exceeding 21), or having a hand value that's less than the dealer's. Winning can be achieved in two ways: by having a hand value higher than the dealer's (without busting), or by the dealer busting. A push happens if both the player and dealer have the same card value.

The game starts with the player placing a bet on the table. The dealer will then deal from the shoe (the card container): two cards to the player, both face up, and two cards for the dealer, one face up and one face down. (Cards dealt face down are called "hole cards".) If the player doesn't get dealt a natural 21 or blackjack (an ace and a card with a value of 10), these options remain:

  • take another card and try to beat the dealer's hand (hit); or keep the current cards and hope the dealer busts (stand)
  • or increase your wager if you're confident you can beat the dealer on your existing hand (double).

In other less frequent circumstances, players can divide their hand into two hands (split) or minimize their chance of losses with an extra bet (insurance). We'll explain these possibilities in depth later in other sections of this blackjack guide.