Like any other game, before you can learn how to win at blackjack you have to learn how to play blackjack. And yet this isn’t as big a chore as it might seem because most of the rules of blackjack are pretty intuitive. All it should really take to remember them is reading through them a couple times. Plus, you have to consider you’ll be reading them at AceHoyle.com – meaning you’ll probably only have to read them once before they’re stuck in your head.
That being said, what we here at AceHoyle.com can’t guarantee is that, as a new player, you won’t occasionally come across something in our “Blackjack Rules” section you don’t understand. If this happens, we suggest you visit our “Blackjack Glossary
” and "Blackjack Odds
" sections for fuller explanations of the game and its mechanics. If even after doing so you’re still confused, feel free to send us a note using our Contact Us
form, and we’ll have our ever-congenial intern send you an explanation.
The Rules of Blackjack
As with any other casino card game, if you want to learn blackjack’s rules you have to start by breaking open a 52-card deck. Despite what the game's name might suggest, the color of the cards makes no difference. The name did, in fact, come from a time when casino operators offered a special 10:1 bonus if you drew the Ace of Spades and either of the deck’s two black jacks as your opening hand. But, ironically enough, very few casinos still offer this, and now all you have to do to win at blackjack is have a higher point total than the dealer.
Now, as for point totals, obviously there has to be some cutoff to the number of points you can collect, or players would go on collecting cards indefinitely like in War. That cutoff is 21, which is also the point total of the best possible hand you can draw in blackjack. Anything more, and you “bust,” or lose; anything less, and you risk the dealer’s hand beating yours. This pretty much sums up the basis for all other black jack rules: Every player tries to build a hand with a point total closer to 21 than the dealer's without going over.
Moving on to the second most important rule of blackjack, you’ll notice our first rule says you only have to beat the dealer. Unlike in poker, in blackjack you're not competing against your fellow players. Whether you're the only player at the table – and occasionally you will be – or you’re packed in like Viennese sausages, the only hands you need to focus on are yours and the dealer's. If you beat the dealer’s hand, you win; if you don’t, you lose.
So how do you actually beat the dealer? That depends on how you play. We will cover this more fully in our “Blackjack Strategy
” section, but suffice it to say, you won’t get anywhere in that vein until you know the rest of the rules. And, as for those, they’re amazingly simple: Every game begins with each player placing a bet that falls between the table's posted minimum and maximum. Next, the dealer gives each player two cards and deals two cards to himself. Players must keep their hands facedown in order to curb card counting, and only one of the dealer's cards will be face-up – leaving players to wonder what they're really up against.
Once all the cards are out, the next step is to determine what the value of your hand is. This is also pretty self-explanatory because the number of points each card is worth hinges solely on its rank: Number cards carry their “face value” (e.g. a 5 is worth five points, a 10 is worth 10 points, etc); face cards (Jack, Queen, King) are all worth 10 points; and aces can be worth either one or 11 points, depending on the player's hand value (for example, if 11 points will put the player over 21 the ace becomes a 1). In this way, players can get to 21 with their first two cards (an ace plus a face card or 10). This type of hand is called a “natural,” and it generally carries its own special payout.
Assuming you don’t draw a natural, you’re next best bet is to build a hand worth 21 points. The rules of black jack present you with several ways of doing this, each of which is called an “action”: You can say “stand” (or wave your hand over your cards palm-down) signaling that you don’t want any more cards; you can say “hit” (or tap your cards with your index finger) indicating you want an additional card; you can say “double down” (or show your cards and stack an equal number of chips on top of your original bet) signaling that you want to double your bet and receive only one additional card; or you can say “split” (or show your cards and place a second bet equal to the first beside one of them) signaling that you would like to turn you original hand into two one-card hands.
The last two options, double down and split, only come into play during special circumstances: The cards in your original hand must be of equal value for you to split them; and, while you can double down at any time, it is insanely dangerous if your hand is already worth more than 11 points. Also, if you can split or do decide to double down, the dealer will give you an additional card for each hand you’re playing; if you’re splitting, you’ll receive two cards, one for each of your two new hands. In either case, it is always best to consider whether you stand to gain from choosing one of these special actions. Remember, too, after you double down you have effectively said you’re standing, so if you don’t bust but still have a middling hand you won’t be able to do anything about it.
Because blackjack is a one-on-one match between each player and the casino, you will have an opportunity to continue hitting until you stand or bust. Once either happens your turn is over, and the action moves to the next player to your left. When every player has finished his turn, everyone, including the dealer, must reveal his hand. Anyone whose hand is greater than the dealer's wins, and anyone whose hand is smaller loses. If a “push,” or tie, occurs, the dealer will usually return the tying player’s bet. Finally, the dealer will pay out the game’s winnings, collect its losses and clear the cards from the table in preparation for the next hand.
Some Not-So-Basic Rules of Blackjack
The explanation above is essentially a set of universals that are in effect at most blackjack tables. Occasionally, though, you may run into several variant rules that, if you don’t know them, can seriously undermine your ability to win at blackjack. This is by design because, as blackjack has the lowest house edge of any game, it’s in casinos’ best interest to confuse players as much as they can. In order to make sure they don’t, then, we here at AceHoyle.com have put together the following list of not-so-basic rules of black jack. It’s by no means exhaustive, but it should give you enough background that you’re not thrown-off by similar casino-contrived shenanigans.
Not-So-Basic Blackjack Rules, Rule No. 1: Holding Over a Push Bet
When most people learn how to play blackjack, they’re taught that the dealer will return their bets if there’s a push. This, however, is not always the case. In some casinos, players must allow the dealer to hold their push bets over for the next hand. Naturally, casinos that have this rule in play realize it’s not the fairest of black jack rules, but normally they don’t care. The only thing you can do to protect yourself from having your push bets held over, then, is to ask the dealer if the rule is in effect before you begin playing and, if it is, not play.
Not-So-Basic Blackjack Rules, Rule No. 2: Playing Face-up Tables
Originally, the rules of black jack stated that the game required one 52-card deck and that players’ hands should remain face-up. All this changed with the advent of card counting because, as we mentioned before, the more visible cards there are, the easier it is for counters to determine what remains in the deck. When Ed Thorpe originally published his book “Beat the Dealer” – which explained the process of card counting – casinos dealt with the problem in one of two ways: Some casinos added an extra deck and required that players keep their cards facedown, while others added “shoes” – long, usually black, chutes that hold up to eight decks at a time – to their blackjack tables, forcing counters to keep track of hundreds of cards. These two distinct dealing styles still exist in brick-and-mortar casinos today, and those that use shoes traditionally allow players to keep their cards face-up.
Not-So-Basic Blackjack Rules, Rule No. 3: Black Jack
Remember that funny, little bonus we mentioned in the first part of this section? Well, occasionally you’ll still find it, especially in more out-of-the-way casinos. Really, this is one of the best black jack rules out there, so if you come across it, take advantage of it all you can.
Not-So-Basic Blackjack Rules, Rule No. 4: Spanish Fly
The most bizarre form of blackjack, Spanish 21, also boast the most bizarre rules. One of these dictates that the game be played with all the 10s removed from the deck, cutting down on the number of 10-point cards in the deck. Of course, if you’ve got a 16-point hand this is good news because you’re less likely to bust. But, overall, this isn’t nearly as helpful as it might seem because it makes it harder to draw pat hands and naturals regularly.
Not-So-Basic Blackjack Rules, Rule No. 5: The Charlie Bonus
One traditional bonus most casinos haven’t done away with is the “Charlie” rule. A Charlie is a hand in which you draw five or six cards in a row and don’t bust. Needless to say, doing so is nearly impossible, with a 1.46 percent chance of occurring. But if you can pull it off you usually receive double or triple your original bet. Also, while this rule would be awesome in Spanish 21 where you have a greater chance of drawing low cards, most casinos owners are smarter than your average bear. You’ll never find an instance of Charlie payouts that aren’t in the house’s favor. So don’t kid yourself into thinking you will at a Spanish 21 table. It simply ain’t happening.