Blackjack is by far the most popular card game in modern casinos across Europe and North America. Like many well-established games, its origins are not well documented. Most scholars consider blackjack to have some roots in a popular card game found at casino tables in 17th Century France, which was called Vingt-et-Un (which translates to 20 and 1), and obviously a precursor to the game 21 that we play today. There are candidates predating Vingt-et-Un, but most are poorly documented.
Soon, blackjack migrated to North America, where it gained a wide audience in the 18th Century among the colonists and then spread west through the 19th Century with the migration of pioneers. When Nevada legalised gambling in the early 20th Century, Blackjack was a mainstay of Las Vegas casinos. Since then it has evolved into many variations, as different casinos and different geographic regions adopted their own particular sets of rules.
Blackjack rules – overview
In general, the idea of most blackjack games is to beat the Dealer’s hand by getting as close to, but without going over, 21, or busting as it is known. Many blackjack variations, both offline and online, share a common set of basic rules with a few subtle differences. The next few sections describe general blackjack rules and features.
- Aces count as 1 point or 11 points, whichever yields the highest total score without going bust.
- Face cards such as Kings, Queens, Jacks, and the number 10 each count as 10 points.
- Each card with a number (i.e. 2 through 9 points) count as their value.
A player has “blackjack” when the first two cards they receive are an Ace and a face card or a 10 (All 10-point cards). In other words a score of 21 points from just two cards. Blackjack hands pay 3-to-2 immediately, with the one exception being if the dealer also jags blackjack, in which case it’s a push, which means no one wins.
In general, a tied hand is a push. However, a blackjack hand will beat a hand that equals “21” from a hand with 3 or more cards. As an example, an Ace-Jack will beat a King-7-4 hand. Despite both of the hand having the same point value, the all-important blackjack wins.
All other successful hands are paid even money (1-to-1).
A score of 22 or higher is a bust (i.e. a losing hand). When a player’s hand busts, the wager is immediately paid to the house. If all player hands bust, the Dealer wins outright and does not draw any cards, regardless of the Dealer’s hand score.
Blackjack rules – game play
Betting: Players may place wagers in the dedicated area for each hand they wish to play. Many blackjack games offer multi-hand play, where players can choose to play from 1 to 3 hands simultaneously against the Dealer, others are single-hand play, when at least one qualifying bet is placed (i.e. meets the minimum bet requirement).
Dealing: When the Deal button is clicked or the game begins, the Dealer will deal two face-up cards to each Player hand that has a qualified bet, then one card (in European Blackjack and Single-Deck Blackjack) or two cards (all other rule variations) to the Dealer’s hand. For the Dealer’s hand, the first card is face up and the second, when allowed, is face down.
Checking for Blackjack: If the Dealer’s hand has two cards with an Ace showing, the Dealer will offer insurance. The Player may decline or accept insurance for each hand in play by clicking either Pass (decline) or Insure (accept, which places an additional wager equal to half the original wager for that hand). Then the Dealer will peek at the down card to check for Blackjack. If the Dealer has Blackjack, insurance wagers pay 2-to-1 and all original hand wagers lose (unless the player also has Blackjack, in which case there is no winner and bets are returned). If the Dealer does not have Blackjack, insurance wagers lose and play starts with the first player hand on the right.
In games where the Dealer starts with only one card, there is no checking for Blackjack and play starts with the first player hand on the right.
Surrender Option: Some games offer a “surrender” option after the Dealer peeks and does not have Blackjack. If surrender is allowed, a player may concede a hand before playing it, forfeiting just half the wager for that hand.
Player’s hand: A Player with a hand not having Blackjack and not surrendered may draw more cards to try to total as close to the magical 21 as possible without busting or scoring 22 for instance. Player is free to stand at any point total or to ask for another card (a “hit”) at any point total under 21. Player may double, split, double-after-splitting or re-split according to the rules variation in play. When all player hands have played out and if at least one player hand stands at a point total of 21 or less, then play proceeds to the Dealer’s hand.
Dealer’s hand: The dealer reveals the face-down card or draws a second card and examines the point score to determine Dealer’s play. A few things the dealer must abide by include hitting on points totals of 16 or less and standing on values of 17 or more. Some rules variations require the Dealer to hit on a “Soft 17” (i.e. a 17 involving an Ace taken as 11 points).
If Dealer busts, then any player still in the game wins and are paid 1-to-1 on the wager. If Dealer stands on a point total, then Dealer point total is compared to each standing player hand, starting on the right, and all outstanding bets are resolved as either win, lose or push.
Common blackjack terms in gameplay
Bet: When the player places chips in their square or virtual circle to indicate they are playing this hand.
Re-bet: Common term you will find online, where it allows you to place the same bet that you played on the previous hand, on the next hand.
Deal: The deal is when the person running the game begins. Often in online RNG games you will have a ‘deal’ button to kick off proceedings. Live dealer games will have a time limit countdown and the game will begin then.
Hit: Once you have received your cards you can choose to receive another.
Stand: This simply means you are happy with your hand and you won’t receive another.
Split: For starters, to split you must have enough bank to match your original wager, you then split your hand into two different ones. Both hands will get another card automatically as per the rules of the game, before you then play the hand out.
You are only allowed to split pairs, such as 10s, or Aces or eights, and most types of blackjack will only allow the one split, meaning you can’t split again for instance. Although some online versions will differ in this regard. Some games will also not allow you to split aces.
Double: Doubling down in blackjack means you double your bet. You will then receive one more card and your hand is completed. For instance if the dealer has an upcard 6 and you have an Ace it could be a good move to double down your bet, essentially giving you the chance to double your wager.
Insure: A player gets the opportunity to buy insurance when the dealer has an upcard Ace. This allows the player to place down an amount of half of their original bet. This means if the dealer has a 10 face down card your insurance bet wins paying 2 to 1. If the dealer does not have a 10 the insurance bet loses and you carry on playing the hand.
Surrender:This allows the player to bail out on a hand halfway through, forfeiting half the bet. Is not seen very often these days.