Do you need help learning how to play blackjack? Here you will find the best beginners guide to playing blackjack and some top tips to winning at blackjack like a pro.
Before we start, let’s be honest. Keep expectations in check and accept that you will likely never end up counting cards like a champ – but hey, you know that, or else you wouldn’t be here reading this sweet beginner guide to blackjack!
What this guide will give you is a definitive understanding of the game of blackjack, the ins and outs of blackjack terminology, and some bonus tips for putting yourself in the best position for winning a game of blackjack using our simple rules for good odds.
What is blackjack?
As this is a simple beginner’s guide to blackjack, lets hit it off with a recount of what exactly the game of blackjack is.
Blackjack is the most widely played casino game in the entire world. The drawcard to blackjack is that the game has relative ease of gameplay, and is full of pure excitement because in blackjack – the player competes against the dealer.
Not to mention the fact that blackjack has been proven to be beatable using the wonders of mathematics through perfect execution of simple strategy.
So many players across the world are attracted to the game of blackjack. Many follow in the footsteps of historical card sharks and mathematician-backed strategists like Roger Baldwin, Wilbert Cantey, Herbert Maisel, and James McDermott. These four legends took an in-depth analysis into the game and published the ‘Optimum Strategy in Blackjack’, a paper in the Journal of the American Statistical Association.
This paper would become the precedent for every future attempt to beat the game of blackjack further. Author Ed Thorp, published what is likely the most famous blackjack strategy book called ‘Beat the Dealer’ – which was based on Roger Baldwin’s calculations being performed by hand to validate his simple strategy.
How to play blackjack
At first, blackjack may come across as confusing. This is mostly because the game involves the player doing much of the work, which is generally the opposite of every other casino game.
Blackjack is generally played with four, six, or eight standard 52-card decks. Each card carries a point value – cards two to ten are worth their face value; kings, queens, and jacks are valued at ten points; aces are used as a one or as an eleven.
The object of blackjack is to draw cards from the dealer adding up to 21, without going over, or at the least to beat the dealer’s hand. Now, remember that unlike poker, blackjack players are purely going up against the dealer and not against one another.
The goal is to draw a hand with a points value of 21
In blackjack, the best hand is a two-card 21 which is known as a blackjack. This has a payout of 3:2 unless the dealer also has a two-card 21, which in that case, the hand pushes and the player receives their bet back. Alternatively, if the dealer draws 21 with more than two cards, the player’s two-card blackjack still wins but gets the full 3:2 payout.
How does blackjack work
Each round begins when the players place their bet in the appropriate betting square. Once all bets from players are placed, all players and the dealer are dealt two cards face down, and players may pick their cards up with one hand. In a game using an automatic shuffler, the cards are dealt face up, and players are restricted from touching their cards.
Now the dealer’s two cards: one is always turned face down while the other is turned face up so that players can see it.
Once all cards have been dealt, the players are then allowed to decide how to play their hands (more on this later).
After each player has decided their action, the dealer must then draw more cards, to any total of 16 or less; the dealer must stand on any total of 17 or more; however, it should be noted that in some casinos the dealer will draw to a “soft” 17, which means a total of 17 including an ace that can be counted as one instead of an eleven.
Lastly, each outcome from players’ and the dealer’s hands are considered so that payouts can be awarded, or bets can be lost before a new round begins with new stakes.
To summarise: your goal in blackjack is to draw a hand worth 21 points or closest without going over the 21 point threshold. As soon as you go over the threshold, you lose and are out of the game, or if your hand is one point short compared to the dealer’s score – you lose.
How to use player actions effectively
The following are actions that players can take after all cards have been dealt. For an understanding of the game, each action will be explained for games of blackjack involving an automatic shuffler (cards dealt face up) and hand-held games (cards dealt face down).
- Hit – take another card from the dealer
In hand-held games, players scrape their cards against the table. In face-up games, players can either wave a hand towards their body or tap the table with a finger.
- Stand – to hold off and not take another card from the dealer. Also known as a ‘stick’ or ‘stay’
In hand-held games, players place their cards under chips; whereas, in face-up games, players wave their hand horizontally across their cards.
- Double down – player increases their initial bet by 100%
Place the added chips next to the original bet and point with one finger.
- Split – when the first two cards are a pair, players may split the pair into two separate hands
This action is a little more in depth. When splitting a pair, the player places a second bet of an equal amount outside the betting box and points with two fingers spread in a “V” shape. The dealer splits the cards and deals an additional card to each new hand which results in the player playing each hand separately.
- Surrender – forfeit half of the bet and keep the other half
A surrender is shown verbally, but note that the option to surrender may not be available at all casinos.
How to win blackjack every time
Now that you have the knowledge and the tools to play blackjack, give it a go and include these basic strategies when you start playing.
Play with a basic strategy
When you aren’t hitting the blackjack tables, spend some time learning and remembering the correct plays to make. Find a way to make it feel like second nature to you on whether to hit, stand, split or double down your hand.
Understanding these plays (like you remember your phone number), will cut the house edge from 1-2% right down to 0.5%.
If you are finding it hard to remember what your best play is, consider our quick and easy, basic strategy:
- Stand when your hand is between 12 and 16 and the dealer has between two to six
- Hit when your hand is between 12 and 16 and the dealer has a seven-ace
- Always split your aces and eights
- Always double 11 versus the dealer’s two to ten
- Either hit or double aces-six
For an added bonus, consider purchasing a basic strategy card either online or from your local novelty store. This will give you the options to have a small ‘cheat sheet’ that you can use to keep track of – but, beware – some players and casinos may frown upon this tactic.
Don’t purchase the insurance; it’s never a worthwhile option
Unless you are a professional at counting cards, never make an error and purchase the insurance. When the dealer is dealt an ace face up, the player is given an option to buy insurance against the dealer’s hand. What this means is that the player can make another (side) bet which is with new money and is based on the premise of whether the dealer has a blackjack (which is a two-card 21).
Now the critical point to note about the insurance is that it does not use your first bet, so that money is already out on the table and up for grabs by the casino. The insurance bet is extra and has a payout of 2:1.
The idea of this is that there is a significant chance that the dealer does have a blackjack, so you as the player can bet against that to cover your loss on the original bet.
Overall, this is an unwise strategy because the dealer is only ever likely to have a blackjack less than a third of the time.
So, when playing a basic strategy it is wise to not go with the insurance. You will find that you save money in the long run.
Don’t forget to check the dealer’s face-up card
It is advisable for players to do this one check prior to taking any action.
Check the dealer’s face-up card! What you are looking for is whether the face-up card is bad – being a two through to six, or whether the face-up card is good – a seven through to ace.
This simple check-step hinges the entire game and makes every bit of a difference on what action you should take as the player.
Never sit in the first chair
Now, this basic tip is better placed for physical games of blackjack as it does not have much relevance in online casino games. However, it’s an underrated tactic which you really should be aware of.
Avoid the first base chair.
Sounds simple but this is generally an oversight for rookie players. The reason behind avoiding the first base chair in blackjack is because sitting further down will give you more of a chance to review your hand and the dealer’s face-up card.
Sometimes you will find that a dealer may be rushing or speeding up the game; this will give you even less time if you find yourself sitting in the first chair.
21, 20, 19… err 11
Now we know that obviously in a game of blackjack, a 21 hand is the best value that you can get. This is followed by 20 being the second best.
However, you will also be surprised to know that the 19 hand is not the third best hand.
Statistically speaking, the third best hand in blackjack is the 11 hand. This is because you are only ten points away from a 21, and since tens, jacks, queens and kings all have a value of ten, this means that there are four times as many ten values than any other number in the deck.
In simple terms, you are four times more likely to get a ten than you are to get any other number. This is why most charts and strategy cards tell you to double down in nearly every scenario when you have a hand with the value of 11.
You know the cliché saying, ‘good things come to those who wait’? Well, it turns out, that saying can be applied to most things in life. Even winning blackjack games in person, and even a habit worth having for online blackjack.
Start small, never go in guns blazing like a madman if either a new dealer or you have just arrived at the table.
Starting with small bets is a good way to assess the situation and decide whether the dealer is currently “hot” or “cold”.
Remember that casinos never sleep, but unfortunately, you do. When it comes to players – hot and cold streaks do matter and can have a massive effect on a player in terms of unsettling mindsets, and even by burning a hole in your pockets.
Start small by betting small and playing conservative. Take your time to watch the dealer’s interactions and pay attention to the ‘heart of the cards’ that are being dealt by the felt.
Pay attention and count the fives
Professional blackjack card counters are always on the hunt looking for decks loaded with higher value cards. This is because decks that are stacked this way increase a player’s chances of seeing winning hands and ultimately winning at blackjack.
So, if high cards are more beneficial than low cards… hurt the player.
Statistically, the worst low-level card is the five. For every five that is removed from a deck, the player receives an added 0.67% added to their return.
Therefore, this becomes significant when you think about the card counting in the long game by multiplying that by the number of fives in a four, six, or eight deck shoe — quite a difference.
If you are at a table and start seeing your fair share of fives, take a break and step away until the number of fives reduces. Being patient will improve your chances for a hot streak of your own.
Don’t get burned by overreaching on your gambling
Always gamble responsibly.
Never play with any money that you are not happy to lose. If it puts you or your family’s situation in jeopardy, then it doesn’t deserve to be played with.
It is smart to get into a routine of either: allowing yourself a small amount to gamble with and putting it aside each payday, or set yourself a cap for an amount that you are ok with losing, without limiting your significant payout potential.
Scoring ‘comps’ or casino freebies are not worth blowing your mortgage or rent payments down the dunny for.
Don’t be attached, if you are on a losing streak, move on.
Where can I practice playing blackjack online?
Now that you have all the information to start your journey into the world of blackjack – it is time to get out and put your beginner blackjack strategy to the test at your favourite casino!
Alternatively, and better yet, digest this information over some cool, risk-free games of online blackjack with Planet 7 Oz’s Instant Play section. With Planet 7 Oz, you can practice playing blackjack online, using fake money.
If you didn’t already know, playing online blackjack is identical to playing on the felt at your local casino. And in some ways, online blackjack (from a beginners viewpoint), is a much more relaxed and enjoyable experience to practice a strategy, while learning how to play blackjack.