Blackjack is considered one of the most exciting and popular table games available at any casino.
That’s because blackjack rules are simple to follow and the game plays fast. It also has a low house advantage against players (best casino odds for players). And because the game is easy to understand and play, it inspires confidence in new players.
Professionals like it because a smart player can reduce the house advantage by a significant amount, which translates to significant winnings.
Whether you play in a land-based casino or online blackjack, you always play against the house. There might be up to five other players be at the same table, but you only play against the house, which is represented by the dealer.
The object is to beat the dealer’s hand without going over 21. If you get 21 points exactly on the deal, that is called a “blackjack.”
When you get a blackjack 21, you are often paid between 1.5:1 and 2:1 on your wager, depending on the particular casino’s rules.
So, a $10 bet could return $25 or $30 when you get 21 on the deal.
Whether you play at a land-based casino or online blackjack, the gambling table is always laid out the same way.
The rules of 21 always situate the dealer on one side—facing between one and six players.
Each player has his or her own assigned betting area, laid out on the table for each seat position.
The playing area for each player includes a space for his or her cards, a betting area, and possibly an insurance field or location for a double down bet.
The dealer, likewise, has a designated area for his or her cards, plus a “shoe” containing at least one deck of cards. A shoe is a box that might include an automated shuffler to randomly distribute a card each time the dealer removes one for the deal.
Traditional land-based casinos, as well as online 21 casinos, will use between one and as many as six or more decks per game. This helps to thwart those who might be counting cards or are considered “advantage” players.
While counting cards is legal, a casino will ban anyone it considers to be a highly skilled player capable of imposing an advantage over the house in one or more casino games.
Counting cards essentially is the act of tracking the number of high and low-value cards used to better predict a more likely outcome on a particular hand.
Now that you know the basic tools of the game, it’s time to examine how to play.
Blackjack Rules for Card Value and Deals
The 21 rules assign numerical blackjack card values to every card.
Cards 2-10 are worth the value of the number on the face of the card.
Numbered cards are worth the corresponding number indicated on the card, while face cards and 10s are worth 10 points, each.
Picture cards are worth 10 and the Ace is worth 1 or 11. A picture combined with an Ace is Blackjack i.e. 21
The blackjack card values for Aces can be worth either 1 or 11 points.
When you play the house, the dealer will deal one card face down to each player, and the house hand last.
The dealer will then deal one card facing up to each player, from the dealer’s left to right, including the house hand as the last card dealt.
After the initial deal, the blackjack rules indicate that the dealer will ask each player, in succession, if he or she needs one or more cards.
As the player, you can ask for one or more cards—called a “hit”—until you either go over 21, or you think you have the best possible hand.
Once you have all the cards you need, you “stand”—meaning you signal to the dealer that you don’t want any more cards. Each successive player then decides whether to hit or stand.
After all the players have completed their hands or gone bust, the dealer reveals his or her hand.
Depending on the cards in the dealer’s hand, the house’s blackjack rules for dealers will dictate whether the dealer will hit or stand.
Once the dealer’s final hand is established, all players who did not go bust compare their scores to the dealer’s hand.
Those who beat the dealer win, while the rest lose—unless they tied, which is called a “push.”
A push is considered “no action,” and refunds the player’s bet.
Some casinos, though, might declare a push to be either a loss or a win for the player.
The casino’s 21 rules should say exactly how they handle such ties with players.
Blackjack 21 Rules for Dealers
To understand how to beat the house, you need to know how the dealer is affected by the casino’s 21 rules for dealers.
The dealer essentially plays by the same strict set of casino rules at all times.
Those 21 rules are designed to protect the house advantage over the long term by ensuring the dealer plays a simple, mistake-free game every time.
Over the long run, that means the house will earn a profit—no matter how many card players try to beat it over time.
In fact, the more people try to beat the house, the more the house will win from those who are gambling without abiding by a similarly strict set of blackjack rules.
When it is the dealer’s turn to reveal the hole card, which is the card dealt face-down, the dealer will use the same rules every time to determine his or her next move.
If the card total is 16 points or lower, the dealer will always draw another card from the deck.
The dealer will continue drawing cards from the deck until the house hand has at least 17 points, or until it goes bust by going over 21.
If the dealer has 17 points off the deal without an Ace, most blackjack rules say the dealer will stand, even if a 21 player has a higher total.
The dealer also might have a soft 17 hand, which is one that includes an Ace and any other cards whose combined value totals six points.
Many land-based casinos and online casinos that support live 21 online play require dealers to take at least one more card with the dealer has a soft 17 showing.
The dealer will continue taking more cards—until the house’s hand either becomes a hard 17 or higher, or the hand goes over 21 and goes bust.
How To Win When Playing Blackjack 21
In blackjack, the objective of the game is to beat the dealer without going over 21 points in your hand. If you do go over 21, you are said to go “bust” and lose your bet.
If you go bust, you automatically lose, and the dealer does not have to show their hand. The house advantage in blackjack comes from the player having to go first.
When blackjack is played, at least one deck of cards is used—but the house may use up to eight decks.
Not all casinos offer both single and double-deck 21, and many will limit the number of blackjack tables that are available.
Blackjack Bets and Payouts
In order to play 21 and be dealt into a round, a player needs to place a wager or a bet.
In terms of payouts, a winning hand in blackjack will receive a 1:1 payout.
But, the payout for a perfect score of 21 can be higher. Many casinos offer a 2:1 payout for a score of 21.
If a player is dealt a “blackjack” hand with their first two cards, that is an Ace and a card worth 10 points, the player will be paid out 1.5:1 or maybe even 2:1. For example, if a player bets $20 and is dealt a blackjack hand, their payout will be $50 at 1.5:1 and $60 at 2:1.
While playing blackjack, as soon as a player is dealt a winning hand, the house pays out immediately.
The only time the player will not receive an immediate payout on a blackjack 21 hand is when the dealer’s face-up card is an Ace, or any card worth 10 points.
The reason for this is that if the dealer also holds a blackjack hand, then the round is considered to be a draw or a “push.”
In the case of a push, the player gets his or her bet back, and the game is declared “no action.”
Some casinos, though, will boost their advantage by giving the house an automatic win whenever it has a blackjack 21 score, even if the player does, too.
That makes it very important to ensure you know the house 21 rules before you begin gambling.
Table Limits for 21 Wagering
The table limits in blackjack vary from one casino to the next—and in both land-based and online gambling casinos.
The table limits usually start at a minimum of $5, while online casinos even offer hands of only $1.
Each casino might also have a maximum betting amount, which can range anywhere from $50 to $50,000.
Those casino tables are “high-limit” tables that typically have just one or two players going against the house.
Most 21 gaming tables accommodate up to six players, but the cost of high-limit tables generally limits the number of players.
Blackjack Rules for Laying Bets
It is very easy to lay your wager when playing 21 at a live gambling table or at a virtual table online. The table limits will determine the least amount you may wager, and house rules will determine your maximum potential wager.
Players place their bet into the box in order to be dealt in.
The game of 21 starts with players pushing their bets into the respective betting box or circle located in front of them. Usually, gaming chips with clearly marked values are used to represent cash wagers.
Once all players have placed their bets, the dealer will then instruct them that no more bets can be placed—except under special circumstances.
The dealer will deal a card from the shuffled shoe to the first player on their left and will then continue towards their right until all players have been dealt a card.
At this point, each player has some options on what to do—which affects their wagers for the entire hand. Here’s a closer look at them.
How Blackjack Insurance Works
After the initial deal, if the dealer’s show card is an Ace, each player has the option to purchase insurance.
The option only occurs when the dealer is showing an Ace as the up card after the initial deal.
Once the dealer shows the Ace, he or she asks players if they want to buy insurance against the possible 21 score.
Insurance essentially is a bet on whether or not the dealer has 21 off the deal, and requires players to lay half their initial wagers.
If the dealer has 21, the house will pay the insurance bets at 2:1. That payoff will wipe out the loss from the initial wager.
If the dealer does have 21, the player will lose the initial bet of $100 but will receive a 1:1 payout on their insurance amount, and so they will receive $100 back.
If both have 21, most 21 rules say that is a push. Some casino 21 rules, though, give ties to the dealer when it comes to a blackjack.
In most cases, though, a push results in the player getting back his or her wager.
If the dealer does not have blackjack, anyone who bought insurance will lose that amount, regardless how the rest of the hand plays out.
Player Options for Blackjack
Based on their dealt cards, players can either choose to request another card with a “hi.”
They also can decline any additional cards with a “stand.”
It is important to note that players have a variety of options to choose from after their first two cards are dealt.
The decisions they make should take into account the cards held by other players at the table, as well as the dealer.
In most cases, a player normally stands when the point value of their cards is between 16 and 21.
Most players also usually hit on anything at or below 11.
When blackjack card values total between 12 and 16 points, players need to carefully assess the dealer’s hand to determine the best move.
Players can hit or request another card as many times as they please. But once they go over 21, their hands are bust, and the dealer will collect their wagers for the house.
There are, though, some more advanced plays that the 21 rules allow players to utilize.
House of Blackjack Strategy
If a dealer has less than 17, they must continue drawing cards until they reach 17 or above, without going over 21.
Once the dealer reaches a score of 17 or more, he or she will then stand. The dealer’s score is then compared to the score of each player.
If the scores of the player and the dealer are equal, the player receives their original bet back, and this is a push.
Should the dealer bust or go over 21 at any point, all the players at the table will win and receive a 1:1 payout.
Any player who had blackjack would have already been paid out at least 3:2 during the round and as much as 2:1.
Some Casinos Offer Surrender Options
Depending on the casino, some will let players cut their losses by surrendering half their bets after the initial deal.
An early surrender allows the player to surrender when a 10 or face card is drawn without checking the hole-card for blackjack.
That could be preferable if the dealer is showing a particularly strong hand, like an Ace.
A late surrender allows the player to surrender after checking the hole-card, but before the dealer reveals his or her hand.
Many players view the early surrender as more favorable, especially if the dealer is showing an Ace.
Blackjack Rules for Splitting Cards
If the dealer deals you two cards with the same blackjack card value, you may “split” them into two separate hands by placing another bet equal to your initial wager.
For example, virtually all players of 21 will split a pair of Aces by placing an additional bet to create two potentially winning hands.
After receiving two more cards, the player determines whether to hit or stand with each of the two hands he or she now has.
Sometimes, after splitting the cards on an initial deal, some casinos will allow a “re-split if the player winds up with another hand with two cards of the same numerical or face value.
Depending on the cards dealt, splitting your cards can double your chances of hitting a blackjack.
Splitting cards can also at least double your potential winnings from the same initial hand dealt.
Highly skilled players will assess their card values versus the card showing in the dealer’s hand to determine when splitting cards is the wise play.
Most will not split a pair of cards worth 20 points, for example, while all will split a pair of Aces.
How the Double Down Works
Another popular play that could double your potential winnings—and losses—on a particular hand is the double down.
The double down allows you to double your wager after the initial bet, but you only get one more card.
If that one additional card is enough to beat the dealer’s eventual hand, you win double the cash. If it does not beat the dealer’s hand, you could wind up losing double your initial bet.
Many skilled players use a strict system based on statistical probability to determine the ideal times to double down.
As with splitting cards, that assessment includes what the dealer is showing off the deal, plus other cards that might already have gone into play.
The number of decks used also affects the ideal strategy for playing 21 and considering when to double down on your bet.
Know Your Blackjack Games
Many casinos play by the traditional 21 rules used on the Las Vegas Strip, which is traditionally called American 21.
Yet, the game has many other versions with their own subtle rules changes.
An example—”the Reno rule” only allows doubling down on a hard 9, 10 or 11.
That is similar to the European variation of only being able to double down on a hard 10 or 11.
This rule is not favorable to the player, cause doubling down with a soft 12-18 is favorable in a lot of situations when playing 21.
Most countries outside the U.S.—and a few U.S. states—also play no-hole-card blackjack 21, where the dealer initially only gets one card dealt up.
That leaves an extra card in the deck for the players to get, and it could be an Ace at just the right time.
No matter which types of 21 rules your favorite land-based and online casinos use, you can adapt your game to the rules and stand a better chance of winning more often.
Have Fun Playing 21
Now that you know the basics of 21 rules, you can have fun playing online and casino table games for real cash or just for fun.
The more you study particular games and learn to apply basic blackjack 21 strategy, the more you just might find yourself beating the house and winning more cash.
All it takes is some skilled play, combined with a bit of timely luck on your side.