Whilst a number of card games have been invented for casino players over the years, the evergreen Black Jack (commonly referred to as Blackjack) remains the dominant choice for players at the majority of real-world and online casinos. It blends relative simplicity with the lure of some of the lowest possible house edges if you can master the element of skill the game involves.
Blackjack is easy to learn, but offers new players a compelling, longer-term challenge to master some strategic play. This makes it rather unique amongst casino games and has won the game a legion of fans that appreciate the greater sophistication it offers. If you already count yourself a member of the Blackjack cognoscenti, you’ll find some superb online versions at our recommended casinos below. If you’re new to the game, read on to learn its magic…
The following is an explanation of the core gameplay in Blackjack:
Basic Aim – The basic aim is to beat the dealer by building the best hand possible from an initial deal of two cards, and without exceeding a total hand count of 21. All cards count according to their face value, except picture cards which count as 10 and the Ace which may count as 1 or 11 depending on which value most advantages the player.
Betting – Although you might see several blackjack variations that include side-bets, the traditional game keeps things simple with a single bet-to-win ahead of any cards being dealt. This is done by placing chips to the value you wish to stake onto the table layout in front of your player position.
Initial Deal – With betting complete, every player at the table receives two cards from the game’s dealer, dealt face up. The dealer than deals himself or herself one card, also face up.
Player’s Hand – Each player then takes it in turns to play his or her hand. They may make one of two decisions:
Busting a Hand – Where any player or the dealer hits their hand and the resulting hand count exceeds 21 the hand is ‘bust’ and automatically loses.
Dealer’s Hand – Once all players have completed their turns (and at least one has not bust their hand) the dealer will then play their hand. The dealer must play their hand according to the game’s fixed ‘Dealer Rule’. This prescribes a hand count under which (a) the dealer must hit their hand and (b) on or above which they must stand if they have not bust. This is typically a hand count of 17.
Result – Where neither the player nor the dealer have bust, the person holding the highest hand count wins the game.
Blackjack Hand – Where an initial two-card hand comprises an Ace and a ten or picture card, this is called a ‘blackjack’ and trumps all other hands other than another blackjack. A player winning with this hand is paid at enhanced odds.
With regards to the odds offered for winning in blackjack, the most common (and preferred) paytable is:
House Edge – a crucial factor in the popularity of blackjack is the exceptionally low house edge it offers good players. Typically, lower than 1% and sometimes below 0.5%. A blackjack game’s rules (for example how many decks are in play and the Dealer Rule) will affect this figure, but more importantly these figures assume ‘perfect play’. What is ‘perfect play’? This is playing with the optimal strategy which bring us neatly to the next topic…
Many, many books have been written on blackjack strategy, news which could lead new players to throw in the towel at this stage, assuming they’ll never have the time or patience to get the best from this game. But don’t walk away too hastily. Elsewhere on our site we go into more detail on this topic, but for now just be assured that learning a good basic strategy isn’t that hard. Better yet, there’s plenty of clear charts published online to guide you how to play all possible hands against a dealer’s specific up-card, so getting good at blackjack is a whole lot easier than it once was!
Learn Basic Strategy – As explained above, learning good basic blackjack strategy is the key to more wins and getting the house edge down to exceptionally favourable levels.
Online Blackjack and Card Counting – In the world of ‘professional’ blackjack players at real-world casinos, card-counting was a valuable technique to achieve small but significant advantages over the house. With online blackjack, forget it. Online games will shuffle their virtual decks after every game making any advantage from card-counting so negligible as to be worthless.
Beware of Lower Pays for Blackjack – If the game plays no differently from traditional blackjack, but only pays blackjack wins at 6/5 or less – you might want to look elsewhere. That change in pays favours the house against the player.
Play with Good Money Management – Whilst blackjack can deliver exceptionally low house edges it does still favour the house in the long-term. As with all casino gaming, blackjack should be played for entertainment, and with that comes discipline in the form of good money management. Only play with money you can afford to spend. If that bankroll you’ve set yourself gets spent during a session, end play at that point.
Play Free Blackjack – The best online casino games include ‘free play’ or ‘demo’ modes that let you play for fun using dummy money. This is a great way to learn the game and get comfortable with its strategy before you commit playing for real.
Once you’ve become comfortable with the basics of Blackjack, there are scores of variations to explore at the best online casinos. The following is not an exhaustive list but highlights some popular and interesting options:
Blackjack Switch – Each player receives two hands to play, but may strategically switch the top card in both hands to gain an advantage. An intriguing challenge for traditional players.
Double Exposure – Both the dealer’s cards are exposed to the player rather than just one. To compensate the advantage this brings for the player, the dealer wins all ties, except on a natural blackjack, and blackjack wins pay even money.
Spanish 21 – Blackjack played with ‘Spanish’ decks where the 10’s, but not picture cards are removed. Other rule changes are made to compensate the advantage the ‘Spanish’ decks bring the house, including bonus payouts for 6-7-8 and 7-7-7 hands.
Once you engage with blackjack it quickly becomes apparent why it’s still one of the most popular games at the best real-world and online casinos. As one of the few casino games that includes a skill element, it presents a greater challenge to players but rewards that with an opportunity to really get the very best bang for buck out of your wagering. Mastering the basics to get close to perfect play isn’t hard, and if you really want to stretch yourself a little when you next fancy playing at any of our recommended online casinos, do take time to have a look at their blackjack games if you’ve not done so before.