How to Play Blackjack: A Guide for Beginners

Blackjack (or Twenty-one) is one of the oldest and most popular casino games in the world featuring simple rules and attractive odds. The game has a house edge of only 0.5% – 2% making it the fairest game by far. But before you slap some cash on the table and bet big, you should know the complete rules of Blackjack and the recommended strategy for success.

What are the Card Values in Blackjack?

The cards in Blackjack are worth the number shown on the card, with the exception of the Jack, Queen, King, and Ace. Face cards (the Jack, Queen, and King) have a value of 10, meaning there are more 10s in the deck than any other value. An ace is valued as a 1 or 11.

Diagram showing value of each card in Blackjack

Rules and Play

If the dealer’s face-up card is an ace or a 10 they’ll first check to see if they have a dealer Blackjack. If this happens, the game ends immediately and all player bets are forfeited except those who were also dealt an opening Blackjack or 21. In that latter case, your hand pushes.

If the dealer doesn’t have 21, play begins. When it is your turn, you may choose to take a “hit” for another card or stand on your existing total. You may also choose to split a pair (described below) or surrender your hand. Your choices are your own and you aren’t obligated to play to a specific strategy even if the other players don’t like what you’re doing.

Once all players have completed their turn, the dealer reveals his face-down card and deals his own turn. In a vast majority of cases, dealers always hit up to 16 and stand on all 17s or higher. Once the game is finished, the dealer pays out the winners and collects from the losers.

Common Blackjack Lingo

The following section is a breakdown of frequently used words and phrases at the Blackjack table:

Blackjack

 A “Blackjack” hand is a two-card hand that totals twenty-one points. If you’re dealt a 21 right from the start, you win instantly unless the dealer himself also draws a 21 on the first two cards.
Example of a Blackjack or 21

Bust

If you take a hit and your hand exceeds 21 points, you automatically lose, which is also known as a bust. You cannot bust on the first two cards. When you bust, you lose your bet no matter what happens to the dealer or the other players at the table.

Double Down

Doubling down” means that you want to double your bet on the next card dealt to you. Once you double down, you are not allowed to take another card, and you can only double down on your first two cards, meaning you have to decide to make this play based on your original hand.

Hand signal for doubling down in Blackjack

Hit

Taking a hit is just another way of asking the dealer for another card. You can hit as many times as you would like to try and draw closer to 21, but the more cards that you take, the more you risk busting and losing your bet.

Hole Card

When the cards are dealt, the dealer only shows one card in the face-up position. The face-down card that you cannot see is called the hole card.

Insurance

For an additional side-bet equal to half of your original bet, you can insure yourself against a Blackjack by the dealer if he or she has an ace showing. If the dealer’s downcard is a 10, Jack, Queen, or King, you’ll lose your original bet, but you’ll be paid out 2-to-1 on the insurance.

Due to the low success rate, most experienced players advise that you pass on insurance.

Push

If you and the dealer finish the hand with the same point total, your bet is a tie (also known as a push), and you simply get back what you wagered.

Split

If the dealer gives you two cards with the same value, you can split your hand into two separate hands. This basically means that you get to play two games at the same time.

Stand

Letting the dealer know that you want to stand means that you don’t want any additional cards from the dealer. This signals an end to your turn and can be done at any time.

Surrender

If you’ve decided your luck has run out on a hand, you can surrender before seeing the dealer’s down card. If you surrender, you get to keep half of your bet.

How to Wager

Like practically all table games, each table will have its own minimum and maximum bets. Sometimes you’ll find discount games with bet limits of $5 to $250, but most tables will have minimums of $10, $15, or $25. High-roller tables will start off at $50-100 (sometimes more, in the bigshot casinos) with a variety of maximum bet limits. Sometimes maximum limits are as high as 50x the minimum, but that multiplier tends to shrink as the minimum bet limit increases.

Once you sit down at the table and buy chips from the dealer, you’ll be allowed to begin playing on the next hand. Players wager in multiples of the minimum bet limit, so at a $10 table, you’ll have to risk $10, $20, $30, etc. To declare your bet, simply place the number of chips equal to your desired wager in the designated betting zone marked on the table, or if there isn’t one, place it between the dealer and the spot for your cards. Once the dealer touches the first card, all bets are final. Touching your wagered chips after this point is forbidden and doing so can result in a warning, forfeiture of your bet, or even ejection from the table at the discretion of the dealer or casino floor manager.

The Object of the Game

The game is commonly referred to as Twenty-One because, well, you want your cards to add up to 21 points! However, your own score isn’t the only one that matters. You’re playing the game against the dealer, and you must exceed the dealer’s point total in order to win your bet. The other players at the table play independently of you, so it’s everybody against the dealer. This typically means there’s some camaraderie amongst players, and the dealer himself will often celebrate your wins or lament your losses right alongside you.

While you don’t play against the other gamblers’ hands, their actions can still influence your hand. Depending on where you sit at the table, everybody who plays before your turn may wind up taking the cards that you were hoping for. When other players operate against Blackjack’s basic strategy, it’s not uncommon for players behind them in the order to grumble about cards that should have belonged to them, but got “stolen” by someone playing contrary to the strategy that would have the highest odds of winning for their hand.