Blackjack Guide - Learn The Game & Strategy

Blackjack is a long-standing classic among table game casino players. Also known as 21, it's considered an all time favourite. Simply put, the goal of this game is to achieve 21 and/or to beat the dealer. The potential for winning big with Blackjack is a well-known reality among live and online players.

This game is characterized by the comparison of cards between players and the dealer. In other words, players do not play against each other, but against the dealer. It is also played with more than one deck of cards. This increases the house edge. Many movies have romanticized Blackjack and the keen-eyed player that counts cards. Casinos frown upon this practice and, as Hollywood has shown us, is one quick way to end the romance. There'll be more on that topic later.

In many ways it is also the simplest of all card games and maybe that's why it is a favourite of the casino crowd.

Did you know?

Did you know?

  • In Britain the name Blackjack is known as an entirely different card game that is played pretty much the same as Crazy Eights.
  • Blackjack is known almost exclusively as 21 in Vegas.
  • Blackjack offers one of the best house edges of any casino game.
  • 21 is one of the most popular casino games available for play today.

How is Blackjack Played?

Let's begin our guide to blackjack with the table. The table is a semi-circular table with a betting surface or layout covering the top of the table, sometimes referred to as the "felt". There are seven spaces at the table. The space exclusively on one side is the dealer area. The dealer area is also in the space bordered by the pit that is overseen by "pit bosses". On the player side there are six seats that face the dealer. Because this is a game where the player is competing against the dealer's hand, anywhere from one to six players might be playing against the dealer.

The dealer's area is the most protected area and that explains why only the dealer or the pit boss is allowed on the straight side of the table. There you will find the dealer's tray of chips that is used to store losing bets, payout winners, and exchange for cash. On one side of tray of chips you will typically find a money slot where all incoming cash is deposited in exchange for players' buy-ins. Next to this area one will also find the shoe from which new cards are dealt.

Each player at the table as well as the dealer are dealt 2 cards. The player’s cards are both face up while just one of the dealer’s is face up. The two cards each player has are added together to create a number value. Aces are worth 1 or 11, face cards are worth 10 and all the number cards are worth their listed value. Players can ask for another card or hit, which will give them an additional card to add to their total. The object of the game is to get a value as close to 21 as possible without going over that number. Going over is known as a bust and results in an instant loss. If the player gets closer to 21 than the dealer he wins the hand and earns on the bets placed throughout that hand.

The rules of the game are simple to learn and can be picked up in just a few minutes, but advanced strategies take decidedly more time to master.

Understanding Splitting and Blackjacks

Now that you know the basics of blackjack it’s time to learn some more advanced rules. A blackjack occurs when a player starts off with an Ace and a face card. It’s an instant win and often pays out handsomely. Blackjacks aren’t generally considered “natural” when they come from an Ace and a 10 and players usually won’t receive the bonus offered for blackjacks with that hand.

Splitting is a tool that can be employed on any pairs that a player receives. If you received a pair of Kings, you could split them off into two individual hands. You would receive another card for each of those new hands and would play them independently from one another. Splitting top cards such as Aces is generally a good idea that can help improve how often you win, but some casinos either frown on splitting Aces or forbid it, so it’s important to know the local rules as well.

Blackjack Payouts

Blackjack generally offers betting odds more favourable than other casino games. However, each decision a player makes to hit, stand, double, or split changes those odds. Also, each casino has their own set of house rules such as when a player can double down, when they can split, and whether or not the dealer hits on soft 17. These differences alter the house advantage. In most standard blackjack games, those that pay 3:2 on winning blackjacks and 1:1 on all other winners, the house edge is between 0.45% and 0.85%. In this article we'll address some of the different blackjack rules that change the betting odds. We'll also analyse the Blackjack game of an online casino.

Blackjack Vocabulary

  • Ace
    Ace is a face card. In the game of Blackjack, the Ace can be valued at either 1 or 11.
  • Action
    The total bets wagered by a player per game.
  • Anchor
    Player sitting to the right of the dealer and who receives their cards last.
  • Bankroll
    The amount of chips that a player has at the table.
  • Blackjack
    A hand totalling 21 which is made by only two cards - an Ace and a 10 value card such as a K, Q, J, or a 10. Blackjack traditionally pays 3:2.
  • Bust (Break)
    A bust or break is when a player exceeds 21. This typically happens when a player requests additional cards. 
  • Double Down
    A player doubles a bet after seeing one's initial cards, with the requirement that one additional card is drawn.
  • Face Cards
    Cards with a face: Jacks, Queens and Kings. Face cards are about 23% of the cards in one deck. Worth 10.
  • Hit
    Player is asking the dealer to deal them another card after the first two cards have been dealt.
  • Hole Card
    A term used to describe the dealer's face down card. It is taken from Stud and Texas Hold'em poker.
  • Insurance
    An outside bet that pays 2:1 made before the dealer turns over their hole card
  • Natural
    Hitting 21 (Blackjack) with only two cards.
  • Peek for 21
    In most versions of blackjack, the dealer peaks for blackjack when showing an ace.
  • Push
    When the player's total equals the dealer's total, thus the player keeps his bet.
  • Soft 17
    When you have an Ace and a 6 with the first two cards dealt, equalling 17.
  • Stand
    Choosing to take no more cards, believing that you can beat the dealer. Signalled by placing your hand over your cards.

How Total Deck Number Changes Your Odds

The number of decks used in a Blackjack game can vary from two to eight decks. Typically, online Blackjack will use eight deck shoes shuffled for each hand. The thing to remember is that each deck used indicates house advantage. The more decks shuffled, the better the house edge and the lower frequency of certain cards showing. Keep in mind there are far more cards under those valued at 10. This can work for or against all the players, including the dealer. The lower the number of decks used, the better the blackjack betting odds are for the player.

Blackjack Payouts

Blackjack Payouts are 3:2, or in some cases 6:5 for a Blackjack. When the players beat the dealer it is 1:1. In a tie/push, neither the player nor the deal win or lose. The insurance bet is 2:1. This bet is made prior to the dealer exposing their hole card. Insurance is a side bet that you can take when the dealer's face up card shows an Ace. The insurance bet should be worth half your Blackjack bet. So if you placed a $10 Blackjack bet, your insurance bet should be $5. In other words, your insurance bet is to protect your initial bet.


The strategies of Blackjack are very similar to those in Roulette. It is a matter of pressing the limits when you are winning and backing off when you are down. All in all, of the game is a matter of chance and paying very close attention to the action at the table. It is very important to keep distractions to a minimum by:

  • Keeping alcohol consumption to a minimum
  • Remaining focused on all other player's bets and cards
  • Paying attention to the dealer

Although counting cards is frowned upon and can get you removed from a casino, it’s still wise to pay attention if you can to how many Aces have already been played, for example. Because there are far more cards under ten than over ten it stands to reason you need to have a keen sense of what has been played. Without paying attention to the cards played you won’t be able to employ any of these strategies effectively.

Martingale System: The Martingale blackjack betting system is best used with a hefty bankroll. It’s designed to increase your chances of winning in the short term, but also has the side effect of making your occasional losses more severe. You start with a single unit bet. If you win, you start again with one bet. If you lose, you double your bet. Each time you lose, you double your last lost bet. The idea is that when you do win you recover your initial bets, or recover all of your lost bets while also finishing up a single unit. It’s an excellent strategy but it won’t always work because most tables limit your bets to just 500 or 1,000. You’ll get to that number in just 6 or 7 losses in a row, so there is some luck involved as well and you can suffer serious losses if you get unlucky enough.

Paroli System: You start with one bet and you increase your bet when you win rather than when you lose. This is the direct opposite of the Martingale System. So you start by betting 5 and you win. Next time you bet 10 and win again. You have to bet 20 next time and you continue on as long as you want to use the system. Many people cap the number of doubled bets to two or three, so you would drop back down to the base bet after making the 10 or 20 bet. The nice thing about this system is that you are only risking winnings. If you lose that doubled bet you lose your winnings, but that’s all. It’s a more comforting system than the Martingale for this reason and is good for new players.

1-3-2-6 System: Very similar to the Paroli System for blackjack, but in this case it is all in the name. This system suggests that you can win four times in a row. One unit is your initial bet, the second bet is three units, the third bet is two units and the fourth is six units.

Parlay System: Much like the Paroli System, parlay means to take all of the winnings from a singular bet and let it ride. It is a scaffolded approach to winning real money. In a way you are playing with the casino's money. Now that is called getting the most out of your money.

The strategy is to quit while you are ahead. Many top Blackjack players will tell you that playing in a sense of panic over losing too many hands will lead to disaster more times than not. This might be a good time to leave the table, play a little video poker, and even find a new table and dealer.

Learn For Free

Many leading casinos offer free-play blackjack tables. You can join these tables and play with fake money. This is an excellent opportunity to learn all the rules of the game and to practice some strategies as well. You should always play at free tables when trying out a new strategy. It helps you master the strategy without losing any of your own money, so you can maximize your wins when playing at a real money table

Always Know Your Opponents

Too many players go into a blackjack game without knowing how the dealer is going to play the game. This is a big mistake because the dealers have rules they have to follow for each and every game. Sometimes casinos will let you know when dealers stand and when they hit, other times you’ll just have to watch the game to see this for yourself. Either way you need to learn what rules dealers follow at your favourite casino before risking any serious money. Play for low limits, or play at free tables to learn this information before you play for any actual money and you’ll be better off.

Learn to Manage Your Bankroll Properly

Take your time to really learn how to manage your bankroll before you start playing for much real money. Always approach a blackjack game knowing how much you can lose before you leave the game. Set up some rules for yourself such as loss and win limits and stick with them every time that you play. The more disciplined you are the better your chances of winning will be over the long term.

Online Versus Live Blackjack

No matter how you slice it, a good game of Blackjack is a good game of Blackjack. In the end you want one thing, and that is to walk away with more real money than you started with.

There are many discussions regarding which is better, live or online 21. The truth is, it all comes down to the casino, the dealers, and your knowledge of the game. We have compiled what we believe are the most important things to know in order for you to move into a powerful position. So let's take the two varieties apart and differentiate a little.

Online Blackjack

To begin with, many believe that the software that drives online blackjack has a superior edge to live casino dealers. That being said, let's look a little deeper into that concept. Blackjack played online goes through the same RNG as a slot machine. It is good to know that the same trusted software that goes through very strict regulations to ensure safe, equitable play is behind your online game of Blackjack. Some players still do not totally care for online because they like the human touch component. Others prefer the solitude they find in the privacy of their own space. Regardless, there are still advantages to online Blackjack:

  • Greater variety of Blackjack online than at even the biggest land-based casinos.
  • Variety of betting limits, side bets, and alternate rules that live casinos cannot provide. These can expand your winning experience and increase your winning edge. 
  • Always a table available. There is never an overcrowded table. You will always have a quality table to play at 24/7/365. "Right this way, your table's waiting!"
  • Tracking your wins and losses is easy with online action. 
  • Superior welcome bonuses, VIP rewards, and benefits that are the same or better than if you were a slot player. Live casinos do not typically comp the same for table games as they do for slot play.
  • Online competition is in your favour. Online casinos know you are only a click away from finding a different place to play.
  • A great way to perfect your skill so that when you are ready to go live, you have your game finessed.
  • Live dealer Blackjack is available online, so you can get the best of both worlds in one place.

Live Blackjack

Live casino action is, well, live casino action. For the avid player and lover of live action, winning in a crowded casino is the cat's meow. The tradition of playing Blackjack at a live table and feeling the felt beneath your fingers as you indicate "hit me" is sublime. Looking in the dealer's eyes and wondering if somehow you know the secret is a rush. Beating the dealer in live action is exciting. Because this is a game where you are not competing against other players, you have the opportunity to experience an "us against the house" camaraderie.

In summary:

  • The rush of live play
  • Human competition to heighten your experience
  • Benefits of entertainment beyond the table
  • The glitz and glamour of winning among friends
  • More realistic casino atmosphere

Beginner's mistakes to avoid

Not learning basic strategy and terminology.
This will definitely hurt your bankroll. You have to know what you’re doing before you start playing or you’ll pay dearly for it over time.
Not taking advantage of online free play to learn the game.
There are some amazing online casinos offering free play that require no download!
Not setting a spending limit.
As a new player, you will need to determine how much you can risk losing. Let's face it, you will either have beginners luck or you might suffer newbie losses. Either way, take it slow and learn the game. By setting a limit on yourself you can avoid serious losses when you’re still learning what you’re doing.
Choosing tables that are out of your price league.
Go slow and grow!
Not eventually using systems and strategies.
Find your own rhythm and flow. After you start beating the dealer, venture out a little. Trying strategies and systems out for the first time is best in free play mode.
Believing that you can somehow take hits to 21.
Knowing when to hit and not hit, that is the question. There really is a time when you will want to hit on 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16, and a time not to.
Splitting hands before you really understand the game.
Buying insurance as a newbie.
Splitting hands is an excellent way to maximise your earnings when you know what you’re doing. Unfortunately it’s an easy way to double or quadruple your losses as well. Learn when splitting hands makes sense, and until then simply don’t do it.

Blackjack is a simple game after you get the hang of the basic strategy, and it offers one of the best payout percentages of any casino game, but you have to spend the time to learn that strategy before you can really make the most of Blackjack.


  • Why is the game of blackjack often referred to as 21?

    The name comes from the total number necessary to beat the dealer. It is a combination of any cards that will total 21, or a natural, which is an ace (in this case utilised as an 11) and a face card of value 10.

  • How will I know when I am ready to play for real money?

    This is a tricky one. Basically, our experts believe you are ready to play for real money when you have become proficient with the terminology, rules, and have established a nice betting pattern. Don't wait too long because real money wins are what it is all about.

  • Does Blackjack really have the best odds of all casino games?

    Yes and no. Sometimes it comes down to individual strategy. And as explained earlier in this conversation, there are things that alter house edge. However, generally speaking, Blackjack does offer lower house edge than slots and Roulette. Keep in mind the level of house edge is lowered dependent upon the player and the house rules.

  • What is the single most important thing to consider when choosing a Blackjack game?

    Know your basic strategy, terminology, table manners, and make sure you know how to apply them. Don't be afraid to ask your dealer questions. That is what they are there for.

  • Does the number of decks used really matter?

    Yes, it actually does. The odds can go from 6:5 to 3:2. That does make a difference in payouts. It increases not only the frequency of face cards and aces, but it also increases the frequency of lower numbered cards. It will also increase your need to remain focused, as it will alter the house edge.

  • How will I know how many decks are being used?

    The odds will be posted which indicates the number of decks being used. 6:5 odds indicate there are six decks. 3:2 odds indicate three decks. Many leading players suggest that players only choose tables where the odds are 3:2.

  • Does it matter where I sit?

    No, not really. It comes down to personal preference. In the end it doesn't really matter where you sit.

  • Is card counting really illegal?

    No. There is no established law against counting cards. However, it is frowned upon and considered cheating by live casinos. It is virtually impossible to count cards playing online Blackjack.

  • What are common mistakes players make when playing Blackjack?

    Basically ignoring basic strategy, wagering beyond your ability, and forgetting to split when your first hand dealt is either 19 or 20.

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