Blackjack, also known as twenty-one, is one of the most popular casino games worldwide. It's a game of skill, strategy, and a bit of luck. Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned player, understanding the game's rules and strategies can significantly increase your chances of winning. This guide will introduce you to the basics of blackjack betting and provide strategies to enhance your gameplay.
Blackjack is a card game where the objective is to have a hand value closer to 21 than the dealer's without exceeding 21. The game begins with players making bets. The dealer then deals two cards to the players and themselves, with one of the dealer's cards face up. The value of cards two through ten is their pip value, face cards are worth ten, and an ace can be worth one or eleven.
Understanding the Basics of Blackjack
Blackjack, also known as 21, is a card game where you compete against the dealer. The objective is to have a hand value closer to 21 than the dealer's without exceeding it. It’s a popular game offered at UK online casinos and you can learn the basics in a matter of minutes.
Starting the Game
At the start of a round, the player and the dealer each receive two cards. The player's cards are usually dealt face up, while the dealer has one card face up (the “upcard”) and one face down (the “hole card”).
After the deal, the player goes first. They can choose to “hit” (take another card) or “stand” (take no more cards). The player can continue to hit until they decide to stand or until their total goes over 21, which is called a “bust”. If the player busts, they lose their bet immediately.
Dealer's Turn: After all players have taken their turns, the dealer reveals their hole card. The dealer must hit if their total is 16 or less. They must also hit on a soft 17 (a hand containing an Ace that totals either 7 or 17). If the dealer busts, all remaining players win.
Card Values in Blackjack
In blackjack, cards 2 through 10 are worth their face value. Face cards (King, Queen, Jack) are each worth 10. Aces can be worth either 1 or 11, depending on which value benefits the player's hand more.
Example: If you have an Ace and a 7, you can choose to count the Ace as 11, making the hand total 18. If you then draw a 10, you can choose to count the Ace as 1, making the hand total 18 and not busting over 21.
Winning the Game
If neither the player nor the dealer busts, the hand closest to 21 wins. If both the player and the dealer have the same total, it's a push, and the player's bet is returned.
If a player's first two cards are an Ace and a 10-value card (10, Jack, Queen, King), this is called a “blackjack” or a “natural”, and is the best possible hand. A player with a blackjack usually wins 1.5 times their original bet, unless the dealer also has a blackjack, in which case it's a “push” (a tie).
When playing Blackjack, it’s best to learn which course of action you can take.
Doubling down: After receiving their first two cards, a player can choose to “double down”, which means they double their bet and receive exactly one more card.
Splitting: If a player's first two cards are of the same value (like two 8s), they can choose to “split” them into two separate hands. The player must make a second bet of equal value and then play the two hands independently.
Insurance: If the dealer's upcard is an Ace, players are offered insurance. This is a side bet that the dealer has a blackjack. Insurance bets are up to half your original bet and pay 2 to 1.
Popular Blackjack Variations and Rules
While the basic version of the game is called Blackjack, there are many different variations you can come across at different casinos. Each variation has its own take on the rules, strategies, and ways to maximise your chances of winning.
Pontoon, or Blackjack in the UK
Pontoon is a British variant of blackjack with some differences in rules. In Pontoon, both dealer cards are face down, and players must hit on a hand value of 14 or less. Also, a ‘Pontoon', which is an Ace and a 10-point card, pays 2:1, unlike the 3:2 payout in traditional blackjack. If you're playing Pontoon, adjust your strategy accordingly.
Blackjack 5 Card Trick
The 5 Card Trick, also known as ‘five-card Charlie', is a rule in some blackjack variants. This rule is not commonly found in casinos but is popular in home games. If you manage to draw five cards without going over 21, you automatically win, unless the dealer has a blackjack.
This rule can be a double-edged sword. While it can lead to a win, it can also tempt players to take unnecessary risks, leading to a bust.
Premium Blackjack is a variant that offers additional betting options and the chance to win higher payouts. It's a great option for players who are looking for a more exciting and rewarding blackjack experience. However, it's recommended for players who have a good understanding of the basic blackjack strategy and are comfortable with higher stakes.
All Bets Blackjack
All Bets Blackjack includes extra side bets like ‘Top 3', ‘Perfect Pair', and ‘Progressive Blackjack'. While these bets can offer big payouts, they also increase the house edge. It's essential to understand these bets and use them sparingly.
Suit ‘Em Up Blackjack
In Suit ‘Em Up Blackjack, there's an additional side bet on the first two cards being of the same suit. If you're playing this variant, consider the odds of getting a suited pair.
7 Card Blackjack
In the 7 Card Blackjack variant, the game's objective is to eliminate all the cards in hand by matching the rank or suit of the previous card played. Each player receives seven cards, and the rest of the deck is placed face down, forming the discard pile. The game starts from the dealer’s left and proceeds clockwise. The top card of the discard pile is turned face-up to start the game.
Players need to match the rank or suit of the last played card to place one on the discard pile, and they can go for as long a run as possible in their turn. For example, if the discard pile shows 7 hearts, a player could place 7 spades, 8 spades, 8 diamonds, 9 diamonds, 9 hearts, and so on. If a player can’t go, they have to take a card from the discard pile. The first player to get rid of all their cards wins.
Some cards have special meanings in this variant:
- 2: If a player plays a 2, the next player must pick up 2 cards or put another 2 down. If they also play a 2, the next player after them picks up four cards unless they also have a 2. The cycle can continue until someone hasn’t got a 2 to play, at which point that player picks up the accumulated number of cards.
- J: If you play a black J, the next player has to pick up 5 cards unless they also have a black J. If player 2 also drops a black J, player 3 has to pick up 10 cards. Putting a red J down on a black J neutralises its power, so they don’t have to pick up any cards.
- 10: Playing a 10 reverses the game’s direction. If the first card turned over on the table is 7, the player on the right starts instead of the one on the left. If two people are playing, the dealer starts instead. The rotation goes in that direction until another 10 is put down.
- 8: An 8 means the next player misses a turn, and the player after them goes.
- Ace: Drop an Ace, and you can dictate the card suit you want to follow. However, you can’t neutralise a 2, J or an 8 with an A.
If you have only one card remaining, you must say ‘Last Card’ before the next player makes their move. But if you forget, you’ll have to pick up a card in the next round.
Learning Basic Blackjack Strategy
The basic blackjack strategy is a mathematical approach that indicates the best possible move players can make based on their cards and the dealer's face-up card. The strategy minimises the house edge and increases your chances of winning in the long run.
For instance, if your hand value is 16 and the dealer's face-up card is 7, the basic strategy recommends you to hit. If you have a pair of 8's, it's best to split, regardless of the dealer's card.
However, remember that blackjack is a game of chance, and the outcomes can't be predicted accurately.
Advanced Blackjack Betting Strategies
Free Bet Blackjack Strategy
Free Bet Blackjack is a variant where the casino covers your double down and split bets if you choose to do so. The free bet comes into play when you split your cards or double down. It's crucial to adjust your strategy to take advantage of these free bets.
Target Score in Blackjack
Setting a target score can be a useful strategy. It helps you maintain discipline and prevents you from chasing losses. For instance, you might set a target score of 20. If your hand value reaches this score, you decide to stand, regardless of the dealer's face-up card.
Card Counting in Blackjack
Card counting is a strategy that can give you an edge over the casino. It involves keeping track of the ratio of high cards to low cards in the deck. The more high cards remaining, the more you should bet, as you're more likely to get a blackjack or be dealt a higher hand.
A common question is, “Is card counting illegal?” and the answer is somewhere in the middle. While you’re not going to be arrested or charged if you’re caught counting cards, many if not most casinos will ban you from their property.
The Martingale strategy involves doubling your bet after each loss. The idea is that when you eventually win, you'll recover all your losses plus make a profit equal to your original bet. However, this strategy can be risky and requires a significant bankroll.
The D'Alembert strategy is regarded as a safer option. It involves increasing your bet by one unit after a loss and decreasing it by one unit after a win. This strategy is based on the idea that wins and losses often come in streaks.
How to Play as a Blackjack High Roller
High rollers are players who make large bets. If you're a high roller, ensure you understand the game's nuances and have a solid strategy. High stakes can lead to significant wins but also substantial losses.
Blackjack Tournament Online
Blackjack tournaments add a layer of competition to the game. Players compete against each other, and the player with the most chips at the end of several rounds wins. In a tournament, your betting strategy should adapt to the tournament structure and how your opponents are playing.
Biggest Blackjack Win Stories
The reason why so many people play blackjack is the payouts. While it’s unrealistic to think you can win all the time, it’s hard not to get inspired by some of the stories. Here are the biggest blackjack wins in history:
Don Johnson, $15 million
Don Johnson, a professional gambler, is known for winning $15 million from three casinos in Atlantic City within six months. His strategy was not card counting but negotiation.
Johnson negotiated specific rules to give himself an edge, such as the dealer standing on a soft 17 and being allowed to split aces up to four times. Johnson also negotiated a 20% payback, meaning for every $500,000 he lost, the casino gave him $100,000.
While not everyone can negotiate like Johnson, his story shows that understanding the game and using strategies can lead to significant wins.
Kerry Packer, $40 million
In 1991, Australian businessman Kerry Packer won $7 million playing blackjack. However, his most impressive win was when he won $40 million in less than an hour at the Las Vegas MGM Grand.
Packer's winning strategy was playing eight hands simultaneously on the same table and betting a massive $250,000 on each round. After just 40 minutes of blackjack, he cashed out an astounding $40 million.
However, there are two sides to a casino chip and Lady Luck does not always shine a smile upon you. In addition to his incredible wins, Packer is also known for his losses, having once lost $10 million in one night.
The MIT Blackjack Team, $50–$100 million
The MIT Blackjack Team was a group of students from MIT, Harvard, and other institutions who used sophisticated mathematical strategies like card counting to beat casinos at blackjack around the world. The team, led by Bill Kaplan, operated for multiple years with around 80 members. During their operation, it's estimated they won more than $50 million.
If this story sounds familiar, it’s probably because you watched the film 21, based on the New York Times bestselling novel Bringing Down The House, that delves deep into the MIT Team’s escapades.
These stories show the incredible wins that can be achieved at the blackjack table, but also serve as a reminder that the house usually wins in the end.
Stay Updated With Blackjack News
Staying updated with the latest blackjack news can help you stay ahead of the game. It can provide information on new strategies, changes in rules, or new blackjack variants. You can find blackjack news on various online platforms, including casino websites, gambling news sites, and social media platforms.
Online Blackjack Blog: This blog offers advice for playing online blackjack, information on blackjack basic strategy, card counting, tips, and free blackjack games. It is one of the leading blackjack resources for online and bricks and mortar blackjack players.
BlackjackGala Blog: BlackjackGala features the latest and most recent Blackjack news and updates. It also provides tips, occasional promotions, offers, and informative guides for playing and winning. It aims to help Blackjack players of all skill levels learn more about the game and the different Blackjack variations.
Blackjack Review Blog: This blog covers Blackjack and card counting information, strategies, tips & tricks, school, reviews, rules, conditions, and historical archives. It is your portal into the world of blackjack.
BlackjackInfo Blog: BlackjackInfo provides the latest on Blackjack from beginning basics including tips & tricks to card counting, as well as more advanced strategies. It provides free and accurate blackjack advice and discussion.
Blackjack Apprenticeship YouTube: This YouTube channel provides the latest updates on Blackjack from basic tips and tricks to mastering card counting. Their training videos teach you step-by-step.
Blackjack is a game of skill and strategy, and understanding the different variants and betting strategies can significantly enhance your gameplay. Whether you're playing classic blackjack, Pontoon, or trying your hand at a 7 Card Charlie, the key is to understand the rules, make smart decisions, and, most importantly, have fun.
Remember, the goal of playing blackjack should be to enjoy the game. Winning is just a bonus.